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Government debt indicators: Understanding the data


  • Debra Bloch


  • Falilou Fall



There is no single “best” indicator for analysing general government debt. This paper examines the various issues in defining and measuring debt, and explores other data which could be useful, both within and beyond the general government debt concept, to better track and analyse fiscal risks and sustainability issues. Measures from the broadest view of debt – gross financial liabilities – to the most comprehensive accounting of asset and liability positions – net worth – are all helpful metrics. So, too, are narrower data on specific issues, such as future pension liabilities, government guarantees and debt composition. Better data reporting, including more complete metadata and broader data collection, are needed to allow for an arsenal of comparable debt concepts to better anticipate future fiscal pressures. Indicateurs de dette publique : comprendre les données Aucun indicateur n’est meilleur que les autres pour analyser la dette publique. Ce document passe en revue les différentes questions qui se posent pour définir et mesurer la dette, et analyse d’autres données qui pourraient être utiles, dans le périmètre de définition de la dette des administrations publiques et au-delà, pour mieux identifier et analyser les risques budgétaires et les questions de viabilité à long terme. Les mesures de la dette, dans son acception la plus large – engagements financiers bruts – jusqu’à la comptabilisation la plus exhaustive des positions créditrices et débitrices – situation financière nette –, sont tous des indicateurs utiles. Comme le sont également les données plus ciblées sur certaines questions précises comme les engagements futurs au titre des retraites, les garanties de l’État ou la composition de la dette. Il convient d’améliorer la transmission de données, y compris de métadonnées plus complètes, et d’élargir la collecte de données pour élaborer tout un arsenal de définitions comparables de la dette afin de mieux anticiper les tensions futures sur le budget.

Suggested Citation

  • Debra Bloch & Falilou Fall, 2015. "Government debt indicators: Understanding the data," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1228, OECD Publishing.
  • Handle: RePEc:oec:ecoaaa:1228-en

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Charles Yuji Horioka & Takaaki Nomoto & Akiko Terada-Hagiwara, 2013. "Why has Japan’s Massive Government Debt Not Wreaked Havoc (Yet)?," UP School of Economics Discussion Papers 201310, University of the Philippines School of Economics.
    2. George Kopits, 2014. "Coping with fiscal risk: Analysis and practice," OECD Journal on Budgeting, OECD Publishing, vol. 14(1), pages 47-71.
    3. Falilou Fall & Jean-Marc Fournier, 2015. "Macroeconomic uncertainties, prudent debt targets and fiscal rules," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1230, OECD Publishing.
    4. Sebastian Schich & Byoung-Hwan Kim, 2011. "Guarantee Arrangements for Financial Promises: How Widely Should the Safety Net be Cast?," OECD Journal: Financial Market Trends, OECD Publishing, vol. 2011(1), pages 201-235.
    5. Falilou Fall & Debra Bloch & Jean-Marc Fournier & Peter Hoeller, 2015. "Prudent debt targets and fiscal frameworks," OECD Economic Policy Papers 15, OECD Publishing.
    6. Vincent Koen & Paul van den Noord, 2005. "Fiscal Gimmickry in Europe: One-Off Measures and Creative Accounting," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 417, OECD Publishing.
    7. Katja Funke & Tim Irwin & Isabel Rial, 2013. "Budgeting and Reporting for Public-Private Partnerships," International Transport Forum Discussion Papers 2013/7, OECD Publishing.
    8. Hana Polackova Brixi & Allen Schick, 2002. "Government at Risk : Contingent Liabilities and Fiscal Risk," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 15233, December.
    9. Jean-Marc Fournier & Falilou Fall, 2015. "Limits to government debt sustainability," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1229, OECD Publishing.
    10. Aliona Cebotari, 2008. "Contingent Liabilities; Issues and Practice," IMF Working Papers 08/245, International Monetary Fund.
    11. repec:eee:ecmode:v:66:y:2017:i:c:p:30-41 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Christian Dembiermont & Michela Scatigna & Robert Szemere & Bruno Tissot, 2015. "A new database on general government debt," BIS Quarterly Review, Bank for International Settlements, September.
    2. Debra Bloch & Jean-Marc Fournier & Duarte Gonçalves & Álvaro Pina, 2016. "Trends in Public Finance: Insights from a New Detailed Dataset," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1345, OECD Publishing.
    3. repec:eee:ecmode:v:66:y:2017:i:c:p:30-41 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Falilou Fall & Debra Bloch & Jean-Marc Fournier & Peter Hoeller, 2015. "Prudent debt targets and fiscal frameworks," OECD Economic Policy Papers 15, OECD Publishing.
    5. Jean-Marc Fournier & Falilou Fall, 2015. "Limits to government debt sustainability," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 1229, OECD Publishing.

    More about this item


    administration publique; comptabilité; contingent liability; dette publique; general government; government guarantee; national accounts; net worth; public debt;

    JEL classification:

    • E01 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General - - - Measurement and Data on National Income and Product Accounts and Wealth; Environmental Accounts
    • E62 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - Fiscal Policy
    • H6 - Public Economics - - National Budget, Deficit, and Debt

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