The global economy has experienced four waves of debt accumulation over the past fifty years. The first three debt waves ended with financial crises in many emerging and developing economies. The latest, since 2010, has already witnessed the largest, fastest and most broad-based increase in debt in these economies. Their total debt has risen by 54 percentage points of GDP to a historic peak of almost 170 percent of GDP in 2018. Current low interest rates mitigate some of the risks associated with high debt. However, emerging and developing economies are also confronted by weak growth prospects, mounting vulnerabilities, and elevated global risks. A menu of policy options is available to reduce the likelihood of the current debt wave ending in crisis and, if crises were to take place, alleviate their impact.
To shed light on the implications of the rapid debt accumulation, Global Waves of Debt presents the first in-depth analysis of the main features of global and national debt accumulation episodes, analyzes the linkages between debt accumulation and financial crises, and draws policy lessons.