Friday, August 21, 2020

The United States taxpayer should be proud of the size of the national debt because we've all gotten a lot of something for nothing and it's never getting paid back.

Lately, I've been thinking about trying to visualize a trillion dollars, mostly because the national debt is over $20 trillion and the "Cares" act seemingly generated $3 trillion dollars out of nowhere to prop up the economy back in March. There is also talk of a second round because all that's already spent. So how does one exactly visualize a trillion dollars. For my thought experiment, I used time.

So how much time is a trillion seconds? It turns out that a trillion seconds is 31,546 years. So if a person spent money at the rate of a dollar per second ($3,600 per hour), it would take more time to blow through all that money than time has passed since (probably) the invention of the road or the damn wheel. So what do I learn from this thought experiment? Several things, actually.

First, the United States of America blows through a phenomenal amount of money in a year. It's just unfathomable how much money this country chews through.

Second, despite what people say, I don't believe anymore that this is "taxpayer money," unless you are willing to say that it is the taxpayer ten thousand years down the road that we are actually borrowing from. A quick google search indicates that all of the taxes collected in a year lie somewhere between $3 and 4$ trillion, but that's also counting what states collect as state taxes. So if you look at this amount of debt that we have as a country, you have but one conclusion to make: it will either get paid off or it won't get paid off. And I'm taking a realistic view and saying, "This is not going to get paid off."

Third, I don't think that people are lending us this kind of money either. People like to use "China" as a go to example of someone that holds our debt, but a quick google search shows that China owns maybe $1.5 trillion of our debt. That's not all that much in large number terms when you consider that Apple is a trillion dollar company. They basically own Apple. Again...these are mind-boggling huge numbers.

Anyway, so I think the United States spins money out of nothing because we are a country with currency that we can just print and we can just say, "this has value." Okay, then. It's an ever increasing pile of debt for things that we have bought, and the common people (like you and me) like to point at it and say, "You law makers need to be responsible with taxpayer money because we are on the hook for that!" Only...I don't think we are, and we should stop saying that. There's no way you and I and anyone else could pay back that debt that I can think of. However, I'm not an economist.

So, you might ask, where is my thought experiment going? Well, I think that we should view the national debt in a different light: it's the biggest bargain in world history. Given what we give in taxes, we get way more back as a return investment. All the trillions and trillions of dollars of things that we all benefit from by far outstrips our ability to actually pay for by many times. And since there doesn't appear to be any consequence to not living like this, eh who cares? So it's like getting something for nothing, and we should be proud of that. Americans should be proud of the national debt. To shrink the example down, who else can say they spent a dollar to get a thousand dollars back in services and goods? That seems like the best bargain on earth. It doesn't make sense to me, but it is what it is. Countries play by different rules.

And that is the end of my thought experiment.


  1. You're right, we are never paying that back. Even if our taxes go up after November 3, it won't ever be enough to pay that back. However, as a result of printing phony money, our inflation will rise. As will probably all of the world's inflation.

  2. Since we went off the gold standard our money is only worth something because we have a ton of nuclear weapons and can literally destroy the world many times over if anyone tries to collect on our massive debt. Of course we could put a sizable dent in the debt if we taxed the rich and big corporations what they were taxed before Reagan/Bush/W Bush exploded the national debt.

    1. And really a lot of "what we're getting" in the national debt is an endless war in Afghanistan, an unnecessary war in Iraq, and a lot of overpriced weapons we either haven't used or didn't work. Hooray military-industrial complex!

  3. Politicians always seem to have an answer as to how it gets repaid, somewhere down the line (they usually estimate something less than several dozen thousand years, though). I’m not an economist, either. Spending is always out of control, however, and it usually has nothing to do with visible benefits, but the pork they add to bills to get regional endorsements and benefits. Who adds this stuff up? Who regulates it? I would argue that what we need, with all due apologies to Pat, is less routine questioning of war campaigns and more oversight committees of grafting, more government transparency. And then we hear ridiculous nonsense like “borrowing from social security.”

  4. So, what does it all mean, anyway? This is too much for my wee brain to take on a Friday night after the first week of school.