Is debt really that bad? This column looks at the towering debts, rapid tax hikes, and constant state of war that led to Britain’s Industrial Revolution, showing that the devil is in the detail when assessing sovereign debt. When we consider the dangers of debt in today’s world, we should keep an eye on its potential benefits as well.
Towering debts, rapidly rising taxes, constant and expensive wars, a debt burden surpassing 200% of GDP. What are the chances that a country with such characteristics would grow rapidly? Almost anyone would probably say ‘none’.
And yet, these are exactly the conditions under which the Industrial Revolution took place in Britain. Britain’s government debt went from 5% of GDP in 1700 to over 200% in 1820, it fought a war in one year out of three (most of them for little or no economic gain), and taxes increased rapidly but not enough to keep pace with the rise in spending.