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National Debt and Liability

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Kerby Andersonnever miss viewpoints

During the presidential campaign, we didn’t hear too much from the two candidates about our nation’s debt and liabilities. But we cannot ignore all of this debt and our liabilities. So, let me try to put some of this in perspective.

Our current national debt is around $20 trillion. But you get quite different estimates when you begin to talk about our liabilities. I have seen all sorts of numbers depending on how much you count. Even just adding the liabilities from Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security you end up with an estimate of at least $75 trillion. This is five times America’s GDP.

Other economists put the entitlement liabilities at more than $100 trillion. As large as that number is, it doesn’t include all the state and municipal debt. If you include that debt as well, then the final number is more than $150 trillion. This is twice the total worth of the United States and more than seven times the $20 trillion figure we usually hear from politicians.

How can you put that number into any context? It is difficult to understand this number (150,000,000,000,000) because it is the kind of number we usually find only in a book about astronomy. Even then the number is beyond what we humans can really imagine. It is beyond what we experience on this planet.

Here is one analogy. Imagine you could spend a thousand dollars every second from now going backwards in time. You would run out of money in 2500 BC. That is five centuries before Abraham was even born.

I think we can learn two things from this thought experiment. First, an enormous amount of money is currently kept “off the books.” We owe much more than $20 trillion. Second, the true amount we owe is really beyond our comprehension.

Viewpoints by Kerby Anderson

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