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Loan Sanctions and Odious Debt



Many analysts argue that trade sanctions are ineffective because they generate incentives for evasion. Others object to them as hurting the population of the target country as much as its leaders. We argue that loan sanctions unlike trade sanctions may be self-enforcing, and that they help the population by protecting it from being saddled with “odious debt” run up by dictators to finance looting or repression. In particular, governments could impose sanctions by instituting legal changes that prevent seizure of a country’s assets for non-repayment of debt if the debt was incurred after the sanction was imposed. This would reduce creditors’ incentive to extend loans to sanctioned regimes. However, decisions on whether assets can be seized to enforce debt repayment would be subject to bias if they were made ex post and the deciding body asymmetrically valued the welfare of debtor countries and their creditors. Restricting such decisions to cover only future lending would help avoid this time-consistency problem.

Michael Kremer

Gates Professor of Developing Societies - Department of Economics at Harvard University

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