This article, jointly written with François Geerolf, was published (in French) in Politique Etrangère, the quarterly review of the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI), no. 2/2021, pp. 79-92.
Public debts have considerably increased almost everywhere in response to the COVID-19 pandemics. This has led to passionate, often moralizing and ideological, debates and positions. This article attempts to clarify notions about debt measurement, role and implications and to demystify related challenges: yes, debt is useful; no, I should not be left growing astray – but this is still far from happening. What matters is not as much the level of debt as its “quality”, i.e., whether its counterpart is useful public spending that prepares the future. To the extent that private spending is not spontaneously allocated to such spending, issuing public debt should be seen as a way to mobilize savings and re-direct them towards other uses, including those that are needed to meet challenges related to climate change and social and environmental sustainability. There is no guarantee that the public sector will spend properly, and this is where attention should focus. It requires judgment and vision, innovation and entrepreneurship, much more than obedience to arbitrary rules. This is the quintessence of a noble political project.