) -- Back in 1901, under the McKinley administration, the
amounted to $28 for every man, woman and child.
It's ballooned to more than $13.4 trillion -- as of last week, $43,507 for every resident of the U.S.
To indulge a flight of fancy, if global bill collectors came knocking at your door, to whom, and for what, would you owe money?
Government debt held by the public totaled about $7.6 trillion at the end of Fiscal Year 2009 and is in the form of Treasury securities such as bills, notes and bonds. The "public" holding this debt includes individuals, corporations, state and local governments, Federal Reserve banks and foreign governments.
There's also nearly $4.4 trillion in intragovernmental debt, when one part of the government borrows from another. This includes debt held by government funds, including the Social Security ($2.5 trillion in FY2009) and Medicare ($372 billion in FY2009) trust funds.
The sum of debt held by the public and intragovernmental debt equals gross federal debt, subject to a statutory ceiling. Congress, for example, raised the debt limit twice during FY2009 -- from $10.6 trillion to $11.3 trillion in October 2008, then and again to $12.1 trillion in February 2009 with the passage of the stimulus act. In December, the limit went up to $12.4 trillion and in February was raised again to $14.3 trillion.
Debt held by the public totals $8.9 trillion; intragovernmental holdings amount to more than $4.5 trillion. If, hypothetically, we all were forced to pay up, the public share of the debt is where those obligations would lie.
But as you write out those checks, make sure to have a lot of air-mail stamps.
Major foreign holders of Treasury securities, through June, include mainland China ($843.7 billion); Japan ($803.6 billion); the United Kingdom ($362.2 billion); a grouping classified as "oil exporters" that includes Ecuador, Venezuela, Indonesia, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Gabon, Libya and Nigeria ($223 billion); "Caribbean banking centers" that include the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Netherlands Antilles and Panama ($165.2 billion); Brazil ($158.4 billion); Hong Kong ($141 billion) Taiwan ($128.6 billion); Russia ($123.4 billion); Switzerland ($100.1 billion); Luxembourg ($97.5); Canada ( $94 billion); and Germany ($53.5 billion). And the list goes on. The total: $4 trillion.
To make good on these obligations, each resident of the United States would have to send nearly $2,730 to the Chinese government, $2,600 to Japan and $721 to that team of oil-producing nations. In total, $12,973 is going to be drained from your bank account to settle things with other nations.
You are also going to have to pay off the numerous commercial banks and credit unions that invest in Treasuries to the tune of about $670 per person. Insurance companies will want an estimated $764 to make good on their bond bets. Mutual funds will want $2,149 for their investments. State and local municipalities will put in a claim for $1,718. Government pension funds will need payment of $1,660. And individual investors, and that includes everyone who buys savings bonds, will come knocking for $3,850.
All those bills still don't account for more esoteric debt-related items nor the intricacies of intragovernmental borrowing.
For those so inclined to do their part in fighting the national debt, the government accept contributions. There is even a convenient
You can also write a check payable to the Bureau of the Public Debt and note, in the memo section, that it is a "Gift to reduce the Debt Held by the Public," sending it along to: Attn. Dept G, Bureau of the Public Debt, P. O. Box 2188, Parkersburg, WV 26106-2188.
Who would do such a thing? Information on specific donors isn't readily available, but the amount they contributed is. In 2008, nearly $2.2 million was collected. Fiscal Year 2009 netted some $3 million and early counts for this year put it on pace for $2.7 million. In 1996, the year the program began, just under $2 million was collected.
Donations are tax deductible, but come with the caveat that they are "voluntary and no goods or services or other considerations are provided to donors."
--Written by Joe Mont in Boston.
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