Common sense suggests that those countries or individuals with the least debt would be the richest. However, some countries with little public debt are very poor. Public debt includes all securities that a national government sells to the public when its spending exceeds revenue. In other words, all the money a national government borrows to cover its deficits, including that owed to international and domestic investors, and local and state governments.
5 Wallis and Futuna
The island group of Wallis and Futuna, which is a French territory near Australia, owes 5.6 percent of its $60 million GDP in public debt. Nowadays, 80 percent of the islands’ labor force earns their living from fishing or raising coconuts, vegetables and pigs. Some revenue also comes in from French government subsidies, South Korean and Japanese fishing license fees and expatriates working in New Caledonia.
The central Balkan country of Kosovo owes 5.5 percent of its GDP in public debt. Kosovo’s labor force numbers 800,000, about 65 percent of which works in the services industry. Another 22 percent are in industry, and 13 percent toil in agriculture. This small country has been torn between Albania and Serbia for centuries, and has seen too much bloodshed. It gained its most recent independence in 2008.
This oil-rich Arabian sultanate owes only 4.1 percent of its GDP of $76.46 billion. Oman has strong ties to Britain, although it was never a colony. Qaboos bin Said, the sultan, has modernized his country and opened it to outsiders more than his predecessors. Popular uprisings in other parts of North Africa and the Middle East inspired the citizenry of Oman to demand more political rights and economic benefits starting in 2011.
Libya bears a public debt load of only 3.5 percent, proving that you can keep debt down if nobody likes you enough to lend you money. This Northern African country is infamous worldwide for former dictator Muammar al-Qadhafi and the terrorist activities he supported. Libya’s small population and big oil activities—which generates about 80 percent of the GDP—mean the country has one of Africa’s highest per capita GDPs at $12,300. However, this hasn’t done impoverished citizens much good.
Liberia owes only 2.6 percent of its gross domestic product to public debt. Compare this to Japan, Zimbabwe and Greece—the three biggest debtors—with 214, 187 and 157 percent, respectively. However, this West African country’s low debt is not due to fabulous money management. In 2010, Liberia got off the hook for $5 billion in debt as part of an international relief effort. Liberia’s recent past is bloody and corrupt, and its per capita GDP is only $700. Agriculture, palm oil processing, timber, diamonds and rubber processing aren’t enough to prevent 80 percent of Liberians from living below the poverty line.