Finally…The National Debt Explained!


Representative Everett Dirksen of Illinois

Representative Everett Dirksen of Illinois (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The late Senator Everett Dirksen once said, “If we spend a billion here and a billion there, sooner or later we’re talking about real money!” The career solon from Illinois may have been the very last public servant to put the ballooning federal budget into understandable terms, but that was back in the day that our national debt could be estimated with a manageable number of zeros. Our current debt contains so many zeros one needs a fleet of Ford pickup trucks just to haul them around. Whether you listen to Republicans or Democrats as they explain their views of the national debt…is it a good thing or a bad thing, is it a necessity or a disaster, is it growing or shrinking…it doesn’t take long for our eyes to glaze over and our interest to wane. The debt has gone beyond our understanding so we have dismissed it as beyond our ability even to complain about it. Our greedy solons love the fact that they have shut us out of the conversation. Now, they feel, they can do anything!


With that in mind, here are two more pithy stories from Senator Dirksen that help put government spending in perspective:

” I am reminded of a group of men who were working on a street. They had dug quite a number of holes. When they got through, they failed to puddle or tamp the earth when it was returned to the hole, and they had a nice little mound, which was quite a traffic hazard.

Not knowing what to do with it, they sat down on the curb and had a conference. After a while, one of the fellows snapped his fingers and said, ‘I have it. I know how we will get rid of that overriding earth and remove the hazard. We will just dig the hole deeper.’” [Congressional Record, June 16, 1965, p. 13884].

On the same occasion, Dirksen relied on yet another “spending” story, one he labeled “cat in the well”:

“One time in the House of Representatives [a colleague] told me a story about a proposition that a teacher put to a boy. He said, ‘Johnny, a cat fell in a well 100 feet deep. Suppose that cat climbed up 1 foot and then fell back 2 feet. How long would it take the cat to get out of the well?’

Johnny worked assiduously with his slate and slate pencil for quite a while, and then when the teacher came down and said, ‘How are you getting along?’ Johnny said, ‘Teacher, if you give me another slate and a couple of slate pencils, I am pretty sure that in the next 30 minutes I can land that cat in hell.’”

Senator Dirksen obviously had a sound understanding of the federal budget of 1965, but today our monetary problem is much, much worse. Is anyone today capable of putting the numbers into understandable terms? Recently, a good friend of mine, Dr. Stephen White, crunched the numbers and came up with an explanation that even Barack Obama could understand. (Whether or not he would care is another story and another article.) This rather brilliantly cuts thru all the political doublespeak we get, and puts our monetary crisis into a much better perspective.

Lesson # 1:

* U.S. Tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000
* Fed budget: $3,820,000,000,000
* New debt: $ 1,650,000,000,000
* National debt: $14,271,000,000,000
* Recent budget cuts: $ 38,500,000,000 (Note that budget cuts are less that 0.3% of national debt!)

Let’s now remove 8 zeros and pretend it’s a household budget:

* Annual family income: $21,700
* Money the family spent: $38,200
* New debt on the credit card: $16,500
* Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710
* Total budget cuts: $385

Got It ?????

OK now Lesson # 2:  Here’s another way to look at the Debt Ceiling:

Let’s say, You come home from work and find there has been a sewer backup in
your neighborhood….and your home has sewage all the way up to your

What do you think you should do ……

Raise the ceilings, or pump out the crap?

Your choice is coming Nov. 2012

I think this sums it up better than anything I have heard or read from politicians and economists. It might be a good idea to email this explanation to your elected representatives, just to let them know that you understand what they are doing to us.


3 Responses to Finally…The National Debt Explained!

  1. A. Lynch April 19, 2012 at 9:26 am

    Love these stories about a local politician. Have you heard that after his death his family found shoe boxes, hidden in his closet, full of cash. He apparently found a way to supplement his income.

  2. mrine2 April 22, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    I love both examples above, but #1 is so crystal clear even liberals can understand the urgency of the debt crisis. Well done! Top notch!

  3. FedUp September 6, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    As long as the Fed is printing our money at interest ($1 printed = $1.35 of debt) we will NEVER reduce the federal deficit. So who cares and why should we? It's not like if we get caught up on those bills they will just be like "Ok here's your freedom back" So, I say we stop worrying about it, get them to print as much as we can and stop paying the bills.


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