$33 trillion. Written another way, $33,000,000,000,000.
The U.S. National Debt is estimated to surpass $33 trillion in a matter of days. Sadly, milestones like these seem to have become all too regular. Just one year ago I wrote a similar article discussing the somber milestone of having surpassed $31 trillion in debt. These milestones are almost as certain, sadly, as the political theatre performed by the U.S. Congress every few months over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling, or just how terrible it would be for them to have to cut spending… once.
The bottom line is that $33 trillion represents money owed and the burden on the prosperity of future generations of Americans. To make matters worse, our elected “leaders” seemingly have no appetite for course correction, and sadly, neither do many Americans who have grown increasingly nihilistic about the issue, assuming the last real emphasis on the issue collectively was as a result of the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party in its infancy.
$33 trillion. It is a nearly unfathomable number.
Organizations like Truth in Accounting continue to dispute even that figure, pegging the actual amount of national debt to upwards of $159 trillion, as they factor in unfunded liabilities and entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.
Regardless of which figure you use, it is truly difficult to conceptualize.
Best Represented With Analogies
The Peterson Foundation recently provided analogies to help people understand what $31 trillion (and more) actually looks like. Here are just a few examples from their report:
- $31 trillion is more than the value of the economies of China, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined.
- $31 trillion amounts to $244,000 per household or $96,000 per person in the United States.
- If every household in the United States contributed $1,000 per month toward paying down the debt, it would take over 20 years.
- $32 trillion is enough to cover a four-year degree for every graduating high school student in the United States for 73 years.
Both major political parties are at fault.
The coming days and weeks will be full of political posturing and tribalist rhetoric, but the debt has soared under both Republican and Democrat administrations, with both having the luxury of partisan majorities in the U.S. Congress to address the issue throughout recent decades.
The debt burden is so large that the government would need to spend more money than the entire American economy to pay it off.
As the debt grows, so too does the interest accrual, making it even more costly to pay back. In fact, it is estimated that we are spending more than $1.3 billion per day on debt interest payments alone. By 2033, the nation will spend about $3.9 billion per day. Put another way, sometime within the next 10 years, the federal government (i.e. the American taxpayer), will be spending more on interest payments than it does on research and development, infrastructure, and education combined. Just think about that.
Adding to the problematic nature of interest on debt is the fact that the interest rates themselves have gone up dramatically, as the Federal Reserve lifts rates to their highest level since 2001 to respond to high inflation.
What Does it All Mean?
Economists are ultimately split as to the long-term effects of such large debt burdens. The only real certainty is that there does not appear to be a reprieve on the horizon, and without much-needed spending limits and a political culture that values fiscal responsibility, the burden of increasing debt and runaway spending will only get heavier on taxpayers.
In the words of Latin writer Publilius Syrus, “Debt is the slavery of the free.”
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