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.