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The scariest site on the internet…

There are some horrors out there but I don’t mean SAW style torture-porn or even the contents of Jimmy Savile’s hard-disk. Nor do I mean more sophisticated stuff that would make the shades of Edgar Allen Poe and MR James huddle together and cry like girls. The hate-fests of Pyongyang or Tehran? Mayan prophecies, alien invasions, another Star Wars trilogy… Gimme a break!


Fuck-a-doodle-do! that is horrifying. Where the Count Fuckula is it all going? God doesn’t even know.

In the US (and for a few years now here) there is a tradition of a baby shower where the mother-to-be has a party and female friends and relatives turn-up with gifts for the soon-to-be-born. Usually practical things for babies like a set of posidrives or something (look I’m a bloke with no kids so I’m improvising here). And then there is a sharp chilling blast from the front door and a man in a dark rain-coat with a fedora masking his face (I always imagine this drawn in comic-book fashion) turns-up and says, “I’m from the government, I’m here to look after your son or daughter to be.” and presents an envelope. What is in it? As the shadowy figure exits into the rain (it has to be raining doesn’t it?) the expectant mother opens the envelope…

It says, “Before your child has taken their first breath they will owe $51,602. Thank you for your co-operation”.

I dunno about the USA but here that’s about the tuition fees for a 3/4 year undergraduate degree. It’s certainly a mortgage deposit or enough money to set-up a business. If that were $51,602 the other way set in trust (with reasonable interest) until they are say 18 that is enough money to give everyone a bloody good start in adult life. But no. Alas it is on the debit side.

But let’s look at the headline figure: the USA is 16 trillion, 240 billion, 420 million in debt (plus some “loose change”). Now I have a background in physics and astrophysics so when I say a figure is astronomical please believe me. I say “loose change” because I assume that is the way government thinks of it – and up to a point when you are $16 trillion in debt what’s the odd hundred thou here or there? That’s something you lose down the back of the sofa.

Except… The Manhattan Project cost $2 billion. Apollo cost $10 billion. The Voyager and Viking missions cost in the region of a billion a throw. The merest dust of the valance. I’m not adjusting for inflation here. Nor should I. Voyager 1 is (arguably) around the heliopause and it’s still working. JPL, I salute you! If we go to kibbles and bits (or Greek as it is otherwise known hummus and mezes – I guess) at least something, somewhere might know we were once magnificent. It might even happen as we are still gnawing the bones of the first-born beneath the idols that the Old Ones called “wind turbines”. There might even be an ageing shaman who remembers how the Gods made the sparks and then took them away as the Goreacle of Kyoto said must happen for the Righteous to be exalted. He might even have a musical box to show a feral child with really bad back-combing*. Something of us will reside in the stars. That is a comfort of sorts.

So let’s do some arithmetic…

A US dollar bill is 0.0043″ thick (US Treasury). In real money that is 0.00010922 metres (1 inch = 2.54 cm exactly). Let us proceed… 16.243 (It’s tricky because it keeps going up, OK? – and I’m scraping my head on the ceiling due to the “loose change” accumulating under the sofa – bear in mind this is the sort of loose change you can buy a small warship with, not a can of Coke – this is government loose change) x 1012 multiplied by that means a stack of dollar bills 1,774,060,460 metres tall (I round off even more loose change here so the roof now needs re-jigging and I have hypoxia). In miles that is 1,102,350. That is a column of dollar bills to the Moon four times (with a fair bit left over). That is truly an astronomical sum.

Quite why (I have said this before) the Republicans engaged in a kerfuffle over such things as gay marriage when they had four Towers of Babel in the room already is beyond me. Perhaps because Dubya was involved in building this? Perhaps because they really didn’t plan on hacking this inverse beanstalk down themselves because they had their own bread and circuses planned? God knows.

Anyway, to any new-born American who has just took their first breath right now. You now owe an extra $6 and the midwife hasn’t weighed you yet. Best of luck. I mean that sincerely. You have been born into a World of troubles that were not of your making. Your personal tabula rasa is in hock now for $51,608. And that is between me starting this post and finishing it. I started it late last night. I publish mid-afternoon.

I have used a fair bit of Biblical imagery here and that is apt. Talk about the sins of the fathers, ye even unto the fourth generation and all that malarkey.

*You can see that anyway in Chesterfield on a Friday night.


  1. Mr Ed says:

    I’d like to work out the surface area of the debt in $ bills when I get time, there is a graphic somewhere showing the debt packing in crates in trucks or shipping containers, but it will surely soon be enough to blanket the continental USA without a crack.

  2. Mr Ed says:

    UK debt in £1 coins at 9g each weighs about the same as 444 x HMS Invincible.

  3. NickM says:

    Mr Ed,
    You are a card sir. I shall file that one!

    I think we have a competition on! C’mon folks what is the most intriguing visualisation of debt you can think of?

    I think the graphics you were thinking of are here.

    And that’s in $100 bills. From my experience nobody takes more than a $20 note. Well, unless it is Fanny or Freddie… Now to go back to my dollar bill example imagine that is 16×100 -1,600 times larger. Now how many Panamax container ships would that need to ship it all to China?

  4. NickM says:

    Or this,

    And note again that is in $100 bills and that was from 2009 when the debt was a mere $11 trillion, not $16.2x trillion. Oh, happy days!

  5. NickM says:

    Oh, and in the roughly hour and a half since I posted this and US child born right now owes $51,609. Well, that’s a Coke they ain’t going to ever buy.

  6. RAB says:

    Like I keep saying, visualise the debt as time not space, because there clearly isn’t that much actual cash in the world.

    One Trillion seconds equals 32,000 years. That’s how long it would take to print Britain’s National debt at a pound a second, let alone America’s and the rest of the world’s. The “money” is purely fictional, based on and backed up by NOTHING!

    I don’t owe a goddam red cent to anyone, my Government does, and they can whistle for it :-)

  7. Furor Teutonicus says:

    I don’t see the problem. You just blow the bollox off all those you owe money to, when they start asking for it back.

    They are practicing in the Middle East/Afghanistan/Iraq right this very minute.

    Problem solved.

  8. Julie near Chicago says:

    Well, I find quite a bright spot in that Debt Clock. It turns out that if I just quit paying taxes, my indebtedness decreases by 2/3!

  9. NickM says:

    Let’s go to war with China! That’ll work.

  10. VftS says:

    …. so when I say a figure is astronomical please believe me’

    Not impressed

    “There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it’s only a hundred billion. It’s less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.”

    R P Feynman. And that was back in the ’60s.

  11. NickM says:

    Curse you for quoting my hero back at me! :-). Anyway I think you mean the national debt, not deficit and if the former was even in the hundreds of mere billions we’d all be sittin’ pretty. Because that is peanuts to space. Now consider a walnut in Jo’berg and a satsuma in Reading… Well, relatively speaking we’d all have umbrella drinks and not be in a bak-alley with a sign saying, “Will drop pants for food”.

  12. Schrodinger's Dog says:


    War with China just might do the trick.

    After all, all this money everybody owes to everybody else isn’t gold and silver coins. It isn’t even pieces of paper. Rather its bits stored in various computers. When the war starts and someone detonates an EMP bomb, all the computers will be wrecked. Hey presto! No more debts.

    Of course, our civilisation will also be back to circa 1875, but no solution is perfect, is it?

  13. CountingCats says:

    Of course, our civilisation will also be back to circa 1875

    Except that in 1875 we had a working 1875 standard of infrastructure. We don’t have that any more.

    It’s like the idea that a nuclear war would bomb us back to the stone age – who here knows stone age technologies any more?

  14. Sam Duncan says:

    As I’ve said before, like RAB, I prefer time.

    If we were to start paying off the US national debt at the rate of $1 per second, humans probably wouldn’t be around long enough. Not because we’d be wiped out in some catastrophe, but because we’d have evolved into something else.

    16 trillion, etc. seconds is 514,821 years, ten months, three weeks, 1 day, 9 hours, and 36 minutes. Roughly. Homo Sapiens first appeared about 100,000 years ago.

    For comparison’s sake, 16 million seconds – in dollars, a decent lottery win, and more money than most of us will ever see – is about six months.

  15. Single Acts of Tyranny says:

    Sam, I also like time, so to get in this debt from say, the time of Christ

    (for the sake of argument and maths, 2,000 years ago)

    and setting aside interest payments, you would need to have spend about $15,000 per minute, 24/7.

    And even this figure is chump change compared to unfunded liabilities. There will be a horrible reckoning as it becomes clear to the hard of thinking that the promised pensions and healthcare just won’t be there in any meaningful sense.

    Really. This is going to be ugly and it may explain the DHS’s alleged mass purchase of hollow point ammo. At the very least I think it is the end of the dollar and with it most fiat currency. What comes next politically is interesting but it won’t be funded by borrowing or (I hope anyway) more printing of currency. We may at last, simply because no other option is available, see a return to commodity based money and with it, an end to uber-government, avoidable recessions and stupid bloody wars (because there will be no money to fund ‘em. It maybe horribly totalitarian but it will be poorer than any government in recent memory.

  16. Mr Ed says:

    @ Sam Homo sapiens being around 100,000 years seems inherently implausible. Every species changes generation by generation and, like the Austrian monetary regression theory, the possibilty of a sudden jump begs the question of (i) who was the first human child? (ii) with whom did s/he mate? (iii) how were those two genetically compatible? (siblings might have been close enough but that would be unlikely). Geneticists like to loss over these points as they are opaque.

    It might have been that H. sapiens was around in tiny numbers much longer but leaving no discernable trace.

    The next issue is the Golgafrinchan Question, how to deal with the ‘useless’ thirds of humanity for whom this debt is generated? Enough of them will need to change their ways at some point, peacefully.

  17. CountingCats says:

    how to deal with the ‘useless’ thirds of humanity

    What a repulsive thing to say.
    People are an end in themselves, not objects of use.

    That is a viewpoint common amongst the worst of the collectivists, but I am appalled to hear it seriously expressed here.

  18. NickM says:

    I think Robert Mugabe said much the same when his thugs were bulldozing the shanties around Harare. When I say “shanties” some were remarkable (in the circs) well built and featured mains ‘tricity and phone lines. But no! Mr Mugabe hd decided Zimbabwe would be better off with many fewer people and certainly many fewer of the likes of this man:

    Anyone who can in such appalling circumstances build a decent family home is frankly the sort of person I want coming over here. Though if they care to stay (and haven’t been beaten to death by Comrade Bob’s thugs) re-building Zim into the country it ought to be is a noble and ought to be a profitable enterprise for a lad or lass with a bit of gumption. The place has for starters agricultural potential New Zealanders would kill for. Nobody ought to starve in Zim. They ought to be creating the next Facebook (or something useful) and having umbrella drinks. Good on whoever that is. I hope he is OK.

  19. Eric says:

    You didn’t mention the even scarier figure, at the bottom of the page:

    120 trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities.

    ‘Unfunded liability’ refers to any liability for which a matching amount in investments, savings, cash, tax revenues, etc has not been set aside. In this case, the unfunded liability refers to the total of all debt obligations incurred, or to be incurred, by the US without an offset by taxation or other revenue.

    So, the US has $120 trillion in unfunded liabilities for which it must somehow find money. The liability per taxpayer is roughly 1 million bucks (at the moment), and rising fast.

  20. Sam Duncan says:

    Just going by the accepted dating, Mr.E. It’s hardly exact. Nobody’s saying Homo Sapiens sprung into existence on the 9th of November. For illustration, even a 10% error would encompass the development of written language pretty comfortably. The point is, our species probably wasn’t around in recognisable form, at least in any great numbers, half a million years ago. And I’m only trying to give a sense of scale here.

    Eric: Yes, it’s those unfunded liabilities. They’re just as much a debt as the acknowledged “national debt”. Same in Britain; they’re what take us into the trillion scale from the few billion the government admits to.

  21. RAB says:

    Here’s my solution, seeing as money is already growing on trees, it’s dead cheap too, it’ll cost £70 Million tops. Print up that amount and bung a million into every persons bank account in the country, then let them spend it. It’s bound to kick start something isn’t it?

  22. NickM says:

    Would that be ash trees RAB?

  23. Mr Ed says:

    @ Cats: you would need to have read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in that book, we are the descendants of a fraction of that planet’s population who were sent to Earth, and they set about replicating their absurd ideas on Earth.

    As far my comment being reminiscent of collectivism, that is a false friend. My concern is what do we do about the uneconomic ‘third’ of humanity who currently live off the State, which, as we all know, will not last. Better that we, all of us in any State, are able to deal with the problem that wait for the cheques to bounce.

  24. Mr Ed says:

    Here is the UK debt clock, a mere £1,086,424,000,000 or so. I blame the ‘cuts’.

  25. Paul Marks says:

    The Romney-Ryan campaign kept to an economic campaign.

    There were plenty of speeches on debt and so on – but not much on social issues (Gay Marriage and so on).

    So let us not pretend that the campaign would have worked if the Romney-Ryan campaign had not concentrated on social issues (they hardly touched these issues – barely lip service).

    Or that if they had gone harder on debt it would have helped.

    Sadly if Romney-Ryan had gone in harder on debt (laying out a plan for a trillion in cuts and so on).


    It would have been a Gary Johnson like experience.

    Face it.

    The people (the voters) are not ready for the truth – or for anything even close to it.

    They want their “free stuff”.

    A Republic can only work whilst most people maintain their virtue.

    All classical writers knew that – and so did all the Founding Fathers.

    The people (or most of them) are no longer the sort that can keep a Res-Publica.

    Perhaps the comming economic collapse will lead the people to regain their virtue.

    Or perhaps they will tear at each other like savage animals (as with the French Revolution).

    Either way – it will be interesting.

  26. Mr Ed says:

    @ Paul I have a saying, apt for Ron Paul or von Mises:

    ‘There was enver a Man so hated, as he who told the truth.’

  27. Mr Ed says:

    ‘enver’ = ‘never’. IPad keyboard!

  28. Julie near Chicago says:


    Meanwhile, “libertarians” all over the place are hollering about how Civic Virtue is an Eeeevillll plot of “Xtians” and the morally-oppressed generally. Only in the last six months or so have I seen any real indication of libertarians’ understanding that there might be something to this thing about improved political viability in polities whose members share some sense of the “oughtness” of outlook and of various behaviors.

    In fact, in some respects some libertarians are coming a little closer to what to me is a proper conservative stance–that is, one in which the fundamental principles of libertarianism (insofar as they may be said to exist) are not entirely at odds with the facts of reality. The “absolutely open-borders” issue is an example.

  29. John Galt says:

    @Mr Ed:

    The King James bible surely, Galatians 4:16:

    “Am I therefore become your enemie, because I tell you the trueth?”

    (olde english version)

  30. Mr Ed says:

    @ John: excellent, I shall look it up in mine, I doubt that I read it that deeply.

  31. Paul Marks says:

    Mr Ed and John Galt – agreed.


    Yes when Barack Obama told the voters to “compare my policies to my opponent and decide what is better for you” he was cutting out the factor of old style justice.

    If “do what is good for you” is followed then, of course, the majority will plunder the rich minority – that might harm the majority later, but for now……

    That is why all collectivists (including John Rawls in his SO CALLED “A Theory of Justice” ) concentrate on “interests”

    What would you do if you had “no concept of justice” what would be in your “interests”……

    Those libertarians (a minority) who think that morality is not vital, are fools.

  32. Before the Deluge says:

    I believe the standard unit of measurement in these sort of things is an ‘Area The Size Of Wales’ (ATSOW).

    1 ATSOW = 208 x 10^12 cm2

    1USD = 100.75 cm2 in area

    So the US debt = 8 ATSOW (approx)

    US unfunded liabilities = 60 ATSOW

    Hope that helps

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