National debts can be compared in various ways. One is simply to look at the debt of a nation, but because populations differ so widely, this is not considered the most accurate. Debt can be divided by the population of a country to determine the debt per capita and it can also be expressed as a percentage of GDP. Not surprisingly, the world's most indebted nations have a higher debt than GDP.
According to cnbc.com, the five most indebted nations in the world are Ireland, the UK, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. It may come as a surprise because these are all classified as developed nations, but this is also the reason that these nations are able to borrow to the extent that they do. If they were not developed nations, they would have less access to capital.
The figures below are for the year 2011 and are given in US dollars:
1) Ireland: debt ($2.26 trillion) GDP (182.1 billion) debt divided by GDP (12.41)
2) UK: debt ($10.157 trillion) GDP ($2.250 trillion) debt divided by GDP (4.5)
3) Switzerland debt ($1.332 trillion) GDP ($340.5 billion) debt divided by GDP (3.9)
4) Netherlands debt ($2.590 trillion) GDP ($705.7) billion debt divided by GDP (3.7)
5) Belgium debt ($1.457 trillion) GDP ($412 billion) debt divided by GDP (3.5)
From the figures, it is clear that the UK has the highest debt of these countries, but that in relation to GDP, Ireland has greater debt. This is the reason that Ireland is ranked first. In fact, if we divide Ireland's debt by its GDP, we get 12.41 For the UK, this figure is 4.5. This is quite a significant difference. It means that as a percentage of GDP, Ireland's debt is almost three times greater than that of the UK. The countries ranked from third to fifth have very similar percentages when debt is divided by GDP.