Why We Need To Worry About the National Debt, Even if Congress Won’t
By Russ Davis
There is a website billing itself as the U.S. Debt Clock (www.usdebtclock.org). It has a running total of the federal tax revenues, federal spending, amount of debt per citizen, and more than 60 other figures. When I say “running total,” I mean that quite literally. Except for the meters indicating more steady numbers, such as the number of Americans drawing welfare, the numbers on the website quite literally dash like runners in a marathon. The highlight of the website is the meter tracking the national debt. Using a stopwatch to verify, I it only took 11.5 seconds for the debt to rise by $100 million. I’m not saying I’d kill for that money, but I’d break one of the other Ten Commandments just for 1 percent of that.
The current meter reads about $17.16 trillion (as of this writing). Do you have any idea how much money this is? In his book “I’m a Stranger Here Myself,” Bill Bryson uses this thought experiment: Imagine you’re in a vault with an infinite amount of $1 bills. Now imagine now that you tabulate $1 per second without stopping (for lunch, sleep, or anything else). Going at this pace, it would take more than 31,000 years to tabulate $1 trillion. That means it would take more than half a million years to gather together enough singles to pay off the national debt.
But I hear people say — with the straightest of faces — that we shouldn’t worry about our deficits and debt. Writing for The Washington Post’s WonkBlog, Brad Plumer tells us that we shouldn’t expect the federal government to be prudent, because the federal government is “assumed to be immortal.” This sounds relieving, but it’s horribly clueless.
A 2010 study done by economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff concludes that economies grow slower when the debt-to-gross domestic product ratio is more than 60 percent. By that standard, our debt should be no higher than $9.5 trillion. The debt-to-GDP figure has real world credibility. For example, the debt-to-GDP ratio in Australia was about 11 percent in 2012, while in Japan, it was about 134 percent. Not surprisingly, Australia’s GDP grew by 3.3 percent, while Japan’s only grew by about one percent. This demonstrates that government debt is an impediment to economic growth, and thus, job creation.
It amazes me how people in my age bracket don’t realize this. I’m made to understand that job creation is the number one sociopolitical concern of college students, but at the same time, most of the UWT students I’ve encountered overwhelmingly endorse policies that would increase deficits and debt. Sitting in most political science classes, I can only shake my head as I hear the number of students rhapsodize about the need for single-payer health care, more money in foreign aid, and a more generous welfare state.
I don’t know what it will take to bail America out of its enormous debt. I know that for most Americans, the cliché “I don’t need to worry because I’ll be gone by then” is probably true, but for the people at UWT, it’s a different story. At 22 years old, I know for a fact that it’s the Facebook Generation that will be responsible for either getting our debt under control, or suffering the consequences because of it. I’m not optimistic about this.