World Debt Figures 2015 : Chapter 6

Overview of debt in the North and in the South

23 February 2015 by Eric Toussaint , Daniel Munevar , Pierre Gottiniaux , Antonio Sanabria

6.1. Global uncontrolled increase of debt

Between 2007 and 2012 public debt in the countries concerned by this study increased by 67%, mainly in developed countries. As seen above, this sudden increase is related to the economic recession and the cost of bailing out banks.

Table 6.1 – Public debt in developed and developing countries in 2007 and 2012 ($ billion)

Public debt EU 27 9 368 14 089
Public debt US 8 054 15 239
Public debt Japan 6 482 10 792
Public debt UK 1 326 2 590
External public debt DC s 1 272 1 766

It is currently claimed that public debt is the cause of the crisis because of allegedly excessive public spending, yet the most significant increase is in private debt. Between 2000 and 2008, total private debt (incurred by financial and non-financial corporations Non-financial corporations All economic agents that produce non-financial goods and services. They represent the greatest share of productive activity. and households) went from 175 to 235% of US GDP GDP
Gross Domestic Product
Gross Domestic Product is an aggregate measure of total production within a given territory equal to the sum of the gross values added. The measure is notoriously incomplete; for example 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.
, and from 268 to 434% of UK GDP. Since the outbreak of the crisis, debt owed by the non financial private sector has increased even more: the Bank for International Settlements Bank for International Settlements
The BIS is an international organization founded in 1930 charged with fostering international monetary and financial cooperation. It also acts as a bank for central banks. At present, 60 national central banks and the ECB are members.
(BIS) estimates this increase to be around 30% worldwide. [2] The BIS considers that private debt in the non financial sector amounts to an average close to 275% of GDP for ‘advanced’ countries [3] and 175% of GDP for ‘emergent’ countries.

6.2. Comparison of debt figures in the North and in the South

A simple comparison of amounts of public debt owed by developed and developing countries shows that it is much lower for the latter. In other words, cancelling the debt of third world countries would be easy to achieve in financial as well as economic terms. It is actually a political issue that cancellation is a necessary (though not sufficient) condition to ensure that human rights are respected in these countries.

Graphique 6.1 – Comparison of debt figures in developing and developed countries ($ billion) in 2012

6.3. Comparison of debt figures and other spending

The table below provides some examples of budgets in which actual spending and revenue shortfalls result in failure to meet the basic needs of a large part of the population. Advertising, for instance, amounts to 134 times more than what the World Food Programme receives to fight hunger worldwide.

Table 6.3 – Some remarkable figures ($ billion, 2010-2012)

World advertising budgets in 2012 470
World military budgets in 2011 1.740
Debt service Debt service The sum of the interests and the amortization of the capital borrowed. of developing countries in 2011 171
Cost of tax evasion to developing countries in 2011 400
Income of commercial banks such as Goldman Sachs in 2012 240
Annual spending to purchase illegal drugs IN 2011 400
Annual spending to feed pets in 2012 67
Sums collected by the United Nations World Food Programme in 2010 3.5
Total budget of Congo DR, population - 74 million in 2012 8
Bonuses paid by Goldman Sachs in 2011 12
Bonuses paid at the City of London in 2011 21
Advantages and bonuses paid out by the the five biggest US banks in 2010 119
We spend 159 times more to tell the population what they should buy than to releave world hunger.

6.4. Deposits from rich citizens of developing countries in banks of the North

While governments in developing countries still owe considerable amounts to Northern banks, some large companies and very rich people in those same countries have accounts in those banks amounting to 14 times the total of those public debts. This situation clearly exposes the urgent need to fight against capital flight and to demand that illegally or dishonestly acquired property be given back to the people in developing countries from whom it was stolen by the local ruling classes.

Table 6.4. Public debt in developing countries owed to Northern banks, and deposits in Northern banks from individuals and corporations in DCs ($ billions)


[1Data Eurostat,{, and the World Bank, International Debt Statistics, The figures for the US and Japan refer to the debt of the central government, and do not include public debt in other levels of government or in the US social security system.

[2BIS, Annual Report June 2014, chart I.1.

[3If the private debt of the financial sector were included, the percentage would be even higher.

[4Source: Data Eurostat,, and the World Bank, International Debt Statistics,

[5From data in Bank for International Settlements (BIS), 84th Annual Report 2014, Basel, June 2014, p.102, Annex Table V.1, and World Bank, International Debt Statistics,

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:
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.

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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.

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Other articles in English by Antonio Sanabria (9)


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