I just posted on my proposed approach to thinking about and measuring governance in relation to national debt. I thought the following figure might be helpful in thinking through the idea. It shows in blue the 2010 level of Debt as a % of GDP in about 70 countries. In red it shows how far the 2010 level departed from the ten year average (where the departure is measured in number of standard deviations). The graph shows that countries like Japan, Greece, Italy and Jamaica had relatively high levels of debt in 2010 (high blue bars) but these numbers may have been considered quite acceptable given debt to GDP levels in the prior decade, which were high/up and down. Governments in these contexts are expected to take time responding to high debt levels. In contrast, Germany, the UK, Ireland and the USA had higher deviations from the norm (the red line) even though the actual level of debt/GDP was not as high as other countries. Governments in these countries can be expected to respond quicker to debt issues than others, because their authority to incur debt is lower.
I guess it's like talking about 'governance on a leash'…. And the leash is just a lot longer in countries like Greece than it is in countries like Ireland… because of past experience, political 'rules of the game', etc.