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A Debt Agenda for the G7

CAMBRIDGE – On May 26-27, the heads of the Group of Seven leading industrial countries will gather in Japan to discuss common security and economic problems. A major common problem that deserves their attention is the unsustainable increase in the major developed countries’ national debt. Failure to address the explosion of government borrowing will have adverse effects on the global economy and on debt-burdened countries themselves.

The problem is bad and getting worse almost everywhere. In the United States, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the federal government debt doubled over the past decade, from 36% of GDP to 74% of GDP. It also predicts that, under favorable economic assumptions and with no new programs to increase spending or reduce revenue, the debt ratio ten years from now will be 86% of GDP. Even more worrying, the annual deficit ratio will double in the next decade to 4.9% of GDP, putting the debt on track to exceed 100% of GDP.

The situation in Japan is worse, with gross debt at more than 200% of GDP. Japan’s current annual deficit of 6% of GDP implies that the debt ratio will continue to rise rapidly unless action is taken.

Conditions differ among the eurozone countries. But three of the European Union’s four largest economies – France, Italy, and the United Kingdom – all have large debts and annual deficits that point to even higher debt ratios in the future.