Dealing Deftly with Sovereign Debt Difficulties

Herman, Barry

This paper looks at the international process for overcoming sovereign debt crises in developing and transition economies. It first characterizes the nature of sovereign debt crises, and how their resolution has fallen under the domain of global policy. It then highlights the complexity of determining how much debt a post-crisis country should end up with and how the major players interact in determining the actual workout in typical cases. It concludes by considering certain proposals for improving the chances that debt workouts will be effective, speedy and fair. In all, the message in this paper is that sovereign debt crises are international political problems involving on the one hand the governments of the major economies, which represent or are themselves the creditors, and on the other hand the developing or transition economies in difficulty. The different ways the crises have been addressed reflect the relative importance of different groups of creditors in the defaulted debt. In this sense, the creditors drive the process. The people in the crisis countries have the least influence in shaping the process and usually pay most dearly for the crises. Overall, the approach has been reactive and largely ad hoc. This paper argues instead for developing a more comprehensive international approach for dealing with sovereign debt difficulties that would be more attractive to all the relevant parties.


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Initiative for Policy Dialogue
Initiative for Policy Dialogue
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February 2, 2010


The opinions expressed in these papers represent those of the author(s) and not The Initiative for Policy Dialogue. These papers are unpublished and have not been peer reviewed. Please do not cite without explicit permission from the author(s).