debt clock

"The U.S. government has returned to its old ways of bursting budgets and so New York's landmark national debt clock lit up again on July 11, 2002 after a two-year hiatus, whizzing higher by $30 a second. A spatter of puzzled pedestrians stared up at a bustling corner near Times Square as workers switched on a massive 11-by-26-foot digital clock that had lay dormant for nearly two years. (Peter Morgan/Reuters)"

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9 Responses:

  1. netik says:

    What amazes me is that we went from having a supposed surplus to $6 trillion in no time at all.

    Of course, the article says that it was at $5.5 trillion when it was turned off, so perhaps we never had the surplus at all...

    • candid says:

      You're confusing two different things. A surplus just means that revenue was greater than expenses over a certain time period, but has nothing to do with the national debt.

      If next year you earn $100K and spend $80K, you will be running a $20K budget surplus. But if you have a mortgage (or a car loan) you still have thousands of dollars worth of debt.

      • jwz says:

        Ok, I know this is probably laughably ignorant of me, but... where's the actual money? If the US owes $6.1T to somebody... who? And where did they get it in the first place? And why did they loan it to us? (I think Dennis Miller made a joke like, "I'll go to the wall for a pal for the first five trillion, but come on, enough is enough!")

        If I had $6.1T burning a hole in my pocket, what could I buy?

        • kingfox says:

          The debt is owned to... just about everyone. You, me, state/local governments, other countries, and so on. The Treasury Department has a pretty simple FAQ about the debt here, and there's a different FAQ with pretty graphs here.

          I particularly like the section on the former FAQ about where to make the check to.

        • candid says:

          Think about a home mortgage. You borrow (say) $200K, use it to buy a house, and then pay off your debt over time. So the "actual money" went to the person selling the house and out from there.

          The same is true of the government debt. The money got spent. So if the government borrowed $1T to build a sports stadium, the money went to the previous land-owners, contractors, etc...

          As for the mechanics, think about how I'd borrow money from you. You'd give me $100, and I'd give you a piece of paper saying "IOU $105." That's also how the government borrows money. Investors give the government $1000, and the government gives them Treasury Bonds, which are -- essentially -- IOUs.

          There are two reasons people loan money to the government:
          (1) the government pays interest, and
          (2) it's (almost) risk-free lending, since the government can always pay you back by printing more money.

          What do they spend it on? Look here (and scroll down -- the anchor is in the wrong place).

          Or look at the pretty picture:

  2. ralesk says:

      Wow!  Definitely so.

      If I ever get to that city I'll most surely take a look :]