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What it means to be $20 trillion in debt (general-topics essay)

By Dr. Harold Pease

       Our national debt has now reached $20 trillion. Four million of it is from eight years of George W. Bush and ten of it is 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 12 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.
       A mathematician on CNN a few years ago gave us a more practical way to evaluate our outstanding debt. A trillion
Dr. Harold Pease.
Courtesy photo
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.
       If so, the $10 trillion debt incurred by Obama 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 an illustration that's just as striking. He calculated that if we had spent a million dollars every day since Jesus was born we still would only have spent three-fourths of a trillion dollars.
       Someone else on the CNN show 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. 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! When they are told that their share of the debt is $61,457 (see USDebtClock.org), they become angry. Someone should have told them that free government handouts are not really free.
       Communist China now owns an eighth of our debt and the bills will be coming due. What is worse, America's older generation is 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.
       Obama purchased $600 billion of Treasury securities over a six month period of time beginning in November 2010, in what has been called QE2 to distinguish it from QE1, the Bush expansion of the money supply.
       Neither QE 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 you have in your pocket. Prices go up. My 1968 Camaro, bought new, 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 10 times that much.
       In this instance, money has lost 90 percent of its value. Those on fixed incomes are robbed as surely as if a thief had lifted their wallets or purses. They cannot return to their former employers for raises to compensate for the loss caused by their own government.
       Neither party is serious about stopping the debt and removing the bondage that our government is imposing upon our children and grandchildren. In last fall's presidential election the Democrats proposed “free” college. In his first address to Congress, President Donald Trump proposed a trillion-dollar infrastructure program.
       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. Pease is a specialist on the United States Constitution and its application to current events. He has taught history and political science for more than 25 years at Taft College. To read more of his articles, go to libertyunderfire.org.

(Posted 6/21/17; Opinion: General)

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