Perspective on Our National Debt

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The US government’s debt is getting close to reaching another round number - $18 trillion. Our soverign debt currently stands at more than $17.9 trillion.
But what does that really mean? It is important to put the number into perspective. It is such an abstract number that it is hard to imagine. Can you genuinely understand it beyond the realization that it is a number with a lot of zeroes after it. Zeroes do not matter, right? 


17 trillion debt 
Just like humans find it really hard to comprehend the vastness of the universe. We know it’s huge, but what does the debt mean? It’s so many times greater than anything we know or have experienced. 
German astronomer and mathematician Friedrich Bessel managed to successfully measure the distance from Earth to a star other than our sun in the 19th century. But he realized that his measurements meant nothing to people as they were. They were too abstract.
So he came up with the idea of a "light-year” to help people get a better understanding of just how far it really is. And rather than using a measurement of distance, he chose to use one of time. People can understand and relate to this measure.
The idea was that since scientists know  the speed of light , by representing the distance in terms of how long it would take for light to travel that distance, we might be able to comprehend that distance.

Ultimately using a metric we are familiar with to understand one with which we are not familiar.
Why don't we try to do the same with another thing in the universe that’s incomprehensibly large today—the debt of the US government?
Even more incredible than the debt owed right now is what’s owed down the line from all the promises politicians have been making decade after decade. These unfunded liabilities come to an astonishing $116.2 trillion.
These numbers are so big in fact, I think we might need to follow Bessel’s lead and come up with an entire new measurement to grasp them.
Like light-years, we could try to understand these amounts in terms of how long it would take to pay them off. We can even call them “work-years”.
So let’s see—the Social Security Administration just released data for the average yearly salary in the US in fiscal year that just ended. It stands at $44,888.16.
The current debt level of over $17.9 trillion would thus take more than 398 million years of working at the average wage to pay off.
This means that even if every man, woman and child in the United States would work for one year just to help pay off the debt the government has piled on in their name, it still wouldn’t be enough.
 Now, rather than saying that the national debt is reaching $18 trillion, which means nothing to most people, you could say that the debt would currently take almost 400 million work-years to pay off. Wow.
When accounting for unfunded liabilities, the work-years necessary to pay off the debt amount to astonishing 2.38 BILLION work-years…
As an amount alone the debt is meaningless, but in terms of your future enslavement it can be better understood.
To put this in perspective even further—what was the situation like previously?
At the end of the year 2000, the national debt was at $5.7 trillion, while the average yearly income was $32,154. That’s 177 million work-years.
So just from the turn of the century, we’ve seen the time it would take to pay off the national debt more than double. That means that more than twice as many future generations have been indebted to the system in just 14 years.

Paddy Deighan J.D. Ph.D


Comments (3)

David Saks
Memphis, TN
Broker / Industry Analyst

Another great post accompanied by great information. Have a fine day.

Oct 22, 2014 06:22 PM
Fred Griffin Florida Real Estate
Fred Griffin Real Estate - Tallahassee, FL
Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker

     We are heading toward a financial apocalypse.  It's only a matter of time.

Oct 23, 2014 01:04 AM
Grant Schneider
Performance Development Strategies - Armonk, NY
Your Coach Helping You Create Successful Outcomes

Paddy - that is certainly less abstract and really should scare everyone.  Probably why they are not doing it.

Nov 04, 2014 09:08 AM