U.S. debt—let’s do the numbers
from David Ruccio
In the midst of the current debt hysteria in the United States, it might be helpful just to look at the numbers.
MSNBC [ht: ja] has compiled some useful information. For example, instead of just going by the scary number on the National Debt Clock, it’s useful to consider the ratio of debt to national income. As it turns out, the United States is seventh (at a ratio of 101 percent), after Japan, Greece, Italy, Iceland, Ireland, and Portugal, just above Belgium, France, and the United Kingdom.
What about the holders of U.S. debt? The bugaboo is, of course, China—which, as it turns out, owns just 8 percent of total U.S. debt.
The rest of the data is interesting: Roughly 28 percent of the $14.3 trillion national debt is sitting in a Treasury Department account called “Social Security.” Another 12 percent is held in hundreds of other government trust funds. Foreign governments (apart from China) together hold about 25 percent of the total. Private investors–from insurance companies to mutual funds–hold the final 28 percent.
Once you do the numbers, the U.S. national debt is just not an issue that should cause hysteria—not in terms of its size (especially in the midst of the Second Great Depression, with millions of unemployed people and plenty of excess capacity) nor in terms of its ownership (apart from the fact that wealthy individuals and large corporations would prefer to lend money and receive interest payments instead of paying their fair share of taxes).
It’s another set of numbers that really should be worrying us—like the unemployment rate, the number of children living in poverty, the income and wealth gaps, the rate of exploitation, and so on. That’s what the pundits and politicians should be concerned about.