Does Debt Matter?

LONDON – Europe is now haunted by the specter of debt. All European leaders quail before it. To exorcise the demon, they are putting their economies through the wringer.

It doesn’t seem to be helping. Their economies are still tumbling, and the debt continues to grow. The credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s has just downgraded the sovereign-debt ratings of nine eurozone countries, including France. The United Kingdom is likely to follow.

To anyone not blinded by folly, the explanation for this mass downgrade is obvious. If you deliberately aim to shrink your GDP, your debt-to-GDP ratio is bound to grow. The only way to cut your debt (other than by default) is to get your economy to grow.

Fear of debt is rooted in human nature; so the extinction of it as a policy aim seems right to the average citizen. Everyone knows what financial debt means: money owed, often borrowed. To be in debt can produce anxiety if one is uncertain whether, when the time comes, one will be able to repay what one owes.