"Odious Debt" - A Definition

Tyler Durden's picture

Perhaps it is time to look at some basic defintions for a term that will soon be quite prevalent...

Odious debt

In international law, odious debt is a legal theory which holds that the national debt incurred by a regime for purposes that do not serve the best interests of the nation, should not be enforceable. Such debts are thus considered by this doctrine to be personal debts of the regime that incurred them and not debts of the state. In some respects, the concept is analogous to the invalidity of contracts signed under coercion.


The doctrine was formalized in a 1927 treatise by Alexander Nahum Sack, a Russian émigré legal theorist,[citation needed] based upon 19th century precedents including Mexico's repudiation of debts incurred by Emperor Maximilian's regime, and the denial by the United States of Cuban liability for debts incurred by the Spanish colonial regime.

According to Sack:

When a despotic regime contracts a debt, not for the needs or in the
interests of the state, but rather to strengthen itself, to suppress a
popular insurrection, etc, this debt is odious for the people of the
entire state. This debt does not bind the nation; it is a debt of the
regime, a personal debt contracted by the ruler, and consequently it
falls with the demise of the regime. The reason why these odious debts
cannot attach to the territory of the state is that they do not fulfil
one of the conditions determining the lawfulness of State debts, namely
that State debts must be incurred, and the proceeds used, for the needs
and in the interests of the State. Odious debts, contracted and utilised
for purposes which, to the lenders' knowledge, are contrary to the
needs and the interests of the nation, are not binding on the nation –
when it succeeds in overthrowing the government that contracted them –
unless the debt is within the limits of real advantages that these debts
might have afforded. The lenders have committed a hostile act against
the people, they cannot expect a nation which has freed itself of a
despotic regime to assume these odious debts, which are the personal
debts of the ruler.[1]

Modern impacts

Patricia Adams, executive director of Probe International (an environmental and public policy advocacy organisation in Canada), and author of Odious Debts: Loose Lending, Corruption, and the Third World's Environmental Legacy, has stated that:

by giving creditors an incentive to lend only for purposes that are
transparent and of public benefit, future tyrants will lose their
ability to finance their armies, and thus the war on terror and the
cause of world peace will be better served.

In a Policy Analysis for the Cato Institute, Patricia Adams suggested
that the debts incurred by the Iraqi state during the rule of Saddam Hussein are odious as the money borrowed was spent on weapons, instruments of repression and palaces.[2]

A recent article by economists Seema Jayachandran and Michael Kremer
has renewed interest in this topic. They propose that the idea can be
used to create a new type of economic sanction to block further
borrowing by dictators.[3] Jayachandran proposed her new recommendations recently at the 10th anniversary of the Jubilee movement held at the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C.


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Cassandra Syndrome's picture

Sweet find SD, nothing like a bit of Rothbard to explain the madness we live in now. I wonder what he would make of it all if he was still alive?

g's picture







Good stuff, all available at mises.org

Cash_is_Trash's picture





Just putting some good names out there.

g's picture

Agreed, good choices, add




EscapeKey's picture

John Mauldin's "Endgame" is recommendable, too.

As is "Monetary Regimes and Inflation" by Peter Bernholz.

And Reinhart/Rogoff's epic "This time is Different".

string's picture


TruthInSunshine's picture

G. Edward Griffin, a true pioneer who exposed the farce that is our de-loved 'Federal' Reserve Bank (how it came into fruition and who were the players behind its formation and their goals), the ultimate Ponzi of fractional reserve banking-based economic policies, writing a precise, historically accurate and priceless national treasure in the form of one of the greatest works of non-fiction of all time.

nevadan's picture

Is that where the info on the pound sterling came from that you cited for me a couple of weeks ago?

Sudden Debt's picture

no that was a combi info :)

Syrin's picture

Another who frequents mises.org


Brings a tear to my eyes.

NotApplicable's picture

ALL government debt is odious.


redpill's picture

Odious Maximus Debtious, I think he was a Roman emporer...

mayhem_korner's picture

His cousin tid bittus velocitus was the roadrunner...


Manthong's picture

I learned all that I know about the three laws of motion, gravity and the lever from those two.

A_MacLaren's picture

A MONETARY system based on debt is Odious.

the_magician's picture

a.k.a. odorous debt.

TheTmfreak's picture

I have been thinking about this for some time.

One could argue that ANY debt occurred by a government on the behalf of the people would be odious debt. Who defines best interest of the nation? Mob rule? Those who "won" and get to write history?


Mad Cow's picture

How can a state, that can print its own money, be in debt?

Jason T's picture

You are thinking of Lincoln's days when he issued Greenbacks or Hitler when he issued state backed bills of credit.  

America has a bank called Federal Reserve whom we borrow money from and pay them interest on.  America doesn't print its own money, the Fed does the printing and they get to charge citizens of the once sovereign nation called the USA interets.

Mad Cow's picture

Thanks, that's exactly why the debt is bullshit.

FlyPaper's picture

Bullshit unless you were the one who earned the money to loan to Uncle Sam.  Not so much bullshit for the lender - it was real money at one point.  That a bank can use a computer to produce money and not do a damn thing that is productive in terms of actual wealth creation, demonstrates the leech-like dependency of the financial and banking system on real producers.  This is why our banking system will fail; we're out of assets and we destroyed our economic base.

traderjoe's picture

In the fractional reserve system, the commercial banks loan money created out of thin air, at interest. And in the case of UST's, against the collateral of the future labor of debt-slaves.

Mad Cow's picture


Private banks should be allowed to lend at interest, provided those loans are not created out of thin air just as you say. If someone wants to get a loan at interest, it's their choice.

The money "created" at the Fed, or any other privately owned central bank, should not have interest attached to it at birth. Therefore, the people of a country cannot be in debt, because their gov can print its own money, with no interest attached. So when you hear someone say, "austerity," you can tell them it's all bullshit, and a fraud, to enslave.

Uncle Remus's picture

Austerity, yet another word for nothing left to lose.

GoinFawr's picture

Try that one on your student loan officer (assuming you don`t live in a nation that sees the value in post secondary education and has a high enough standard of living to stand behind it).

Oh shit, nm, that`s `personal` debt, there can never be anything odious about that... we all know that every seventeen year old is well versed in the dynamics of personal responsibility years before they mark their 'x' on any legally binding documents.

RockyRacoon's picture


Understanding Coercion

Everyone understands why it's wrong for a hoodlum to demand that you hand over your wallet, and threaten you with violence if you don't. But very few people understand the corollary between that situation and the insidious nature of government's coercive powers.

The following short illustrated video from Reason.com does a great job of explaining the fundamental failure of principle in the operating methodology of today's nation-states. It is very well worth a watch, and passing along.

Id fight Gandhi's picture

Good thing we elected smart people with our best interests in mind.

Highrev's picture

How long have you had this post queued up and ready to go?

Always in front of the curve. Great job as usual!

The Fonz's picture

Here comes RUT 780, this is where unlimited buying appeared two days ago...

The Fonz's picture

There it is, solid unbreakable wall of green ticks. Fucking obvious.

richard in norway's picture

but how do they do it, it seems to be a hosepipe strategy, is it done through the banks, or is it the central bankers acting in concert


i can see whats happening but don't understand the how

The Fonz's picture

The money has to come from the Fed, algos are implementing the strat. Its too obvious though, you HAVE to lie to the market to keep it from eating you alive. Someone is going to come up with an algo to eat their algo.  


Who the hell is getting these stocks though?

richard in norway's picture

i think it might be the taxpayers that end up with the worthless stocks, but not to worry they sell the stocks at a loss the day after




but the important thing is that the tv news does not talk about a stock market crash

The Fonz's picture

I am sure the taxpayers paid for those stocks, what I am concerned about is who gets them :)

Today is get a drink early day. Like now.

TruthInSunshine's picture

Debt = slavery

Ponzi scheme of fractional reserve banking (see Modern Money Mechanics, the esteemed 'Federal' Reserve's own playbook) relies on increasingly larger issuance and absorbtion of debt to keep the fiat=credit=debt economic "growth" continuing, lest the pillars of salt upon which the foundation of their structure collapse.


***Bankster/Jackal Breaking News Alert***

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has pleaded with the indebted all over the world to NOT, we repeat, NOT pay back their debts - assuming his message is to the small minority of entities and individuals that are so able to do so - (this defeats his efforts to destroy the holding power of entities and individuals to maintain ownership over their most valuable and necessary assets), and more importantly, he is pleading for all to please take on as much additional debt as possible, as it is the patriotic duty of all to their alleged sovereign nations to do so, even as their sovereign nations to which they allegedly belong cut deals to sell the soil from underneath the very feet of their citizenry. Thank you, and God Bless the NWO, Fractional Reserve Banking, Ponzi & The House of RedShield.

***This Has Been A Bankster/Jackal Breaking News Alert***

Clampit's picture

Sovereign debt - the ultimate unsecured debt.

TruthInSunshine's picture

I didn't junk you, but the world WILL soon find out  how 'secure' the Greeks, Portugese, Irish, Spaniards, Italians, and yes, ultimately, Brits and Americans believe 'sovereign debt' (an oxymoron by definition if a nation's ability to print its own interest free currency hasn't been hijacked, but I digress) really and truly is.

The Greeks very well may hang the politicians and banksters on lamp posts, and even if that is just the beginning with the PIIGS+UK+Japan+US ball rolling now.

No people seem to like it when shadowy figures start staking claim to their terra firma.

Clampit's picture

At some point in fiatopia the rubber will meet road as dreams of Ponzi promises meet the reality of surplus labor by ensuing generations. Thinking it's possible to tax labor enough to cover the real [inflation adjusted] promises is one of the more preposterously stupid things one can do, especially with said labor reading up on the capital monopoly here in intertube land.

And keep the junks coming, it's rather entertaining to watch people fight the current.

Cdad's picture


Welcome to the BlowHorn [CNBC] Cliche Downs.  It is a lovely day and the track is dry.  Just look at those colorful jockeys and interesting people in the stands.  This is a seven horse claiming race.

The line up:

In gate #1, we have Buying Opportunity, a 2 year old gelding and one of the favorites for today's race.  In the second gate, Historically Cheap Valuations, going off at 1.1:1.  In gate #3, Kicking the Can Down the Road, who just two days ago was posting odds of 3:1, but  is now sporting a .25:1 payout, today's odds on favorite.  In gate #4, Global Growth, an old stag who has seen his odds widen to 4:1 overnight.  In gate # 5, Channel Check, a horse that has recently seen some controversy.  Multiple blood tests have been administered on this gelding by Expert Networks, but no substances have been found in the animal and the BlowHorn race commission has given him the go for today's race.  In gate #6, a special horse that has not raced in almost two years, Ring Fence.  And in the outside gate, Mutual Fund Redemption, the long shot going off at 5:1, a comparatively small horse in stature that no one can see coming, to be sure, but fresh off a recent victory at the Alzheimer's Run.

The jockeys are warming up 'em up.  Mutual Fund Redemption is high stepping it, looking very sporting, indeed.  Buying Opportunity is looking ever calm and confident.  Historically Cheap Valuations...and oh my, look a the size of those balls!  Place your bets gentlemen as the windows will be closing shortly.





Milestones's picture

Great post coming to you from the infield of Santa Anita.      Milestones

Caviar Emptor's picture

As Dirty Harry once said: "Go Ahead. Buy My Dip" 

mayhem_korner's picture

Odious debt = insanity defense

Where's Johnnie Cochrane...

TruthInSunshine's picture

If the debt doesn't fit, you must acquit!

NotApplicable's picture

If the debt is odious, it'll take your guns to deal with us!

Steaming_Wookie_Doo's picture

How about "If the debt doesn't fit, don't pay shit"

TruthInSunshine's picture

The opposite of that is Bernanke & Dudley's Maiden Lanes (all of them, however many there are), stuffed to the gills with priceless treasures [sarc] like 'The Red Roof Inn,' which are now worth approximately 3 cents on the dollar of what Bernankistain paid to the financials formerly holding this toxic shit.