How countries deal with sovereign debt

  • Sovereign debt allows governments to fund public investments, but excessive borrowing can lead to economic issues and defaults.
  • Sovereign debt allows governments to fund public investments and manage economic stability but can lead to financial issues and defaults if it becomes unsustainable.
  • High levels of sovereign debt are often linked to slower economic growth, creating a cycle where increased debt servicing limits productive investments, further exacerbating financial challenges.

Sovereign debt enables governments to exceed their revenue through borrowing, benefiting both the state and creditors. However, excessive debt can lead to restructuring and defaults, causing prolonged economic stress without a standardized international resolution mechanism.

Understanding sovereign debt: The basics and benefits

Sovereign debt, the total of a country’s outstanding borrowing, plays a crucial role in enabling governments to fund public investments and manage economic stability. This type of debt is typically issued through bonds and loans and is considered a win-win for both the borrowing government and creditors, who receive yields backed by the government’s taxing power. However, the accumulation of too much debt can lead to serious financial issues, akin to households overspending on credit. When debt levels become unsustainable, governments may face the need for restructuring, often leading to sovereign default, which lacks a standardized international enforcement mechanism. This complexity in resolving sovereign debt issues highlights the critical balance required in managing public finances.

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

Also read: Scaling Fintech Businesses through Strategic Debt Financing

The global surge in sovereign debt amidst COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted global sovereign debt levels, with many governments increasing their borrowing to support economic relief measures. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), global sovereign debt surged by approximately 14 percentage points in 2020, reaching about 102% of worldwide GDP. This increase was driven by the need to fund healthcare responses, economic stimulus packages, and other pandemic-related expenditures. While these measures were necessary to mitigate the immediate economic fallout, they also heightened long-term debt risks. The subsequent rise in commodity prices and interest rates due to geopolitical events, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, further complicated the debt landscape, increasing the cost of servicing sovereign debt.

Sovereign debt’s impact on economic growth

High levels of sovereign debt are often associated with slower economic growth, a relationship observed by economists over time. While correlation does not imply causation, higher debt burdens can lead to increased government spending on debt servicing rather than productive investments. This phenomenon can create a vicious cycle where slower economic growth leads to higher debt, as governments face shortfalls in tax revenue and increased social spending. The debate over the critical threshold of debt-to-GDP ratios, such as the once-cited 90% tipping point, underscores the complexity of assessing the impact of debt on economic health. Japan’s experience, with its debt-to-GDP ratio exceeding 260%, illustrates how specific national contexts influence the sustainability and economic implications of sovereign debt.


Alaiya Ding

Alaiya Ding is an intern news reporter at Blue Tech Wave specialising in Fintech and Blockchain. She graduated from China Jiliang University College of Modern Science and Technology. Send tips to

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