What is our current debt?
As of 10/12/2011:
Public Debt=$10.138 trillion
Intragovernmental Holdings = $4.73 trillion
= $14.868 trillion total debt
How does this compare with May 21st, 2011? This is an increase in total debt of $523 billion, or just over half a trillion dollars. Hey, that’s no biggie, right? Wrong. As the total debt increases, the cost of servicing the debt increases too (particularly if investors begin to demand higher interest rates). And that’s where we get into trouble. Last year the national debt service cost was $413 billion. This year the cost of debt service is already at $454 billion. Have you ever seen that commercial of the guy on TV mowing his lawn, pointing out all his shiny new toys and house, informing us that he can’t even make his minimum debt payments and then cheerfully exclaiming, “I’m in debt up to my eyeballs!”? That’s our country’s financial situation right now. Ugh.
What about the debt limit? Take a look at this debt limit graph curtesy of the Treasury. Cute little steps, huh? We might as well rename this “limit” the debt goal. Everyone wants to reach their goals, and the government is no exception.
Ok, we’re gathering debt at an increasing speed, but how are those economic indicators doing?
The Dollar Index
After weeble-wobbling between 74 and 76 for June, July, and August, the index shot up for September and October, and now appears to be dropping back down. Why the sudden increase? Ever hear of Europe? It’s that little continent with the big money woes. Even bigger than ours, according to investor’s behaviors. Continued news of lackluster economic performance doesn’t generally bode well for the strength of a country’s dollar. Unless, of course, other currencies in the index basket are dictated by nations who are in the middle of a worse crisis. Ugh again.
Long Term Treasury Securities
Interestingly enough, long term treasury securities have been dropping steadily since July and into the beginning of this month. Only now are rates beginning to pick back up slightly. This would indicate investor confidence in the U.S.’s ability to pay back on its obligations. Even though we’re on track to add over 1 trillion of new debt this year?? Interesting. Perhaps Europe is worse off than I thought. That’ll have to be my next item of research 🙂
Debt to GDP ratio
This ratio is very difficult to nail down, as various experts and calculations arrive at a multitude of answers. I have three kiddos 5 and under, and another in incubation, so this indicator will have to wait. If you want to do the math and tell me, that sounds good!
What does this all mean, and at what level do we hit a “point of no return”?
First off, I am coming to realize that if investors are still snapping up the United States’ securities and fiat currency, the rest of the investable world must really be looking poorly. I think I’m going to have to actually get my hands dirty and look into what is currently going on in Europe.
The “point of no return” would be the point at which the government spends themselves so far into oblivion that even cutting back to the necessities of federal government (which are hotly contested) wouldn’t be enough to dig ourselves out of debt. This also assumes that no other country would be willing to come riding in on their white horse and pay off several trillion dollars of our mess for us 🙂
Assuming also that the interest rates on federal securities stays constant (if they were to rise we’d very soon find ourselves underwater), and we continue to accrue an additional (conservative) $50 billion in debt service per year (nevermind how that number would increase too). It would take 38 years to effectively cut our government spending in half ($1.92 trillion to services and $1.92 trillion to debt service). Would that be the PONR? Nope, we’d likely have already passed it, but math is fun. Our country can handle quite a bit of debt if (a) investors continue buying, (b) interest rates on securities remain low, and (c) the total debt service cost per year increases slowly due to the first two factors. That’s refreshing, I suppose. The question is, how much total debt can we accrue (our total debt load) before any of those above factors change? I, for one, will be keeping a close eye on 30 year bond rates. When these securities begin to increase, the debt load on the federal government will strengthen rapidly.
What is the best case scenario?
Government leaders clean house. Not just a weenie wipe-the-counters sort of a cleaning, but a thorough gut-the-house-and-ebay-the-junk sort of a cleaning. Remember, it will take much more than just cherry picking a few budget cuts here and there to put our country back on a path to begin reducing debt. This current year budget information, from my first post on the topic, highlights the need for a serious change:
- D of D/National Security – $895 billion
- Medicare & Medicaid – $788 billion combined
- Social Security Administration – $730 billion
- Income Security – $580 billion
- National security discretionary – $520 billion
- National Debt Interest – $251 billion
It’s easy to see that little cuts here and there can add up, but the real elephant in the room is the combined defense and so-called entitlement spending. In our current two party system, one loves cutting taxes and increasing defense spending, and the other holds a death grip on social security and medicare. THIS IS CRAZY!
Looking at governmental receipts (yep, you guessed it, just a fancy word for income), this year’s $2.567 Trillion is 19% greater than last year’s, and 8% greater than 2001. The largest chunk of receipts is due to income taxes, at $1.121 Billion (up 20% from 2010, though down 8% from 2001). Coming in second is social insurance/Retirement receipts at $934 Billion (up 7% from last year, and 10% from 2001). Corporate and various other taxes comprise the remainder. And then, of course there’s the $1.267 Trillion budget deficit.