Remember way back, the last time unemployment was over 10%, when Reagan was President, and his economic flunkies said "deficits don't matter"?

Well they do ... and now the deficits are much much bigger (almost all Bush's fault).

The problem though is most folks have no connection with BILLION or TRILLION or even MILLION. They are all just big numbers.

This is a problem because unless you understand (and really feel) what these mean, you can't have a sense of the mess that the country is in.

So ... Here is how big the deficit is now ...

The estimated budget deficit for the current year (October 2009 to September 2010) is now about \$1.5 trillion. On average this works out at a monthly deficit of about \$120 billion. Okay billion ... trillion ... million, how much are we talking here? Let's see if we can find some comparisons to help out.

Here are a few examples of business that was done in October of this year (or approximations thereof). Let's see how much business we have to do to match the estimated deficit for the month.

1. Cars: October saw 834,517 new cars and trucks sold. If we take an average price of \$20,000 that works out at \$16.69 billion
1. Wal-Mart: Although they no longer publish monthly sales, based on their most recent quarterly report WalMart US sales are about \$31.3 billion per month.
1. Costco: October 2009 sales - \$5.7 billion
1. McDonalds: McDonalds sells about \$2 billion a month worldwide.
1. Coke: Coke 3 month revenues were \$8 billion, so \$2.7 billion per month.
1. Target: October 2009 sales were \$4.5 billion.
1. Home Depot: Home depot also no longer publishes monthly sales figures, but their latest quarterly report had 3 month sales of \$19.1 billion, or roughly \$6.4 billion per month.

So if we add all these up we see that in total we get approximately \$87 billion.

So if the federal budget deficit in October was as predicted (about \$120 billion), the deficit alone (what the government spent more than it took in) would have been enough to buy:

. everything sold by WalMart in the US in October
. everything sold by Costco in October
. everything sold by Coke in October
. everything sold by McDonalds in October
. everything sold by Home Depot in October
. everything sold by Target in October AND
. every new car bought during the month

AND

still had more than \$30 billion left to spend!

That is no small amount of stimulus being applied every month! And, despite all of this stimulus, the economy only grew at 3% last quarter. That to me is very, very scary.

The point:

The point of this exercise is to show that the government is providing massive stimulus to the economy, whether it feels like it or not. This spending has probably stopped the economy from going into a free-fall, but it does have a cost, because ALL of that money was also borrowed on the country's credit card. It is still there and interest will have to be paid on it until it is repaid.

Unfortunately most people have no idea how much a billion dollars is and as a result they find it hard to grasp the size of the current predicament. Hopefully this diary has helped a little on that score.

Now before anyone flames me for worrying about the deficit ... take a look at the second diary I wrote on DK way back in April of 2005 - Link. I guess if nothing else I have been consistent.

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#### Comment Preferences

• ##### Tip Jar(14+ / 0-)

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

• ##### Deficits Did Matter(4+ / 0-)
Recommended by:

A lot. But they just go to debt.

And as far as debt goes, we're past the point of no return. And, since the US is now a corporation, I'm learning to see it differently.

I know you're a trader and sophisticated about economic matters. Here's how I'm dealing with it.

The debt is outstanding shares in Gov-Co. It was never meant to be paid back. Instead, we pay dividends in the form of interest.

Investors can sell their shares on any exchange, just like shares in any corporation. So, in essence, we're just issuing more stock.

And, some years, we won't be paying dividends. It depends. There's risk with any investment. Even in Gov-Co.

• ##### Interesting(5+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
soros, 3goldens, Pluto, terabytes, Bronx59

On that score Japan is well ahead (far more debt ... or shares o/s) but the shares are owned by its own people.

In the US much of the debt is held overseas, by owners who may or may not feel a duty to hold it.

The real scary part is that, to capture the lowest rates, the terms of the debt have become shorter and shorter (fewer 30 year bonds and more 2 year), so the debt (or shares in your thinking) have to be rolled over more and more frequently (in addition to having to issue more for new deficits).

All we need is one failed auction and all hell will break loose. (Of course the auction won't really fail because the Fed will step in ... but then money printing will get out of hand and there will be so many shares that no one will want any).

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

[ Parent ]

• ##### Foreign owners(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:

have about 25% of our debt. The major holders are wealthy American investors represented by investment banks. We're (people with savings bonds) are third, behind state and local governments.

"If I pay a man enough money to buy my car, he'll buy my car." Henry Ford

[ Parent ]

• ##### Nope(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Timaeus, soros, 3goldens

Foreign holders hold \$3.5 trillion out of the \$7.5 trillion of debt held by the public - almost 50%

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

[ Parent ]

• ##### The debt(0+ / 0-)

asof Oct 24 was 12 trillion.

"If I pay a man enough money to buy my car, he'll buy my car." Henry Ford

[ Parent ]

• ##### but(0+ / 0-)

\$7.5 billion is held by the public, the rest is by entities such as Social Security (not wealthy American investors).

oh and by the way, the recession means that Social Security will stop adding to its assets sooner than forecast (buying less debt) and will start using its surplus sooner (will start selling its debt ... which will then have to be sold to outside investors).

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

[ Parent ]

• ##### in 2037(0+ / 0-)

"If I pay a man enough money to buy my car, he'll buy my car." Henry Ford

[ Parent ]

• ##### ss(0+ / 0-)

The financial condition of the Social Security and Medicare programs remains challenging. Projected long run program costs are not sustainable under current program parameters. Social Security's annual surpluses of tax income over expenditures are expected to fall sharply this year and to stay about constant in 2010 because of the economic recession, and to rise only briefly before declining and turning to cash flow deficits beginning in 2016 that grow as the baby boom generation retires. The deficits will be made up by redeeming trust fund assets until reserves are exhausted in 2037

I track the monthly numbers and they are worse than projected the last 3 months. Higher unemployment than projected means less money is being paid in. More people taking early SS means more is being taken out. The impact looks small now, but it keeps adding on to itself month after month and soon will become quite noticeable. I would not be surprised to see the 2016 number be revised to an earlier time.

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

[ Parent ]

• ##### That's a Whole 'Nother Story(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Timaeus

In the US much of the debt is held overseas, by owners who may or may not feel a duty to hold it.

Not to mention the fact that we are losing reserve currency status.

But you know what, taonow? I know a brief essay that was just published on this matter (which turned me around) would really trip you out:

All Debt is Not Created Equal

• ##### Saw that(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Pluto

NC is one of my first morning stops. I still have to ponder that one a bit more though, there look to be a couple of holes in the argument.

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

[ Parent ]

• ##### I Hope You Consider Diarying It(0+ / 0-)

I really want to have that discussion.

It's the first financial paradigm shift I've seen in a long time.

• ##### One thing to start(4+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Timaeus, Mnemosyne, Pluto, terabytes

The government is never revenue constrained.

Technically yes (although in the Argentinian meltdown they ran out of money to buy ink to run the money printing presses), though we can see what happens if this gets out of control - Zimbabwe.

The US has a longer rope by virtue of having the world's reserve currency. But even to that there are limits.

The performance of gold the last few weeks has been indicative of an underlying unease. Gold is the canary ... and it is singing pretty loudly right now.

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

[ Parent ]

• ##### I tipped and rec'd(4+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
fladem, burrow owl, Pluto, Dixie Liberal

this diary because I want to have this argument. Frankly, this crap has to stop. We cannot afford to restart the recession by balancing the budget. Businesses and individuals have stopped spending and banks have stopped lending and, consequently, if the economy is to move at all, the spender, the demand, has to come from government. The deficit that so upsets you is about 11% of GDP. The total debt hasn't gone to 90% of GDP. In 1946 the war debt was 121% of GDP and the Republicans were screaming that their grandchildren would be paying it. In fact, it was retired within 10 years by economic growth stimulated by high taxes and government spending. Since you are having a problem understanding basic economics, I can only assume you are in the thrall of the conservative economists who have so long spouted their bullshit to keep up the transfer of our money to the banksters. Buy this:

http://www.amazon.com/...

Read the short essay at the front. The right wing hates it and its really true. Then stop worrying about the deficit and start worrying about what happens to Democrats if they balance the budget and tank the economy.

"If I pay a man enough money to buy my car, he'll buy my car." Henry Ford

• ##### No(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
PsychoSavannah, terabytes, Bronx59

Basically I am not a big fan of debt. I do everything possible to avoid using it and think that all governments except in the most exceptional of circumstances should do the same.

(Just as an aside the first government to bring in single payer health care was in Saskatchewan ... it was a very left leaning government ... but it brought it in slowly, as funds were available. It was not about to provide a service it could not pay for).

The problem is that the Obama approach is wrong, and unfortunately very similar to Japan in the late 80's - and look where they are - great infrastructure and ... broke.

What should happen:

Essentially this is a debt/credit recession. You can't cure it with more debt. You need to eliminate or reduce debt back to manageable levels.

Just a couple of quick ideas (more a topic for another diary)

1. Break up the banks. Wipe out the big ones that are insolvent. This will wipe out debt, huge amounts of it.
1. Encourage debt/equity swaps for homeowners under water (they give up some equity in exchange for a lower mortgage). This too wipes out debt.
1. Cut military spending - can't afford it.
1. Bring in single payer health care - people need to have the freedom to start companies or switch companies without having to worry about health care.

As for the 120% of GDP, that was a different time. The country was younger and had more growth in front of it (much of the manufacturing capacity of the rest of the world had been destroyed). Now we have a big wave about to retire - not exactly prime growth material.

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

[ Parent ]

• ##### You are insane(0+ / 0-)

No business and no government can operate without credit.

"If I pay a man enough money to buy my car, he'll buy my car." Henry Ford

[ Parent ]

• ##### Well(0+ / 0-)

Canada hit a debt wall about 20 years ago. Since then it ran a surplus for 15 years (until the most recent recession, and the ascension to power of a right wing mob who as per usual can't balance a checkbook). So for 15 years Canada ran without new credit.

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

[ Parent ]

• ##### A useful comparison:(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:

http://zfacts.com/...

The deficit as a percentage of Gross National Product.

The Graph at zfacts shows that percentage peaked during the Roosevelt/Truman Administrations at 120 %...Now we are at 80 %, and climbing.  High, but not unprecedented.  If, as has been said, this is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and if it took massive deficits to pull us out of that economic pit, it would seem that deficit spending Can work to stimulate the economy.

Is that an invalid model for today?

Why?

"We know the truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart." - Blaise Pascal

• ##### The only thing(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
histOries Marko, Dixie Liberal

that makes that invalid is the unbridled ignorance of Laissez Faire Economists. Its being sold by Pete Peterson and friends. They really want to 1) keep their taxes low and 2) keep us paying the interest on their bonds. If we blow away their wish #1 we can pay it down with growth. But, as Roosevelt, Truman and (yes) Eisenhower, showed us the way to stimulate the economy with rich peoples money is to tax it away from them and build stuff with it.

"If I pay a man enough money to buy my car, he'll buy my car." Henry Ford

[ Parent ]

• ##### Of course!(0+ / 0-)

You're preachin to the converted, johnmorris!

"We know the truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart." - Blaise Pascal

[ Parent ]

• ##### Sorry...Graph is for National Debt as % of GDP...(0+ / 0-)

john morris gives the figures on the deficit as a % of GDP.

In either case the situation is neither unprecedented, nor necessarily a bigger problem than say: Employment and Productivity.

"We know the truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart." - Blaise Pascal

[ Parent ]

• ##### Different world(2+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
terabytes, Bronx59

That was then. Now we have a large number (the baby boomers) about to retire, starting to draw SS instead of paying in. Spending their retirement funds, not saving more. Also after WW2 the US had a large manufacturing base. That is now in China.

In many ways the comparison to the Depression is off a bit. I tend to look at China of today being the US of the 1920's and the US as being the UK (at the turn of the empire).

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

[ Parent ]

• ##### Debt is only a problem (1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
burrow owl

if interest payments are a problem.  There's no other problem with public debt, and there are a lot of benefits.

"Intolerance is something which belongs to the religions we have rejected." - J.J. Rousseau

• ##### Uhm(3+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
burrow owl, terabytes, Bronx59

Debt is only a problem if interest payments are a problem.

Well as long as the economy does not recover and interest rates therefore stay low ... no problem. If the economy does recover it will look like a reset on an ARM.

Of course you also have to have someone willing to lend you the money (unless you want to print it, with the fun that that entails).

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

[ Parent ]

• ##### We could print it.(0+ / 0-)

Inflation is basically still at 0.  We could get away with "printing" some more money.

"Intolerance is something which belongs to the religions we have rejected." - J.J. Rousseau

[ Parent ]

• ##### It is (1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
terabytes

It's already being printed. Of course first we will have deflation (as credit contracts), followed eventually by serious inflation, very bad stuff. Of course that is off in the future.

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

[ Parent ]

• ##### Deflation is worse than inflation for people.(0+ / 0-)

And don't worry about inflation.  We only had one real spike in inflation in the last 50 years.  We know how to handle inflation.  Not that we handled that one in perhaps the best possible way.  Killing that took out like half of the world's economy with it.

"Intolerance is something which belongs to the religions we have rejected." - J.J. Rousseau

[ Parent ]

• ##### Talk like that(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
taonow

just might lead to every sane person to transfer their wealth overseas. Who's gonna loan the US gov't money when they know the gov't is gonna devalue their savings? When this point is reached, bye bye US economy.

You cannot depend upon American institutions to function without pressure. --MLK Jr.

[ Parent ]

• ##### They'd rather we have inflation than igh interest(0+ / 0-)

rates.  Jacking up inflation in the early 1980s as a way to combat inflation contributed to the devastation of economies across the world.

"Intolerance is something which belongs to the religions we have rejected." - J.J. Rousseau

[ Parent ]

• ##### OK. You don't think investors want to earn(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Bronx59

a lot of interest on their bonds? On what basis?

I can tell you that I sure wish I could earn a five percent real return on my investments. I can tell you I'd much rather hold Australian dollars, a strong export-backed currency that yields 3%, than US dollars, a currency that yields nothing and is being devalued to shrink the liabilities owed by the world's largest debtor nation.

You cannot depend upon American institutions to function without pressure. --MLK Jr.

[ Parent ]

• ##### Whoa(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Opakapaka

What Volker did was right. He laid the groundwork for the expansion that followed, which of course was f^&*ed up by Greenspan.

Greenspan was wrong. Greenspan wanted to keep the party going and now we pay ... and we will pay a LOT more yet.

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

[ Parent ]

• ##### And all of the countries which had benefitted(0+ / 0-)

during the '70s and borrowed a lot of money when things looked good for them suddenly found themselves in a huge hole.

"Intolerance is something which belongs to the religions we have rejected." - J.J. Rousseau

[ Parent ]

• ##### Lesson #1(0+ / 0-)

Don't borrow money.

We live in a capitalist system - so not surprisingly those with capital do better. Those doing the borrowing do not. That's why its not called the debtor system.

Borrowing to build/buy/ an income producing asset is one thing. Borrowing to consume is another. Those who borrow to consume need to realize that they will have to pay a big price some day.

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

[ Parent ]

• ##### Thanks for being patronizing,(0+ / 0-)

and really cute, blaming the victim here.

"Intolerance is something which belongs to the religions we have rejected." - J.J. Rousseau

[ Parent ]

• ##### I agree and I just made a comment to this effect(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
taonow

at another diary.

That is no small amount of stimulus being applied every month! And, despite all of this stimulus, the economy only grew at 3% last quarter. That to me is very, very scary.

The point:

The point of this exercise is to show that the government is providing massive stimulus to the economy, whether it feels like it or not.

If you want my blunt opinion...the US is going to have to stop at least one of these two ongoing wars, shut down a lot of defense spending, and begin raising taxes...hopefully not by very much.

OK. I said it. Now I'm in trouble.

• ##### raising taxes?(0+ / 0-)

on who exactly?   The rich are being decimated, corporate tax returns have been plunging without end and the middle class are being crushed by state governments trying to maintain the status quo....

Raise taxes enough (like California) and things really get out of hand because people just stop paying.     Hey, they've gotta survive.

De Moon Haffi Bun over Negril

[ Parent ]

• ##### Here's an idea no one will like(0+ / 0-)

In most of the world the idea is to discourage consumption. So in most developed countries there are significant "consumption" taxes (VAT, GST etc). These serve to make consumption more expensive. In the US the opposite is the case with people being allowed to deduct interest on borrowed money on their houses from their taxes.

One idea would be to get rid of the mortgage interest deduction (which benefits the better off - house owners).

The other idea is a consumption tax to fund the military. (That might get people focused on how much it costs to run the military).

I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong- Feynman

[ Parent ]

• ##### We need a War tax(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Bronx59

I wish there was some way of making it a law - If we go to war, we have to raise taxes to pay for it.  I bet that would stop any future invasions for the sake of military industrial complex profiteers.

• ##### kind of like this ?(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Anna M

Voluntary purchases is the only option... unless you want to make the poor even poorer because no matter what anybody says,  the pols will go to war whether we like it or not.

De Moon Haffi Bun over Negril

[ Parent ]

• ##### Shhhhh...(0+ / 0-)

after it fails just tell people we didn't spend enough... that's always the easiest way out of the argument.

De Moon Haffi Bun over Negril

• ##### That is up from -6%...(0+ / 0-)

it is the differential that matters..

Obama - Change I still believe in

• ##### Who cares, there's more important things(0+ / 0-)

to worry about, such as making fun of teabaggers, seeing Markos pwn Tom Tancredo, the hurt feelings of one single muslim american, and calling out Michelle Bachmann for the umpteenth time.

Glenn Greenwald was right and the rest of you should be ashamed!

• ##### Of course deficits matter(1+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
taonow

and they probably do more so to Democrats and Independents than anyone else. We care about the future we're leaving to our children and grandchildren, whether it's monetary or environmental. Just watch the Republicans buy into the mania that the world is going to end in 2012. It's going to be a sight to see, watching them try to merge their alleged "fiscal responsibility" with their urge to go "hog wild." I expect to see a lot of them in 2013, poorer - but probably not wiser.

I hate labels. Just give me the ingredients.