As of this writing, the U.S. national debt stands at about $18.1 trillion — that is 18 thousand billions of dollars. I use the word “about” because it increases exponentially by well over $1 billion per day ( This debt translates at roughly $56,500 per U.S. citizen, or $154,000 per taxpayer. This is what we owe, and somehow it must be repaid.

A trillion dollars in a stack of $100 bills would stand well above the Empire State Building, which is 1,250 feet high. Now place 18 of these stacks of $1 trillion each around the Empire State Building, and you have a good approximation of what the national debt looks like. Now add another $94 trillion in unfunded debts for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the Affordable Care Act, and our economic future looks like a potentially mammoth train wreck.

If the government were to confiscate all assets — small businesses, big corporations, personal savings, houses and so forth — the national debt could not be liquidated, and the nation would be ruined. We would all live in abject poverty.

The annual interest on the debt currently is about $237 billion. The government never pays down the principal, which increases rapidly, so the interest payments must be budgeted and paid out of tax revenues — or worse, by borrowing or printing money. We are headed for a situation where the interest on the national debt alone will consume most of the revenues (taxes), and our currency will be worthless.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that interest in the debt will soar to $722 billion by 2021, more than the cost of national defense. A year later, the White House forecasts, interest costs will exceed all nondefense discretionary spending, or every other domestic and international government program the government pays for.

The federal budget deficit, which is the annual difference between expenditures and revenues, is now in the vicinity of $478 billion. Like federal expenditures, the debt increases with each fiscal year, or with each increase in the debt ceiling.

What would be the consequences of federal bankruptcy? At the outset, most of the federal government would disappear, and, since the current size of the government defies the imagination (like the size of the universe), tens of millions of people would become unemployed, and there would be no unemployment benefits for anyone. The economy would slide downhill rapidly. And since there would be no way to stimulate it, it would continue downward into a permanent depression, one that would make the Great Depression of 1929-1941 look like a walk on the beach.

Get the picture? The federal government — the president, the administration, the Congress, the courts and most of all the massive bureaucracy that actually runs the country — is destroying the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Democrats probably would raise the time-worn hue and cries of “tax the rich” and “let them pay their fair share.” Never mind that the “rich” already pay far more than any percentage that could be called fair, while millions of other people pay no taxes at all. Some even receive bonus dollars back from the IRS through the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Sir Winston Churchill, who some regard as the greatest man of the 20th century, pointed out that a society cannot tax itself into prosperity any more than a man standing in a bucket can raise himself up by pulling on the handle.

As I see it, we have two choices: One, we can continue to do nothing, hoping that some great leader will appear and save our sorry behinds and the future for our children and theirs. Or two, we can — like the valiant patriots who gave us this marvelous nation more than 200 years ago — get busy, get involved and get going.

We can start by reining in the size and jurisdiction of the federal government, to the extent that we would gain control over the entitlements and thus balance the federal budget. Only then, can we begin to pay down the national debt, and in doing so save the future of our republic.

All this, and more, can and must be done. But the road ahead is long, twisting, bumpy and steeply uphill.

Jack Wibby is communications director for Maine Taxpayers United, Gray.

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