Monday, August 1, 2011

A Clueless American's Guide to the Debt Ceiling

You can call me Aaron Burr from the way I'm dropping Hamiltons (Image).
I know nothing about economics.

For the past few weeks, politicians, pundits, economists, accountants, entrepreneurs, bankers, business people, and regular people have been voicing their opinions on whether or not Congress should vote to raise our national debt ceiling.  For all those regular people that aren't well-educated on the comings, goings, and happenings of the world of economics, you shouldn't be allowed to voice your opinions.  You clearly have no idea what you're talking about.  Since I know you will anyway, though,  the following is a guide to the current debt crisis and its overall significance.  I hope that you find it enlightening, informative, and grammatically tolerable.

The national debt ceiling was established in 1917 with the passing of the Second Liberty Bond Act.  The debt ceiling, which is a stubborn, no-nonsense, non-negotiable limit to the amount of money the United States may borrow, has been raised 74 times since March of 1964.  Similarly, the stubborn, no-nonsense, non-negotiating politicians debating the issue have had heated arguments over the past few months that have scorched the political landscape, which I would assume makes them guilty of  arson.

These negotiations, which would call for the eleventh increase since 2001, are currently a much bigger deal than in the past because of the current economic climate, the increased spunk of politicians in recent years, and/or because President Obama isn't white, depending on who you talk to.  I talked to none of these people, however, because talk is cheap, and is therefore likely manufactured overseas by grossly underpaid employees.  In summary, talk is stealing our jobs and hijacking our economy.  Moving on.

The debt limit is less a like a limit on how much money the United States can borrow, and much more like a reminder to balance your checkbook.  Upon receiving this reminder to make sure our finances made sense the past 74 times, the United States has tossed back a few brews and said, "Fuck it, buy a bigger checkbook."

The debt ceiling, which the United States was supposed to smack its financial dome-piece on this past May, has given us some breathing room over the past few months, delaying its financially catastrophic temper tantrum until August 2nd.  While the reasons for this delay are not completely clear, some big-wig economic-types in Washington credit it to "creative accounting" associated with "retirement funds" which, as I understand it, involves simply taking all the money Harold Camping received from devout minions when he predicted the end of the world using "creative mathematics."  I, on the other hand, credit the delay to China generously offering to not make us pay them back, so long as we ignore them not not censoring all news and information their citizens have access to.

Voting to raise the debt ceiling in the past has never followed a noticeable pattern.  For example, in 2003, 2004, and 2006, the debt limit was raised under then President George W. Bush.  In these instances, Republicans in the Senate voted to raise the ceiling with 50 votes in 2003, 50 votes in 2004, and 52 votes in 2006.  In those same years, Democratic votes to raise the debt limit totaled 3 votes, 2 votes, and 0 votes, respectively.  In the first two debt ceiling votes under incumbent President Barack Obama, 59 Democrats voted to raise it in 2009, and 60 voted to raise it in 2010, compared to 1 vote and 0 votes from Republicans, respectively.  Now maybe its possible for an extremely astute observer to make sense of that voting record, but I sure as hell don't see a pattern.

The average American needs to realize that in the grand scheme of things, the debt limit is nothing to worry about.  Does it matter that an American with absolutely no money to his name is technically richer than the country he lives in?  Of course not.  The typical penniless urban nomad takes few economic risks, and finances wars with a low, raspy grumble and a commitment to having a crazier stare and a more pungent stench than his enemies.  The United States, on the other hand, writes checks for wars and other expenses that promise actual currency.  Our country has to pick up the tab on every American citizen and major corporation who makes poor financial decisions and risks losing it all.  As a result, the country is deeply in debt, but at least in today's America there are no homeless people and banking executives make modest salaries until they prove they can properly handle money.

In the end, a debt the size of the United States' is nothing to worry about.  At the time of this writing, we're only $14.3 trillion in the red.  That may sound like a lot, but when you describe it as $14.3 thousand thousand million, things are put in a perspective that is easier to comprehend.  For example, one thousand thousand million atoms of gold would weigh only 0.000000000327 grams.  I don't know if this is a well known fact, but gold is a pretty valuable substance.  If our national debt was measured in gold atoms, we would be able to repay all the we owe AND purchase Jupiter all for one of Flava Flav's bicuspids.  But would we do that?  Of course not.  Flav's grill is a nationally protected piece of American culture.  Don't be ridiculous.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, this whole being in debt $14.3 trillion isn't so bad.  And if we really need to point a finger at someone, it's VH1 for giving Flava Flav a television show.  Who knew a clock could tick precious seconds away to an imminent economic deadline and double as a piece of stylish yet practical neck wear?  I know I didn't.  I only wear clocks on my arm.


  1. Just wondering....of all the money you could choose from, why did you pick the ten dollar bill? Nothing weird about it, I am just wondering.

  2. I could tell you, but the stock market would descend into irreparable stability, freaking out the vast majority of the American public, and the world..