Wednesday, October 8, 2008

National Debt at Record High- or is it just i?

How low can we go? I say how low can we go? The Wall Street Journal reports that our 'Debt Clock' has officially run out of digits! With our new 'bailout' plan, our country has set a new record low- we crossed the $10 trillion mark of debt.

When the current debt clock was first constructed, the idea of ever hitting $10 trillion seemed beyond our capability. The dollar sign was securely placed in front of the trillion dollar place- not even conceiving of the possibility of it getting larger than $9,999,999,999,999. Having surpassed our wildest expectations, we have sunk the deepest in debt our country has ever fallen- erasing the dollar sign and replacing it with a '1'- that's the 1 in the '10' trillion...

As we try to counter our flailing economy with these new measures, I cannot help but wonder how far this debt can go? Seeing a number like 10 trillion makes it feel like monopoly money, or when your math teacher tries to explain the concept of i (ie the square root of negative one). If a government or company is in debt, they are playing on borrowed money for a limited period of time (usually with a growing interest tacked on to the original loan amount). So while this bailout plan (hopefully) will help stop the bleeding for now, we still have quite a deep wound in our economy overall- to the tune of $10 TRILLION and then some, that we owe to other countries and companies.

We have lived in prosperity for quite some time now, but throwing around numbers in the trillions is like doing math with that little i - you just start seeing the huge number in your bank account and forget that there still a negative sign in front of it (or an i back in math class meaning imaginary)! Obviously this is a simplistic view, but to be in debt is to have borrowed money that you will have to pay back some day. The article mentions plans to make a new national 'Debt Clock' increasing the digits to the quadrillions- so not only do we not have a plan or even goal to pay back our debt, the assumption is we will be going into greater debt!

We seem to be forgetting the negative sign that is tacked in front of that bill. $700 Billion to save our economy could be a deal or a disaster. If it works- fabulous! But it is imperative to know how they plan on paying it back! Because the 'they' in this scenario is our government and we, citizens of America, are responsible for that debt and we will be the ones to pay the price. We have to keep in mind that $700 Billion is not in the government's pockets, it is borrowed money on borrowed time, and we will be paying it back some day- with interest. And if we don't have the money now, how will we get it then? Just as the little i helps mathematicians do higher level functions, being able to borrow money large and small is one of the reasons our capitalistic society has run so smoothly for so long. But in math there are times when you can have an equation in which 2 i's will cancel each other out through division, but debt is not as imaginary as we like to make it out to be. We seem to hold an illusion that we can just go further and further into 'debt'- as if that negative sign up front is something we can just ignore- and it will all be ok in the end, no one will ever call in those debts, or make us repay.

Times are going to be tough for the foreseeable future as we pitch through these rocky waters. As you are evaluating the plans of government officials that you are voting for, make sure they detail actions that will help now as well as into the future. A tourniquet may stop the bleeding now, but it will only be so long before you have to cut off your entire arm.



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