By Harold Pease, Ph. D
Within 40 days our national debt is likely to be $20 trillion; four of which is from eight years of George W. Bush and ten from eight years of Barack Obama—the two biggest spending presidents in U.S. History. Obama alone accumulated more debt than all previous presidents put together.
So what is a trillion dollars? To begin with a trillion is the number one followed by twelve zeros. A trillion dollars is a thousand billion and a billion is a thousand million. This still means very little to my students who count their money in fives, tens and twenties.
One mathematician gave us a more practical way to evaluate our outstanding debt. One trillion, one-dollar bills stacked atop each other (not end to end but flat) would reach nearly 68,000 miles into space—a third of the way to the moon (See CNN News Cast, Feb. 4, 2009). If so, the debt incurred under President Obama alone, $10 trillion, would reach the moon and back and to the moon again. Moreover, if you like traveling atop this stack of ones, our total $20 trillion in debt would take you to the moon and back three times and almost to the moon again.
Senator Mitch McConnell gave another illustration just as awe striking. He calculated that if we spent a million dollars every day since Jesus was born we still would not have spent a trillion dollars—only three-fourths of a trillion dollars (ibid.).
Someone else equated our national debt to seconds and concluded that a million seconds is about 11½ days and a billion seconds is about 32 years. A trillion seconds is about 32,000 years thus 20 trillion seconds is 640,000 years (See CNN News Cast, Feb. 4, 2009). This only makes my head spin, as my Ph. D is not in math.
I ask my students, “Who gets to go without so that this debt can be paid?” “Go without!!!?” That is a concept foreign to this generation!! They do not know, and neither do their parents and grandparents who laid it on their backs. When they are told that their share of the debt is $61,457 (see USDebtClock.org), due immediately, they are angry. Someone should have told them that government handouts are not free.
The 13th Amendment ending slavery has been rescinded, they are America’s new slaves. Bondage was given them before their birth, or while they were in the womb, or before they were old enough to know what it meant to be sold into slavery. The past generation wanted nice costly programs for free and were willing to sell their children in order to have them. Communist China now owns an eighth of our debt and the bills are due. What is worse the older generation is still anxious to incur even more debt on our defenseless children and grandchildren. Are we not the most debt addicted, insensitive generation in U.S. History?
The latest new theory to avoid fiscal responsibility and continue unlimited spending used by Bush in late 2009 and Obama thereafter is referred to as Quantitative Easing. Crudely it means printing more money out of thin air to cover our debt, but it is far more sophisticated than that. For Bush the money supply was greatly expanded by having the Federal Reserve purchase $600 billion in Mortgage-backed securities (Harding, Robin. 3 November 2010, Quantitative Easing Explained. Financial Times). Obama purchased $600 billion of Treasury securities over a six month period of time beginning in November 2010 in what has been called Quantitative Easing or QE2 to distinguish it from QE1, the Bush expansion of the money supply (Cesky, Annalyn,3 Nov.2010, “QE2: Fed Pulls the Trigger” CNNmoney.com. Retrieved 10 Aug. 2011). Neither president really stimulated the economy long term or created jobs, but for a few months, like a drug high, things seemed to feel better. Other, less publicized, Quantitative Easements followed.
The biggest problem with expanding the money supply is that it reduces the value of the money that you have in your pocket. Prices go up. My 1968 new Camaro cost me $ 2,700. Had I instead put the money under a mattress and tried to purchase a Camaro today it would cost more than ten times that much. In this instance money has lost 90% of its value since then. Those on fixed incomes are robbed as surely as if a thief had lifted their wallet or purse. They cannot return to their employer for a raise to compensate for the loss caused by their own government.
Still, with all the sophisticated “doublespeak,” as for example quantitative easement, it means that we will print whatever money we need to purchase whatever we wish. Neither party is serious about stopping the debt and removing the bondage that we are imposing upon our children and grandchildren. In last Fall’s presidential election the Democrats proposed “free” college. Donald Trump’s proposed trillion-dollar infrastructure program, shared with us in his first address to Congress, does not appear to suggest a change. Who cares if our debt of dollar bills stacked upon one another can go to the moon and back three times and almost to the moon again, so long as the government fills our stomachs and, in the case of Obama, buys our cell phones?
Dr. Harold Pease is a syndicated columnist and an expert on the United States Constitution. He has dedicated his career to studying the writings of the Founding Fathers and applying that knowledge to current events. He has taught history and political science from this perspective for over 30 years at Taft College. To read more of his weekly articles, please visit www.LibertyUnderFire.org.