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A 25% drop in GDP, chronic unemployment and forgotten illnesses that appear again. These might be the consequences of a war, but it is Greece after the 2010 sovereign debt crisis. Some of the effects happened due to the decisions taken by the so-called “Troika”: ie. the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Their objective was to maintain—“whatever it takes”—the repayment of the Greek debt. In 2015, a rightfully elected Greek government organized a referendum rejecting the financial plan of the Troika. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, gave the following answer: “There can be no democratic choice against European treaties”. The violent remedy was not designed to save (only) the Greeks.
Three centuries before, the sovereign debt appeared as a timely solution to rapidly fund warfare. Public debt, as a particular institution, was a compromise between different social and political groups: the ones who possessed capital and the ones who ruled the state. The states’ creditors were the first to be called capitalists during the 18th century. “Public credit” defined a specific set of rules, norms and institutions allowing sovereigns to borrow money. Public credit has been an effective solution to resolve conflicts of interest within societies when, obviously, landowners, aristocrats, capitalists, and taxpayers did not share the same interest.
Notably, England has placed public credit at the heart of its financial institutions at the end of the 1…


In the last decade, a debate on the influence of public debt on political regimes has (re)emerged. Public debt scholars have rallied around two opposing projects: many of them advocate for constitutional constraints, while some denounce the market debt as a threat to the welfare state. In 2020 and 2021, a fierce debate occurred among the second group concerning the cancellation of European public debt held by the European Central Bank. This article suggests that the restrainers, the cancellationists, and the anti-cancellationists consider, for different reasons, that representative democracy and sovereign debt could be a deadly threat to each other.

  • values
  • norms
  • institutions
  • representative democracy
  • sovereign debt

Durant la dernière décennie, un débat concernant l’influence de la dette publique sur les régimes politiques a refait surface. Les spécialistes se sont ralliés autour de deux projets opposés : beaucoup défendent la mise en place de contraintes constitutionnelles à l’endettement ; une minorité dénonce la dette de marché comme menace pour l’État social. En 2020 et 2021, un débat féroce a eu lieu au sein du second groupe concernant l’annulation de la dette publique détenue par la Banque centrale européenne. Cet article suggère que les modérateurs, les annulationnistes et les anti‑annulationnistes considèrent pour des raisons différentes que la démocratie représentative et la dette publique pourraient être une menace mortelle l’une pour l’autre.

  • valeurs
  • normes
  • dette publique
  • démocratie représentative
  • institutions
Pierre de Saint-Phalle
University of Lausanne, Centre Walras-Pareto
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