FSO Editorials

America's Total Debt Report - Update 2006
$44 Trillion - and Soaring
~ household, business, financial and government sectors ~
by Michael W. Hodges, Author

Grandfather Economic Report
April 6, 2006

America has become more a debt 'junkie' - - than ever before with total debt of $44 trillion - - with the highest debt ratio in history.

That's $147,312 per man, woman and child - - or $589,248 per family of 4, $44,312 more debt per family than last year.

Last year debt increased $3.5 Trillion, 5 times more than GDP. Household debt soared 12%.

68% ($30 trillion) of this debt was created since 1990, a period primarily driven by debt instead of by productive activity.

And, the above does not include unfunded pensions and medical promises.


Can the production of debt forever replace the production of goods and savings?
Can Americans forever borrow their way to prosperity?

Easy Answer > NO WAY !!

I am concerned about the debt being passed to our younger generation. Who isn't?

Trend national debt vs national income

BIG PICTURE - $44 TRILLION of DEBT in America and rising rapidly

The economy is 2-3 times more debt-dependent with $25 Trillion DEBT EXCESS compared to prior debt ratios:

This is A SCARY CHART - showing 4 decade trends of total debt in America (the red line, reaching $44 trillion in 2005 vs. growth of the economy as measured by national income (blue line). (adjusted for inflation). That debt increased $3.5 Trillion (8.8% more) in the past year.

Which line goes up faster, the red debt line or the blue net national income line?

Answer: the debt line.

And, that debt line is going up faster and faster than national income! Right? (maybe. Like this chart, your own personal or business debt is also going up faster than your own income - - possible?)

As mentioned, debt is here defined as all U.S. debt (sum debt of federal and state & local governments, international, and private debt, incl. households, business and financial sector debts, and federal debt to trust funds).

This chart shows, for the period 1957 to mid 1970s, total debt (red line on chart) was increasing close to the growth rate of national income (blue line on chart), despite paying war debt for WW II, Korea and Vietnam.

But, in the last several decades total debt has zoomed up, up and away - - growing much faster than national income. It has now reached $43.7 Trillion ($33.7 trillion private household/business/financial sector debt PLUS $10 trillion federal, state and local government debt). Here are some highlights:

trend of debt ratio

While the above chart shows debt growth in inflation-adjusted dollars, here's another chart from the main report of this chapter - - showing debt as a percentage of net national income - - which I term the 'debt ratio'.

This chart shows < 2005 debt of $44 trillion was 442% of national income; the debt ratio in 1957 was 186%. If 2005 debt had been at the 1957 debt ratio, then 2005's debt would have been $19 trillion, not $44 trillion - - indicating excess debt in America today of $25 trillion. (note - if this chart were plotted as debt % GDP, instead of debt % national income, the curve would look near identical to this chart)

In this graphic note how the debt ratio data plots are nearly flat during the first half of the years shown, indicating debt was growing at approximately the same rate as the economy - - not faster than the economy. This proves America's economy can grow without increasing debt at a faster pace (because it has in the past). But look what happened to that trend in the middle of this chart - - debt ratio zooming upward, faster and faster, indicating debt growth way beyond general economic growth - with a new, record high debt ratio each year.

The excess debt is even higher than the $25 trillion excess shown on this chart, if a nation's economy were structured to become more productive such that it could grow without increased debt. Why can America not grow by normal population growth and labor and equipment productivity - - without growing debt ratios higher and higher?

By the way > a chapter of this series called the 'Family Income Report' shows the time period of the first half of this chart, when debt ratios were stable, was also one of the best periods ever of real median family income growth - most with one wage-earner per family.

Stated differently, in 1957 there was $1.86 in debt for each dollar of net national income, but in 2005 there was $4.42 of debt for each dollar of national income - up 137%. It also means this extra $2.56 of debt per dollar of national income produced zilch extra national income. What kind of 'so called productivity' is that?

America, therefore, is less and less independently in control of its economy
- - not a nice bequest we are creating for our children and grandchildren.

While facing this accelerating debt Challenge:

A Few Hard Questions > With the lowest personal savings rate on record, with the federal government relying more and more on foreign entities to lend it funds to operate and prop up its currency, and with run-away trade deficits, where will this debt monster lead? Does America simply borrow savings of non-Americans until either they stop lending or until America has mortgaged or sold-off all its assets to others? How can this direction be changed - - or am I the only one who does not believe individuals and a nation can, forever, borrow their way to guaranteed continual prosperity and security?

Is this a way to run an economy for my children and grandchildren - - debt, debt and more debt?

Idea > > There can be little doubt that the only way energy (for example) will be better conserved with reduced dependence on foreign interests is with significantly higher economic (prices) costs. The same goes for debt > > a free market (without central-planning via the Federal Reserve to manipulate interest rates) setting significantly higher economic costs (higher interest rates, elimination of tax subsidies on debt, etc.) to debtors, until debt ratios fall back more in line with the past. Perhaps payroll taxes for social security and Medicare should be eliminated with its revenue loss (plus the gap missing for the future) transferred to the equivalent tax on energy and on debt.

What's your idea to get these debt ratios down significantly toward ratios of the past, including reduced dependence on foreigners?

Most can agree >
The U.S. is more debt-dependent than ever.
That is not a nice bequest to our young generation - - on our watch !!

"We hear sad complaints sometimes of merciless creditors; whilst the acts of merciless debtors are passed over in silence." - William Frend, 1817

"I place economy among the first and most important virtues, and debt as the greatest of dangers to be feared." - Thomas Jefferson"

"The decline of great powers is caused by simple economic over extension." The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, by Paul Kennedy

"There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit (debt) expansion.
The alternative is only whether the crisis should come sooner as the result of a voluntary abandonment of further credit (debt) expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved." - Ludwig von Mises

No generation has a right to contract debts greater than can be paid off during the course of its own existence." - George Washington to James Madison 1789

"Growing domestic and international debt has created the conditions for global economic and financial crises." Bank for International Settlements June 2005

Debt Burden Hinders FutureAmerica, that used to derive strong family values and incomes with savings and paying 'as you go', has moved to a more consumptive society financed by ever increasing liens on future income - - with debt ratios reaching new records.

America has become less a family-based, frugal society of strong real savings and small government. It has become a more consumptive, more debt-dependent with nil private savings, and more a government spending-dependent society - - depending more on the production and savings of others (including foreigners), and on debt, than ever before - - quite different from that envisioned by its founding forefathers. In the long-term there are consequences to be paid for excess debt reliance, in addition to sucking more mothers into the work force and away from their children.

The purpose of the Grandfather Economic Reports is to increase public awareness
of difficult trends facing today's families and youth - compared to prior generations.


You have just viewed a summary with 2 of the trend charts of "America's Total Debt Report", a chapter of the Grandfather Economic Report series.

© 2006 Michael W. Hodges
Editorial Archive

Web note: The above editorial is a recent summary of an updated chapter from Michael Hodges series, Grandfather Economic Report. Read the full article: America's Total Debt Report on G.E.R.

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Michael W. Hodges | Grandfather Economic Report | Email

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