The National Debt: The Biggest Threat to Your Financial Future

Alexander Green
by Alexander Green, Chief Investment Strategist

The National Debt: The Biggest Threat to Your Financial Future

by Alexander Green, Chairman, Investment U

Investment Director, The Oxford Club

Monday, August 25, 2008: Issue #844

I don't ordinarily watch horror flicks. So I certainly don't recommend them. But today I'm making an exception.

Take everyone over 15 in your household to see Addison Wiggin's new movie "I.O.U.S.A." at your local theater. It's an eye-opening experience. And a wake-up call.

I saw the film in Asheville, NC on opening night last Thursday. And I was lucky to get in.

The movie sold out. More than two dozen people were turned away. (Some ticket holders were auctioning off their tickets to the highest bidders!)

What's all the fuss about? I.O.U.S.A. is a long overdue documentary that takes a hard look at Washington's out of control spending habits, the national debt and the fiscal crisis that looms ahead of us...

Just How Big Is the National Debt?

We all know the national debt is big. But as this film shows - often in humorous ways - the average American doesn't have the faintest clue how big.

As a result, we are letting our elected representatives get away with murder.

This is not a problem of Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives. There is plenty of blame to be shared on both sides of the aisle. And the real tragedy is that our children and their children will bear the brunt of it.

I used to say Congress spends our tax receipts like a drunken sailor with four hours of shore leave.

That was before one reader wrote to say my comments were "an insult to drunken sailors everywhere. The sailor is confessedly drunk and spending his own money. What's your Congressman's excuse?"

Indeed...

  •  Every American is now burdened, most of us unknowingly, with more than $175,000 in federal liabilities and unfunded government promises. That is each and every American's share of the U.S. government's $53 trillion in current obligations.
  • And every year in which no down payments or reforms are made to these obligations, the total grows by $2 trillion to $3 trillion - or $6,600 to $10,000 per person - on autopilot.

Adding Up The National Debt

How exactly does this $53 trillion national debt add up?

  • First, there are the federal government's known liabilities that it is legally obligated to fulfill. These include publicly held debt, military and civilian pensions and retiree health benefits.
  • Then there are various contractual requirements, including federal insurance payouts, loan guarantees and leases. As of September 30, 2007, they added up to $1.1 trillion.

So where does the remaining $51 trillion or so come from?

That's what the government has committed to pay in Social Security and Medicare benefits in excess of revenues. As of January 1, 2008, current and promised future Social Security benefits amounted to $6.7 trillion. And between Medicare's three programs (hospital insurance, outpatient and prescription drug), current and future promised Medicare benefits amounted to $34.1 trillion.

Think about this for a moment: 53 trillion. It's the kind of number astronomers should be throwing around, not legislators.

This is not just some gloom-and-doomer's conjecture, incidentally. These are the official numbers straight from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

I.O.U.S.A. Conclusions About The National Debt

I'll concede that I don't share all of the I.O.U.S.A. filmmakers' economic and investment conclusions about the national debt. (You'll notice, for instance, that many of the people interviewed in the film hedge their statements with "if nothing is done" or "if present trends continue.")

  • But present trends will continue and nothing will be done if Americans don't sit up and take notice of the shenanigans going on in Washington.
  • Politicians will only tackle the problem - and only then under the cover of a "bi-partisan commission" - when voters stand up and demand that something be done.
  • In order for that to happen, voters must become aware of the magnitude of the problem.
  • And let's face it. Most Americans will never read a book - or even a long article - on the challenges posed by our snowballing national debt.

That's why this film is a wonderful antidote to the ignorance and apathy out there. Do yourself a favor and see it.

Click here to view the I.O.U.S.A. trailer.

Good Investing,

Alex

Today's Investment U Crib Sheet

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