US Debt: Look At It This Way

by Adrian Ash
BullionVault
Friday, 15 January 2009

Seven ways to put the United States’ national debt into perspective…

The SHEER SIZE of the US government’s debt hasn’t put off new bond buyers so far in 2010.

You’ve got to wonder what kind of news – or debt – it might take to deter them.

In just two days this week, the Treasury issued $61 billion in new debt – twice as much money as Japanese households put into their domestic equity funds during all of 2009, itself a 50% jump from 2008.

Yet one “big bidder” still opted to lend the federal government one fifth of that sum, according to bond analysts speaking to the Financial Times at least. And overall, the government’s creditors offered to lend Washington three times the money it sought.

Now, if the Treasury didn’t need that $61,000,000,000 to cover 6.3 days of spending, the money raised in new bonds between Tuesday and Wednesday this week could cover 12 days of interest due on the outstanding debt, already running above $12.3 trillion and outweighing the market value of every company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Put another way, the United States national debt is greater than the GDP forecast this year for Japan, China, Brazil and Canada added together. (That’s excluding the $107 trillion of unfunded liabilities yet to come, of course.) If today’s lenders ever see their money again, they could just about buy all the gold ever mined in history – all 165,500 tonnes of the stuff – twice over at today’s prices.

Or they could simply pay twice today’s gold price, of course.

Repaying the US national debt looks a struggle, however. Settling $1 per second – rather than racking up an extra $37,132 every second, as the federal government’s scheduled to do in 2010 – would take until the start of February A.D. 392,372. Settled for cash, and piled up in $1 bills, the current US debt would reach to the moon…and back…and back to the moon again…and then round the moon’s equator ten or perhaps 20 times, depending on how much you squashed them.

Or to put the US national debt into historical perspective – a very historical perspective – the US government has borrowed the equivalent of $2.46 each and every day since the beginning of time…last computed to have occurred some 12.7 billion years ago, back when $2.46 really meant something.

For creationists sticking with Archbishop Ussher, that’s $2 billion per year since God said “Let there be light”…back when fiat really meant something, too.

And lo! The bond market still kept on buying.

Adrian Ash
BullionVault

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Formerly City correspondent for The Daily Reckoning in London and head of editorial at the UK’s leading financial advisory for private investors, Adrian Ash is the editor of Gold News and head of research at BullionVault – winner of the Queen’s Award for Enterprise Innovation, 2009 – where you can buy gold today vaulted in Zurich on $3 spreads and 0.8% dealing fees.

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