How We Got Here On The National Debt

Good Question: Where Did All That Debt Come From?

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?

More from Good Question
  • W. Michel Kiteley

    I don’t have a problem with the Republicans, every time I turn a rock over I expect to find insects and snakes. I have a problem with the Democrats who present as chameleons. They pop up spouting “Single Payer” and weasel its support.

    I have a problem with Americans who are by-and-large stupid and can be manipulated easily. This economic crisis was started by Ronnie 666 and Alan Greasepan who disassembled many Regulatory Agencies like those watchdogging Home Loan banks so the likes of Neal Bush could prey on such as Silverado. Does no-one remember hiring Grace to eliminate un-needed business regulation. He left most on mark on his mines In Libby, Montana, the only location for free lifetime health care in the nation due to the asbestos. In a moment of clarity and truth, Ronnie 666 announced to Republicans “Huge Deficits” didn’t matter as he introduced the two Santa Clauses scam. And to top that, their goal was restricting the free vote.

    I have a problem with Americans who suckered for the likes of Boy George who was barely qualified to snort cocaine and dodge the draft. He was really the man who brought us Off-the-Books Wars and the housing crash due to crippled regulation. He dented the deficit by an excess of 3 Trillion. Count all his damage. Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq was or will be resolved. US of A can only wage Viet Nams, poorly understood and sadly forged. After all it was Nixon, himself, who sent the first US military advisors to help the “French?” Viet Nam when Eisenhower was in the hospital with his heart attack. Money votes after brains walked. The Onion headlined that, “US troops sneak out of Afghanistan quietly under the cover of darkness.”

    I have a problem with the Democrats who can’t stick up for the average Americans’ tax structure and are unbelievably unable to relate that to the Republican or even the average Americans. The Republicans get to set the discussion. Do any of you tell the poor or remaining middle classers that, “No, the rich should pay far more taxes than the poor do.” After all, who of them benefits as do the poor from this pseudo democracy. Should their taxes not reflect their lavish feeding they do at the American trough? What is it now? 1% hold 90% of the wealth? And you are unwilling do what is commensurate? Just when China is building high speed and we are buying the last of the petroleum to pump into our atmosphere. RTD is paranoid about squeezing out funds to get riders to DIA instead of commuters to work.

    No, we perhaps need to return to the 50s tax structure when the top rate was 91% and they understood that Social Security was never part of the budget and was not to be raided to cover the gummint’s tail.. Perhaps it is time to re-educate the truly stupid in America.

    • Dan Brown

      The article was stupid, your comment is dead on.

    • Paul

      You sound like an uneducated fool. Pet names and attacking ones character do nothing to serve your point. I could easily attack Clinton who rode Reaganomics all he way to a government surplus. Or how about Pelosi arguing that unemployment is an economic stimulus. You see sir, instead I choose to understand that both parties have spent lavishly and he government needs to live within is means. Obama seems to forget that unlike the US government he average American family cannot simply raise taxes to increase their funds. Karl Marx was a fool much like you are. His ideas have failed time and time again (USSR, Europe) because you have o re-educate the proletariat by having a dictatorship of the proletariat unfortunately people don’t like to give o give up that power and will murder more than Hitler to keep it. I will keep my guns,my money and my freedoms, go have your socialist party elsewhere and keep your change.

  • Pamela

    I guess what confuses me is…. does the author think we can’t add? The items listed only added up to about $5 trillion…. where’s the other $9 trillion, how was that spent?

  • PH

    STOP borrowing money to “give away” in Foreign Aid. AMERICA FIRST!

  • WMs

    complete biased reporting we’d except from CBS.

    1. No mention of how Obama has TRIPLED our debt since being in office with all his big govt obligations! How intellectually honest can you take this rubbish article

    2. Tax cuts don’t equal increasing debt simply b/c govt can;t get as much revenue! Note how Bush is first to blame on list1

  • Robert

    I especially like the writer’s comment about “the government owes itself almost $4.6 Trillion it borrowed from Social Security”. First, the government does not “owe itself” they owe Social Security Trust Fund that money, plus interest as calculated by Trust Fund administrators. Social Security and Medicare should be taken out of our budget once and for all. As a beginning step the United States Government should turn over to Social Security Trust Fund all the gold bullion in Fort Knox. We the people need to grab onto real hard assets. After that the people should get ownership of other government assets such as mineral rights, timber rights, oil leases, etc. until this balance is paid in full. We the people don’t want to be where we are not supposed to be, in a political scripted show. I want my money, and I want it now!!!!

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