What would you do If someone came knocking on your door and demanded that you pay them $291,000? Worse still, what if this same person said that, based on the average count of U.S. households, your family actually owes $748,000. Naturally you would think “absurd,” right? Sadly, you would be wrong, and as ridiculous as it may seem, you and every American are on the hook for trillions of dollars of our national debt.
First let’s dispel a major misconception about the amount of debt we owe as a nation. You will hear the number $21 trillion dollars bandied about, which is only a fraction of our national obligation. According to U.S. Department of the Treasury, as of the end of 2018, the federal government had a combined total of $95,410,000,000,000 in unfunded obligations, liabilities, and debts. Just in case you lost your place counting all of those zeros, that is $95.4 trillion.
The U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates our combined liability is almost five times the size of the U.S. economy, while also reporting that our debt is 27 times larger than the annual federal revenues (taxes and fees). According to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, our national debt of $95.4 trillion dollars also represents the combined net worth of 88% of all U.S. households and nonprofit organizations (assets: real estate, corporate stocks, private business, savings, and durable goods). However, it is far worse than you may realize.
As bad as $94 trillion may sound, that amount does not include Social Security and Medicare, which we believe to be guaranteed, but not really. In the early 1960s, the Supreme Court ruled that Social Security is not insurance or property (Flemming vs. Nestor). The amount paid is calculated into your benefit total, but the laws that govern Social Security fall to Congress, and Congress can change your benefits any time they want.
Today payments are guaranteed under our current laws, but Congress can change that. So, you may be obligated by law to contribute to FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act), but it does not obligate the government to give you anything back. As nice as “contribute” sounds, FICA is a tax, and Congress can decide to keep giving it to you, reduce your payments, temporary halt your payments, or in the case of Nestor, give you nothing.
So when you combine $94 trillion with our Social Security and Medicare commitments, our total national debt, liabilities, and unfunded obligations amount is closer to $200 trillion dollars (based on data reported in the U.S. Treasury annual reports over the past five years). Combine that with the billions of unfunded liabilities at the state and local level, and we are insolvent, broke, and deep into the red. Here is the sad truth most politicians will not be talking about, certainly not President Trump, Speaker Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, or any of the major presidential candidates.
Simply put, if we took everything away from everyone in America and had one gigantic yard sale in order to service our current debt, we would still be short of paying off the debt by several trillion dollars. Our national debt is so large we can’t really fathom its size. We can say things like “if you started the day Jesus Christ was born and spent $1 million every day since then, you still wouldn’t have spent $1 trillion,” or “you could spend one dollar per second, and at that rate of spending, it would take you over 32,000 years to spend one trillion dollars.” No matter how we say it, it would fall on deaf ears.
Now I know the impulse is to blame tax cuts, the Republicans, or the Democrats. Fine, but the fact is that with $200 trillion dollars in various liabilities (or more), we are to blame, you and I. We let this happen. We are still letting it happen. Yet, we stand in front of the current crop of presidential candidates like the seagulls in the movie “Finding Nemo,” squawking “mine, mine, mine,” clueless or indifferent to the economic disaster we currently find ourselves in. We certainly have come a long way from “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
Slave reparations, paying off the current $1 trillion dollars in student college debt, universal healthcare, universal basic income, free daycare, free college, the Green New Deal, modern monetary theory, tax the “rich” at 70%, why not? Let’s just keep printing more money and borrowing from our enemies, and just borrow and spend ourselves into prosperity.
Subsidies (corporate welfare), too big to fail, bailouts, tariffs, quantitative easing, and tax cuts without balanced budgets have all contributed to our reckless American economic model. Place on top of that the irresponsible policies being pushed by the Democratic presidential candidates, and we just keep doing the same things over and over, expecting different results.
New Hampshire is the First in the Nation Primary state. We pick presidents, but right now we are allowing the most pressing issue facing our country to go unnoticed. Instead of asking these candidates about more free stuff, maybe we should be asking them what their plan is to fix our current debt crisis.