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December 21, 2009

Remember the good old days when the national debt was only $8 trillion?

Actually, that was only four years ago.  In the years since, the acknowledged* debt has increased 50%, thanks mostly to the drunken spending binge in which Congress has engaged in the past year or so, with the encouragement of both presidents Bush and Obama (although Bush’s original TARP fund now seems quaint when compared with the spending initiatives of the Obama administration).

The Bureau of the Public Debt allows you to look up the acknowledged national debt for any given date in recent years.  At the moment I took this screenshot, the debt stood at TWELVE TRILLION, ninety-seven billion, nine hundred eighty-three million, one hundred sixty-one thousand, three hundred sixty-six dollars.  And sixty-five cents.

I say “acknowledged” national debt because the government holds substantial amounts of additional debt that are “off the books”.  For example, mandated future payouts in programs like Social Security and Medicare ought to be included because the government is supposedly committed to paying them, but the government doesn’t count these unfunded liabilities as debt until they have to borrow cash to pay them out. 

So how much would these unfunded liabilities add to the debt of the US government?  Richard W. Fisher, who heads up the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, had this to say in May of 2008:

Add together the unfunded liabilities from Medicare and Social Security, and it comes to $99.2 trillion over the infinite horizon. Traditional Medicare composes about 69 percent, the new drug benefit roughly 17 percent and Social Security the remaining 14 percent.

Now there’s a number that I doubt any of us will ever be able to get our minds around.  We could represent it with a stack of crisp, newly-printed dollar bills whose height is 25 times the distance from the earth to the moon (extending the calculation done here), but still, I don’t think anyone can truly appreciate how staggeringly-large that number is.

Just wait until the costs of Obama’s health care plan get added to the total (assuming it passes).  And then there’s Obama’s climate change agenda.  And then there’s the next economic stimulus.  And then there’s…….

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