The new politics of debt in the transition economy of Vietnam
Keywords:Consumerism, Corporate Debt, Culture of Indebtedness, Emerging Market, Household Debt, Vietnam
This study reviews the rising household debt and nonfinancial corporation debt in Vietnam, a socialist-oriented, lower middle-income emerging economy. Vietnam has made huge strides in economic growth within three decades of reforms, lifting millions of people out of poverty thanks to better access to credit. At the same time, there are lending and borrowing practices that signal troubles ahead. Based on a thorough examination of the theoretical literature on indebtedness, the study sets out to identify the drivers of borrowing and over-borrowing in Vietnam in recent years. Particularly, the abundant financial and physical resources have given rise to consumerism and the boom of the super-rich. These are two of the four factors that have shifted Vietnamese culture from one that traditionally condemned debt as a vice to one that now tolerates indebtedness. The other two factors can be found at the corporate level where there is an over-reliance on debt financing and rampant rent-seeking. Here, a kind of ‘resource curse’ threatens sustainable corporate growth – businesses rely too much on borrowing to fuel their operations, but in fact are overlooking the innovation factor. The new politics of debt, we suggest, have created a toxically pro-consumption, debt-tolerant society.
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