The Problem No One in DC Wants to Talk About

 

While the Beltway class hyperventilates over the latest political gaffe and jockeys for position in the 2018 midterms, there’s one subject they studiously avoid: our nearly $20 trillion debt. I wrote about it for USA Today, but my chart above shows the facts better than any op-ed can.

Because most graphs look like this, I created my own user-friendly debt chart focused on three big numbers: deficit, revenue, and debt.

It’s an imperfect analogy, but imagine the green is your salary, the yellow is the amount you’re spending over your salary, and the red is your credit card statement. Then tell your spouse, “Don’t worry, dear, I just increased our debt ceiling with a new Visa card!”

The chart is brutally bipartisan. Debt increased under Republican presidents and Democratic presidents. It increased under Democratic congresses and Republican congresses. In war and in peace, in boom times and in busts, after tax hikes and tax cuts, the Potomac flowed ever deeper with red ink.

Our leaders like to talk about sustainability. Forget sustainable — how is this sane?

I first created the chart in 2014 and update it every couple of years. And, every time, some on the right criticize it as being too harsh on the GOP while most on the left insist that debt doesn’t matter because … well, it just doesn’t, ok?

If anything, my chart is far too optimistic; I don’t mention future projections due to exploding entitlements. Instead of mocking cruel conservatives for cutting Big Bird’s budget, we should be yelling at them to cut more. Much, much more.

Published in Economics
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Members have made 74 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of Bryan G. Stephens Reagan

    This is so true. And it will force our system into something new. I am far less sanguine than Kevin Williamson.

    • #1
    • April 11, 2017 at 6:44 pm
    • Like13 likes
  2. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    I wish you had made your chart biggifiable so I could read the X axis.

    • #2
    • April 11, 2017 at 6:56 pm
    • Like1 like
  3. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    Any projections for what will happen thanks to the GOP repeal and replace plan?

    • #3
    • April 11, 2017 at 7:00 pm
    • Like1 like
  4. Profile photo of Miffed White Male Member

    There was no dot-com surplus. There was never a year in the 1990s (or 2000) when the public debt went down year-over-year. The last time it happened was 1956-1957. You can look it up and see for yourself:

    https://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/histdebt/histdebt_histo4.htm

    • #4
    • April 11, 2017 at 7:30 pm
    • Like4 likes
  5. Profile photo of Chris Campion Thatcher

    Well, they do want to talk about it.

    But they just want more red on the bottom.

    • #5
    • April 11, 2017 at 7:31 pm
    • Like2 likes
  6. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    There was no dot-com surplus. There was never a year in the 1990s (or 2000) when the public debt went down year-over-year. The last time it happened was 1956-1957. You can look it up and see for yourself:

    https://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/histdebt/histdebt_histo4.htm

    I didn’t now that. So what is the basis for the claim that there was a surplus (also known as the peace dividend)?

    • #6
    • April 11, 2017 at 7:34 pm
    • Like1 like
  7. Profile photo of Fred Cole Contributor

    No need to worry! The President’s proposed budget is deficit neutral!

    • #7
    • April 11, 2017 at 7:46 pm
    • Like4 likes
  8. Profile photo of Miffed White Male Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    There was no dot-com surplus. There was never a year in the 1990s (or 2000) when the public debt went down year-over-year. The last time it happened was 1956-1957. You can look it up and see for yourself:

    https://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/histdebt/histdebt_histo4.htm

    I didn’t now that. So what is the basis for the claim that there was a surplus (also known as the peace dividend)?

    http://www.craigsteiner.us/articles/16

    • #8
    • April 11, 2017 at 7:54 pm
    • Like2 likes
  9. Profile photo of OccupantCDN Coolidge

    The US national debt is growing at about 9% per year – or about 3.5 to 4.5 times faster than GDP.

    This fact all by itself should destroy the growth through debt club, it should be obvious, but you can not borrow your way to prosperity, –Personally or nationally…

    • #9
    • April 11, 2017 at 7:59 pm
    • Like7 likes
  10. Profile photo of Matt White Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    There was no dot-com surplus. There was never a year in the 1990s (or 2000) when the public debt went down year-over-year. The last time it happened was 1956-1957. You can look it up and see for yourself:

    https://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/histdebt/histdebt_histo4.htm

    I didn’t now that. So what is the basis for the claim that there was a surplus (also known as the peace dividend)?

    I think that’s a result of social security revenue being counted without the liability. Unfunded entitlment liabilities would increase the debt line by an order of magnitude.

    • #10
    • April 11, 2017 at 8:00 pm
    • Like4 likes
  11. Profile photo of RightAngles Member

    I guess I knew this, but I still wish I hadn’t seen that chart.

    • #11
    • April 11, 2017 at 8:30 pm
    • Like12 likes
  12. Profile photo of Ford Penney Member

    If you don’t like this then everyone will really hate the ‘rest of the story’… unfunded liabilities.

    Federal and state unfunded liabilities, according to Forbes in 2014, were approximately 127 trillion… more than double the world GDP.

    So what actually happens when those chickens come home to roost?

    • #12
    • April 11, 2017 at 8:38 pm
    • Like10 likes
  13. Profile photo of Acook Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I wish you had made your chart biggifiable so I could read the X axis.

    Another word might be ” enbiggenable.”

    • #13
    • April 11, 2017 at 8:48 pm
    • Like4 likes
  14. Profile photo of Joseph Eagar Member

    Is there a reason this chart is using nominal dollars, instead of stating debt as a percentage of GDP?

    • #14
    • April 11, 2017 at 8:52 pm
    • Like1 like
  15. Profile photo of Judge Mental Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I didn’t now that. So what is the basis for the claim that there was a surplus (also known as the peace dividend)?

    At the time it was a ‘projected surplus’. Then they increased spending.

    • #15
    • April 11, 2017 at 9:12 pm
    • Like1 like
  16. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I didn’t now that. So what is the basis for the claim that there was a surplus (also known as the peace dividend)?

    At the time it was a ‘projected surplus’. Then they increased spending.

    This is why there must be no new taxes that result in more revenue for the government. It will just make the problem worse.

    • #16
    • April 11, 2017 at 9:28 pm
    • Like4 likes
  17. Profile photo of JcTPatriot Thatcher

    It would be impossible for me to agree with you more. But just listen to people on the Left and on the Right howl like rabid dogs it you cut something they like. Even here on Ricochet, where I hope we’re all fiscal conservative wanna-be’s, we’ve already heard complaints about cuts to the Arts and to the Coast Guard, and probably others I missed. We’re just as bad as the Left, we just have other oxen we don’t want gored. “Oh no, we’re going to make two less F-22’s! Russia will destroy us now!” At least when we defend the Defense budget, we can point out the Constitution mentions it. The Ponzi schemes that we pour a boatload of our money into, Social Security and Medicare, have zero Constitutional justification.

    Anyone who doesn’t think that every single department of the Federal Government can have its budget cut, at least a little, is lying to themselves. I refuse to give the Federal Government a raise (increase my substantial tax load) so Congress is going to have to start reducing spending, big time.

    Step one? Outlaw Unions in the Federal Government. Follow Wisconsin’s lead on that.

    • #17
    • April 11, 2017 at 9:38 pm
    • Like15 likes
  18. Profile photo of Judge Mental Member

    JcTPatriot (View Comment):
    It would be impossible for me to agree with you more. But just listen to people on the Left and on the Right howl like rabid dogs it you cut something they like. Even here on Ricochet, where I hope we’re all fiscal conservative wanna-be’s, we’ve already heard complaints about cuts to the Arts and to the Coast Guard, and probably others I missed. We’re just as bad as the Left, we just have other oxen we don’t want gored. “Oh no, we’re going to make two less F-22’s! Russia will destroy us now!” At least when we defend the Defense budget, we can point out the Constitution mentions it. The Ponzi schemes that we pour a boatload of our money into, Social Security and Medicare, have zero Constitutional justification.

    Anyone who doesn’t think that every single department of the Federal Government can have its budget cut, at least a little, is lying to themselves. I refuse to give the Federal Government a raise (increase my substantial tax load) so Congress is going to have to start reducing spending, big time.

    Step one? Outlaw Unions in the Federal Government. Follow Wisconsin’s lead on that.

    People in the federal government have no idea how common it is in corporate America for a manager to be told, “cut 10% from your budget. You have two weeks to figure out how”. And they really have no idea how common it is for the same manager to hear the same thing the next year.

    • #18
    • April 11, 2017 at 9:41 pm
    • Like12 likes
  19. Profile photo of valis Coolidge

    So, my bunker preps mocked my family were prescient.

    FU world! Got it covered with rice, beans, spam, mre’s and solar panels to enjoy 21 Jump Street (show, not movies) for years to come.

    Yeah, got that going for me.

    • #19
    • April 11, 2017 at 10:00 pm
    • Like5 likes
  20. Profile photo of Jon Gabriel, Ed. Chief
    Jon Gabriel, Ed. Post author

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I wish you had made your chart biggifiable so I could read the X axis.

    Here’s the full size version.

    • #20
    • April 11, 2017 at 10:08 pm
    • Like4 likes
  21. Profile photo of TeeJaw Member

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    There was no dot-com surplus. There was never a year in the 1990s (or 2000) when the public debt went down year-over-year. The last time it happened was 1956-1957. You can look it up and see for yourself:

    https://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/histdebt/histdebt_histo4.htm

    I thought the dot-com surplus only referred to a current surplus over current spending, resulting in no addition to debt for that year. So debt was not reduced it just didn’t increase that year. No?

    • #21
    • April 11, 2017 at 10:15 pm
    • Like1 like
  22. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    JcTPatriot (View Comment):
    It would be impossible for me to agree with you more. But just listen to people on the Left and on the Right howl like rabid dogs it you cut something they like. Even here on Ricochet, where I hope we’re all fiscal conservative wanna-be’s, we’ve already heard complaints about cuts to the Arts and to the Coast Guard, and probably others I missed. We’re just as bad as the Left, we just have other oxen we don’t want gored. “Oh no, we’re going to make two less F-22’s! Russia will destroy us now!” At least when we defend the Defense budget, we can point out the Constitution mentions it. The Ponzi schemes that we pour a boatload of our money into, Social Security and Medicare, have zero Constitutional justification.

    Anyone who doesn’t think that every single department of the Federal Government can have its budget cut, at least a little, is lying to themselves. I refuse to give the Federal Government a raise (increase my substantial tax load) so Congress is going to have to start reducing spending, big time.

    Step one? Outlaw Unions in the Federal Government. Follow Wisconsin’s lead on that.

    People in the federal government have no idea how common it is in corporate America for a manager to be told, “cut 10% from your budget. You have two weeks to figure out how”. And they really have no idea how common it is for the same manager to hear the same thing the next year.

    It happens in academia, too, even in public universities. Such as, “cut 4 percent from your budget for each of the next five years.” And give us a credible plan to show how you’re going to do it, so you can’t whine and drag your feet when the time comes. When the going gets tough, they really mean it.

    • #22
    • April 11, 2017 at 10:19 pm
    • Like3 likes
  23. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    Jon Gabriel, Ed. (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I wish you had made your chart biggifiable so I could read the X axis.

    Here’s the full size version.

    Thank you. Are we allowed to redistribute it?

    • #23
    • April 11, 2017 at 10:22 pm
    • LikeLike
  24. Profile photo of ModEcon Member

    I like to think about the economies growth minus the debt and the amount needed to pay back the debt in the same amount of time.

    So, the USA GDP in 2000 was about 10T$. It is now about 19T$. Over that time we borrowed about 15T$.

    If we were to pay off the debt as quickly as we took it on, over the next 17 years years we would have to pay about .8T$ per year. Given that that is a change of borrowing .8T$(on average) a year to paying off .8T$ a year, I think we should consider our GDP as being 1.6T$ lower in reality than as calculated.

    So, instead of going from a GDP of 10T$ to 19T$, I think we should consider our current economy as being only 17.4T$. (Note: these number aren’t quite accurate, but are representative of my argument)

    So, lets recalculate the average growth. Instead of about 3.8% or about 1.8% taking inflation into consideration, we would get about 3.2% or about 1.2% taking an average 2% inflation.

    Makes a big difference seems to me.

    This calculation gives a 50% different average growth rate.

    It also just makes sense. The economy is calculated by what is spent. Debt adds to this. The change from debt financing to paying debt off is twice the rate if done in the same time-frame so we are two time the deficit rate lower in realGDP.

    • #24
    • April 11, 2017 at 11:34 pm
    • Like4 likes
  25. Profile photo of Jon Gabriel, Ed. Chief
    Jon Gabriel, Ed. Post author

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Jon Gabriel, Ed. (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    I wish you had made your chart biggifiable so I could read the X axis.

    Here’s the full size version.

    Thank you. Are we allowed to redistribute it?

    Certainly!

    • #25
    • April 12, 2017 at 3:27 am
    • Like5 likes
  26. Profile photo of Kozak Member

    Tip of the iceberg…

    US Funded Liabilities 122 Trillion…

    http://Demonocracy.info[/caption%5D

    • #26
    • April 12, 2017 at 3:40 am
    • Like2 likes
  27. Profile photo of I Walton Member

    Good chart it shows that the Reagan tax cuts raised revenues but the Bush tax cuts reduced them because it gutted revenues from lower income folks to avoid the charge of tax cuts for the rich. Doing things to please the liberal press is a fools game Republicans have difficulty learning. We’re going to have to raise those taxes back, but mostly it’s clear we spend too much and this doesn’t even include unfunded liabilities. Add debt owed to foreigners which is the ultimate threat. Show the current account through the same period.

    • #27
    • April 12, 2017 at 4:31 am
    • Like2 likes
  28. Profile photo of Miffed White Male Member

    TeeJaw (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    There was no dot-com surplus. There was never a year in the 1990s (or 2000) when the public debt went down year-over-year. The last time it happened was 1956-1957. You can look it up and see for yourself:

    https://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/histdebt/histdebt_histo4.htm

    I thought the dot-com surplus only referred to a current surplus over current spending, resulting in no addition to debt for that year. So debt was not reduced it just didn’t increase that year. No?

    Nope. Follow the link. For example:

    9/30/1998: 5,526,193,008,897.62

    9/30/1999: 5,656,270,901,615.43

    9/30/2000: 5,674,178,209,886.86

    The last time there was a year-to-year decrease was in the 1950s.

    6/30/1958: 276,343,217,745.81

    6/30/1957: 270,527,171,896.43

    6/30/1956: 272,750,813,649.32

    • #28
    • April 12, 2017 at 4:43 am
    • Like1 like
  29. Profile photo of Old Bathos Member

    Good luck collecting on the $61,175 that is my share of that debt, you bond-holding suckers!

    • #29
    • April 12, 2017 at 5:13 am
    • Like2 likes
  30. Profile photo of Kozak Member

    Look, lets face facts. We are never going to pay that back. Not ever.

    So if we are going to keep on racking up debt, and we are, lets at least get something tangible for the money. Fix the infrastructure roads ports, airports, bridges, fiber optic, military, etc etc. Then once the crash occurs we will have something to work with…

    • #30
    • April 12, 2017 at 5:17 am
    • Like6 likes
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