International lenders and borrowers

The Jubilee Debt campaign are most associated with third world debt, and the campaign to write off the unfair debts of the world’s poorest countries. Their latest project is broader, presenting the data on the world’s borrowing and lending countries.

It’s worth mentioning for a couple of reasons. For a start, it pulls together information that they don’t think has been presented in one place before, and they ought to know. It also reflects the various complexities of international debt rather well, because there are various ways to calculate national debt and they’re all a little different.

On their interactive map, Jubilee show government debt, private debt and net debt. As I’ve written about before, most of the talk in the media is about government debt – that’s the debt that austerity programmes are supposed to be addressing. Private debt, that owed by companies and banks, gets far less attention. In Britain, private debt dwarfs government debt.

Jubilee’s map also shows net total debt. This is the total amount owed, by both public and private borrowers, to anyone outside the country. It’s an interesting one, as it shows creditors as well as debtors. There are two sides to national debt, those that rack them up and those that profit from it. Germany has famously lent plenty to the likes of Italy, Spain and Greece. China props up the American economy through its purchase of US treasury bonds. These countries are often held up as examples of canny economic operating, but as E F Schumacher used to argue, running a surplus is an essentially predatory development model.

There are a couple of surprises here too. One is Japan, which is widely held to be in serious debt trouble. It kind of is, except that most of what Japan owes is to its own people, so it isn’t an international issue in the same way. I was also curious to see Botswana there, demonstrating that with good governance and stewardship of natural resources, developing countries don’t need to be heavily indebted.

You can view Jubilee Debt Campaign’s data here.



  1. I do like the way The Jubilee Debt Campaign suggest that debt owed by governments to the citizens of that country isn’t necessarily a problem. It isn’t a problem only is you intend to use forms of financial repression to deprive them of the value of that asset (via inflation, internal default, forced swaps etc). Still would feel like theft to those who lose their assets. Assets that individuals, not governments, own.

    They seem very positive about how Argentina defaulted on its debts and via forced conversion, inflation and nationalising the country’s pension schemes has kept itself afloat. The stop-start growth, falling reserves and rising inflation (which the government hides) are ignored as President Kirchner bashes the West. Trouble is Argentina is running out of things to seize.

    1. it doesn’t say it’s not a problem, just a different order of problem. You won’t be meddled with by outside forces in the same way, a la Greece. You may well have internal problems, and in a democracy that could result in changes of government.

      1. The quote is “not necessarily a problem”. That combination of words includes the possibility that it isn’t a problem. So they do say it may not be a problem. Again precision isn’t your strong point which means you miss the meaning of things.

        1. Well thank goodness you’re around to point out combinations of words and their potential meanings.

          Not sure where it is that you’re quoting from, but did you read this bit about Japan?

          “the Japanese government has the highest debt in the world, 235 per cent of national income. That is 70 percentage points more than Greece, and more than double the UK’s. But over 90 per cent of Japanese government debt is owed to Japanese people. This means the Japanese debt transfers money from taxpayers to savers – that might be an internal problem – but it doesn‘t cause Japan a debt problem with the rest of the world.”

          We’re all on the same page here, so you can stop looking for things to object to.

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