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World Debt Figures 2015 : Chapter 7
Conclusion: the impact of the ‘debt system’
by Eric Toussaint , Daniel Munevar , Pierre Gottiniaux , Antonio Sanabria
23 February 2015

The ‘debt system’ involves using public resources to pay creditors instead of meeting the basic rights and needs of people. The relationship between creditors and debtors is strongly biased in favour of the former. In both the 1982 external debt crisis in Latin America and the 2010 euro crisis, the first response was to deny the obvious and not do anything. Measures were then implemented to protect creditors’ interests. In an attempt to reverse the trend in public deficit and ensure debt repayments would be made, structural adjustment or austerity policies were applied, whatever the price to be paid by the people who were victims of the crisis.

With support from local elites, creditors demand debt repayment and ‘adjustments’ that ensure debt repayment takes priority over any social needs, thus infringing on the people’s basic rights. Furthermore, the measures implemented turn out to be counter-productive, because they only make the problem worse. As a consequence, excessive debt becomes a structural issue.

The “Debt system” aggravate the inéqualities

Debt makes it possible for a privileged minority to pocket financial benefits and thereby increase their wealth continuously. Consequently the State does not have the resources necessary to meet the basic needs of the people. Inequalities increase as the rich accumulate wealth and are in a position to exert pressure on decision-makers so as to influence public policy. The rise of the debt and its concentration in a few hands leads to a redistribution of income in favour of the richest members of society, and this, in turn, is both the cause and the consequence of increased exploitation of workers and natural resources.

In response to this situation, the CADTM, together with other associations, argues that public debt must be audited under citizen control to determine its origin and what part can be considered illegitimate and/or illegal and therefore be cancelled.

Over and beyond this necessary audit, the CADTM denounces the entire ‘debt system’. The selfsame mechanisms of domination and exploitation govern illegitimate public and private debt, thus subjugating people collectively and as individuals in the lower classes (indebted smallholders, families evicted from repossessed homes, women enslaved to the microcredit system in the South, indebted students...).

Of course, the cancellation of illegitimate debts must go hand in hand with other measures such as the socialisation of the banking and insurance sector to transform it into a public service, the radical reform of the taxation system in favour of the overwhelming majority of people, the expropriation of the energy sector and its transformation into a public service, the radical reduction of working hours resulting in more jobs as well as an increase in wages and social benefits, the improvement and strengthening of public services, improvements in the distributive pension system, effective gender equality, radical political reforms including changed constitutional processes. These measures must be part of a vast plan for a social, ecological, and political transition in order to move beyond the devastating capitalist system. Fighting the ‘debt system’ is part of a wider struggle for a world that would be free of all forms of oppression and exploitation.

THE END

Abbreviations and acronyms

ATTAC: Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions and for Citizens’ Action

BIS: Bank for International Settlements

CAC: Citizen Audit Collective

CAC 40: index of 40 largest corporations listed on the Paris Bourse

CADTM: Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt

CETIM: Europe- Third World Centre (Geneva, Switzerland)

DC: Developing Countries

DRC: Democratic Republic of Congo

ECB: European Central Bank

ECLAC: Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean

EU: European Union

FAO: Food and Agriculture Organisation, United Nations Organisation for food and agriculture

GDP: Gross Domestic Product

G7: Group of the 7 most industrialised countries (Germany, Canada, United States, France, United Kingdom, Italy, Japan)

HDI: Human Development Index

HIPC: Heavily Indebted Poor Countries

ICAN: International Citizen debt Audit Network

ICSID: International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (World Bank Group)

IFI: International Financial Institutions

ILO: International Labour Organisation

IMF: International Monetary Fund

NGO: Non-Governmental Organisation

ODA: Official Development Assistance

OECD: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

PAH: Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca, Mortgage Victims’ Platform in Spain

PPP: Purchasing Power Parity

SAP: Structural Adjustment Programme

TARP: Troubled Asset Relief Programme

UNCTAD: United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

VAT: Value Added Tax

WB: World Bank

Appendix: Country groups
Developing countries (DCs)

Sub-Saharan Africa: Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Latin America and the Caribbean: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Venezuela.

East Asia and Pacific: American Samoa, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, China, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Malaysia, Mongolia, North Korea, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Vanuatu, Vietnam.

South Asia: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka.

Europe and Central Asia:
Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, [1] Kyrgyz Republic,
Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan.

Middle East and North Africa: Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, Yemen Rep.

39 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs) in 2014

Afghanistan, Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tomé-& Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia.

Developed countries [2]

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States.

Glossary

Sources used for glossary

Amortisation: Repayment of principal without taking account of interest.

Asset: something belonging to an individual or a business that has value or the power to earn money (FT). The opposite of assets are liabilities, that is the part of the balance sheet reflecting a company’s resources (the capital contributed by the partners, provisions for contingencies and charges, as well as the outstanding debts).

Bank for International Settlements (BIS): the BIS is an international organisation established in 1930, which is responsible for fostering international monetary and financial cooperation. It also acts as a bank for the central banks, with 56 central banks that are members.

Central bank: The central bank of a country defines its monetary policy and issues all national currency. Commercial banks obtain their currency from it, at a supply price determined according to the prime rate charged by the central bank.

Currency: (see also: strong currency)The monetary unit of a country or monetary zone. There is a rate for each currency that permits an exchange rate to be calculated between two different currencies, or to convert the value of one currency into that of the other. The principal exchange currencies have an official quoted rate on the foreign exchange market and can be freely exchanged for another currency.

Currency reserves: assets held in foreign currency by the monetary authorities of a country.

Debt rescheduling: modification of the terms of an existing loan, which may include modifying the maturity dates or extending the date to pay back capital and/or interest. In general, the goal is to give the country experiencing economic difficulties a bit of room to breath, by extending the amount of time to pay off the loan so as to decrease each payment or by giving it a grace period during which repayments may be interrupted.

Debt service: total amount of interest and capital payments made during a given period of time.

Debt stock: total amount of debt owed.

Devaluation: official lowering of the exchange rate value of one currency in relationship to the others, on the international monetary market.

European Central Bank (ECB): the European Central Bank is a European institution based in Frankfurt, established in 1998. Eurozone countries have transferred their monetary powers to it, and its official role is to ensure price stability by combating inflation within the Eurozone. According to its Articles of Agreement, it is politically ‘independent’ but it is directly influenced by the world of finance.

Eurostat: The European Union’s Directorate-General of Statistics that has its head office in Luxembourg.

External debt: external debt is owed to foreign lenders. It includes external public debt and external private debt. External debt is generally expressed in strong currencies.

FED or Federal Reserve: (officially, Federal Reserve System) the United States central bank created in 1913 by the Federal Reserve Act (or Owen-Glass Act), after a series of banking crises, particularly the ‘Bank Panic’ of 1907.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP): an aggregate measure of total production within a given territory equal to the sum of the gross values added. The measure is notoriously incomplete because it does not take into account any activity that does not enter into a commercial exchange. The GDP takes into account both the production of goods and the production of services. Economic growth is defined as the variation of the GDP from one period to another.

Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative: The HIPC initiative was launched in 1996 and strengthened in 1999, to reduce the debt burden of heavily indebted poor countries, with the modest objective of making their debt sustainable.
It is organised in four extremely demanding and complex phases:

  • If a country wants to be included in this initiative, it must first apply economic policies approved by the IMF and World Bank for 3 years, which are known as adjustment programmes, and adopt a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP).
  • At the end of these 3 years, they reach decision point: the IMF analyses the debt of the country applying to see if it is sustainable. If the debt stock / exports ratio is greater than 150%, the country can be declared admissible.
  • The State then benefits from the first debt relief form the creditor countries and private banks, and must continue applying the policies approved by the IMF and World Bank.
  • The last phase is known as the completion point. The remainder of the debt relief is granted at this point to a country to enable it to acquire a sustainable position considered to be satisfactory.

Inflation: a general increase in prices (for example, an increase in the price of oil, causing a general increase in other prices, which theoretically leads to higher wages, and so on). Inflation implies a drop in the value of money, because more money is needed to purchase the same commodity at a later time. This explains why neoliberal policies make it a priority to keep inflation down.

Interest rate: When A lends money to B, B repays the amount lent by A (the capital) as well as an additional sum known as interest, so that A has an interest in agreeing to this financial operation. The total interest paid is determined by the interest rate, which may be high or low. The nominal interest rate is the rate at which a loan is contracted. The real interest rate is the nominal rate minus the rate of inflation.

International Monetary Fund (IMF): An International Financial Institution established within the framework of the Bretton Woods Agreement (1944) at the same time as the World Bank. The IMF was originally intended to support the new fixed-exchange rate system and to guarantee the stability of the international monetary system. The Bretton Woods fixed rate system came to an end in (1971), but the IMF was maintained. It starting imposing its structural adjustment programmes following the debt crisis of 1982.

Liquidities: the capital an economy or a company has available at a given point in time. A lack of liquidities can force a company into liquidation and an economy into recession.

Net debt flow: the difference between amounts received as new loans and the amounts repaid (capital and interest) over the same period. The net debt flow is positive when the country or continent concerned receives more than it repays. It is negative when the amount it repays is higher than the amount that it receives.

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ): an institution established in 1960 that includes the principal most industrialised countries. There were 34 members in 2013.

Official Development Assistance (ODA)
Official Development Assistance is the name given to loans granted in financially favourable conditions to developing countries by the public bodies of the industrialized countries. A loan must only be given at a lower rate of interest than the going market rate (a concessionary loan) to be considered as aid, even if it is then fully repaid by the borrowing country. Tied loans with conditions (which obligate the borrowing country to buy products or services from the lending country) and debt cancellation are also counted as part of ODA (see box in section 2.4).

Paris Club: A group of lender States established in 1956 that specializes in dealing with payment defaults by developing countries.

Payable: a sum of money that one person (debtor) owes to another (creditor).

Private debt: private debt is debt borrowed by financial institutions (banks, insurance companies, and pension funds), non-financial institutions (companies), and households.

Public debt: all of the loans taken on by the national and local government, state-owned companies, and public health funds.

Sovereign debt: government debt or debt guaranteed by a government.

Speculation: taking a position on a market, which is often risky, in the hope of making a profit.

Strong currency: a strong currency is a currency that has a reserve value on a foreign exchange market. The factors that contribute to making a currency strong are its long-term stability, an economic situation that is stable in terms of inflation, and the weight of the economy issuing that currency. The US dollar is the principal strong currency.

Structural adjustment: neoliberal economic policies imposed by the IMF in exchange for new loans or the rescheduling of old loans.

Structural adjustment programme (SAP): The IMF imposed structural adjustment programmes on developing countries after the 1982 debt crisis. Debt was used as an instrument for imposing policies favourable to the creditors, multinational corporations from Northern countries, those in possession the country’s capital and foreign entities. SAPs have greatly increased poverty in the countries where they have been implemented.

Troika: in the framework of the European economic crisis, the Troika refers to three institutions: the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Troika is supposed to monitor the countries experiencing major economic hardships which ‘benefit’ from loans granted by the European Union and the IMF. In reality, the policies imposed by the Troika do not at all help the countries overcome their economic difficulties.

World Bank (WB): An international financial institution established within the framework of the Bretton Woods Agreement (1944), initially known as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), because its mission consisted in funding the rebuilding of countries after the Second World War. The World Bank has five subsidiaries (see point 4.3.3, The World Bank web). While its purported aim is to eliminate poverty, its actions have been severely criticised by numerous social movements due to the negative impact of its policies.


About the contributors

Pierre Gottiniaux is Head of Communication for CADTM Belgium.
Daniel Munevar is an economist and a member of the CADTM Latin America coordination unit.
Antonio Sanabria is an economist for CADTM Belgium.
Éric Toussaint is a political scientist and historian. He is the spokesman for CADTM International, and is on the Scientific Committee of ATTAC France.

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Louise Abellard, Olivier Bonfond, and Christine Vanden Daelen for their contributions, as well as Cécile Lamarque and Anouk Renaud for proofreading the text.

Some of the texts and tables in this document were originally in Spanish. The authors would like to thank Virginie de Romanet, Julie Marsault, and Hélène Tagand for translating them into French.

The authors are particularly thankful to Maud Bailly, who played a crucial role in finalising this document, helping to improve the text and the layout.

Credits

Pages 7, 9, 32, and 63: illustrations by Titom (Creative Commons license by-nc-nd 2.0 be) - www.titom.be
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Tables, charts, and layout: Pierre Gottiniaux

World Debt Figures 2015 is placed under license CC-BY-NC :
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No commercial use

Further reading

  • Millet, Damien & Toussaint, Éric. 65 questions, 65 réponses sur la dette, le FMI et la Banque mondiale, 2012 (out of print). Can be downloaded for free at: http://cadtm.org/65-questions-65-reponses-sur-la,8331
  • Toussaint, Éric. The World Bank: a never-ending coup d’état. The hidden agenda of the Washington consensus. CADTM/Syllepse/CETIM, 2006 (out of print). Can be downloaded for free at: http://cadtm.org/IMG/pdf/Banque_mondiale_-_version_du_2_mai_2006-2.pdf
  • ATTAC/AITEC/CADTM (collective work). nFMI, les peuples entrent en résistance, CADTM-Syllepse-Cetim, 2000 (out of print). Can be downloaded for free at: http://www.cetim.ch/fr/documents/PAS-texte.pdf
  • Toussaint, Éric. Bancocratie, Brussels: Aden/CADTM, 2014 (in French; English version, Bankocracy, in press, Merlin Press). In your favourite bookshop or order at cadtm.org/bancocratie

Footnotes :

[1We must remember that the inclusion of Kosovo as a State is a point of contention.

[2These groups of countries are modified every year by the World Bank. The criteria adopted to define what constitutes a developed country are, however, debatable as the inclusion of Equatorial Guinea in this group shows. Other countries listed in the developed countries group are also problematic, such as South Korea, the Czech Republic, Estonia, and Trinidad and Tobago. We have nonetheless respected this convention so that our figures refer to those of the World Bank.

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89ric_Toussaint
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

Daniel Munevar

is a post-Keynesian economist from Bogotá, Colombia. From March to July 2015, he worked as an assistant to former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, advising him on fiscal policy and debt sustainability.
Previously, he was an advisor to the Colombian Ministry of Finance. He has also worked at UNCTAD.
He is one of the leading figures in the study of public debt at the international level. He is a researcher at Eurodad.

Pierre Gottiniaux

CADTM Belgium

Antonio Sanabria