Private Debt: The Final Frontier

Broadening relief to include middle-income countries with private bank debt would be tricky
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Jubilee's new battle cry is "faster, deeper, broader" debt relief. But the much-despised International Financial Institutions (IFIs) hear "faster" as debt relief without economic reforms for long-term sustainable development; "deeper" as relief without regard for what IFI member nations are politically disposed to fund; and "broader" as relief without considering the complexities of write-offs for middle-income countries with large private bank debt.

"At bottom, these countries have got to grow, because debt forgiveness by itself doesn't fix things for them," Stephen Smith, professor of economics and business at Gordon College, told CT. "We can forgive the debt now, but the results are going to be incredibly meager unless policy reforms are undertaken. The Bank and the Fund's policy reforms embodied in their Structural Adjustment Programs are not a bad place to start."

As for broadening relief to include heavily indebted middle-income countries, Jubilee is looking first at those that narrowly missed categorization as poor countries: Nigeria, Peru, Haiti, and Bangladesh, for example.

Jubilee USA's Dan Driscoll-Shaw acknowledges that organizers have yet to think through exactly how to tackle debt relief for middle-income countries with large private-sector debt.

"The point is that, again, the lenders are at least as responsible as the borrowers," Driscoll-Shaw says. "So we're not going to step back from that, but that's down the line."

Allan Meltzer, head of a congressional advisory commission to study debt relief, and others point out that canceling private bank debt runs the risk of drying up capital flows highly coveted by developing nations—banks will not be inclined to lend to those that have just defaulted. This would be ...

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