Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 20 No. 1 (Winter 2006)


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Policy Watch: Debt Relief

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Arslanalp, Serkan, and Peter Blair Henry. 2006. "Policy Watch: Debt Relief." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 20(1): 207-220.

DOI: 10.1257/089533006776526166


At the Gleneagles summit in July 2005, the heads of state from the G-8 countries—the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United Kingdom—called on the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the African Development Bank to cancel 100 percent of their debt claims on the world's poorest countries. The world's richest countries have agreed in principle to forgive roughly $55 billion dollars owed by the world's poorest nations. This article considers the wisdom of the proposal for debt forgiveness, from the standpoint of stimulating economic growth in highly indebted countries. In the 1980s, debt relief under the "Brady Plan" helped to restore investment and growth in a number of middle-income developing countries. However, the debt relief plan for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) launched by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in 1996 has had little impact on either investment or growth in the recipient countries. We will explore the key differences between the countries targeted by these two debt relief schemes and argue that the Gleneagles proposal for debt relief is, at best, likely to have little effect at all. Debt relief is unlikely to help the world's poorest countries because, unlike the middle-income Brady countries, their main economic difficulty is not debt overhang, but an absence of functional economic institutions that provide the foundation for profitable investment and growth. We will show that debt relief may be more valuable for Brady-like middle-income countries than for low-income ones because of how it leverages the private sector.

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Arslanalp, Serkan
Henry, Peter Blair


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