my contribution to Luxembourg’s GDP

Who knew the Brits had more debt than the Yanks? This article from the Times was disturbing, particularly so since it seems to indicate that although much of the debt incurred in the Colonies is mortgage-related, the Queen’s subjects have been racking up credit card debt to pay for fox hunting gear or Pop Idol CDs (yes, we can also blame the UK for American Idol’s inspiration).

Wikipedia has an article on debt-to-GDP here although it has all of the little “this article may be full of hooey” warnings across the top of the page. It looks like the top 5 countries with the worst debt-to-GDP ratio are (the higher the number, the better):

1 Zimbabwe 189.90 (the worst)
2 Lebanon 188.00
3 Japan 182.40
4 Seychelles 143.30
5 Jamaica 134.30
And the countries with the BEST debt-to-GDP ratio are:

126. Luxembourg 2.60 (the best)
125. Equatorial Guinea 2.70
124. Oman 2.80
123. Chile 3.60
122. Estonia 3.80
The US, Great Britain and Canada came in at #65, #49, and #21, with lower numbers being worse. So Canada’s even more of a mess than the US in terms of debt? Who knew?

If you’re like me, you imagined that places like Zimbabwe and Lebanon were probably the worst because of instability in the economy or the country itself; people borrow because they have to, or interest rates are sky high, or something like that. I didn’t expect to see Japan there. Does that mean that Japanese consumers are going nuts even worse than US consumers? Or is it just the result of the long slow economic malaise that has gripped Japan for the last 15 years?

And turning around to the best, I would have guessed Luxembourg or Switzerland for #1, but the rest? Is it a lack of access to debt, or are Chileans simpler smarter about debt than Americans and Brits (and everyone else in the world who isn’t an Omanian or Equatorial Guinearianan)? It’s possible – other cultures aren’t as consumer-mad as the US. Runners-up for lowest ratio included Libya and Russia. Odd results – to me, at least.

Looking up stats like that just proves that you can’t do much in the way of guessing about economic factors, because I would have been UTTERLY wrong. With the levels of literacy, education and supposedly gung-ho zap pow entrepreneurial/capitalist knowledge in places like the US, you would think we would have collectively figured out debt is stupid, wouldn’t you? It’s amazing that places like Estonia are “frugal” countries, living well below their means, and places like the US, Canada and Britain are apparently busy putting flat-screen TVs on their 18% APR credit cards. And don’t forget – until about 15 years ago, Estonians didn’t even have an economic system where debt existed! Yet they’ve avoided incurring it in post-Soviet “free markets.”

So hats off to you, Luxembourg! I visited Luxembourg many years ago with my brother. We had just finished a disastrous trip to Brussels, and took off for the greener pastures (so to speak) of Switzerland, but detoured through Luxembourg. This was in the era of the strong dollar, and we were sidetracked – first for an afternoon but eventually for (I think) four days by the local brewhouses. Over many beers we made the repeated decision to stay “just one more day and visit just one more pub” so at least in some small part I helped pump up the GDP that year. Through my the staunch efforts of my brother and myself, we put a tiny uptick into the Luxembourgeronian economy, at least in the beer sector. I played some small part in that excellent ratio. Just my little contribution to Luxembourgishnian financial supremacy. You’re welcome, Luxembourg. I miss you and hope I’ll see you again someday.

Creative Commons License photo credit: snaiwedu

13 Replies to “my contribution to Luxembourg’s GDP”

  1. “Hey, everybody deserves a luxurious lifestyle, don’t they???”…Interesting that most Americans can’t distinguish between a “need” and a “want”.

  2. This is interesting – I am shocked. I really thought the US was in far more financial crap than us in the UK.

    Hey – by the way, fox hunting is illegal over here now. We’re not all barbarians you know! It was mostly folks like the Royal Family and toffee nosed types who used to do it.

  3. I don’t think you understand how Luxembourg works. It is a tax haven for the ultra wealthy. They claim residency there, though they don’t live there, and avoid paying the same taxes as an authentic citizen. Most of the so called “citizens” in Luxembourg have never even visited the country.

    UK, Canadian and Japanese debt have always been higher than ours. In fact, there’s much wrong with the outside world you rarely, if ever see. The average Briton loses 5 months pay a year than an American – about an extra $5,000 a year. That certainly doesn’t help them much. Much of Canada’s debt lies in expensive housing. No one seems to understand what is wrong with Japan, except that no other nation has ever had a problem quite like theirs. It has a lot to do with an incredibly expensive cost of living, making their wealthy businesses and well paying jobs weak in the economy.

  4. I think you may be mixing your definitions, Steve. Looking at the Wikipedia article, it is referring to public debt, which it defines as government debt, not private debt. Most of the European countries with high levels of entitlement spending usually run a higher relative deficit than the US. Japan has an aging population and high levels of farm subsidies and public works spending.

    You may be right about private or personal debt, however. It’s difficult to imagine citizens of any other country living for today more than in the US (and paying for it tomorrow).

    I was having a discussion with some of my foreign (yes, Canadian) entreprenurial friends yesterday, and came to the conclusion that there are two types of companies (or at least tech companies, which matter most to me) – those that come up with an idea, and market like hell to create demand for that idea, and those that identify a pain, and address that pain. I think the US has a preponderance of the first type of company, and we are very good at creating demand for things that don’t solve problems.

  5. Great post. I am a bit surprised by the findings as well. Very interesting. One thing that strikes me is that I personally did not learn about finances until I was well into adulthood. Partly because I did not recieve any teaching from my parents and secondly because it really wasn’t taught at pre-high school or high school for that matter. What I did learn was from trial and error. It was mostly error at that. Now I do alot of reading, and studying on the subject. It has helped me to better understand money matters and hopefully that knowledge affect my future.
    So my question is do you think that those countries with a better grasp of finances do a better job of teaching the fundamental to their citizen than we do?


  6. No, Americans sure aren’t unique. The Irish media are full of articles about the huge amount of personal debt people there have, too … here’s one at random. Pretty much all “western” countries have had a colossal run-up in property prices in the past decade, right? I know some claim that the increases in the UK, Ireland and Spain put the US’ in the shade, (I owned in NYC; I couldn’t afford to own in Dublin).

  7. Haha you’re an economic stimulus in yourself Brip Blap.

    That is pretty surprising. I had assumed US was #1 because of its consumer frenzying over the last fifty or sixy years, with all the other horrible statistics on us it sounded right to my ears.
    I can’t believe Chile is so good with its money! Perhaps we can learn from countries with less on how to make what we have to go further.

    But then.
    Probably not.

    We kind of already shot ourselves up with that consumerism heroin needle… hmm.

    Excellent post

  8. Public Debt is the debt held by the various levels of government (federal, state, local). The US GDP in 2006 was $13.13 Trillion. The (gross) Public Debt Outstanding at the end of 2006 was $8.68 Trillion. That’s 66% of GDP…not 36.80% (which may be the figure for the net public debt).

    OECD puts the US at 62.2% of GDP for 2007 in terms of gross debt. Net debt is 44.2%. Relatively, that’s not so bad (the net debt/GDP ratio was slightly higher in 1998 and as high as 54.9% in 1993).

    Lots of OECD Excel files here.

  9. So my completely non-evidence based opinion (though the theory is sound!):
    People in LICs go into debt because they have little access to social services and low-to-none salaries. They aren’t buying TVs (which are not really available) but life’s necessities, probably on microcredit (so if you add in the high interest rate, the debt goes up).
    Move to an MIC, and now life’s necessities are covered, but you still have a lack of access to luxury goods. So debt is relatively low, simply because it’s hard to buy things beyond what is needed and available.
    Then we get to HICs, where people have more money than they know what to do with and access to more crap than they could ever imagine. Hence, we get back to lots of debt.
    The folks in the UK aren’t any less “entitled” than Americans AND the cost of consumer goods is much more expensive. I’m not surprised their debt is greater.

    My only evidence for any of this is S Korea in the late 90s. Funny enough, we seem to be currently experiencing what they experienced back then…

  10. You mentioned being surprised about Lebanon not being high on the list, and a commenter mentioned Libya for the same reason. I would be surprised to ever see a Muslim country high on either the personal-debt or governmental-debt lists. Islam forbids “riba,” or usurious interest rates, and to avoid even the possibility of same, your average devout Muslim does not borrow or lend under any interest-paying terms at all. It seems to me that if a majority-Muslim country follows that part of shari’a law, the government isn’t going to be dealing with interest payments either, and will likely seek out other ways of addressing the people’s concerns besides running up a budget deficit like we do here in the States. Government bonds would be unheard of.

    It’s hard to imagine a life without interest but sometimes I hear people talking about things like P2P lending and how great it is when their higher interest bids go through and I think, “Why are you so happy that that person’s deeper into debt with you?”, and I think maybe the Muslims are on to something.

  11. Much of the debt in the UK is property related, but if you’ve ever hovered over a personal finance blog text link it’s nearly always to a British site. There’s a reason for that, I’m sure.

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