Economics for One

The $1,090,000,000,000 Credit Card Bill

This month the US Federal deficit passed $1.09 Trillion. That’s the amount of money the US has borrowed so far this year. It does not include debt from past years. The previous record was about $500 Billion.

It’s a pretty ignominious accomplishment. And since the year is not yet over, and the US continues to spend, the debt is continuing to pile up. Based on current spending projections, this year’s debt is expected to hit nearly $2 Trillion by October.

How much is $2 Trillion? It’s about $6,500 per person in the US. For a family of four, that’s about $26,000 in debt accumulated this year.  That’s on top of all previous debt, as well as any consumer or household debts.

But does it really matter? It isn’t like the taxpayers will ever have to pay this debt, right?

Wrong.

The US government’s credit rating is so good it is considered “risk free” by most of the world. The people who loaned the US this money absolutely expect to be paid back. If they are not, it will rock the worldwide financial markets so strongly it will make the recent financial crisis look tame by comparison.

The only ways the US government can pay back that debt are 1) by raising taxes and / or lowering spending, or 2) by devaluing the US dollar through inflation. Higher taxes means less money to hire employees, and less money for those employees to take home and spend.  Inflation makes the dollar worth less relative to other commodities, goods, or services. But while it makes the US debt effectively smaller, it also lowers the value of everyone’s existing savings, investments, and retirement funds.

Given the politics of Washington, DC, which do you think is the more likely scenario?

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