Imagine this set of transactions.
1. A bank in rich country A make loan of X to government of poor country B. Let’s say for concreteness that A is the united States, B is Nigeria, and X is $1 billion. So now we have a liability of $1 billion of the Nigerian government to the US bank, and deposit of $1 billion at the US bank owned by the government of Nigeria.
(Nigeria might just as well be Egypt or Mexico or Argentina or Greece or Turkey or Indonesia. And the United States might just as well be Germany or the UK. )
2. The deposit at the bank is transferred from ownership of the government to ownership of some private individual. It’s easy to imagine ways this can be done.
3. The residents of Nigeria, via their government, still have a liability of $1 billion to the bank, obliging them to make annual payments equal to the interest rate times the principal. In this case, let’s say the interest rate is 5%, so debt service is $50 million.
4. The payments can be met by running an annual export surplus of $50 million. As long as this $50 million annual payment is maintained, interest payments can be made and the principal rolled over; the debt will remain forever.
5. The private individual from step 2 moves from Nigeria to the United States, eventually becoming a citizen there.
The result of this: a family in the United States has a wealth of $1 billion. Meanwhile, the people of Nigeria make payments of $50 million each year to the United States forever, in the form of uncompensated exports. In their valuable book Africa’s Odious Debts and related work, Boyce and Ndikumana demonstrate that this story describes much of sub-Saharan Africa’s foreign debt. It applies elsewhere in the world as well.
I wonder how various people evaluate this scenario. Do we agree there is something wrong here? And if so, what, and what is the solution?J. W. Mason's Blog
Only the Debt Is National
JW Mason | Assistant Professor of Economics, John Jay College, City University of New York