How did highly indebted poor countries become highly indebted? : reviewing two decades of debt relief
How did highly indebted poor countries become highly indebted after two decades of debt relief efforts? A set of theoretical models predict that countries with unchanged long-run savings preferences will respond to debt relief with a mixture of asset decumulation and new borrowing. A model also predicts that a high-discount-rate government will choose poor policies and impose its inter-temporal preferences on the entire economy. Reviewing the experience of highly indebted poor countries, compared with that of other developing countries, the author finds direct and indirect evidence of asset decumulation and new borrowing associated with debt relief. The ratio of the net present value of debt to exports rose strongly over 1979-97 despite the debt relief efforts. Average policies in highly indebted poor countries were generally worse than those in other developing countries, nor were wars more likely in highly indebted poor countries. Over time there has been an important shift in financing for highly indebted poor countries, away from private and bilateral nonconcessional sources to the International Development Association and other sources of multilateral concessional financing. But this implicit form of debt relief also failed to reduce debt in net present value terms. Although debt relief is done in the name of the poor, the poor are worse off if debt relief creates incentives to delay reforms needed for growth.
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