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It's hard to harass the poor when you're a HIIC

The leaders of the G20 Summit gather around the meeting table for the first plenary session of the summit in the Pittsburgh Convention Center in on September 25, 2009.

JIM BOURG/Jim Bourg/Reuters

What goes around, comes around.

Barely five years ago, the world's rich countries would routinely scold their poor brethren about their foreign debts at gatherings such as the G8, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The fate of the HIPCs, or heavily indebted poor countries, was high on everyones' mind.

The worry now, of course, is about the United States, Japan and other HIICs, or heavily indebted developed countries. Many of the poor countries are doing just fine, thank you.

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In a recent blog post, Stanford University economist John Taylor said the remarkable change of fortunes reminds him of the movie Trading Places. You might remember the movie in which a snobby investor (Dan Akroyd) swaps positions with a small-time street con artist (Eddy Murphy) as part of a bet.

Mr. Taylor put together a remarkable graph from the IMF's Fiscal Monitor to illustrate how the debt of the advanced countries is now higher and growing more rapidly than the debt of the lower income countries.

"The switch seemed to take less time than it took to change the P to an I," Mr. Taylor quipped. "It's good news for the lower income countries, but not such good news for the industrialized countries which obviously have to get back on track."

The big question now is how developing countries will do as Americans and consumers in other developed countries save more, while their developing world friends spend more.

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About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

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