Raw amounts aren’t everything! We can’t see the forest for the trees!
Category: Blog

tl;dr –
Until this country has restored a “true” balanced budget, nothing else matters related to our national debt.

Yesterday I saw an intriguing retweet from a friend originally Tweeted by @paulfreid related to the current US Debt crisis and how it relates to various presidents over the past 3 decades. I did a quick fact check on it and the numbers seemed reasonably enough accurate to just retweet, so I did. Apparently a lot of people agreed with me on Twitter about its interestingness and to date my retweet has spread like wildfire (over 500 direct retweets so far not including cascade effect). A very unsurprising, but interesting thing, happened afterwards; the peanut gallery of the web reared their ugly head. From people blinding claiming the numbers are wrong, to those who immediately turned it into an “Obama vs the World” debate (with snide remarks about “Obamacare” and worse), to those who don’t understand math, to those who think the only important part is the raw amount of debt, nothing else. For those of you in the latter camp, let me clue you in on something:

Raw amounts aren’t everything!

To illustrate that point, here’s a somewhat contrived story. Hypothetically speaking, lets say there’s a homeless man named Bob who has $20 to his name. If he goes and spends $10 of that on some alcohol, he just spent 50% of his net worth. Next let’s say there is another man named John whose net worth is $50 million. He decides to go and spend a million dollars on a one night stand with a porn star. Just as ridiculous of a purchase in my eyes, but he only spent 2% of his net worth, even though he spent a million dollars, 1000x more than the homeless man! Which is more foolish? I have to say the one who spent 2% seems more logical (albeit very tiny) than the one who spent 50% of what he had on a frivolous purchase.

Now, to address those who think the numbers are flawed in the original tweet, yes, I have to concede, they are, a bit. I’m not sure if my sources are the exact same which could explain the variance, but that said, except for one president (where the percentage is actually higher) they are close enough that I personally wouldn’t blatantly call foul on something read in a tweet, rather than a real “report”. Based on an official source for the federal debt numbers, Page 141 of the 2012 Historical Tables from the Budget of the United States, we learn the following:

At the beginning of fiscal year 1981 (the first fiscal year Reagan was in office), the federal debt was sitting at $998,818,000. At the beginning of fiscal year 1989 (again, remember fiscal years don’t align with presidential terms precisely), the federal debt is now sitting at $2,829,770,000. Anyone who has paid attention in history class doesn’t need to be reminded that Reagan’s administration increased the debt more than any other since the institution of federal debt by Roosevelt, but just doing the math clearly shows a 183.31% increase. Yes, the tweet said 186%, but 183.31% is still within standard margin of reporting error, and again, I might be using a slightly different source. This is utterly obscene by any measure! Here’s a chart to show the remaining breakdowns by presidential terms:

Federal Debt by Fiscal Year

Fiscal year Federal Deficit
1978 $772,691,000
1981 $998,818,000
1989 $2,829,770,000
1993 $4,315,571,000
2001 $5,732,802,000
2009 $11,853,142,000
2010 $13,510,840,000
2011 (projected) $15,459,224,000


Federal Debt by President

President Beginning Ending Percentage Change
Carter $772,691,000 $998,818,000 29.27%
Reagan $998,818,000 $2,829,770,000 183.31%
Bush Sr. $2,829,770,000 $4,315,571,000 52.51%
Clinton $4,315,571,000 $5,732,802,000 32.84%
Bush Jr. $5,732,802,000 $11,853,142,000 106.76%
Obama (to date) $11,853,142,000 $13,510,840,000 13.99%
Obama (incuding 2011 projections) $13,510,840,000 $15,459,224,000 30.42%


I am hesitant to include the 2011 numbers above because personally I object to mixing “historical” numbers with “projected” numbers, but since we are already over half way through the year, I felt it might be considered disingenuous to not include. Furthermore, I firmly stand behind the fact President Obama should NOT be represented as an example of an administration “doing the right thing” fiscally, so, please do not take their lower percentage so far as a positive sign of anything on his part. In fact, if projections hold true (man let’s hope not for all of our’s sake!), his administration will easily be the second worst fiscally in modern US history, if not first!

In conclusion, for all of you who focus on the raw dollars and cents, or worse who focus on a man and everything he’s done or not done, YOU are the problem. We have way to many people in this country focused on the current news buzz topic who miss the big picture. Does it really freaking matter if the debt is $12 trillion or $14 trillion? Heck no! What matters is we are suffering as a country from thirty years of systemic gross overspending and it must stop! Cuts might be a solution, increased taxes might be a solution, but all of that is second to the fact we must STOP spending more than we have. Even elementary school kids can understand this concept, why not our own elected officials! What does that say about us as citizens because WE ELECTED THEM!?!?

While I am not a fan of President Clinton personally for other reasons, his administration helped secure a balanced budget (short lived as it was). A balanced budget is the critical step to ever getting ourselves out of this debt crisis. We must convince Congress and the current administration to stop with the endless loop holes and exceptions and own up to and actually stick with a sustainable balanced budget.

Let’s all do our part to be better informed and ensure the people we elect have our true best interests in mind.

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