Will America’s Massive Debt Really Doom Us?

Will America’s Massive Debt Really Doom Us?

America’s massive debt will doom us. That’s common wisdom, but wrong. In Manhattan, a giant clock displays not only the total — almost $23 trillion for now — but your share, ticking up every second. Pundits say it’s trouble. But U.S. debt fears have lurked forever and those troubles are no closer now than decades ago. In some ways, they’re further off. Ken Fisher writes on USA Today

The $23 trillion total seems jaw-dropping, but says little about what really matters: How readily Uncle Sam can pay the piper.

Pundits cite our debt-to-GDP ratio as evidence of a debt addiction. With $21 trillion of GDP, that ratio is 103% — lower than Italy’s and Japan’s, but higher than Germany’s and Britain’s. Debt topping GDP sounds dire. But that’s misleading. The federal government itself owns more than a quarter of U.S. debt, money the government essentially owes itself. It’s an accounting entry. As an asset and a liability, it effectively cancels out. Otherwise, net outstanding public debt is $16.7 trillion— 76% of GDP. That’s still unimportant…

Government solvency isn’t about paying off debt. It’s about affording interest payments and rolling over maturing bonds. Currently, annual U.S. interest payments represent just 9.8% of tax revenues, lower than any time in the 1980s and 1990s, when they peaked at 18.4%. 

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