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Global Debt Trends and Implications

  • 28 Sep 2023
  • 8 min read

For Prelims: Global Debt Trends and Implications, Debt, Recession, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), International Monetary Fund (IMF).

For Mains: Global Debt Trends and Implications.

Source: TH

Why in News?

According to the Institute of International Finance (IIF), Global Debt rose to an all-time high of USD 307 trillion in the second quarter 2023.

  • Global debt has risen by about USD 100 trillion over the last decade. Further, global debt as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has started to increase once again to hit 336% after dropping quite steeply for seven consecutive quarters.

What is Global Debt?

  • About:
    • Global debt refers to the borrowings of governments as well as private businesses and individuals.
    • Governments borrow to meet various expenditures that they are unable to meet through tax and other revenues.
    • Governments may also borrow to pay interest on the money that they have already borrowed to fund past expenditures.
    • The private sector borrows predominantly to make investments.
  • Regional Contributors to Debt Growth:
    • In the first half of 2023, advanced economies, including the US, U.K, Japan, and France, accounted for over 80% of the rise in global debt.
    • Emerging market economies like China, India, and Brazil also witnessed substantial debt growth during this period.
  • Reasons Behind Rising Global Debt:
    • Economic growth, population expansion, and increased government spending drive the need for borrowing. During economic downturns, governments intensify borrowing to stimulate economic activity and provide financial support.
    • During the first half of 2023, total global debt rose by USD10 trillion. This has happened amid rising interest rates, which was expected to adversely affect demand for loans.
    • But a rise in debt levels over time is to be expected since the total money supply usually steadily rises each year in countries across the globe.

Why is the Growing Global Debt a Cause for Concern?

  • Debt Sustainability and Fiscal Imbalance:
    • Rising debt can lead to concerns about its sustainability. If a country's debt grows faster than its economy, it may become increasingly challenging to service the debt in the long term without resorting to extreme measures.
    • High levels of debt can strain a nation's fiscal health, diverting significant portions of revenue towards interest payments. This reduces the funds available for essential public services, infrastructure, and social welfare programs.
  • Reduced Economic Flexibility:
    • High debt levels can limit a government's ability to respond to economic downturns effectively. It constrains fiscal policy options, making it difficult to implement stimulus measures during recessions.
    • Excessive debt may lead to a Recession if the government's debt burden becomes unmanageable. This could result in reduced consumer spending, business investments, and overall economic growth.
  • Financial System Risks:
    • A high concentration of debt in the financial system can pose systemic risks, particularly if the debt is held by a few major institutions. If a significant borrower defaults, it could trigger a chain reaction affecting the stability of the entire financial system.
    • Global financial markets are interconnected, and a debt crisis in one region can quickly spread to others. The interconnectedness increases the potential for a global financial crisis if a major economy faces a severe debt issue.
      • The 2008 global financial crisis, which followed an economic boom fueled by easy credit policies. Excessive private debt levels often precede economic crises, highlighting the importance of prudent borrowing practices and genuine savings to avert future crises.
  • Impact on Interest Rates:
    • As debt levels rise, governments may face higher interest rates on new borrowings, which can exacerbate debt burdens.
    • Elevated interest rates can also lead to increased borrowing costs for businesses and individuals, hindering investment and consumption.
  • Potential for Defaults and Inflation:
    • In extreme cases, a government burdened by high debt levels may default on its obligations, creating a loss of confidence in financial markets and affecting global economic stability.
    • In an attempt to manage debt, governments may resort to inflationary measures, devaluing their currencies and eroding the real value of debt. However, this approach can lead to higher prices for goods and services, impacting consumers and businesses negatively.

What can be Done to Tackle Debt Growth?

  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) during the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors potential actions and methods to enhance the Global Debt Architecture.
    • Debt Resolution and Restructuring:
      • Conducting a fair, objective, and in-depth analysis of global debt issues is crucial. This analysis should guide debt restructuring decisions, including potential debt haircuts or accepting losses on loans to ensure sustainability and fairness.
    • Strengthening Financial Architecture:
      • Implement urgent reforms to strengthen the international financial architecture, especially in the area of debt resolution.
      • This includes enhancing frameworks for debt restructuring, promoting transparency in debt-related transactions, and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of debt resolution mechanisms.
    • Support for Vulnerable Economies:
      • Focus on developing and low-income countries facing acute economic stress and limited policy space.
      • Provide targeted financial support, debt relief, or restructuring mechanisms tailored to their specific needs and circumstances.
    • Global Financial Safety Net:
      • Strengthen and improve the global financial safety net to respond effectively to economic shocks and crises. This involves optimizing lending mechanisms, ensuring rapid disbursement of funds, and increasing access to financial assistance for countries in need.
    • International Collaboration and Cooperation:
      • Encourage collaboration and cooperation among nations, international organizations, and financial institutions to develop comprehensive solutions. Multilateral efforts can foster coordinated action, knowledge sharing, and the pooling of resources to address debt challenges effectively.

Conclusion

  • A balanced approach to managing global debt is imperative to ensure economic stability and sustainable growth.
  • Monitoring debt levels, implementing prudent fiscal and monetary policies, and fortifying international financial systems are vital steps in mitigating risks associated with burgeoning global debt.
  • Striking the right balance between debt accumulation and economic growth remains essential for long-term economic prosperity.
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