The United States Government’s debt as a percentage of GDP is relatively large compared with central government debt of other countries, but far from the largest among the countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Based on historical data as reported by the OECD for all of its 31 member countries, the debt-to-GDP ratio in 2009 ranged from 6 percent of GDP to 126 percent of GDP, with the United States in the higher echelon.14 However, each country is different in how it finances its sovereign debt, how robustly its economy grows, how government responsibilities are shared between central and local governments, and how current policies compare with the past policies that determine the current level of debt, so there is a very imperfect relationship between the current level of central government debt and the sustainability of overall government policy. Past accrual of debt is certainly important, but current policies and their implications for future debt accumulation are too.
Several countries do produce long-range fiscal projections, among them, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands.15 However, in addition to the reasons discussed above, comparisons are difficult because coverage and the time horizon over which projections are made vary across countries. The projection periods tend to be less than 75 years, and the projections are not always updated annually. Some of the countries have determined that their policies are sustainable in the long run, although the recent financial crisis will have worsened the near-term budget outlook in almost every country.
14 Central Government Debt, OECD National Accounts Statistics (database) available at http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/finance-and-investment/total-central-government-debt-2010_20758294-2010-table1. (Back to Content)
15 The OECD released a policy brief in October 2009 (available at http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/40/26/43836144.pdf) describing the efforts of different member countries to produce long-term fiscal projections. (Back to Content)