This glossary is based on the work of Anglo: Not Our Debt campaign materials, ICAN’s Dictionary of Debt, and the additional work of DDCI.

As the meanings of many of these terms are contested, we have drawn from a wide range of sources that tend toward factual definitions or, when a term is highly political, we tend toward more open definitions that encourage personal interpretation. We don’t claim that this glossary presents the only possible explanation of these terms.


A person’s agency is their capacity to act based on their own thoughts and free will, and to make their own choices.


This is an economic term that describes taking advantage of price differences in the markets. Arbitrage is the buying and selling of an asset (for example commodities, financial items or foreign exchange) at the same time in order to profit from a difference in prices.


This is a policy of lower spending, involving cutbacks or reductions in the amounts of benefits and public services provided. Austerity policies are often used by governments to reduce their debts.

Bilateral Loans

A loan from one country to another.


A bondholder is an investor who holds this IOU and is usually a bank or investment company.


A bond is a type of IOU issued by a government, local authority or company to raise money. The investor or holder of the bond loans a certain amount of money, for a certain amount of time at a certain interest rate. A government/sovereign bond is a bond issued by a national government.

Bretton Woods Agreement and Bretton Woods System

This is a system of monetary management determines the rules which govern financial and commercial relationships between the major global industrial states. The Agreement was formalised in 1944, and established rules, standard practices, and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), which today is part of the World Bank Group.

Capital or Principle

The initial amount of the loan.


An economic system where the means of production, distribution, and exchange are privately owned. The primary goal of the private owners is to make a profit. The basis of capitalism is the idea that the pursuit of self-interest is paramount and that the state exists to protect the individual.

Capitalist Economics

See Capitalism.

Care Labour

see Love Labour.

Casino economy

A casino economy is one in which investments and banking measures are considered extremely risky, and investors have little or no control or foresight of the outcome of their investment.


When people talk about ‘class’, what they mean is a group or section of society who share similar positions in the economic system of production, for example their access to finance and disposable income, healthcare, education, and so on.

Collateralised debt obligation (CDO)

This is a kind of financial instrument in which different assets are pooled together – for example mortgages, bonds and loans. They are repackaged together as tranches (a part of an investment). These tranches can be sold to investors who hope to make profit from them. What is particular about CDOs is that the pooled assets are actually debt obligations. In this way investors hope to make a profit from the repayments of loans such as mortgages and so on.


This is taking over of one territory by another territory. It includes the acquisition of people and land, the exploitation of people and land, and the upholding and spreading out of power and control into the taken territory. It is characterised by an imbalance of power in the relationship between the coloniser and the colonised, who are typically an indigenous population. The European colonial period occurred from the 16th century onwards, during which a numerous of European powers established colonies in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Commons (The)

The Commons is the shared cultural and natural property and resources that are available to all people in a society. These include natural resources such as clean air, water, land, and a liveable environment, that are held collectively by a society, and are not owned privately. If they are owned privately, there should be a traditional right to public access.

Conditions or Strings

Actions or policies that a country must take or implement in order to qualify for debt relief or aid from some institutions.

Credit Default Swap (CDS)

This is an agreement relating to a ‘financial swap’, whereby the party selling the CDS will compensate the buyer in the event of a default or similar event.

Critical Literacy

This is an approach to reading and learning in which the learner is encouraged to actively engage with what they are reading or viewing. This means to ask questions about the material, to develop strategies for interpreting it from different perspectives, and to uncover hidden meanings or underlying messages.

Debt Cancellation

A relief from the burden of repaying both the principle and interest on past loans.


Owing money.

Debt Relief

Debt relief may take the form of cancellation, rescheduling, refinancing, or reorganization.

Debt Scheduling or Re-scheduling

A form of relief by which the dates on which principal or interest payments are due are delayed or rearranged.

Debt Service

Interest plus repayments of principal.


The failure to fulfill an obligation to repay a debt.


The aspiration for and progress toward increased well-being.

Domestic financial markets

Trading financial products within a single national entity

Economic / financial crisis

A situation in which the value of financial institutions or assets drops rapidly. A financial crisis is often associated with a panic or a run on the banks, where investors sell off assets or withdraw money from savings accounts with the expectation that the value of those assets will drop if they remain at a financial institution. A financial crisis can come as a result of institutions or assets being overvalued, and can be exacerbated by investor behaviour. If left unchecked, the crisis can cause the economy to go into a recession or depression.

Economic growth

An increase in the capacity of an economy to produce goods and services, compared from one period of time to another.


In economics, elasticity refers the degree to which individuals (consumers/producers) change their demand/amount supplied in response to price or income changes.


An extensive group of states or countries ruled over by a single monarch, an oligarchy, or a sovereign state.

Environmental Debt

In agreement that all citizens of the world have an equal right to the global commons of the world’s resources of air and sea; those consuming more than their share, particularly of the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide without irreversible damage to the environment – owe a debt to the rest of the world. This is a debt owed by the rich, overwhelmingly living in financial creditor countries, to the poor who largely inhabit the so-called debtor countries. This massive unacknowledged debt puts the financial debts of the South into a very different perspective.

European Central Bank (ECB)

The European Central Bank is another institution of the European Union. It controls the supply of Euro in the Eurozone (or Euro Area), which has 16 member states. This makes it one of the world’s most important and powerful central banks.

European Commission (EC)

The European Commission is the decision-making (executive) body of the European Union (EU). The Commission is responsible for proposing EU laws, implementing decisions, upholding the EU treaties and the general running of the day-to-day affairs of the EU. The Commission is run by 27 Commissioners. There is one Commissioner per state, but each one is supposed to represent the interests of a whole rather than their home state.

Food Sovereignty

Food sovereignty is a political, cultural and social framework that asserts the right of people to define their own food systems. This means putting people at the centre of decisions about food production, distribution and consumption, rather than allowing those decisions to be made my corporations and market institutions. This approach promotes sustainable food production that is not ecologically destructive.

GDP (Gross Domestic Product)

The gross domestic product is the amount of goods and services produced in a country, in a given year. It is the market value of all final goods and services made within the borders of the country.


The growing interdependence and interconnectedness of the modern world through increased flows of goods, services, capital, people and information. The process is driven by technological advances and reductions in the costs of integrated transactions, which spread technology and ideas, raise the share of trade in world production and increase the mobility of capital.

Hedge Fund

An aggressively managed portfolio of investments that uses advanced investment strategies in both domestic and international markets with the goal of generating high returns.

Heterodox Economics

This refers to economic theories and communities of economists that form an alternative to mainstream economics in various ways. It is a multi-level term that refers to a body of economic theories developed by economists who hold an irreverent position vis-à-vis mainstream economics.


A system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.

Illegal Debt

This is where the legal procedures of the recipient country have not been followed. For example, the loan requires (but did not receive) authorisation by parliament or the executive, or the signatory was not authorised to sign.

Illegitimate Debt

This is the issue of lender liability. If poor countries are paying debts that they not only are not able to pay, but also in many cases should not pay, these are illegitimate debts.

IMF (International Monetary Fund)

Established in 1945 as the central institution of the international monetary system. Based in Washington DC, USA.

Imperialism / Anti-Imperialism

An unequal human and territorial relationship, usually in the form of an empire, based on ideas of superiority and practices of dominance, and involving the extension of authority and control of one state or people over another. Anti-imperialism is opposition to imperialism.


This is money received, especially on a regular basis, for work or through investments.

Interest Payment

A certain percentage of a loan that is paid by debtor to creditor as the price of the loan.

International Financial Markets

The place (but not necessarily a physical place) where financial wealth is traded between individuals and between countries. It can be seen as a wide set of rules and institutions where assets are traded and where institutions lay down the rules.


This is a term for any technique to multiply gains and losses. Most often this involves buying more of an asset by using borrowed funds. The belief is that the income from the asset will be more than the cost of borrowing.


The ability to read and write. The primary sense of literacy represents the lifelong, intellectual process of gaining meaning from a critical interpretation of texts.

Love Labour

This is productive work performed voluntarily without material compensation. It is often used to refer to the care work which is done within the home and the community, which is not acknowledged as ‘work’.

Marshall Plan

A United States program of economic aid for the reconstruction of Europe (1948-1952); named after Secretary of State, George Marshall.

Neoclassical/Orthodox economics

Neoclassical economics is an economic theory that argues for markets to be free. This means governments should generally not make rules about who may make things, who may sell things, who may buy things, prices, quantities or types of things sold and bought. The theory argues that allowing individual actors (people or businesses) freedom creates better economic outcomes.


Neoliberalism is a label for economic liberalism. Its advocates support free trade and open markets, deregulation, and enhancing the role of the private sector in modern society.

Odious Debt

Odious debt arises from loans which should never have been extended in the first place because of the oppressive, tyrannous or corrupt nature of the regime to which they were granted. Sometime known as ‘odious lending’.

Onerous Debt

Debts are recognised as being unenforceable if their terms are unreasonable. This could be applicable to some sovereign debt, especially in sases where the borrower could be considered to have had no choice in their financial circumstances but to accept the terms of the loan.

Paris Club

An informal group of 19 creditor countries that negotiate as a bloc, behind closed doors, with individual poor countries that approach them over debt crisis. Deals only with bilateral debts, i.e. those being paid direct to the countries and not multilateral organizations like the World Bank.

Patriarchal Structure

A social system in which males are the primary authority figures, occupying roles of leadership, moral authority, and control of property and culture.

Payable/Unpayable Debt

An unpayable debt is a debt where the total cost exceeds the borrowers’ ability to pay.


The method and practice of teaching.


A petrodollar is a United States dollar earned by a country through the sale of its oil to another country.

Political Economy

The study of the interrelationships between political and economic processes.


A period of temporary economic decline during which trade and industrial activity are reduced, generally identified by a fall in GDP in two successive quarters.

Regional Development Banks

Regional institutions that have functions similar to the World Bank group’s activities, but with particular focus on a specific region. Shareholders usually consist of the regional countries plus the major donor countries. The best-known including the Inter-American Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank; the African Development Bank.

Scramble for Africa

The race between European powers to invade, occupy and colonise African territories during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Second-wave Feminism

This is a period of feminist activity beginning in the United States in the early 1960s. It later became a worldwide movement. Whereas first-wave feminism focused mainly on suffrage and overturning legal obstacles to gender equality, second-wave feminism broadened the debate to a wide range of issues including sexuality, family, the workplace, reproductive rights, de-facto inequalities, and official legal inequalities.

Shadow Banks

Financial institutions not subject to the traditional regulation of banks.


A system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work.

Social Policy

Guidelines, principles, legislation and activities that affect living conditions conducive to human welfare and human rights.

Solidarity Care

Emotional and other work involved in creating love, care and solidarity relations (See also Love Labour).

Sovereign Debt

Sovereign debt or government/public debt is money or credit owed by a government. As the government draws its income from much of the population, sovereign debt is really the taxpayer’s debt.

Special Purpose vehicle (SPV)

The SPV is usually a subsidiary company with an asset/liability structure and legal status that makes its obligations secure even if the parent company goes bankrupt.


see Conditions.

Sub-prime Loan

A type of loan that is offered at a more expensive rate than traditional loans to individuals who do not qualify for prime rate loans. Subprime borrowers are often turned away from traditional lenders because of their low credit ratings or other factors that suggest that they have a reasonable chance of defaulting on the debt repayment.


More than, or in excess of, what is needed or required.

Sustainable Debt

Debt sustainability is often defined as the ability of a country to meet its debt obligations without requiring debt relief or accumulating high levels of arrears.

The Troika

The Troika is the name given to the three institutions that Ireland made the so-called ‘bailout agreement’ with in November 2010. They are the IMF, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank (ECB).

Unsustainable Debt

Where a debt may be legal and used for the benefit of the people, and in isolation its terms are not overly onerous, it may nevertheless be unpayable because of the limitations in a country’s debt-servicing capacity.

Wealth Distribution

The distribution of the ownership of assets in a society.

World Bank

The world’s biggest development organisation, providing low-interest loans and grants to developing countries. Established in 1945 and based in Washington D.C.