A Trillion Reasons We're in Deep trouble

COMMENTARY Budget and Spending

A Trillion Reasons We're in Deep trouble

Jan 16th, 2009 3 min read

Former Distinguished Fellow

Ernest served as a Distinguished Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

My 6-year-old granddaughter Abby bragged recently that she could count to 20. She proceeded to demonstrate, and I praised her. Then she asked how high I can count.

I told her that I don't know; I've never tried because it takes too long.

Today we talk about numbers so big that we cannot comprehend them.

People often ignore dangers they do not understand, such as the government spending disaster that threatens to swamp us like a gargantuan tidal wave.

When officials confirmed the annual federal deficit now exceeds a trillion dollars, President-elect Barack Obama noted that it probably won't be a one-time deal. Indeed, he promised to pile on almost another trillion dollars of extra spending, using the all-purpose excuse that spending "stimulates" the economy.

No matter what the money is spent on - roads, bailouts, welfare handouts, pork projects, tax rebate checks, whatever - we're told it doesn't matter because any and all spending has a stimulus effect.

Crystal meth is also a stimulant, but fortunately it's illegal. And it's less addictive than government spending.

It's disingenuous to claim government spending is an economic boost. As The Heritage Foundation's Nicola Moore and Brian Riedl have noted, "Every dollar that government ... 'injects' into the economy must first be taxed or borrowed out of the economy. No new spending power is created."

The truth is that government is already spending money it doesn't have. It is borrowing more and more every day. interest must be paid. As debt becomes due, it must be rolled-over into new debt at ever-higher interestrates. Eventually, not enough can be borrowed, as Bernard Madoff learned when his Ponzi scheme collapsed. His house arrest is still far worse punishment than what befalls politicians who pull the same trick. They tend to get re-elected rather than punished.

And who will suffer the losses and be asked to pay off the trillions of new debt? Our children and grandchildren.

Poor dear Abby!

She'll get to pay off the debt. But she'll never be able to count to a trillion, so she can understand the magnitude of that burden. If she did nothing but count - one number a second - it would take her 31,000 years to count to a trillion. That number is too big for any adult to understand, much less a child.

A trillion one-dollar bills, laid end-to-end, would reach 96 million miles, all the way to our sun. But that's impossible, because there's not even that much money in circulation. The Federal Reserve reports that the total of all American currency is only about $800 billion.

As innumerable as the stars are, there are only 100 billion in our galaxy, the Milky Way. It takes 10 whole galaxies to total a trillion stars.

The historical cost of our entire space program - 50 years of spending for NASA to send probes to the planets, launch satellites and space shuttles, and put men on the moon - is "only" $800 billion.

We cannot repeal the laws of economics any more than Capt. Kirk could repeal the laws of physics. For each trillion dollars borrowed, the interest alone (at 6 percent, like a typical home mortgage) is $166 million each day. Paying it off would cost us about $3,200 apiece for each and every member of our families.

This is why it's outrageous that the incoming president asks us to accept both this year's record debt plus the new debt that will be piled atop it. This year's $1.2 trillion deficit is almost three times the previous high.

Yet President-elect Obama (and many others in Washington) give only lip service to addressing the debt "someday," while proposing even more debt today. As Obama said last week, "potentially we've got trillion-dollar deficits for years to come, even with the economic recovery that we are working on."

By being unwilling to tackle excessive spending immediately, Obama essentially told the country to get used to it.

Until Americans appreciate the magnitude of a trillion dollars, they won't appreciate how profligate spending will worsen an already serious problem. It's happening in plain sight, pushed by leaders who claim the solution for today's problems is to push them down the road until tomorrow.

Tomorrow is another day. And it could be a scary one.

Ernest Istook is recovering from serving 14 years in Congress and is now a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

First appeared on WorldNetDaily.com