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I'm looking for a comparison (i.e. two pie charts) of the public debt structure in the US vs. China. I can easily find data on the [hidden] municipal debt problem in China (as it's been repeatedly in the news lately), but this data typically doesn't seem to include any provincial-level debt. The latter might be negligible in comparison, but I'm not sure. (In particular, it's also been in the news that they've devised a method to shift local debt to provincial.) FWTW, it seems I managed to find their provincial debt and its around $5 trillion, compared to $9 trillion or so for local, so not quite negligible in comparison. But the somewhat disparate source I managed to pull this from make me a bit uneasy. Conversely, most US sources add together local and state government debts. So, I'm looking for a more apples-to-apples comparison of the public debt structure in the US vs China. (There's a decent OECD comparison of subnational government debts on their site but since China is not in OECD ("CHE" is Switzerland in that chart) is alas not included therein.)

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  • I'm always a bit confused with this topic because one could inflate liabilities and assets and still end up with the same overall wealth. Do you mean effective debt (assets - liabilities) or just nominal debt (only liabilities)? Sep 1, 2023 at 8:19
  • @NoDataDumpNoContribution: the latter. Almost nobody subtracts assets when reporting such data, for governments in particular. Sep 1, 2023 at 8:21
  • @Fizz What you are asking for is an easy button, which don't exist. There is no apples to apples comparison which would be meaningful because the two countries have so many differences. Suffice it to say both countries have different systemic existential crisis's on the horizon, China has more primarily because for the last 3 decades their economy has been growing an order of magnitude faster; and that is very difficult to maintain.
    – user47010
    Sep 1, 2023 at 17:43

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I'm not entirely sure of the methodology/soundness of this, but according to one Chinese economist:

The leverage ratio of the Chinese government is currently around 100%, which is significantly lower than the figure of 145% for the United States, 260% for Japan, as well as lower than the figures for Italy, Canada, France and the United Kingdom.

However, China’s local government debt (including hidden local debt) accounts for as much as 74% of GDP, which is likely the highest in the world. This compares to 28.8% in the United States, 36.6% in Japan, 20.9% in Germany, and 9.4% in France.

“Comparing the leverage ratio of the central government of other major economies, China is almost the lowest, while the leverage ratio of its local governments is the highest,” Li wrote.

There's probably not much reason to doubt his basic data, but one has to treat that source with some skepticism for it also calls for the central government to bail out the local ones (and thus has some reason to exaggerate how unique the hardships/position of the Chinese local governments is. And now that I checked on him some more, it turns out he had one report removed from the internet for overstating the unemployment rate in China, but this article is still up, so perhaps less wrong.)

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  • Note that this is note a complete answer as province/state debt seems left out of the discussion by this economist. Sep 1, 2023 at 12:53

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