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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Last year, the world's debt rose to $244 trillion, or 318% of global GDP, the Institute of International Finance (IIF) found.

Backdrop: The two largest contributors to the rise in debt have been emerging market corporate entities and developed market governments.

  • Governments in developed countries like the U.S., Japan and Europe, "have done very little to bring down debt in recent years despite low borrowing costs and the recent pickup in growth, which should have encouraged them to reign in budget deficits," IIF's Managing Director of Policy Initiatives Sonja Gibbs said. "A good example is the U.S., which has not run an annual budget surplus since 2001."
  • The world is now "pushing at the boundaries of comfortably sustainable debt," she says.

Why it matters: In times of economic strength countries have traditionally reduced their debt, seeking balanced budgets and a safety net for the future. But over the past few years the world's largest economies have done just the opposite.

  • The U.S. added close to $2 trillion in fiscal stimulus to its debt, with increased spending and a massive tax cut, in 2017.
  • The euro zone recently ended $2.5 trillion in monetary stimulus, though European Central Bank head Mario Draghi suggested that end may be temporary.
  • Japan just approved an all-time-high $860 billion budget in addition to $3.5 trillion in monetary stimulus from the Bank of Japan.

However, "after two years of solid expansion the world is growing more slowly than expected and risks are rising," IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said at the World Economic Forum's opening this week.

Making matters worse: Emerging economies also have borrowed at an unprecedented rate and at a time when global interest rates are rising and the dollar has strengthened, meaning the loans will cost more to pay back.

  • Gibbs and IIF's Emre Tiftik tell Axios that poorer countries in Africa and the Middle East that have borrowed heavily — more than 25% of guaranteed bilateral credit now comes from China, up from less than 1% in 2007 — are some of the institute's biggest worries.

The bottom line: In 2019 the global economy will face stresses it hasn't seen in at least a decade and central bankers and governments globally will be armed with fewer tools to fight them.

Go deeper: The state of debt in 2018

Go deeper

18 mins ago - World

China and Russia vaccinate the world — for now

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

While the U.S. and Europe focus on vaccinating their own populations, China and Russia are sending millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses to countries around the world.

Why it matters: China's double success in controlling its domestic outbreak and producing several viable vaccines has allowed it to focus on providing doses abroad — an effort that could help to save lives across several continents.

Ina Fried, author of Login
28 mins ago - Technology

Report: China will dominate AI unless U.S. invests more

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S., which once had a dominant head start in artificial intelligence, now has just a few year's lead on China and risks being overtaken unless government steps in, according to a new report to Congress and the White House.

Why it matters: Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who chaired the committee that issued the report, tells Axios that the U.S. risks dire consequences if it fails to both invest in key technologies and fully integrate AI into the military.

Americans agree about more issues than they realize

Data: Populace Inc.; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

Many Americans assume the rest of the country doesn't share their political and policy priorities — but they're often wrong, according to new polling by Populace, first seen by Axios.

Why it matters: The polling reveals that despite growing political polarization, Americans share similar long-term goals and priorities for the country.