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How did highly indebted poor countries become highly indebted? : reviewing two decades of debt relief

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  • Easterly, William

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Easterly, William, 1999. "How did highly indebted poor countries become highly indebted? : reviewing two decades of debt relief," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2225, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:2225
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Nouriel Roubini & Paul Wachtel, 1997. "Current Account Sustainability in Transition Economies," Working Papers 97-03, New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business, Department of Economics.
    2. Allan Drazen & William Easterly, 2001. "Do Crises Induce Reform? Simple Empirical Tests of Conventional Wisdom," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 13(2), pages 129-157, July.
    3. Joshua Greene, 1989. "The External Debt Problem of Sub-Saharan Africa," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 36(4), pages 836-874, December.
    4. Masao Ogaki & Jonathan D. Ostry & Carmen M. Reinhart, 1996. "Saving Behavior in Low- and Middle-Income Developing Countries: A Comparison," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 43(1), pages 38-71, March.
    5. Jeffrey D. Sachs & Andrew Warner, 1995. "Economic Reform and the Process of Global Integration," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 26(1, 25th A), pages 1-118.
    6. William Easterly, 1999. "When is fiscal adjustment an illusion?," Economic Policy, CEPR;CES;MSH, vol. 14(28), pages 55-86, April.
    7. Dadush, Uri & Dhareshwar, Ashok & Johannes, Ron, 1994. "Are private capital flows to developing countries sustainable?," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1397, The World Bank.
    8. Cohen, Daniel, 1996. "The sustainability of African debt," Policy Research Working Paper Series 1621, The World Bank.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Silvia Marchesi & Alessandro Missale, 2007. "How defensive were lending and aid to HIPC?," Working Papers 115, University of Milano-Bicocca, Department of Economics, revised 2007.
    2. Marchesi, Silvia & Sabani, Laura, 2007. "IMF concern for reputation and conditional lending failure: Theory and empirics," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(2), pages 640-666, November.
    3. Junko Koeda, 2006. "A Debt Overhang Model for Low-Income Countries; Implications for Debt Relief," IMF Working Papers 06/224, International Monetary Fund.
    4. Freytag , Andreas & Pettersson, Jonatan & Schmied, Julian, 2016. "Debt Relief and Good Governance: New Evidence," Annual Conference 2016 (Augsburg): Demographic Change 145914, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.
    5. Birdsall, Nancy & Claessens, Stijn & Diwan, Ishac, 2002. "Will HIPC Matter? The Debt Game and Donor Behaviour in Africa," CEPR Discussion Papers 3297, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. berlage, Lodewijk & cassimon, Danny & dreze, Jacques & Reding, Paul, 2003. "Prospective Aid and Indebtedness Relief: A Proposal," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 31(10), pages 1635-1654, October.
    7. HEPP, Ralf, 2010. "CONSEQUENCES OF DEBT RELIEF INITIATIVES IN THE 1990s," Applied Econometrics and International Development, Euro-American Association of Economic Development, vol. 10(1).
    8. Silvia Marchesi & Alessandro Missale, 2004. "What does motivate lending and aid to the HIPCs?," Development Working Papers 189, Centro Studi Luca d'Agliano, University of Milano.
    9. Ratha, Dilip, 2001. "Complementarity between multilateral lending and private flows to developing countries : some empirical results," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2746, The World Bank.
    10. Alberto Alesina & Beatrice Weder, 2002. "Do Corrupt Governments Receive Less Foreign Aid?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 1126-1137, September.
    11. Asiedu, Elizabeth, 2003. "Debt relief and institutional reform: a focus on Heavily Indebted Poor Countries," The Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 43(4), pages 614-626.
    12. Ndikumana, Leonce, 2004. "Additionality of debt relief and debt forgiveness, and implications for future volumes of official assistance," International Review of Economics & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 13(3), pages 325-340.
    13. Silvia Marchesi & Laura Sabani, 2005. "Prolonged Use and Conditionality Failure: Investigating the IMF Responsibility," Development Working Papers 202, Centro Studi Luca d'Agliano, University of Milano.
    14. Ralf Hepp, 2005. "Health Expenditures Under the HIPC Debt Initiative," International Finance 0510005, EconWPA.
    15. Robbie Mochrie, 2000. "An Appraisal of Debt Relief for Poor Countries," CERT Discussion Papers 0005, Centre for Economic Reform and Transformation, Heriot Watt University.
    16. Tim Allen & Diana Weinhold, 2000. "Dropping the debt for the new millennium: is it such a good idea?," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 12(6), pages 857-875.

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