Debt Relief

Serkan Arslanalp, Peter Blair Henry

NBER Working Paper No. 12187
Issued in May 2006
NBER Program(s):   IFM

The G-8 Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) is the next step of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC). There are two reasons why MDRI is unlikely to help poor countries. First, the amount of money at stake is trivial. The roughly $2 billion of annual debt payments to be relieved under MDRI amounts to roughly 0.01 percent of the GDP of the OECD countries—a mere one-seventieth (1/70) of the quantity of official development assistance agreed to by world leaders on at least three separate occasions (1970, 1992, 2002). Second, the existence of debt overhang is a necessary condition for debt relief to generate economic gains. Since the world's poorest countries do not suffer from debt overhang, debt relief is unlikely to stimulate their investment and growth. The principal obstacle to investment and growth in the world’s poorest countries is the fundamental inadequacy in these countries of the basic institutions that provide the foundation for profitable economic activity. In light of these facts, the MDRI may amount to a Pyrrhic victory: A symbolic win for advocates of debt relief that clears the conscience of the rich countries but leaves the real problems of the poor countries unaddressed.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w12187

Published: Arslanalp, Serkan and Peter Blair Henry. "Debt Relief," Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2006, v20(1,Winter), 207-220.

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