Biggest debtor nations: some astonishing figures for you

I came upon this list of the biggest debtor nations in the world the other day.The key figure to look at in the list is the % size of external debt in relation to the country’s GDP. The list proves quite extraordinary. First off, here it is (sorry bit of a chore, but scan through you’ll get the idea):

External debt (as % of GDP) Gross external debt GDP External debt per capita
20. United States 101.1% $14.825 trillion $14.66 trillion $48,258
19. Hungary 120.1% $225.24 billion $187.6 billion $22,739
18. Australia 138.9% $1.23 trillion $882.4 billion $57,641
17. Italy 146.6% $2.602 trillion $1.77 trillion $44,760
16. Spain 179.4% $2.46 trillion $1.37 trillion $60,614
15. Greece 182.2% $579.7 billion $318.1 billion $53,984
14. Germany 185.1% $5.44 trillion $2.94 trillion $51,572
13. Portugal 223.6% $552.23 billion $247 billion $51,572
12. France 250% $5.37 trillion $2.15 trillion $83,781
11. Hong Kong 250.4% $815.65 billion $325.8 billion $115,612
10. Norway 251% $640.7 billion $255.3 billion $137,476
9. Austria 261.1% $867.14 billion $332 billion $105,616
8. Finland 271.5% $505.06 billion $186 billion $96,197
7. Sweden 282.2% $1.001 trillion $354.7 billion $110,479
6. Denmark 310.4% $626.1 billion $201.7 billion $113,826
 5. Belgium 335.9% $1.324 trillion $394.3 billion $127,197
4. Netherlands 376.3% $2.55 trillion $676.9 billion $152,380
3. Switzerland 401.9% $1.304 trillion $324.5 billion $171,528
 2. United Kingdom 413.3% $8.981 trillion $2.173 trillion $146,953
1. Ireland 1,382% $2.38 trillion $172.3 billion $566,756

Now, I have taken several conclusions from this list. Here they are:

1. Who is all this money owed to??? If you add up the combined debt of all these countries it amounts to a number I can’t even begin to conceptualise. Is it all owed to each other??? Is it all owed to China??? The mind boggles.

2. The assumed “basket case” economies of Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece are not very high up on the list. This means that  their economies are so structurally flawed that a relatively not very high % debt has caused a lot more trouble than it has in other countries on the list. Either that or their debt burden is not the true cause of their weakness (*cough* the euro *cough*).

3. Conversely, economies seen as being relatively strong are quite high on the list. Note, Switzerland and The Netherlands in particular, plus the Scandinavians. 

4. The USA while having the largest debt overall, actually has a surprisingly low % debt.

5. The UK is worryingly high on the list. The current “government” (I use the term generously) tells the UK public that our economy isn’t as bad as the Eurozone. Somehow, however, our debt is astronomically higher than everyone else’s in the EU (apart from Ireland). Meanwhile, Mr Osborne is making a pretty poor job of reducing the structural deficit (read my piece, The UK Budget in figures we can all understand).

6. Ireland, what the HELL were you thinking?!?! I mean, we’ve all made mistakes. But good lord you’ve lost the plot. If someone introduced “Drunk in charge of an economy” as an offence, you’d all be jailed indefinitely. The Irish % is more than double that of 2nd placed UK. I haven’t ever been to Ireland, but I assume that there must be entire metropolises of brand new, never used skyscrapers. I mean, what the hell else were they spending all that money on?

Edmund Greaves is co-editor of The Libertarian Press. He also writes travel articles at the

Statistics for “The World’s Biggest Debtor Nations” was provided by


  1. The money is owed to private bankers.

  2. Christos Y says:

    Where is Luxembourg? It exetrnal debt is as high as $2,146,000,000,000, its GDP is $41,447,000,000, and the External debt/GDP ratio= 3,443% of GDP! I ‘ve seen this here along with other interesting cases. E.g. Russia:23%, China:8.7%, Brazil: 15%, India: 22%, Indonesia: 28%.

    It needs to be clarified though that these figures do not represent each nation’s public debt, but their external debt (private+public). E.g. in 2007 the irish public debt used to be at about 25% of GDP . It’s the private debt that’s crazy. On the other hand the public debt, here in Greece in 2008, used to be at about 100% of GDP; the private at 50%.

    The economies seen as relatively strong that are quite high on the list, simply have low public debts. So far that’s what everyone is interested in.

    • And my response:I was not at all cailnlg you a liar. I always appreciate your comments.I was, however, saying that the sources from you were citing are filled with lies. At least if they claim that stopping the drug war in Portugal has caused a 40% spike in murders. Where is this 40% increase? I just don’t see it. Seriously. No two numbers give a 40% increase, right? I may be missing something.But I’ve been in the game too long to believe crazy stats that come from drug prohibitionists.Again, I think both sides twist data sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, but the I’ve yet to see the pro-drug-legalization side just make shit up.Also, I don’t know Portugal well. I’ve never been there. I really have no idea how things are working out. But I do know Amsterdam pretty well. And I hear what people (who have no clue) say about the Dutch drug policy. So I certainly suspect similar lies from prohibitionists about Portugal.Look, if crime really is exploding there because of their drug policy, then it’s not a good policy. And the benefits of any policy that focuses only on users is going to be limited in what it can do. I’ll look over your links as soon as I can.

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