Britain's Economist magazine online has a very interesting and useful interactive map on global debt, showing the public debt levels of most countries in the world. One can slide the tabs to look at past years, or projections for future years. Pop up graphics also show public debt per capita and as a percentage of GDP.
A striking feature of the global map is that it is mostly the wealthy countries (North America, Europe and Japan) that have the highest debt levels worldwide. Some of the online commentary on this phenomenon point out that many of these countries are actually in worse shape than the U.S., in terms of government debt levels.
My friend and colleague Jeff Payne (who this semester is teaching a course using The End of the American Century as one of the texts), called my attention to this Economist site, and made the following observation:
It seems the US is indeed taking out extreme debt over the recession, but not in the same level of GDP as many other developed countries. So, among the most developed nations, we are not the worst - do not know if that is anything to celebrate. Yet, in relation to your research program I wonder what this means...is the American experiment exhausted, or is the entire Western world in that same situation?
My response would be that yes, most of the Western world has government debt problems. I see the U.S. situation as far more dire, though, for the following reason. Most of those other countries accumulated their debts while financing government programs that supported health care, social welfare, education, infrastructure and the environment. Most other wealthy countries are far ahead of the U.S. in all those dimensions, as I point out in my book. The U.S., in contrast, accumulated our huge debts largely by financing consumption and military spending. All the while, U.S. health care and education languished, poverty and inequality increased, the environment and infrastructure deteriorated. So at the starting gate of the new global order, the U.S. is way behind the rest of the developed world, and too broke to catch up.