International Monetary Fund

Please send us your feedback

IMFSurvey Magazine: What the numbers show

Subscribe Share This
Public Debt Database Maps 120 Years of Saving, Spending

A sign in New York City: the relationship between public debt and economic growth has changed over time (photo: Monica Graff/UPI)


Public Debt Database Maps 120 Years of Saving, Spending

IMF Survey online

February 2, 2011

The policy choices and decisions countries face as they emerge from the worst economic crisis in 80 years have a lot to do with their past habits. And to make good decisions, they need good data.

The IMF staff has built a comprehensive and dynamic new database on public debt. The data covers 174 countries over a period of 120 years, and will help policymakers understand the past and chart a future course to sustainable economic growth.

The data shows how government debt has risen and fallen over the years as important events, such as wars and stock market crashes, affect a country’s decisions about when to save and when to spend.

It turns out the relationship between debt and economic growth has changed over time; historically, fast growing countries had low debt ratios, while slow growers struggled under higher debt. In the past 30 years that relationship has altered as advanced economies’ debt levels have risen and their economies have grown.

Watch the audio slideshow for a view of the big picture.

Write to us

The IMF Survey welcomes comments, suggestions, and brief readers' letters, a selection of which are posted under What readers say. Letters may be edited. Please address Internet correspondence to