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United States Government Math The Almighty Buck News Politics

National Debt Clock Overflowed, Extended By a Digit 696

Posted by timothy
from the but-don't-worry-balanced-budget's-a-crazy-idea dept.
hackingbear writes "The National Debt Counter, erected in 1989 when the US debt was 'merely' a tiny $2.7 trillion, has been moving so much that it recently ran out of digits to display the ballooning figure: $10,150,603,734,720, or roughly $10.2 trillion, as of Saturday afternoon. To accommodate the extra '1,' the clock was hacked: the '1' from "$10.2" has been moved left to the LCD square once occupied solely by the digital dollar sign. A non-digital, improvised dollar sign has been pasted next to the '1.' It will be replaced in 2009 with a new clock able to track debt up to a quadrillion dollars, which is a '1' followed by 15 zeros. That should be good enough for a few more months at least, I believe." Adds reader MarkusQ, "I know Dick Cheney has assured us that 'Deficits don't matter' but I can't help wondering if we should be fixing the problem rather than the sign."
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National Debt Clock Overflowed, Extended By a Digit

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  • by flewp (458359) on Sunday October 12, 2008 @10:53PM (#25350415)
    Deficits don't matter. All that matters is that your dogs are bigger and meaner than the debt collectors'.
    • by bsDaemon (87307) on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:04PM (#25350521)

      Yeah, but when the debters include China, where does that rule lead you?

    • by lysergic.acid (845423) on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:37PM (#25350751) Homepage

      that might be true if our society weren't so dependent on global trade. but if our trade partners suddenly cut all economic relations with us our domestic economy would collapse. we depend on other nations for manufacturing, investments, and imports/exports.

      we might be able to raid other countries for their oil, but we can't use military coercion to force other countries to import our goods or manufacture our raw materials. and since our trade relations with other nations are generally good for us, bad for them, if we're no longer an economic superpower, i imagine most of the developing nations we exploit would cut their ties with us and just nationalize the resources we've hijacked from them like Venezuela has done.

      i mean, if we don't have money to lend other nations, the IMF & World Bank would cease to be relevant. and without the power and influence of the IMF/World Bank, we wouldn't be able to dictate the domestic policies of other nations anymore. so 3rd world nations who've allowed us to privatize their industries and open up their markets to us would cease to allow themselves to be exploited.

      and quite frankly, we need them more than they need us. many American-based corporate conglomerates would tank if our globalization policies were reversed. WalMart and other retailers wouldn't have cheap sweatshop made goods to sell. Monsanto would lose most of their profits made from selling developing nations GMO seeds every planting season. and 38% of Microsoft's annual revenue comes from sales outside of the U.S. heck, Hollywood makes more money from foreign ticket sales than from the domestic box office ($12 billion a year versus $9 billion).

      if our money was certainly no good internationally, or if countries like China decided to collect on our debts, we would be royally screwed.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by lysergic.acid (845423)
        oops, that last sentence should read "if our money was suddenly no good internationally..."
      • by im_thatoneguy (819432) on Monday October 13, 2008 @12:11AM (#25351021)

        If China got pissed and cut off all exports to us... their economy would implode. And the people would hold the communist party accountable--revolution would be in the streets and China would become be under new management by the end of the month.

        The US is integral to the world market. This is a classic shoot your face to spite your nose situation.

        • by sortius_nod (1080919) on Monday October 13, 2008 @12:17AM (#25351073) Homepage

          Actually, no it wouldn't. China's economy is a lot stronger than you think. Unlike the US, they have a massive manufacturing base that can ship to anywhere in the world. The US is just a "customer" - a bad one at that.

          They have the rest of the world (Europe, Asia, Africa, Russia, the list goes on). To me it would be business as usual, with one less "customer".

          • by Rutulian (171771) on Monday October 13, 2008 @12:29AM (#25351139)

            To me it would be business as usual, with one less "customer".

            Agree with your general point, but it's not quite that trivial...the US is a big customer.

            • by renegadesx (977007) on Monday October 13, 2008 @01:03AM (#25351345)
              Considering the US are paying with IOU's at the moment, I dont think China would mind collecting. If China and the EU both decided to cut off the US at the moment and collect on their debts, if they get their money back their economies may bounce back and the US would be screwed.

              I think alot of people on here (I am assuming americans) overestimate how big of an exporter they really are in actual goods. You guys seem to forget the manufacturing parts of american business have been outsourced overseas for years now with Wall St being (quote Ralph Nayder) nothing more than a gambling casino.
              • by jvkjvk (102057) on Monday October 13, 2008 @12:10PM (#25356777)

                Considering the US are paying with IOU's at the moment, I dont think China would mind collecting. If China and the EU both decided to cut off the US at the moment and collect on their debts, if they get their money back their economies may bounce back and the US would be screwed.

                Except that they can't. Certainly China and the EU can try to collect on their debts. What happens if the US actually pays them? The first question you should ask is how. We could take those IOU's and redeem them for cash. Were does that money come from? Well, since we don't have an actual reserve, we would just print it. Instant inflation, devaluing the dollar and devaluing their own portfolios.

                The issue is that financials are truly global now. The mortgage crisis underlines that. The Conventional Wisdom was that this would be contained in the US. Oops. If you were surprised that the real-estate correction hit global markets hard you might be surprised at how much worse a correction in the value of the dollar would be, especially through such a confrontational method. Unless you read any of the economists that predict such an effect.

                I think alot of people on here (I am assuming americans) overestimate how big of an exporter they really are in actual goods. You guys seem to forget the manufacturing parts of american business have been outsourced overseas for years now with Wall St being (quote Ralph Nayder) nothing more than a gambling casino.

                It really doesn't matter. In fact this bolsters the opposite viewpoint rather than defeating it. Since the US is not as big an exporter -- what are those countries going to do with all that US money? In your scenario, China doesn't want US$ anymore, the EU doesn't want US$ either. So, who are they going to trade them to? The US? And do what - buy bonds? /sarcasm Or are they just going to burn them then? As soon as they try buying stuff in the US, prices will be driven up. If they don't buy from the US, what are they going to do with the money?

                It really is quite a bit of mess. The whole world has helped in leveraging the US dollar. The total amount of wealth on the books does not match wealth in reality. Any attempt to realize that "wealth" causes that "wealth" to lose significant value.

                It does look like this trend is unsustainable - that is we create more faery money at a greater rate than actual growth and insist that this is also "growth". This growing inequality is not just a figment of imagination and sooner or later must be addressed, but I'm not sure the "system shock" method is viable.

                While some level of unreality is fine for economic markets, periodically all structures get touched with cold iron. When that faery support evaporates if the structure can no longer hold itself up it will collapse in a heap (or more politically correct, "be restructured"). The impression that US$ represent some stable container for value creates a portion of that value and that portion of value disappears into thin air the minute actions are taken that refute this impression.

          • by Skim123 (3322) <mitchell&4guysfromrolla,com> on Monday October 13, 2008 @01:33AM (#25351557) Homepage

            Seeing as we bought $25 BILLION more from China than China bought from the US just in August 2008, I'd say that we are a pretty integral customer of Chinese manufacturing.

            Check out the stats: http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/balance/c5700.html [census.gov]. We've already bought more than $167 billion of Chinese goods than we have sold the Chinese. That is not an insignificant number, and that figure only takes into account the first 3/4ths of the year.

            • by nedlohs (1335013) on Monday October 13, 2008 @02:06AM (#25351785)

              Which is why the Chinese economy is stronger.

              What would the difference be if instead of shipping those goods to the US, China instead dumped them in the ocean?

              The US wouldn't have those goods. And china wouldn't have yet more IOUs from the United States. We pay them with dollars, they exchange them for treasuries (or equities when we let them) in order keep the yuan artificially low.

              I think the Chinese could do without essentially worthless IOUs (like the US can afford to pay its debts) a lot more than the US can do without imports (of clothes, food, etc, etc).

              And of course China doesn't have to dump them in the ocean, they can sell them to their own people - who will be much richer than Americans once their currency stops being artificially surpressed.

              Of course there's plenty of pain in the middle - but since the US is about to have a very severe recession these events might be forced on China anyway.

              Surely you can see that the consumer half of the producer/consumer relation is the less important half. Anyone can buy and watch a TV, it takes actual industry to be able to make one. Chinese people can start consuming much more easily than American people can start producing - if that trade stops.

              • by TapeCutter (624760) on Monday October 13, 2008 @04:19AM (#25352403) Journal
                "...they can sell them to their own people..."

                Indeed, China's earnings from exporting goods and services stands at ~25% of GDP, the US accounts for less than half of that. This is good for the economy here in Australia, not so good for the economy in the US. As for China, if the US stopped importing from them tomorrow their growth rate of ~10% would make up for the loss in ~1yr.

                It's also interesting to note that China lifted it's ban on buying and selling gold 2-3yrs ago (when oil & gold abruptly started climbing). For a while the government encoraged China's middle class to put some of their savings into the traditional 'rainy day' plan of hoarding gold in the form of trinkets. The middle class really didn't need much encouraging, China's new retail gold market drove the gold price up for the first 6-12 months of it's operation.

                Disclaimer: Even though it was concieved by Newton I am not calling for a return to the gold standard.
          • by shutdown -p now (807394) on Monday October 13, 2008 @01:50AM (#25351669) Journal

            When one of your customers purchases more than 1/5 of everything you sell, it's not "just one customer" anymore.

            China could certainly do without the US, but they would have a few hard years recovering. I don't see them taking that risk.

            But it doesn't really matter in the context of this discussion, because China won't ask for their money back for the same reason. It's like a nuke - the most important fact is that you have one, so actually using one is silly (because then you no longer have one, and you've pissed someone off very badly). If anything, I think that Chinese will happily invest even more into the US economy while it's in bad shape - to help it recover sooner (too big a market to lose, once again), but also to establish a bigger foothold for themselves in the US.

            And then, give it 40-50 more years, and you'll see how the Sino-American Alliance is to be born.

          • by BZ (40346) on Monday October 13, 2008 @08:48AM (#25353949)

            > Unlike the US, they have a massive manufacturing base

            Actually, the two have approximately equally sized manufacturing bases in terms of production. The US has much higher productivity, so many fewer manufacturing _workers_, but the total production is pretty similar. Further, China's total exports are about the same as those of the US. It's just that the US imports so much more than China does that causes our current trade imbalance.

            There's also the fact that China's manufacturing base has been growing recently while ours has been shrinking, so if current trends continue then eventually what you say will be true.

            > They have the rest of the world (Europe, Asia, Africa, Russia, the list goes on).

            The real problem is that they employ people by producing all sorts of stuff that their own people don't (can't, largely) buy. So they HAVE to export to keep the economy going. They've been managing it so far by keeping a currency peg against the dollar so that their production is cheap in the US. This works because the US doesn't impose tariffs much on manufactured goods, even in the face of blatant currency manipulation.

            The situation with Europe, Asia, Africa, Russia is quite different. No qualms about tariffs there, especially if it will protect domestic industries. So attempts by China to shift their exports elsewhere might be met with strong protectionist measures, making the US rather hard to replace.

            Of course all this is speculation. And really, China should be working on creating domestic demand for its products. The problem is that doing too much of that threatens the political stability of the current setup, so it's been a pretty slow process.

        • by Telvin_3d (855514) on Monday October 13, 2008 @01:30AM (#25351533)

          Yes and no. China does have the world's largest standing army and citizens with a tradition of taking their orders from the government. If it comes down to a question of which county can suppress the riots for longer, my money is on China. They do a LOT of business with the EU and other nations, even if their single biggest trade partner is the US.

          My guess is that if trade between the US and China was cut off, China could hold back the riots for as long as it took to retool their production and markets. If Walmart ran out of stock, there would be rioting in the US within the week.

        • by nedlohs (1335013) on Monday October 13, 2008 @01:55AM (#25351707)

          You're in for a shock. The end result of the current financial problems is China waking up to the fact that it doesn't need to lend the Americans money so they buy its crap - its own consumers can instead of saving money to be loaned to Americans, buy crap themselves.

          Yes, the Chinese economy is going to collapse along with the US economy.

          However, they have the production base (that America shipped over there...) and a large population, and India is a big importer of Chinese goods already.

          The US has consumer debt with no capital investment to show for it, crumbling infrastructure, and a production base smaller than it once was.

          Also, when it comes to poor people rioting and killing the rich people and destroying yet more infrastructure - China has more experience with dealing with that (in a way one would hope America wouldn't deal with it).

          So China will recover faster, and will be the new engine of the world economy - both production and consumption...

          The US is a drain on the world economy (that's what a trade deficit is - historically you ran a trade deficit in order to invest in capital works, so you could pay the money back later, the US has instead invested in flat screen TVs and vacations), the sooner it is cut off the better for the rest of the world.

          Yes, short term is will tank the whole world economy - but it has to be done at some point. And right now there's enough motivation to pull the trigger - it's pretty obvious that money loaned to the US isn't getting paid back with dollars worth anything close to what the ones loaned were worth.

        • by Moraelin (679338) on Monday October 13, 2008 @02:01AM (#25351747) Journal

          It's not that simple.

          1. For a start, it would work that way if the USA were the only market in the world. I do believe that China can also sell to Europe, or to its own damn citizens. I don't think the Chinese would revolt if they could buy good computers instead of exporting them.

          The USA survived pretty well by selling its best stuff locally instead of exporting it all, didn't it?

          Anyway, the USA has, what, 5% of the world's population? There's a whole other 95% who could buy that stuff.

          2. Whatever advantage there may be in selling to the USA, would disappear overnight if the USA decided not to pay, which is (I believe) what the GP was getting at. The whole deficit scheme is, basically, borrowing money from those countries in exchange for their products. If the USA decided to just pocket some trillions of dollars overnight, on the justification that, basically, "our dogs are bigger than the tax collectors'", it would find itself a much less attractive market. Equally overnight.

          3. The whole lopsided market situation exists because countries are made to export their raw materials for cents and have to buy high-tech stuff for thousands of dollars. Or, ridiculously enough, lately manufacture that high-tech stuff themselves in their own sweatshops, sell it to themselves, and send the profits to some overseas corporation.

          Basically think: you want new shoes. So I send you my permit to raise your own pig, slaughter it yourself, tan its skin, and make your own gloves. Only now you have to pay me for the gloves. I'll even pay you back a few cents for the leather, 'cause that's raw materials and dirt cheap, and charge you lots for the gloves.

          And you can't just say "fuck you, buddy" because there are some international treaties and that forbid you from using my patented design and my "Le Moraelin Haute Couture" label. Oh, and to add insult to injury, you designed that design for me too, but I patented it, 'cause I'm the big international corporation with teh moneyz.

          And while for gloves that's just a matter of being a fashion victim, for a lot of other stuff it's less black and white.

          That's the shit end of the imperialism stick, that those countries get. Mostly because we, the western world, promise to give them a black eye one way or another, if they don't abide by that kind of an arrangement.

          Far from being some kind of great help that China would be foolish to cut off, it's a very disadvantageous system for China and a lot of other countries. If they threw it off, their economy wouldn't implode, and their standard of living would go up overnight. Again, they have a billion of their own people to sell that stuff to, instead of selling it to 300 million foreigners. Other than an artifficial financial and trade system imposed on them saying that it's better to sell to an American than to 4 Chinese, there is no real reason why that is so.

          _If_ the western world decided to just plunder the existing debts, that might just be the excuse they're waiting for, to get out of that system.

    • by Kligat (1244968) on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:48PM (#25350831)

      If you spend a lot on your administration, to win over voters or do whatever it is you want, then when the Democrat gets into office, he or she will be forced to cut spending so as to create a surplus while keeping the Republican's low taxes, lest they get "tax hike" backlash. At the same time, whenever "starve the beast" fails, deficits don't matter, or deficits are the grease that keeps the gears of the economy going.

      Republican politicians like McCain say we're supposed to reduce spending, (in order to reduce national debt, though this step on the flowchart may be skipped depending on the audience), and we also should reduce taxes further, but then how will we get rid of the national debt?

      Furthermore, if the Republicans are to perpetually starve the beast and fail, clearly their strategy needs to change. They need to raise deficits so much that the interest itself is as burdensome as the current deficit levels by themselves. That, and if the Republicans are perpetually starving the beast, maybe they should at least be doing so with programs like national healthc----oh, wait.

      The preferred method of starving the beast is through increases in the national defense budget, it would seem. John McCain has expressed need for a spending freeze in all areas but that, which would cut off funding for new NASA projects (which aren't entitlements, including Orion, which was approved in a separate bill), while his close colleague Lindsey Graham wants to cut the budget by 5% in all areas but national defense.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Martin Blank (154261)

        It's the Laffer curve. Lower taxes allow the economy to flourish, and tax receipts go up. It worked in the 1980s -- taxes collected ran well ahead of inflation. The catch is that it only works to a point.

        There's a range where you can lower taxes and increase revenues. At the same time, there's a range where you can increase taxes and increase revenues. The real problem is that it's very hard to accurately determine which part of the curve you're on. We could be right on the perfect spot right now, whi

  • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Sunday October 12, 2008 @10:54PM (#25350419) Homepage

    The largest bit became a one? It overflowed?

    So now it's negative?

    We're rich! So that's how we were going to pay for the bail-out, SS, medicare, medicaid...

  • Solutions (Score:4, Funny)

    by Rie Beam (632299) on Sunday October 12, 2008 @10:55PM (#25350433) Journal

    I think I understand now...eventually we're going to get to the point where no computer will be able to track how high the debt gets...and it will simply rollover and the US economy is back, baby!

  • Analog it (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 12, 2008 @10:55PM (#25350445)

    Why don't they just make it an analog clock? The hands could simply spin around faster and faster as the situation worsens, which would be much more amusing. The numbers are fairly meaningless anyway.

  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday October 12, 2008 @10:57PM (#25350461) Homepage

    This is the second debt clock. The first version could only count upward, and when the budget had a surplus back in the Clinton years, and the debt began to decrease, the debt clock was shut down. After a year or so, it was then replaced with the current version, which has the ability to count both upward and downward. The downward capability has not been used during the Bush years.

    • by falcon5768 (629591) <Falcon5768 AT comcast DOT net> on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:04PM (#25350523) Journal
      Thats really sad isnt it, that we at one point WHERE paying down the debt. And the sad thing is Bush cant even blame the war... he got rid of ALL of Clintons budget concessions not long after becoming president. If he had kept them, even with the war, we would have had the debt paid off by 2011., as of now without serious cuts in spending and raising taxes in some form (which could be as easy as repealing the Bush tax cuts) it could be 2070 by the time we get out of debt. And these are people who sold themselves as fiscal conservatives.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by larry bagina (561269)

        it wasn't the war that ended the surplus, it was the .com bubble collapsing. And it was only a surplus if you include FICA contributions.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by dachshund (300733)

          it was only a surplus if you include FICA contributions.

          I seem to recall Al Gore pointing that out in his campaign at some point. Something about putting Social Security contributions into a "lockbox" and balancing the budget without borrowing from those funds. Couldn't really hear it though, cause conservatives were so busy laughing.

          Needless to say Bush didn't mention the thing about FICA contributions when he argued that we should "give back" the surplus in the form of tax cuts.

        • by seeker_1us (1203072) on Monday October 13, 2008 @12:31AM (#25351159)

          it wasn't the war that ended the surplus, it was the .com bubble collapsing. And it was only a surplus if you include FICA contributions.

          Bullshit.

          The surplus was ended by Bush and cronies deciding to spend it all on a huge, unnecessary tax refund, most of which went to the extremely rich.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Forrest Kyle (955623)
            You are arguing that the budget surplus was not harmed by the burst of the .com bubble. Instead of using power words like "bullshit" and "cronies", can you support this claim with some evidence?
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Clanked (1156473)

            Time to get rid of my karma.

            Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to $100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

            The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
            The fifth would pay $1.
            The sixth would pay $3.
            The seventh would pay $7.
            The eighth would pay $12.
            The ninth would pay $18.
            The tenth man (the richest) would pay $59.

            So, that's what they decided to do.

            The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with

            • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 13, 2008 @02:09AM (#25351791)
              But of course the tax system doesn't actually work that way. That tax code can not be explained in an analogy, nor can the ideal tax code. Its like you're stating categorically that any adjustment what-so-ever in the tax code will have dire consequences if it results in higher taxes being paid by the super wealthy. Historically speaking, the tax burden on the rich was actually much much higher, with the result being both a lower burden on the middle and lower classes as well as higher rate of philanthropy amongst the wealthy.

              Attempting to deceive people by the means of an analogy and a degree is a vile act of the highest order. You sir, should be ashamed.
            • by garote (682822) on Monday October 13, 2008 @06:07AM (#25352919) Homepage

              That analogy is absolutely ridiculous. The rich man is not a goose who poops golden eggs and shares them out of kindness. The rich man's wealth is where everyone else's is: In the bar.

              When ten men go to a bar, the first five clock in and start working. The next four buy their own drinks. And the tenth gets a free beer because he owns the place. If ANY of them stop going to the bar, the musical chairs just shuffle around, until there are too few people left to operate a bar. And then it closes. And no more rich man.

              You talk as though the rich are the lynchpin of capitalism. They're not; they're a byproduct, and in many cases a sign of inefficiency or poor regulation. The middle class are the lynchpin of capitalism. And they have been slowly disappearing into WalMart, CostCo, and the military industrial complex for the last 25 years. Have you noticed that the steps are getting a bit narrow on your ivory tower?

            • by esme (17526) on Monday October 13, 2008 @08:25AM (#25353719) Homepage

              Other than being a well-known fake, the biggest problem with this analogy is that it leaves out the income of each of the men. If the tenth man is making as much money as the other nine put together, then paying 60% of the tab is about as affordable for him as what the other people are paying (given that basic necessities, etc. are a smaller share of his income).

              So while it seems unfair that the richest person should pay such a large share, in fact the burden is being shared pretty fairly. Progressive taxation, and estate taxes, are designed to share the tax burden and prevent extreme concentrations of wealth. Concentration of wealth was a big factor in creating the Great Depression, and a large part of the New Deal was to reverse the trend and lessen its effects. We have gotten back close to the same concentration of wealth as the 1920's, and I hope the correction is less devastating this time.

              -Esme

        • by dachshund (300733) on Monday October 13, 2008 @01:28AM (#25351515)

          it was only a surplus if you include FICA contributions.

          I already posted a reply to this, but it occurs to me that a lot of people may not be clear on what it means.

          You see, most working Americans see two kinds of Federal tax on their paystub. The first is plain-old Income Tax, which is probably in the low 20% range for most people with a "decent" full time job. The second is "FICA", which rolls up your contribution to Social Security and Medicare. For most people that tax covers another 7.6% of your income (6.2% Social Security, 1.4% Medicare). However, this number is misleading since the government actually makes your employer pay an equal amount. This is money that could be going to you, so really 15.2% of your salary is going to the government. (If you happen to be self-employed you'll see this directly, since the government makes you pay both halves.)

          An important thing to note, however: the Social Security portion of your paycheck only applies to the first $90k or so of your income. So if you make, say $1m/year, your effective Social Security tax will be only a fraction of a percent. Basically it's a tax on the working class.

          Now clearly 15.2% of your income is a huge chunk. In fact, considering that most people are probably paying only 20-22% of their income in regular Income Tax, that means you're really giving the Federal government 35-37% of your income! So it's worth knowing where the tax came from and where the money is going.

          A bit of history: in the mid 1980s, Ronald Reagan came into office with the idea to slash income taxes, particularly for people who were "important" to the economy, i.e., very wealthy. At the time there was some belief on the Republican side that cutting taxes would magically produce new economic activity that would pay for the reduced tax cuts. Unfortunately, that never really happened and the nation started to go deep into debt.

          Coincidentally (or not), right around the same time, a Republican chairman of the Federal Reserve came up with the idea to massively increase the Social Security Payroll tax. Recall that this is a tax that only applies to the first $90k of your income (it was less then), so raising it isn't going to have a big impact on high earners. In theory the tax hike was designed to build up a big reserve of cash so that Social Security could operate in the 2020s when the baby boomers started to retire. However--- and this is the really important part of the story--- the same chairman insisted that all this cash should not be put away someplace safe, but should rather be made available as a kind of piggy bank for the government to borrow from.

          You can probably figure out the rest of it. Free money. Tax cuts to give. Weapons systems to buy. Amazingly, even after eating up all of the Social Security funds, the government still had to borrow hundreds of billions from the outside throughout the Reagan and Bush years.

          So far it's possible to cause this a bipartisan cheat, since Democrats were equally to blame. But then in 1992 a Democrat named Bill Clinton got elected and decided to get serious about reducing those deficits. And over his term he succeeded, through a combination of slightly higher taxes (mostly on the high end of the income scale) and reduced spending (particularly military). The economy also boomed--- many say as a direct result of all of this fiscal responsibility. And so balancing the checkbook begat revenue which meant an even more balanced checkbook.

          By 2000, Clinton (and his VP Gore) had cut the deficit all the way back to a "surplus" which means we were still borrowing some from the SS funds, just not from the outside world anymore. Al Gore ran on a campaign of even further deficit reduction, basically saying: let's finish the job, take those SS taxes you're paying, and put them in a special fund ("lockbox") where the government can't spend them. Republicans scoffed, and promised an even bigger round of income tax cuts (focused at the very wea

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by zeda (415)

      "When the budget had a surplus back in Clinton years,"

      What struck me most about those times were all the optmistic projections of surplus. There may or may not have been an actual surplus at the time, but even that is questionable when it turns out all these years that the whole basis of wealth and money was questionable.

      So maybe there was a surplus, but in what? Real dollars?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Drakin020 (980931)

      Actually, the debt never went down under the Clinton administration.

      http://www.letxa.com/articles/16 [letxa.com]

      • by falcon5768 (629591) <Falcon5768 AT comcast DOT net> on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:31PM (#25350711) Journal
        actually the assertions are not entirely accurate in that whole spiel. The debt DID go down, but it was the way it went down that was not readily visible. The persons agenda clouds the fact that our debt needs to be paid down in certain ways before it can be paid off completely. Corporate accounting is not the same as governmental accounting, I know this one for a fact working for a school district and the specific ways we have to work our books that would make a corporate accountant freak out.
      • The debt did go down (Score:5, Informative)

        by goombah99 (560566) on Monday October 13, 2008 @12:17AM (#25351077)

        Actually the debt realtive to the GDP went down which is all that matters.

  • As Feynman said ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by richg74 (650636) on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:00PM (#25350483) Homepage
    The late Richard Feynman had an appropriate comment for this, I think:

    There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.

    Perhaps they can get a new model that displays the debt in scientific notation -- it could be named the "Cheney Memorial Clock".

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LurkerXXX (667952)

      Reagan was the one who set us on this path. It should be named after him.

      • by cc_pirate (82470) on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:46PM (#25350819)

        Yeah, but Cheney was the one dumb enough to draw the "Reagan proved deficits don't matter" conclusion from Reagan's actions.

        We need engineers in government, not politicians and lawyers. They don't have any respect for what happens when you ignore science and mathematical facts and press on as if they didn't matter.

        The Logic of Failure....

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:01PM (#25350491)

    First of all, 2.7 in 1989 are worth more than the same amount in 2007. Inflation calculator says 2.7 trillion in 1989 equal 4.6 trillion in 2008.

    Secondly, what's really important is the debt-per-capita ratio, and the US population has increased. In 1989 the US population was 246 million; in 2008, it's 305 million.

    That means, that in 2008 dollars equivalent, the per-capita debt in 1989 was $18,000, while in 2008, the per capita debt is $32,000.

    Yes, we do owe more. But we "only", per capita and in equivalent monetary value, owe about 80% more, as opposed to 370% more, as the original numbers would make you believe.

    • by dogmatixpsych (786818) on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:13PM (#25350587) Homepage Journal
      Someone mod this up "Insightful". AC was not downplaying the seriousness of the debt, he/she merely pointed out that in relative terms the debt is not as bad as it looks. It should be much smaller and we certainly should not be running with a budget deficit as much as we do, but perspective is needed on this issue as AC pointed out nicely.
    • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:13PM (#25350589)
      Your ability to repay debt is not linear but depends on the amount as a ratio to your disposable income.

      Consider repaying $1000/month on your credit card. For many people that might be hardship. For most people, repaying $2000/month is not 2 times as hard, butmuch harder.

      Similarly, repaying $18k per person is a lot easier than repaying $32k, by much more than a factor of 2.

      Of course that's all academic since nobody seems to be planning on repaying this debt.

    • by clang_jangle (975789) * on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:26PM (#25350673) Journal
      The problem with applying math that way is that today, more than one in eight US citizens lives below the poverty line, jobs are vanishing at an alarming rate, and the number of parasitic, wealthy corporations and individuals has grown while the middle class has become a much smaller group. And that leaves a much smaller pool of available resources to tap in addressing today's vastly larger debt. Thus, the per capita comparison is ultimately meaningless. Neither the very poor nor the very rich are going to pay.
  • That's good value! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:01PM (#25350493) Homepage Journal

    For 2007, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists listed the U.S. with about 5,400 total nuclear warheads.

    So that means each warhead is worth about $1,879,741,432 each.

  • by dirk (87083) <dirk@one.net> on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:02PM (#25350507) Homepage

    Adds reader MarkusQ, "I know Dick Cheney has assured us that 'Deficits don't matter' [CC] but I can't help wondering if we should be fixing the problem rather than the sign."

    Why does this guy hate America so much?

  • by jelizondo (183861) * <jerry...elizondo@@@gmail...com> on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:03PM (#25350513)

    Now is the perfect time to convert to the decimal system!

    National debt goes from $10.2 trillion to only $10.2 billion (10^6) without paying a single cent of it!

  • by fermion (181285) on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:16PM (#25350625) Homepage Journal
    The reason the debt clock has this problem is because it is sensationalistic and does not give us any real information. What we should be looking at is not the debt, but the debt in relation to some other metric, such as multiple of median income, amount per person, percentage of GDP. Using this later metric, Reagan left us with a debt of about 70% of GDP, Bush will leave us with a debt of 80% of GDP, while Clinton left us with a debt of about 60% of GDP. It is interesting to think that Truman, Ike, Kennedy and even Nixon, all worked to help the US future by reducing the % debt. We even have to give carter so kudos for not increasing it as a % of GDP. The scary thing is that during the great depression GDP fell perhaps 20 or 25%. If this happened in the next few years, our GDP might fall to 9.5 trillion, and we might see a national debt of 110% of GDP. This would be like a family with the median of $50,000 having unsecured debt of $55,0000. How they would pay this off would be extremely unclear.
    • Wrong (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Kludge (13653) on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:36PM (#25350739)

      The debt clock gives a per family portion. ~$86k. Compare that with the median income. Whoo!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by JesseMcDonald (536341)

      I'm not sure that percent of GDP is such a great way to measure the national debt, since government spending and investment (e.g. making loans to the government) both count positively [wikipedia.org] towards the GDP. All else being equal, I would expect that the debt/GDP ratio would decrease as a result of deficit spending.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jeff DeMaagd (2015)

      A lot of countries have debts greater than a year's GDP. I think that even less than a year's GDP is a problem, as you suggest. If the economy is growing, we can afford to pay for today's stuff next year, but what happens when the growth turns out to be unsustainable?

      In the US, it's a problem of reigning in entitlements, as well as reigning in stuff like military spending, and the same for pork barrel spending, but there aren't enough courageous legislators that are willing to do all that, and the same go

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rolfwind (528248)

      Yes, but the GDP is bullshit. It makes societal harms into positives (Hurrican Gabby hits and causes $5 BILLION damage, that ADDS to the GDP). Another common scenario is a foreign car bought in the US at a dealership, because the transaction is in the US, it, again, adds to the GDP. Peter Schiff and many others put forth arguments much better than mine, go google it. It is a feel-good measure put out by the government in the same fashion the offical inflation figure is (which hardly accounts for real in

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Michael Wardle (50363)

      Clinton left us with a debt of about 60% of GDP

      Someone else said that Clinton paid off the national debt. Can you explain how you came up with the 60% figure?

  • by martin-boundary (547041) on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:23PM (#25350663)
    There's no need for extra room in the display. Just convert to hex, then you only need 13 digits:

    10,150,603,734,720.00 (decimal) = 93,B5F,213,EC0.00 (hex)

    Whoever came up with the idea of buying a new LCD clock should be fired for wastefulness.

  • by cc_pirate (82470) on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:44PM (#25350807)

    What "fiscal conservatives"!

    But wait, the debt has grown insanely under every single Republican president in the last 40 years.

    How could that be?

    The Republicans aren't fiscally conservative at all. Every single republican president has spent like a drunken sailor and GWB is the worst of the lot.

    The only thing more stupid than Tax and Spend is Spend and Spend.

  • Debt (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fishbowl (7759) on Sunday October 12, 2008 @11:52PM (#25350877)

    If I owe you a hundred dollars, I have a problem.

    If I owe you a hundred billion dollars, you have a problem.

  • by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) <taiki@co[ ]et ['x.n' in gap]> on Monday October 13, 2008 @12:49AM (#25351263)

    I'm a god hating, baby aborting, marx reading liberal.

    Deficits don't matter. Rather, the existence of a deficit doesn't. Having a deficit and a debt we CAN PAY BACK is a GOOD thing. It means our credit rating is great and that we can extend ourselves in times of crises and be a financial powerhouse in the world.

    however, when we're struggling to pay our principle much less the interest, then that's a different story all together.

  • by AaronLawrence (600990) * on Monday October 13, 2008 @01:07AM (#25351383)

    If USA owes this foolish amount of money, but no-one dares to ask for it back because of the military and economic power - then USA effectively owns the world, and might as well just declare itself debt free, and carry on living off the backs of its slaves.

    The rest of us aren't going to do anything about it.

  • I agree. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by extrasolar (28341) on Monday October 13, 2008 @01:53AM (#25351687) Homepage Journal

    We should be fixing the problem. All we need to do is cut spending and increase taxes.

    I, for one, wish you luck getting elected on this platform.

  • by philspear (1142299) on Monday October 13, 2008 @03:01AM (#25352065)

    Is anyone else, like me, making plans to move out of the US? Frankly I didn't get us into this mess and I'm not willing to do my part to bail out all those who did. I'm a liberal, not a libertarian, so I don't think taxes are always bad, but when I hear about what they're going to be going to, well I'd rather be paying taxes someplace where they're going to do some good. I hear european countries have high taxes, but they're not sending it all to Wall street, Iraq, and the world's largest military. I'd rather pay twice the taxes I am now if I knew it was going to more worthwhile things, like studying bear DNA.

    I have no skill when it comes to convincing people of anything, especially not the average voter. I come across as arrogant, elitist, and condescending, because I am arrogant, elitist, and condescending, and that doesn't convince them of anything other than they don't like me. I give money to different causes to do that, but I myself am not helping my fellow citizen make the right choices.

    While I like the place and the people, we've really painted ourselves into a corner. Every other country on earth makes stupid moves, because every person on earth is occasionally stupid, but the US keeps making such BIG mistakes. I feel selfish, or rather, I realize I'm selfish, but I'm not doing any good here, country is going to hell in a handbasket no matter what I do. I'm here for several more years in any event, so I guess there is time for us to shape up, but I'm making new plans anyway. Anyone else?

  • Well... (Score:4, Funny)

    by MrKaos (858439) on Monday October 13, 2008 @07:21AM (#25353283) Journal

    It will be replaced in 2009 with a new clock able to track debt up to a quadrillion dollars

    It's important to have goals.

"Right now I feel that I've got my feet on the ground as far as my head is concerned." -- Baseball pitcher Bo Belinsky

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