Dealing with debt: Lessons from around the world

  • Countries employ a range of strategies to manage debt, including austerity measures, debt restructuring, economic growth initiatives, monetary policy adjustments, and seeking international assistance.
  • Examples from Greece, Argentina, Japan, Germany, and Zimbabwe illustrate different approaches and outcomes in managing national debt, highlighting the importance of tailored solutions based on economic and political contexts.
  • Effective debt management policies can stabilise economies and support growth, but challenges such as social unrest, economic constraints, and long-term sustainability issues persist, emphasising the need for balanced and adaptable fiscal strategies.

National debt is a common issue faced by countries worldwide, impacting their economic stability and growth. Governments accrue debt by borrowing to cover budget deficits, fund public projects, and manage economic crises. How countries manage and deal with this debt can vary significantly, often reflecting their economic policies, political contexts, and available resources. This blog explores the different strategies employed by countries to deal with debt, highlighting five examples from around the world.

Strategies for managing national debt

1. Austerity measures

Governments often implement austerity measures to reduce public spending and increase taxes. This approach aims to balance budgets and reduce debt but can also lead to public discontent and economic slowdown.

2. Debt restructuring

Countries may negotiate with creditors to restructure their debt, seeking longer repayment terms, lower interest rates, or partial debt forgiveness.

3. Economic growth

Stimulating economic growth can increase government revenues through higher tax collections, helping to pay down debt. This strategy involves investments in infrastructure, education, and technology to boost productivity and growth.

4. Monetary policy

Central banks can influence debt management through monetary policy, such as adjusting interest rates and using quantitative easing to buy government bonds.

5. International assistance

Countries facing severe debt crises may seek assistance from international organisations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which can provide financial aid and policy guidance.

Also read: Billionaire Investor Rings the Warning Bell Over Mounting US Debt

Examples of countries dealing with debt

1. Greece

Greece’s debt crisis, which began in 2009, is one of the most well-known examples of national debt struggles. The crisis was triggered by high levels of public spending, tax evasion, and the global financial crisis.

Greece adopted a mix of austerity measures and international assistance to address its debt issues. The European Union (EU) and the IMF provided bailout packages in exchange for strict austerity measures, including public sector wage cuts, pension reforms, and tax increases. These measures helped reduce the budget deficit but also led to significant social unrest and economic contraction.

Over time, Greece managed to stabilise its economy and return to modest growth. However, the social and economic impacts of austerity measures continue to be felt, and the country remains heavily indebted.

Greeks gather holding banners in Sydney on July 4, 2015.

2. Argentina

Argentina has a long history of debt crises, with significant defaults occurring in 2001 and again in 2020. The country’s economic instability, high inflation, and reliance on foreign debt have been persistent challenges.

Argentina has frequently turned to debt restructuring as a strategy to manage its debt. In 2020, the government successfully restructured $65 billion in foreign debt, securing longer repayment terms and reduced interest rates. Additionally, Argentina has sought financial assistance from the IMF, negotiating substantial loan packages with attached economic reform conditions.

While debt restructuring has provided temporary relief, Argentina’s economic challenges, including inflation and fiscal deficits, continue to pose significant risks. The country remains in a cycle of debt accumulation and restructuring.

3. Japan

Japan’s debt-to-GDP ratio is among the highest in the world, exceeding 230%. The country’s aging population and prolonged economic stagnation have contributed to high public debt levels.

Japan has relied heavily on domestic borrowing to finance its debt, with the majority of government bonds held by Japanese institutions and individuals. The Bank of Japan (BoJ) has also implemented aggressive monetary policies, including quantitative easing, to keep interest rates low and support government borrowing.

Japan’s approach has allowed it to manage high debt levels without triggering a debt crisis. However, the country’s long-term economic growth prospects remain constrained, and demographic challenges continue to pose risks to fiscal sustainability.

4. Germany

Germany’s approach to debt management stands in contrast to many other advanced economies. The country has a strong fiscal policy framework and a constitutional debt brake (Schuldenbremse) that limits structural deficits.

Germany prioritises fiscal discipline, maintaining balanced budgets and reducing debt-to-GDP ratios during periods of economic growth. The country also benefits from a strong export-driven economy, which provides robust government revenues.

Germany’s prudent fiscal policies have enabled it to maintain low debt levels relative to GDP and respond effectively to economic shocks, such as the global financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic, with targeted fiscal stimulus measures.

5. Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe has faced severe economic challenges, including hyperinflation and a debt crisis. By 2019, the country’s external debt had ballooned, and it struggled to access international financial markets.

Zimbabwe has sought debt relief and restructuring from international creditors and institutions. In recent years, the government has engaged with the IMF and World Bank to negotiate debt restructuring deals and secure financial assistance for economic reforms.

Zimbabwe’s path to debt sustainability is fraught with challenges. Political instability, economic mismanagement, and limited access to international finance continue to hinder progress. The success of ongoing reforms and international support will be crucial in determining the country’s economic future.

The inflation in Zimbabwe hit a peak of 79,600,000,000% in 2008.

Also read: How to overcome debt deal challenges?

Comparative analysis

The five examples above highlight different approaches to managing national debt, each influenced by unique economic and political contexts. Greece and Argentina’s reliance on austerity and restructuring underscore the difficulties of balancing fiscal consolidation with social stability. Japan’s approach demonstrates the role of domestic financial systems in managing high debt levels. Germany’s fiscal discipline showcases the benefits of maintaining low debt during growth periods. Zimbabwe’s experience highlights the complexities of achieving debt sustainability in the face of severe economic and political challenges.

Managing national debt is a complex and multifaceted challenge that requires a combination of strategies tailored to a country’s specific circumstances. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, the experiences of Greece, Argentina, Japan, Germany, and Zimbabwe offer valuable insights into the diverse ways countries address their debt issues. Effective debt management policies must balance fiscal discipline with economic growth and social stability, ensuring sustainable economic development in the long term.


Coco Zhang

Coco Zhang, an intern reporter at BTW media dedicated in Products and AI. She graduated from Tiangong University. Send tips to

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