Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Multi-Trillion Dollar Debt and What It Means to Your Standard of Living Right Now

Current U.S. debt stands at $13,363,228, 000, 000. This number is often broken down on a per capita basis, currently $44,000.

I have always thought of the per capita number as somewhat misleading.  I'm guessing that most people who don't have $44,000 in the bank, shrug and think, "Good luck with collecting that from me."

But the way the $13,363,228, 000, 000 should be looked at is debt that results in that much money not being available for  private sector business to borrow. It boggles the mind to think what research could be conducted and products produced and created if that money was available for the business sector. In this fashion, the huge debt is impacting the person, right now, who doesn't have $44,000 in the bank, by the products that haven't been created because of the debt. One has to wonder how higher a standard of living a person would face, who doesn't have $44,000 in the bank, but who would live in a world where government borrowed so aggressively.

Further, every uptick in debt brings the U.S. closer to the point in time when new government debt won't be absorbed  at current interest rate levels. At such time it is highly likely that the Federal Reserve will step in to buy Treasury securities, a very inflationary move. Thus, those without $44, 000 in the bank (along with most everyone else) will face prices rising much faster than their incomes.

Bottom line: The "good luck with collecting $44,000 from me" mentality misses the big point in that it is being collected from everyone right now, because it is resulting in a much lower standard of living.

Further, when government debt really saturates the system, the inflationary consequences of likely Fed money printing will take a big chunk out of  the purchasing power of current incomes. All these factors are reasons why the government debt situation needs to be brought under control now, not through higher taxes which would keep the money out of the private sector, but through cuts in government spending which would start to ease the pressure on the huge drain of money away from the private sector.


  1. Money "dropped from helicoptors" doesn't help the economy when it's sitting in a vault.

    Ben sits between a tapped out consumer and stimulative efforts that have only served to widen our current account deficit. Monetary policy will be reigned in after a few more repeats of the same efforts that failed in Japan.

  2. I recently looked at this list

    If you sort it by per capita, you see countries like Qatar, Japan, and Norway with much higher per capita debt to GDP than the US, with Luxembourg stealing the show at over $4 million per capita. Does this signify anything important about those countries?

  3. Probably that they are in even more trouble than we are:) In all seriousness, some countries have higher savings rates than we do, e.g. Japan, so they can get a way with having some additional debt, but overall it is dangerous for any country.

  4. Please note that that thirteen trillion of debt does not include the off-budget items of Social Security and Medicare. The debt is really more like one hundred trillion.

  5. Exactly right. It's not the $14T deficit, but the unfunded liabilities that puts the total over $100T. That number is staggering.