Putting America's Record-Breaking $20 Trillion Debt In Global Context

Tyler Durden's picture

The U.S. federal government just passed a record $20 trillion in publicly held debt. That’s bigger than the entire economy of every country in the European Union, combined.

As HowMuch.net notes, the debt will only grow higher unless President Trump and the U.S. Congress can agree to unprecedented spending cuts combined with tax increases. 

Don’t count on that happening anytime soon. Most people think that an eye-popping $20+ trillion debt is insurmountable, and in fact, it is the largest in the world by far.

But when you look at another fiscal measure - the ratio of debt-to-GDP - the U.S. is not in the worst situation...

Source: HowMuch.net

HowMuch.net's visualization allows you to quickly see how the U.S. government’s debt compares to other countries around the world. The size of the country correlates to the size of the debt. The U.S. and Japan stand out because they have the highest debts in the world ($20.17T and $11.59T, respectively). Other countries, like Germany and Brazil, appear much smaller because their debts are comparatively tiny ($2.45T and $1.45T, respectively). We then color-coded each country according to its debt-to-GDP ratio. Green countries have a healthy margin, but dark red and fuchsia countries have debts that are even bigger than their entire economies.

Top 10 countries with the Worst Debt-to-GDP Ratios 

  1. Japan (245% at $11.59T)
  2. Greece (173% at $338B)
  3. Italy (138% at $138B
  4. Portugal (133% at $274B)
  5. Belgium (111% at $111B)
  6. Spain (106% at $106B)
  7. Canada (106% at $106B)
  8. Ireland (105% at $105B)
  9. France (98% at $98B)
  10. Brazil (82% at $82B)

The debt-to-GDP ratio is a critical metric for evaluating a country’s fiscal health. It makes a lot of sense for the American government to have a higher debt than a much smaller country, like Germany. Think about it like this: Bill Gates is worth $86 billion, so he can afford a much higher credit card bill than me or you.

That’s why it’s important to consider the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of each country, a number which represents the sum of all transactions occurring in the economy.

Once you understand the public debt as a percentage of GDP, you get a level playing field for countries on different economic scales. When you think about it like this, the U.S. isn’t even among the ten worst sovereign debts in the world.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Five Star's picture

And the same countries based on how much debt is owed, and its cost, per tax payer:



realmoney2015's picture

All the countries on the list have a Rothschild central bank. But I guess that's pretty much the entire world now. Only a few more countries on the naughty list. The new puppet in Chief is working on Iran, North Korea and Syria as we speak. 

If we want peace and prosperity, we have to end the Fed. If we want to end the Fed we have to take it upon ourselves to raise awareness and spread the message of sound money: gold and silver. 

That's why we created Scent Savers. We sell candles with silver coin prizes: www.scentsaverscsndles.com

We also run educational campaigns on our Facebook and Twitter pages: 



End the Fed!

Stackers's picture

A more honest metric would be debt to tax reciepts divided by liabilities and expenses.

Five Star's picture

Here it is in terms of tax reciepts and the effect interest rate on the debt:


Twee Surgeon's picture

Here it is in terms of Rational thinking....When any Entity is given the power to create Money out of thin air from Nothing without true consent of the People who do the actual Producing of Goods and Services then you are abiding in a system of Chaos. When said Entity has Interests at heart that are not the Benefit of the people, you have Wars. There is no Debt. They can write or write off any check at any time for reasons known only to them.

Applying Logic to Random half wit fuckery is not a winning game. Come out of Mystery Babylon !

Stuck on Zero's picture

Use GAAP debt figures. They are more realistic.

Déjà view's picture

U.S. @ 107%/GDP = PINK COLOR!
Regardless having highest rating by 2/3 rating agencies...

Bobbyrib's picture

These stats are BS. It paints the US in a lot rosier picture than it should.

peddling-fiction's picture

"It paints the US in a lot rosier picture than it should."

> 500T in derivatives is the thornier version.


Nexus789's picture

Government debt is only one part. The other and more incidious debt is personal debt and business debt.. But that is okay as it's all based on people making rational decisions. Added together it is over $70Trillion l believe. 

Itinerant's picture

It's worse ...

  1. Every other source pegs the US Fed debt at 106% of GDP, meaning the US is number 5 on the list and should be fuchsia colored.
  2. Most European countries [Eurostat] calculate public debt as the consolidated public balance sheet, including local and provincial levels of government, as well as publically owned companies. In the US, that would mean adding Tr$3.2 state/local debt to the total, as well as contingent liabilities such as Fannie, Freddie, and Ginnie: All in all you're up to Tr$30.
  3. You don't pay back your loans from your turn-over or revenue, but from your income!!! Federal tax receipts have averaged around 17% of GDP for a long time. In Europe, many countries get more than 40% of GDP as revenue. The federal government can't just up the taxes to a similar level, because in Europe those taxes pay for health care and public services which the federal government does not fund. A more realistic ratio is not debt:GDP but debt:income. On this metric, the USA scores about 600% (on just the Tr$20 part of the public debt). This compares to around 200% for most of the other countries on the chart. The American public debt position is worse than Greece on this metric.

So thanks for the presentation, but you're just helping to pull the wool over people's eyes.


philipat's picture

Yes, I was just about to point out the same thing. How can they not include the US in the top 10 when US GDP is only $18T?

Also, in the case of the US, that does NOT include State and Municiple debt and unfunded liabilities. If the purpose of this article is, and I suspect it is, to make the case that "everything is actually awesome" then I call BS on the entire article.

BigJim's picture

 "The size of the country correlates to the size of the debt. The U.S. and Japan stand out because they have the highest debts in the world ($20.17T and $11.59T, respectively)."

Erm, if that's the case, why is Japan the size of the US in this chart, when it has around half the debt? And why is Canada so tiny - it should be ~80% the size of the US.

geno-econ's picture

How is debt of individual States calculated in these figures or is it considered  irrelivant to debt hangover ?

chestergimli's picture

Mystery Babylon is the entire world monetary system which is soon to go down the drain back to hell where it came from.

Szlachta's picture

What'll replace it in your opinion?

Putrid_Scum's picture

You guys are obsessing about nothing. The 20 Trillion in debt doesn't exist, it's been moved to the balance sheet of the Bank of International Settlements.

No one cares about the debt, the debt is not an issue. Soon, your personal debts won't even matter to you.

The thing that matters now is The Reset and how the event unfolds.



monk27's picture

About those books of yours: cut the price in half and I might give them a try... And yeah, debt doesn't matter... until it does !

Putrid_Scum's picture

The series is written for The Capitalists, and they'll pay any price.

Those guys wanted me to set the price of The Reset to $200, but I prefer that normal guys can afford it.

Edit: You only need to read volume 1 and 3 for your continuing survival. Volume 1 because it will help your mind understand what you're witnessing: so you won't suffer depression or a nervous breakdown. The political economy post Reset will be extreme.


Secret Weapon's picture

I have read all three books.  Well worth the price of admission.  The information will stretch your brain and set off lightbulbs in your mind. 

Caloot's picture

This article is complete bs.  Just debt held by treasury is not the whole us debt picture by a  long shot.  Factor in state debt, Muni debt, and unfunded liabilities and you get hugely different story.  Having that debt held in near zero rates also completely distorts it.   Imagine what that treasury debt burden would look like even at 3% and you pay all tax receipts to financing it. B... S...

Putrid_Scum's picture

Don't worry about it, no one cares about the outstanding debt. Only what the outstanding debt is representative of, is interesting.

It's the future, post Reset debt, that's frightening.

I hope the Crypto guys are given the time they need to save us.


farmboy's picture

This is the best way indeed to look at the debt. Furthermore GDP is calculated including govt spending. So the more you spend on military and food stamps the higher the GDP, that seems to me a big joke.

Peanut Butter Engineer's picture

I guess we all
Should feel better that we aren't in top 10 or the fact that we aren't worst off than japs. Welcome to the loser club.

illuminatus's picture

I beg to differ. The debt is supremely important. As long as the people that own the debt and the printing press can buy and maintain power they will use that debt to keep populations in slavery. 

loves the truth's picture

Tell that to the IRS when they come to take everything you have

AssN9's picture

Fake money = fake debt. No one owes a cent...

JeffB's picture

Including "off the books" "unfunded debt" would be even more accurate.


US unfunded liabilities = $107,583,000,000,000+, which comes to $892,069.

That should be added to the "official" US debt.

JoJo Kracko's picture

You guys (tyler durden) wrote this yourself?   Did you not read your earlier article about Debt to GDP?


Your map colors are wrong.   

Japan has a 2.5x Debt to GDP ratio.

The US is 105%

Canada is 94%


Just trying to paint your country in a better light?  Or should I say orange instead of pink?


Of course, these numbers are all pretty much made up and different depending on the source.   The OECD for example, who should be the most accurate, has the US at 126% and Canada at 116%.   So is the US actually 6th worst in the whole world, worse than Spain and France, or out of the top ten as your article implies?



Kayman's picture

Your first mistake is to think that the OECD is anything more than a political numbers churner.

"Canada is 94%" ?  What a pathetic joke.   Add in in other government debt, provincial, and off balance sheet debt held in "special purpose" government corporations and Canada is +250%.

The problem with most Canadians is they still eat the pablum.

ClassicCommodity's picture

Retail is 2% of the gold market you fucking idiot. You're not going to change a thing

HulkHogan's picture

@realnoney, nice product idea. We need more things like that on ZH.... people selling neat products. (I have no idea why bonsai doesnt sell his pictures...)

I'm a graphic designer in real life. I can update your packaging design if you need it. I'll do it for a candle or 2. Message me.

hibou-Owl's picture

The other comsideration is the term of the debt and the cost of rolling it.
Previous articles suggests US has shortening debt term, and a massive pension blowout.
Countries like Australia and New Zealand which have promoted self funded retirement schemes are going to be way ahead. UK have only just started this scheme and is relatively young. Countries like France, and alot of others have massive government funded pensions, which are never going to be honoured. So not all countries can be compared on a debt/gdp or interest liability per capita, but the US is in big trouble and I haven't started on the healthcare liabilities which US tops the list.

Friedrich not Salma's picture

Self-funded retirement scams is what it is. Govs were coerced to set up equity retirement to pump markets.

youarelost's picture

GDP is a manipulated number just like everything else.

Mark Urbo's picture

Especially for China - its a house of cards just like the USSr used to be....

Secret Weapon's picture

Remove all government spending from the GDP number and then you get a real idea of how bad the economy sucks right now. 

Kayman's picture

Secret Weapon

Every Government dollar spent into GDP has been taken from someone else, or it is a future debt, ie, taxation of those that did not get to vote to have their money from the future spent on current consumption and waste by others. GDP should not include "Government" because government does not produce, it only sucks.

sinbad2's picture

Problem is, US GDP is total BS.

Ron_Mexico's picture

it's "ALL" got Spam in it!

Ben A Drill's picture

Don't interest rates play a factor? If your in debt, interest rates matter.

radio man's picture

"Run Forrest run!"

peddling-fiction's picture

...and don´t look back... <running>

lulu34's picture

So we shoulg "catch up" to be "equal". Yeh sure. Paul Krugman told me to say this.

Internet-is-Beast's picture

It would be interesting to see a chart indicating countries' susceptability to implosion at different interest rates. A chart could be designed to show the amount of interest rate increase needed to implode each country's economy, assuming there is a moritorium on kicking the can down the road by assuming more debt.

Delving Eye's picture

Our guinea pig looks exactly your avatar. Her name is Honeybun and she's adorable (seriously). Aw.

batalyst's picture

In a currency race to the bottom, who give a fuck about the amount of government debt. More is better...