The great financial crisis was a product of excessive debt. So is the world safer today? Not exactly. Debt has risen sharply in many countries over the past five years.
Ireland and Portugal stand out, not surprisingly, but the debt story isn't just a Western one. China's debt rose more than the U.S.'s between 2007 and 2012; no wonder many analysts fret about the legacy of the country's 2009 stimulus program. Private nonfinancial sector debt is approaching 150 percent of GDP in the U.S. and emerging Asia the former by falling, the latter by rising.
For the 18 countries included in the graphic above, debt has increased by $33 trillion, or roughly 20 percent of GDP, over the past five years. U.S. households have managed to reduce debt, but by less than the average 40-percentage-point drop seen after previous financial crises, according to a Bank for International Settlements study.
Still, debt doesn't tell the whole story. India, Indonesia and Turkey compare favorably on debt, but they have been hit hard by the recent emerging-markets sell-off because of big current-account deficits and concerns about broad economic policy.