Public debt is the amount of money a central government owes to its creditors. Creditors can be foreign countries or businesses - external debt - or even lenders inside the country - that is, internal debt. Governments borrow this money for a variety of reasons including providing energy, improving infrastructure, investing abroad, dealing with disasters and financing the startling costs of military action.
A recent estimate of the world's public debt stands at a crippling figure of $56.308 trillion, although this only equates to 64 percent of the world's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, all of the countries on this list have a public debt-to-GDP ratio of over 100 percent. According to the latest information from the World Bank, the USA is not in the top 10; the 2013 estimate for the country has it in 36th place. Although the US owes in the region of $17.6 trillion, the public debt to GDP percentage is only (!) 71.80 percent. To get an idea of countries whose debt is truly huge in comparison to their wealth, we've ranked the size of a country's public debt as a percentage of GDP, rather than the physical amount in dollars.
Other powerful economies that escape being in this maligned top 10 include the UK (91.10 percent, putting them in 20th place), Germany (79.90 percent, 26th place) and Brazil (59.20 percent, 48th place). There are some surprisingly big names much further down the public debt list; for example, India is in 63rd position with just 51.80 percent while China is in 114th position with 31.70 percent. Way down the table is Russia in 148th place with their public debt as a percentage of GDP standing at a paltry 7.90. Russia relied on macroeconomic policies during worldwide recessions to keep public spending under control and, crucially, it exports more than it imports.
Other oil-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia (12.20 percent), Kuwait (6.40 percent) and Libya (4.80 percent) also enjoy very low levels of public debt as percentages of GDP. There are some famously fragile economies among the top 10 most indebted countries in the world - many victims of the Eurozone crisis - but the country occupying the unfortunate top position will no doubt come as a surprise to many, especially as it's considered one of the richest and most successful countries in the world.
10 Singapore: 113.60 percent
9 Lebanon: 120.00 percent
8 Jamaica: 123.60 percent
7 Ireland: 124.20 percent
6 Portugal: 127.80 percent
5 Iceland: 130.50 percent
4 Italy: 133.00 percent
3 Greece: 175.00 percent
2 Zimbabwe: 202.40 percent
1 Japan: 226.10 percent
The shock country heading this list is Japan. The world's third largest GDP, renowned for its technology and motor vehicles, you'd be forgiven for expecting Japan would be much further down this list.
The Asian country's economy suffered immensely from the recent global recession and received further setbacks beyond its control: the 2011 Tohoku tsunami and earthquake cost over 15,000 lives and $235 billion in damages and led to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which in turn has the country's population clamoring for a nuclear-free state that could cost $500 billion to plan and implement. Also putting a strain on Japan's economy is the aging population, with social welfare spending increasing disproportionate in comparison to other developed nations. Japan does have over $14 trillion in private financial assets and a huge amount of foreign exchange reserves, but the future of the economy still looks uncertain for the Land of the Rising Sun.
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