Applying the Odious Debts Doctrine while Preserving Legitimate Lending

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This paper was discussed at the Global Justice workshop on November 3, 2006.

Abstract of Seema Jayachandran's "Applying the Odious Debts Doctrine while Preserving Legitimate Lending":

Odious debts are debts incurred by the government of a nation without either popular consent or a legitimate public purpose. While there is some debate within academic circles as to whether the successor government to a regime which incurred odious debts has the right to repudiate repayment, in the real world this is currently not an option granted legitimacy either by global capital markets or the legal systems of creditor states. There are compelling reasons to reform the law of odious debts to allow for such a repudiation in citizens of a tyrant to repay their oppressor's personal debts, but the burden of odious-debt servicing can perpetuate the cycle of state failure which has direct national security consequences. In addition, a properly designed odious debt reform could function as an alternative sanctions mechanism to trade sanctions with fewer harmful implications for the general population of the targeted state. Classical proponents of odious debt reform advocate for recognition of a legal rule under which successor governments could challenge the validity of debts incurred by prior regimes against the odious debt legal standard in a judicial-style forum. We make the case for an alternative "Due Diligence" model of reform which provides far greater ex ante certaining for lenders both as to which investments from subsequent invalidation. The Due Diligence Model also solves certain time-consistency problems inherent to the Classical model.

About the Author

Seema Jayachandran is assistant professor of economics at Stanford University. She received her PhD in economics from Harvard University. She specializes in development economics, labor economics, and political economy.

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