“The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”
— Will Rogers
Fifteen years ago (that’s 2008, the height of the last financial crisis), when we were filming I.O.U.S.A. we staked out the National Debt Clock in Times Square. There was a running joke at the time that went something like: “If the debt keeps rising, they’re going to have to take this one down and add another digit to the sign.” At that time the clock read: $6,300,000,000,000.
It was no joke. Turns out the Debt Clock has been taken down three times since then… Today, the clock reads: $31,000,000,000,000. You do the math.
“Tik, tik, boom!” Adam Barrata of Brentwood Research, our guest essayist today, writes in his latest missive, in which he brings the Debt Clock saga up to date.
And isn’t it only fitting we’re publishing Adam’s essay on this day when in 1950 president Harry Truman announced his support for the development of a hydrogen bomb?
Or maybe turn to the Associated Press this morning, who wrote:
The outlook for the global economy is growing slightly brighter… That’s the view of the International Monetary Fund, which now expects the world economy to grow 2.9% this year. That forecast is better than the 2.7% expansion for 2023 that the IMF predicted in October, though down from the estimated 3.4% growth in 2022.
Good news, like January’s stellar stock index performances… And yet the National Debt races higher $50,000 every second. In fact, every number I put down now is irrelevant a minute later. It begs the question: Can the world really ever default on its own debt?
And what are the consequences of continuing to disregard the rapid devaluation of our currency on a global scale? Mr Baratta approaches some answers below.
A Note from Adam Baratta:
Dear Wiggin Sessions Reader,
When the U.S Government debt topped $1 trillion dollars for the first time in late 1981, New York real estate magnate Seymour Durst sent a card to every member of Congress that said: “Happy New Year! Your share of the federal debt is $5000.”
Durst, the father of notorious killer Robert Durst, outed in the HBO series The Jinx, took it a step further eight years later when he added a digital debt clock to the side of one of his buildings viewable from Times Square and for all to see. His goal was to publicly embarrass Congress into action. At the time in 1989, our national debt stood at $2.7 trillion.
The clock was first installed on Sixth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd streets.² Seymour Durst vowed that the clock would “be up as long as the debt or the city lasts,” and that “if it bothers people, then it’s working.” After he died in 1995 his son, Douglas, became the President of the Durst Organization and caretaker to the debt clock.
Debt clock image taken on May 11, 2000. (Source: Brentwood Research)
Over the years, the clock has been dismantled, moved, and modified multiple times. In 2008 the sign added a new digit on the leftmost digit on the sign to include a “1” to represent the ten trillionth dollar place. In 2017, the clock was moved to One Bryant Park. That same year, the leftmost digit hit the number “2.”
The clock is still running.
Today, instead of a “2” in the first digit position, we have a “3”.
Our national debt has risen more than 31 times since 1981 and currently stands at over $31.4 trillion. To put this number into perspective – assuming no breaks, no sleep, and no snacks, it would take a person 980,000 years to count to 31 trillion.
What was initially intended to be “embarrassing” is now “ominous” for those who look for signs. Durst’s debt clock remained under the $10 trillion mark for about 20 years. It then stayed under the $20 trillion mark for 8 years. It then held under the $30 trillion dollar mark for about five years. How long will it take before we get to $40 trillion?
While the numbers seem alarming, debt on its own is a meaningless number. To find relevance and more deeply understand inflation and banana republics, we must compare debt to productivity. Only then can we really know if escalating debt is an issue to concern ourselves with.
When Durst initially sent postcards to Congress 42 years ago, our nations GDP was $2.7 trillion and we had a debt-to-GDP ratio of 35%. Our GDP has increased 10 times since then. Sadly, our debts have increased 3X’s as fast. Our debt to GDP ratio is now 121%.
This is a problem.
Now, instead of racing higher at $10,000 per second as our debt clock did in 1992, our national debt soars higher at a pace of nearly $50,000 per second. If Durst were writing postcards and looking to bother Congress today he would say, “Happy New Year, your share of the federal debt is $94,209.”
Is anyone bothered by this?
Certainly not Congress.
Our nation’s debt is far too large for human comprehension.
It’s why so many have thrown in the towel on even worrying about it. What does it matter anyway? It’s climbed higher for forty years. We haven’t had any big problems, right? We have come to realize that the government will do what it wants. Regardless of our outrage. Regardless of our demands. Regardless of who we elect.
I was reminded this morning in a tweet by James Lavish that we don’t need to visit New York City to see the debt clock in action. We can visit the anonymously run online website https://www.usdebtclock.org/. I encourage everyone to take the time and do so. You may find yourself moved.
The first time I saw this debt clock website was in 2015. It moved me so much, I wrote a book. I was just beginning my research for Gold Is A Better Way and our national debt was an alarmingly high $18 trillion. Back then, I was fascinated with various aspects of our debt, the size of the number, the automatic scroll. My big question then was how on earth would we ever pay for it all?
Today I am most interested in forward-thinking about where it all will end.
The U.S. National Debt represents all of the money the U.S. has borrowed from people, companies, other governments, and other countries as well. It represents all of the U.S. Treasuries outstanding that at some point will need to be paid back. These are loans that we owe. We can’t play around here.
Janet Yellen announced last week that we would reach our country’s debt ceiling by this Thursday.
If Congress doesn’t raise the debt limit, our Treasury will not be able to pay our bills. This is money that we have already spent. If this were to happen to you or me personally, we would be freaking out. When it happens to Congress, nobody blinks an eye. The debt limit is a political football that gets kicked around and threatened and horse traded on. There are always extraordinary measures, and tricks up the sleeve of the Treasury that allow the limit to get extended. Yellen has informed Congress that emergency measures to fund the government will expire in early June. This means our politicians will finalize a back alley deal in the middle of the night just before the deadline.
It’s a game of chicken that plays out every couple of years. So, not to worry, right?
Founder, Brentwood Research
For The Wiggin Sessions
Addison Wiggin is an American writer, publisher, and filmmaker. He was the founder of Agora Financial and publisher for 18 years. An acclaimed New York Times best-selling author, his books include: Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt, The Demise of the Dollar, and The Little Book of the Shrinking Dollar. Addison is also the writer and executive producer of the documentary I.O.U.S.A., an exposé on the national debt, shortlisted for an Academy Award in 2008. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland with his family. Addison started his latest project, The Wiggin Sessions, powered by Consilience Financial, in March 2020. He films from a homegrown studio in his basement.
Adam Baratta is one of the owners and co-founders of Advantage Gold, the highest rated precious metals firm in the country and winner of the Best Of Trustlink (review site created by the BBB) award. Baratta is the creator of Gold Is A Better Way member website with thousands of members. His book of the same name, Gold Is A Better Way, has a publishing date set for August 14th 2018. Baratta has also been a successful entrepreneur specializing in the formation, financing, and organization of multiple ventures particularly in the entertainment industry. He is an award-winning writer, director, and producer. Baratta co-founded a motion picture production company which is partnered with the National Hockey League and NBC Universal. He continues to play an integral role serving on the Board of Directors. Baratta received a B.A. in economics from Temple University.