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How We Got Here On The National Debt

Good Question: Where Did All That Debt Come From?
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The National Debt Clock (credit: CBS)

The National Debt Clock (credit: CBS)

Alan Gionet Good Question
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DENVER (CBS4/AP)- “Why can’t they just come to some kind of an agreement,” said a guy hawking newspaper subscriptions at the Havana Exchange Farmer’s market on Monday.

With all the finger pointing at the other political party in Washington, you might think you’d find more of the same out on the street. Not so. At least not this day.

“Both democrats and republicans,” was a common answer when we asked who should get the blame.

“It looks like the political interest supersedes the interests of the people of the country,” said another man.

It makes you wonder how we got here in the first place.

Here’s what the Associated Press put together on the origins of the massive increase in our debt over the past ten years:

The U.S. government owes itself $4.6 trillion, mostly borrowed from Social Security revenues. The remaining $9.7 trillion is owed to investors in Treasury securities — banks, pension funds, individual investors, state and local governments and foreign investors and governments. Nearly half of that — $4.5 trillion — is held by foreigners including China with $1.15 trillion and Japan with $907 billion.

Q: How did the debt grow from $5.8 trillion in 2001 to its current $14.3 trillion in 2011?

A: The biggest contributors to the nearly $9 trillion increase over a decade were:

–2001 and 2003 tax cuts under President George W. Bush: $1.6 trillion.

–Additional interest costs: $1.4 trillion.

–Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: $1.3 trillion.

–Economic stimulus package under Obama: $800 billion.

–2010 tax cuts, a compromise by Obama and Republicans that extended jobless benefits and cut payroll taxes: $400 billion.

–2003 creation of Medicare’s prescription drug benefit: $300 billion.

–2008 financial industry bailout: $200 billion.

–Hundreds of billions less in revenue than expected since the Great Recession began in December 2007.

– Other spending increases in domestic, farm and defense programs, adding lesser amounts.

How did we figure you could fill Republic Plaza 13,000 times with 14.3 trillion tomatoes?

OK, I know it’s pretty silly and unscientific, but here’s how we got there:

So at the farmer’s market we estimated we could get about 64 tomatoes into a cubic foot – granted they may have been a little small, but it’s tough to get an average tomato size.

The Republic Plaza, Denver’s tallest building (and the tallest between Chicago and Los Angeles) is 56 stories. Each floor has approximately 24,000 square feet of space.

Take 24,000 and multiply it by the height of the building, which is 714 feet to get the number of cubic feet.

That equals: 17,136,000

Multiply that by the number of tomatoes in a cubic foot – 64 – and you get the number of tomatoes you could fit into Republic Plaza.

17,136,000 x 64 = 1,096,704,000

So take the national debt: 14,300,000,000,000 and divide it by the number of tomatoes you could fit in the building once and you get the number of times you’d have to fill the building with tomatoes to reach 14.3 trillion: 14,300,000,000,000 / 1,096,704,000 = 13,039.0694584500466853408029879

Yes, the ones at the bottom would probably squash into ketchup and you could probably fit more, but let’s not get too fussy OK?

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