People get really panicked about ‘the national debt’. Here’s a snowball, showing the national debt per person:

A snowball of national debt per person
How Much of Your Country’s Debt Rests on your Shoulders via

So I think that this data visualisation is really cool. Notes:

  • You have to kind of blur your eyes to see just how much of the world has debt that is higher than 100% of GDP (in red);
  • It looks like life in the first world is really terrible with all that debt per person.
  • And lucky for the third world that they have such low National Debt per Capita. Life must be great there.

Wait. What?

The Problem With Statistics

You see, this is the issue with things like National Debt and populations. I could spin any of the three following narratives:

Option 1: The First World Is Living Beyond Its Means

Here are the countries where people owe the most:

  • Japan: $85,694.87 per person

  • Ireland: $67,147.59 per person

  • Singapore: $56,112.75 per person

  • Belgium: $44,202.75 per person

  • United States: $42,503.98 per person

  • Canada: $42,142.61 per person

  • Italy: $40,461.11 per person

  • Iceland: $39,731.65 per person

  • Australia: $23,356.08 per person

  • United Kingdom: $36,206.11 per person

Clearly, what is happening is that developed countries have borrowed to allow their citizens to lead extravagant, social-welfare-state lifestyles – and the bottom is eventually going to fall out.

Option 2: National Debt Is A Sign Of Developed Nation Status

Here are the countries where people owe the least:

  • Liberia: $27.44 per person

  • Tajikistan: $50.67 per person

  • Democratic Republic of Congo: $90.70 per person

  • Burundi: $97.62 per person

  • Kiribati: $126.98 per person

  • Malawi: $172.34 per person

  • Uzbekistan: $177.13 per person

  • Uganda: $194.23 per person

  • Haiti: $204.33 per person

  • Mali: $207.54 per person

No one really wants to live in any of those countries – and clearly, no one wants to lend to them either. Almost all of the outlying countries represent the developing nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Option 3: All This Is Just Indicative Of Immigration Control

Those maps are just indicative of where strong immigration controls keep the population of the world out. Developed nations could easily fix those statistics by opening the borders to immigrants (which would immediately lower the national debt per capita), but they choose not to.

Instead, they keep their developed selves to themselves.

I guess my point is: should you panic?

Well, that depends on which narrative you choose to spin.

But what I can tell you is that none of those narratives talks about the fact that developed countries have a lot of assets to back that debt. Which makes no sense – because why would you moan about the size of your mortgage and just disregard the fact that you own a house?

But perhaps that’s just me.

Rolling Alpha posts about finance, economics, and sometimes stuff that is only quite loosely related. Follow me on Twitter @RollingAlpha, or like my page on Facebook at Or both.