Taking the zeros out of the national debt

In September I wrote a blog Viewing national debt as a family budget.  With America’s debt now at $14 trillion, most of us can’t get a handle on numbers with that 12 zeros. Here’s a different spin on the numbers, in the form of a fable parents can share with their kids.

Taxpayer goes to Uncle Sam and asks, “I’m concerned about the national debt. Can you explain our budget and what you’re going to do about the overspending?”

Uncle Sam peers down at Taxpayer and says, “Okay, here’s the real story. Thanks to all you wonderful taxpayers the U.S. has an income of $2,170,000,000,000.  All the things we want to do for our citizens add up to $3,820,000,000,000.”

Taxpayer stares at all the zero unable to comprehend just how much money the government is spending.

Uncle Sam continues, “Because Uncle Sam doesn’t have enough money on hand we use credit, like when you go shopping with your credit card. This year  our credit spending was only $ 1,650,000,000,000. Haven’t  paid if off for years so the debt has grown a bit to $14,271,000,000,000.”

Taxpayer’s eyes glaze over, “Give it to me straight. Cut the zeros and explain it to me in numbers I can understand.”

Uncle Sam squirms takes out a piece of paper. “Okay. If I take off the zeros the numbers will look more like a family budget.”

Taxpayer looks at the new numbers.

  • Annual family income: $21,700
  • Money the family spent: $38,200
  • New debt on the credit card: $16,500
  • Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710

“Hey Uncle Sam,” says Taxpayer, “Now I understand.”

“But if I spend like you do I’d be spending nearly twice my annual income. I’d be adding  to a total debt that is already almost seven times more than my annual income. If I saw those numbers in my household I’d have to make some changes.”

“Well,” says Uncle Sam, “That’s just what the government is doing. We are making big spending cuts, really big cuts.”

“How much,” asks Taxpayer. “Tell me just how much you’re going to cut.”

Uncle Sam smiles proudly, “We’re cutting $ 38,500,000,000.”

Taxpayer gets out a calculator and runs the numbers. “But Uncle Sam, you’re cutting less 2%.”

Uncle Sam puts down his pen. “But Taxpayer, can’t you see that we’re cutting billions and billions.”

Taxpayer looks Uncle Sam straight in the eye and says, “You can’t pull that trick on me. You think you can impress me by adding all those zeros and talking about billions and billions of dollars. I can see right through that. If I follow your example I’d be reducing my spending by $385. That’s almost nothing about, so why are you bragging about it?”

The End

This is not a fable; this is exactly what our government is doing with our money. Your children will be the future taxpayers. What can we do today to help Uncle Sam become a better money manager? You can start by sharing this reality and demanding that our elected officials do a better job with our money.

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