The high expenses for combating the Covid 19 pandemic currently show that debt is not bad per se. They can even be a sign of prosperity – provided the borrowed money is invested profitably. In the case of private households, for example, property purchases are generating positive red numbers. In this way, the Danes became the nation with the highest private debts in the European Union. At the state level, unbalanced budgets can indicate investments in infrastructure and social services.
Corona crisis drives up debt
Figures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that industrialized nations have much higher debt than emerging economies. Developed economies (including the euro zone and the U.S.) had an average national debt of 105 percent of average gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019, according to the IMF. In emerging markets and middle-income countries (including Asia and Latin America), the debt ratio was only 53 percent. But it is also clear that the Corona crisis poses massive financing problems for all countries.
This list of countries with the highest public debt combines statistics for selected countries from the European Statistical Authority Eurostat (for 2019), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD (for 2018) and the IMF. These statistics focus on industrialized nations and some emerging economies. Highly indebted countries such as Lebanon, Yemen or Mozambique are not included here. Due to the low economic output, these countries can only be compared with the countries in this ranking to a limited extent.
The IMF had only secured data for 2018 for its financial report published in April 2020. The results for 2019 have been estimated. The IMF analysts also made a forecast for 2020 with the consequences of the Corona crisis on government debt in around 15 countries.
# 10 Canada
Canada was indebted to 89.7 percent of its GDP in 2018, according to the IMF. The estimate for 2019 assumed a slight decline to 88.6 percent. However, the analysts expected Canada to be particularly hard hit by the aftermath of the corona crisis. According to their forecast, public debt will increase by around 21 percentage points to 109.5 percent of GDP in 2020. According to the statistics of the OECD, Canada had almost reached this value in 2019 (108.5 percent). OECD data vary widely for some countries. When weighting, we adhered to the matching figures from Eurostat and IMF when in doubt.
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# 9 Brazil
Brazil’s national debt was 87.1 percent of GDP in 2018, according to the IMF. For 2019, the experts expected a slight increase to 89.5 percent. In 2020, the government debt could soar as a result of the Corona crisis to 98.2 percent of GDP. Brazil would therefore be roughly at the global debt average of 96.4 percent expected for 2020 (2019: 83.3 percent).
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# 8 Spain and Cyprus
Spain and Cyprus shared eighth place in 2019, each with 95.5 percent of GDP (Eurostat). Spain was able to reduce its debt by 2.1 percentage points within a year, according to the IMF. For 2020, however, they will rise to 113.4 percent of GDP, according to the Monetary Fund’s forecast.
# 7 France
France’s public debt was 98.1 percent of GDP in 2019, according to Eurostat. That meant fifth place in the European Union and seventh in this ranking. The IMF expected an increase to 115.4 percent of GDP in 2020.
# 6 Belgium
Belgium was indebted to 98.6 percent of GDP in 2019, according to Eurostat. That made it just ahead of France among the industrialized and developing countries examined here, the country with the sixth highest national debt.
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# 5 USA
When it comes to US debt, the numbers of experts differ widely. The OECD gives the US debt level at 135.1 percent of GDP in 2019. The IMF’s estimate was 109.0 percent (2018: 106.9 percent). For 2020, the analysts expect US government debt to amount to 131.1 percent of GDP.
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# 4 Portugal
The OECD ranks Portugal in fourth place in its current statistics on the most indebted countries (2018: 137.9 percent of GDP). Portugal is also fourth in this ranking. Eurostat put government debt at 117.7 percent of GDP in 2019.
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# 3 Italy
Italy was indebted to 134.8 percent of GDP in 2019, according to Eurostat. According to the IMF, this was exactly the same as last year. For 2020, the Monetary Fund experts expected a sharp increase to 155.5 percent.
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# 2 Greece
Greece’s public debt is almost unprecedented worldwide. In 2019, it was 176.6 percent of GDP in Eurostat statistics. Greece also took second place in the CIA’s World Factbook with 181.9 percent of GDP, the figures come from 2017.
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# 1 Japan
Japan is by far the most indebted country in the world. According to the IMF, government debt amounted to 236.5 percent of GDP in 2018 (OECD for 2018: 238.7 percent). The IMF analysts expected an increase to 237.4 in 2019. By 2020, Japanese debt is projected to grow to 251.9 percent of GDP. For Germany, they expected an increase from 59.8 percent (2019) to 68.7 percent (2020). Germany was in the IMF ranking for 2019 between South Africa (62.2 percent) and China (54.4 percent). Saudi Arabia came in last with 22.8 percent government debt. Here, however, the analysts expected an increase of 50 percent to 34.0 percent in 2020.