Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sizing up the national debt

Most of the political news these days is centered around talk of the national debt and raising the debt ceiling.

But, rarely is there much talk about exactly how big a problem this is given the enormous size of our national debt.

According to the U.S. Treasury, the official size of the Total Public Debt Outstanding as of July 11, 2011 was $14,342,977,065,892.73.

That obviously looks like a big number, but just how much money is that?

  • Using current gas prices, you could buy enough gas to drive a Toyota Prius to the planet Saturn and back 124,000 times – if there were a highway there. (And you'd still have enough money left over for snacks, tolls and souvenirs.)
  • Using 2010 attendance figures and average ticket prices, you could buy every ticket to every major league baseball game (all 30 MLB clubs), plus a hot dog, bottled water, peanuts and cracker jack at each game, for about the next 5,000 seasons.
  • If Mark Zuckerberg were to thank President Obama for using Facebook as a campaign medium by offering to pay off the national debt, he'd have to charge each of Facebook's reported 750 million users about $19,000 apiece for the privilege of having a page. (But, don't expect them to 'like' it.)
  • The state budget recently signed into law here in Massachusetts is worth $30.6 billion. If we had the national debt as a funding source, we could run Massachusetts tax-free until the year 2479 or so.
  • According to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, the equalized valuation of all taxable property in Massachusetts is about $1.024 trillion. So, basically, you could use the national debt to buy Massachusetts and you'd still have a cool $13 trillion or so left over to start buying up other states.

You can find more staggering figures in this recent article from the Daily Mail.

American needs to get immediate control over its burgeoning national debt, with all sides participating in solving the problem long-term.


  1. And what is even more shocking is that EVERY dime of this debt will be paid for by us...and my kids...and my grandkids....and my great grandkids BECAUSE we keep electing buffoons that cannot balance a checkbook. Disgusting....and every one of our elected officials over the years are to blame, regardless of party affiliation. Every single one. Can't we find a few that understand budgets and spending?

  2. None of those numbers mean anything. The only figure that matters is the debt as a percentage of GDP -- that is, debt v. income. What you're doing is dividing the debt by any random, shocking number.

  3. We disagree with your comment about 'random shocking numbers'. We are trying to show the immensity of the debt using concepts that are easier for people to grasp.

    However, you're right that the figure that matters most is debt as a percentage of GDP. Right now, that figure stands at over 90%.
    In other words, the national debt is more than 90% of the value of all goods and services produced in the American economy over a whole year. For the sake of comparison, most banks will not lend you money to buy a home if your long-term debt would exceed about 30% of your income. Scary stuff.

  4. ANON above can paint the issue any way they want, but the real issue is we have no balanced budget....just deficit spending. Both parties are to blame. But now we must solve the problem and ADDING to the debt limit, when the numbers are so staggering, is really irresponsible. I have little trust that anyone in Washington will live to a funding / budget plan that actually reduces the deficit. So, I not add to it anymore...we have more than we can handle now in red ink. Time to say enough is enough and NOT increase the ceiling. Spending should be no more than revenues. PERIOD.


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