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The 10 Countries With The Highest Public Debt Levels

Public debt, which is also commonly referred to as Government debt, is the total sum of money owed by a government. The total public debt figure is derived by adding together debt from all branches of government, including national and local authorities. In the US, for example, the total public debt figure is the total debt owed by federal, state, municipal and local government. Whilst defined as a goverment debt, public debt is merely an extension of personal debt, seeing as the only way to repay public debt is through taxation. It is therefore important that citizens and opposition parties in democratic countries hold their governments to account over public debt levels, whilst citizens of dictatorships should probably think hard about copying Egypt if their public debt levels spiral out of control.
Public Debt Increase
A nations public debt level grows when a government spends more than it takes in taxation, assuming that it hasn't stockpiled tax revenues in previous years. Deficit spending effectively accrues when a government is spending money which it knows will add to the public debt level, just like an individual would be deficit spending if they spend more than their monthly income through the use of a credit card. The only way to decrease public debt is for government to spend less than it receives in tax revenues. A large proportion of public debt will generally be external debt, money owed to foreign institutions, governments or individuals, whilst it also includes internal debt which is money owed to citizens who lend money by purchasing bonds or through other methods.
Internal debt should be seen as controversial, seeing as the government is borrowing money from people who will subsequently have to pay themselves back through taxes. The primary purpose of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is to ensure that countries do not default on their public debt, effectively acting as a world debt collector. The following ten countries are the nations with the highest level of public debt as of the end of 2010 (source: CIA), measured as a proportion of GDP, 'UP' signifies an increase in debt levels over 2009 and 'DOWN' a decrease in debt levels since 2009:

1. Zimbabwe (283%) UP
By far the highest ration of public debt to GDP is owned by Zimbabwe, probably attributed to the huge 40% contraction in the economy seen since 1999 overseen by the Mugabe regime, much of the blame can be pinned on the organized violence against white farmers of British origin which formed part of the Mugabe land reforms and has seen food production slump. Zimbabwe experienced hyper-inflation in the later part of the last decade, 200 million percent in the year leading up to July 2008 in fact. Tobacco and Gold production has also slumped as a result of an incompetent and chaotic regime.

2. Japan (189%) DOWN
Japan has the second largest public debt when compared with GDP, despite having the third largest GDP in the world; public debt is sitting at over $10 trillion, equivalent to $83,000 for each man, woman and child. The bulk of the countries public debt can be attributed to massive stimulus spending during their 'lost decade', the nineties. It was worsened again during the short but severe recession in 2009, although the country has succeeded in the year since 2009 to bring their public debt ration down (from almost 200%). It should be noted that the IMF consider the risk of Japan defaulting on their debt to be low, as 95% of the debt is national debt rather than external debt, they are however still under pressure to continue to lower the debt.

3. Saint Kitts and Nevis (185%) SAME
Saint Kitts and Nevis is a tiny two-island state in the West Indies, with a population of just over 50,000 and a GDP of approximately $726m. The CIA estimate that the state has a debt equivalent to around 185% of GDP, and the Saint Kitts and Nevis government announced a 2011 budget which expects to see a deficit again this year. 

4. Lebanon (156%) UP
At fourth on the list with the highest public debt levels in Western Asia is Lebanon with a debt level which is estimated at around 156% of GDP. Despite this grim figure, the Lebanese economy avoided the financial crisis, has recently celebrated record levels of tourism, and in 2009 the economy achieved 9% growth. Despite relative success economically the Lebanese government announced a 14% increase in spending for 2010/11 and anticipated increases in public debt as a result. Much of this budget deficit can be accounted for by debt servicing, Lebanon are effectively in a situation whereas they have to continue to borrow in order to repay the interest on their existing debts.

5. Greece (127%) DOWN
There isn't really much that needs to be said about Greece. They failed to control their tax system, employed more people in the public sector than were employed in the private sector, and were bailed out by the IMF and the EU. They have since been praised for swiftly getting things back on track. The end.
6. Jamaica (125%) UP
7. Italy (188%) UP
8. Singapore (113%) UP
9. Iceland (108%) DOWN
10. Sudan (104%) UP


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