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U.S. Debt Mess Could Be Epically Worse. Just Ask Japan

Prime Minister Abe at a press conference in Tokyo
Prime Minister Abe at a press conference in TokyoPhotograph by Piti A Sahakorn/Corbis

The U.S. government shutdown and debt ceiling drama have cast an unflattering light on the country’s stretched budget and toxic political culture. Turns out America really is an exceptional nation—exceptionally bad at managing its finances and setting long-term policy goals to get the country on a sustainable path to fiscal health.

Yet one nation that makes America look like a paragon of frugality: Japan, which has a far bigger debt load relative to the size of its economy than any other major industrialized country. Take a look at this chart from Japan’s Ministry of Finance.