Turning to 2012, a lot of countries have seen their levels of public debt rise (note that Greece prior to the bailout reached roughly 120% of public debt in 2011 – it’s now gone down to French levels). Except for Sweden and Norway that fare much better than the rest, one continues to see an possible trade-off between public and private debt. Spain as is known faces particularly problematic levels of private debt (but note also the Netherlands and Denmark).
Thanks to the really good Big Picture Blog, I’ve just discovered this really cool tool developed by the Wall Street Journal to visualise the evolution of private and public debt.
Restricting the sample to Western European countries (with Canada and the US included as reference point) and comparing the debt situation in 2001 to that in 2012, reveals some interesting patterns. The Y axis displays the level of public debt as % of GDP, the X axis private debt as % of GDP, and the size of the circles indicates the level of aggregate GDP.
First in 2001, one observes the well-documented trade-off between public and private debt: southern European countries fared worse with respect to public debt but much better in terms of private debt. Thus, among European countries the main difference is more about the distribution of debt among public and private actors than the level.