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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Your Money And What It Looks Like

One of the sites on the web I look at frequently is the U.S. National Debt Clock which shows in real the time our national debt, national deficit, tax revenues, Gross Domestic Product and other financial information. As I write this our national debt is at twelve trillion nine hundred seventy eight billion eight hundred fourteen...fifteen million..sixteen million. A million dollars is added to our national debt every twenty five seconds.

The primary reason for the growing national debt is the growing deficit, now over $3.56 Trillion, and growing. This number, the federal deficit number, tripled from the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008 to October 2009. With the spending on TARP, the "Stimulus Plan" adding up to over one trillion dollars a then record deficit of $1.44 Trillion while shocking was no huge surprise. Growing two and a half times from October 2009 to now however is staggering. And it keeps growing.

At one point the American public became used to government tossing around the million dollar number. Later generations became accustomed to speaking of the Federal Government spending and borrowing using the word billion. In a little over a year has the American public come to accept "Trillion" in describing budgets and deficits funded by their taxes?

The comparison below has been sent to me, and I'm sure you, many times showing how much one Trillion dollars is relative to money in our wallet. As our national deficit approaches 100% of our Gross Domestic Product I feel compelled to keep it permanently posted here.

Here is the $100 dollar bill. We don't see these as much any more since most of us get our carrying cash in twenties from the ATM or grocery store. If you want a hundred dollar bill you need to go inside the bank, or cash in your chips in Las Vegas.

Put together ten hundreds and you get one thousand dollars, stack one hundred $100 dollar bills and the bank puts a bank around the stack: $10,000. This is the stack we are used to seeing in gangster movies stuffed into suitcases or used to throw horse races, "Here Louie, see that gets to the trainer." Most Americans, even affluent Americans, have never held a stack of $10,000. I remember counting out $10,000 for a customer at Farmers & Merchants Bank in 1985 when I was a teller and thinking "I'm counting Ten Thousand Dollars!" It was a big deal, still is.

Stack up several stacks, one hundred stacks to be exact (sounds like Dr. Seuss) and you have one million dollars. Being a "millionaire" used to be really big stuff. Now shortstops who can't field, hit or run have contracts that pay them $1 million a season. Towards the end of the housing bubble there were Million Dollar homes in almost every market in the country. When reduced to a stack of hundred dollar bills on the floor one million dollars isn't as impressive as we imagine it to be.

Wow! A pallet of hundred dollar bills! This pallet is worth one hundred million dollars: $100,000,000. The standard multi-year contract for a sports superstar. Remember each of the bands is one hundred one hundred dollar bills. This pallet represents one million one hundred dollar bills. In the time it takes me to write this post this morning this amount of money will be added to our national debt obligations.

Take ten pallets and add them up and you have one billion dollars. That is one hundred thousand one hundred bills. This amount of money used to be the combined budgets of several states, now it may be the budget of a small city. We now have "billionaires" who could go to this stack of money, peel off ten of these bills ever day for over twenty five years and still have a few left over.

Each of these stacks is two-tiered of stacks of pallets containing one hundred million dollars, each level is five hundred billion dollars. This is one trillion dollars. One thousand one billions. Multiply this by three and add one more top level and that is our national deficit. Multiply this by thirteen and that is our national debt. Remember to throw on another pallet every forty minutes.

This is what our government is spending and burdening us and our children with. For those who feel the Tea Party protesters complaining about bigger government and government spending are creating false demons take a look at these pictures. Imagine thirteen times the final picture. Now imagine how we begin to make that pile smaller without crashing our economy or culture.

Update: A dedicated reader sent this picture in summarizing our national debt:

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