BY CHARLES MEMMINGER – Comedian Dennis Miller does a bit in his act about the United States deficit, which currently stands (or, more accurately, is whizzing by) the $14 trillion mark. Miller says, “I don’t really understand the national deficit. Do we actually owe somebody that money? And if we do, screw ‘em, don’t pay ’em. Nobody pays us! There ya go, I just solved the deficit.”
Occasionally, from the mouths of babes and comics comes wisdom. What would happen if we just cancelled our own national debt the way we do for various third-world countries? Those countries seem to keep going. It’s not like China would be able to foreclose on us for non-payment the way the bank forecloses on a house. They could try. They could put each state up for sale to the highest bidder. But they’d have to have a lot of guns and missiles to do it. It would be a tad messier than auctioning off a little split-level bungalow on the courthouse steps.
Right now everyone in Washington D.C. is in a dither over the national debt ceiling. A recent poll showed that zero out of ten people know what a “debt ceiling” is and even fewer care. (How’s that for math?) A “debt ceiling” actually should be called a “debt basement” because you aren’t “raising” anything, you are digging yourself in deeper. The debt ceiling allegedly is a limit set by Congress beyond which the national debt cannot rise. But it’s really just a hypothetical conceit since the national debt is always rising and the way Congress keeps it from busting through the roof is to “raise the ceiling” with a stroke of a pen and a swipe of the national credit card.
There’s a big controversy over whether Congress should raise the debt ceiling right now, from $14.3 trillion to … well, you pick a number. It doesn’t matter. Some economists claim that very bad things will happen if we don’t raise the debt ceiling by June. U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner – the economic genius who screwed up his own taxes using Turbo Tax software instead of a real accountant – isn’t worried that Congress will not raise the debt ceiling because “it always does.” So there you go. The debt ceiling isn’t so much a ceiling as it is a hot air balloon. It’s a fake threshold that exists in the ether. Some Republican congresspersons are for NOT raising the debt ceiling just to see what happens. Since it’s never NOT been raised, who knows what will happen if we leave it where it is. Maybe beautiful things will happen. Daisies will bloom, rainbows will straddle the earth, Jupiter will align with Mars and peace will guide the planets. Or maybe nothing will happen. Maybe not raising the national debt ceiling will be met with deafening indifference. I’m game. Let’s give it a go. Or better yet, let’s LOWER the debt ceiling and see what happens. Timothy Geithner’s brain might explode.
Most people cannot raise their own debt ceiling because most people live in a real world governed by economic physical realities. (Try raising your home equity line of credit without the bank knowing, for instance.) The federal government doesn’t suffer under such laws of economic gravity. That’s because the United States has a secret thingy it keeps covered up with tarps in the basement of the Federal Reserve. (For the record, zero out of ten people also have no idea what the Federal Reserve is.) The secret thingy the U.S. has is printing press. Yes! No matter how much money we owe to China or what our debt ceiling is, WE CAN PRINT MONEY! How cool is that? And since currently most business in the world is done in U.S. dollars, other countries can’t do a thing about it. They may whine about it and threaten to change the international currency of record to the Belarussian Ruble but they never will.
I wanted to see just what or national economic situation is so I went to USDEBTCLOCK.ORG. This is a fantastic web page that shows in real time how fast our national debt is rising, how much we are spending, our gross domestic product numbers, the Federal Reserve Monetary Base, the interest we are paying on the national debt, U.S. trade deficit … all kinds of fun things. But this isn’t a page you want to log onto if you have a weak heart. All of the numbers are spinning upward in hundreds of little windows so fast that you can’t even make out what some of the numbers are. It looks like a crazy slot machine on tilt, everything spinning madly. The one number that caught my eye was that of the U.S. population, the only number that seems to go down. It reads about 311 million people right now. And there-in lies the problem. With the country on its present drunken borrowing spree, we simply need more people to pay for it. Forget raising the debt ceiling. I say every American family adopt one child from China.