Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Congratulations Washington: $15 trillion and Counting

Washington has finally done it.  According to the "Debt to the Penny" website, the United States' gross public debt (net of Washington's assets) has finally passed the $15,000,000,000,000 mark.  That's certainly a lot of zeros (just like in D.C.!)  Congratulations to all involved!  According to the Economist's Global Debt Clock, the United States is now the proud owner of just over 37 percent of the world's entire inventory of sovereign debt.

Here is a screen capture from the Debt to a Penny website:

As I've posted before, the trillions that Washington deals with are numbers that are far from relatable to those of us who occasionally roll pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters and take them to the bank.  Here are a few ideas that may help us better relate to a number with 12 zeros following a 15.

1.) According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 112,611,029 households in the United States in 2009.  The share of the debt for each household is now $133,201.87.  To put that number into perspective, the median household income in 2009 was $50,221 and the median value of owner-occupied housing units was $185,400.

2.) Once again, according to the Census Bureau, there are now 312,614,774 Americans.  Every man, woman and child now has a $47,982 share of the debt.  This includes newborn children and new immigrants.

3.) Let's buy as many brand new 27 inch iMacs with a 3.1 GHz Quad-Core Intel processor and a 1 TB hard drive (my absolute favourite computer!) as we can with the $15 trillion. The iMac retails for $1999 excluding taxes but including free shipping (!).  We could buy 7,503,800,000 iMacs, enough that every American family could have 66 iMacs.

4.) Let's take a stack of $100 bills.  Each bill is 0.0043 inches thick so it would take 232.6 $100 bills to create a pile that is one inch thick with a total "value" of $23,256.  If we take the entire $15.033 trillion debt and converted it into $100 bills, the stack of bills would be 646,410,000 inches high or 53,868,000 feet high or 10,202 miles high.  The one-way distance between New York and Los Angeles is 2462 miles.  The stack of $100 bills that make up the debt would reach from New York to Los Angeles over 4 times.

For completeness sake, here is the most up-to-date information on the interest owing on the debt for the first month of fiscal 2012 alone:

I hope that this puts the size of Washington's problems into perspective, not that we weren't aware that there was a problem.

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