I am sure everyone has heard about the national debt. How could you not? The incessant fearmongering surrounding this fictitious number is suffocating. I've explained many times here why there really is no debt: Treasuries are just dollars that have a term and a coupon, that's all. As such, it's no problem for the government, via the Federal Reserve, to turn Treasuries back into dollars. It would be an entirely different matter if we owed yen or euro or gold. In that case, we could be short of those resources and forced to default, or find the nation unable to access credit, like Greece.
However, that's not the case for the United States of America. Our $18 trillion national "debt" is just the accounting record of the fact that the U.S. government issued $18 trillion more than it took away in taxes over the last 226 years.
All that aside, if you've heard of the national debt, then you've probably also seen the debt clock. There's one online and there's another one on a giant billboard in Times Square in New York City. This is another ridiculous but clever propaganda device meant to scare the citizenry with numbers that whiz by in nonstop fashion, purporting to show the debt piling up each and every fraction of a second.
The funny thing about the debt clock is that it only really shows us the supposed debt, not the assets. Furthermore, the whole presentation of the debt is done in particular ways to make it seem scarier. For example, they break it down into debt per citizen or per taxpayer, etc. The one in Times Square actually says, "Your family's share," to really personalize it. Never mind that the debt of the government equates the assets of the non-government (us). Don't expect these debt evangelists to understand this.
But it's the complete disregard of national assets that should really bother you about the whole national debt discussion. It's like they don't even exist.
Imagine if you walked into a bank to get a loan and you handed the banker only a list of your debts. Naturally, the banker would also ask to see your assets and income, but that's never the case here. It's all about the debt and nothing else.
This is something I find very insidious about the debt clock and all these other propaganda devices. The national debt is $18 trillion and debt per citizen is $56,886, according to the online debt clock. Fine. However, if you check all the way down on the bottom of the online version, it shows that national assets are $116 trillion and assets per citizen are $363,023. Here's a screen shot:
In other words, national assets are nearly 10 times the debt and assets per citizen nearly six times greater than the supposed amount "owed," yet there is never any mention of this ... ever.
The biggest problem about this debt propaganda is that it's a lie that is driving policy and that's really, really terrible. Even though it's known that the United States can never have a debt denominated in dollars that it cannot repay (witness S&P's credit downgrade of the U.S. and subsequent fall in rates), or that the massive, unprecedented "printing" of dollar reserves by the Federal Reserve did not lead to a decline in the currency (on the contrary, it has risen sharply), this lie continues.
The important thing to know here is that we are all being manipulated in a terrible, deceitful way. This manipulation is literally what is behind the drive to end Social Security and other social safety nets; it's what allows us to leave our roads and infrastructure in disrepair, to forsake investment in education, health care, scientific research and so many other important things. (Or worse, charge our citizens for it!)
So next time someone tells you about the national debt, ask them about the national assets and see what their response is. That should at least start a conversation that could lead to shedding some light on this long-held myth.