Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ostentatious Austerity

I got an e-mail recently that has been eating at me. It was forwarded to me by a conservative colleague of mine. It's a really nice visualization, portraying the U.S. national debt. I've copied it's contents below. But before you worry that I've gotten Tea Party on you, read down to my comments below all these pictures of money!


One Hundred Dollars $100 - Most counterfeited money denomination in the world.

Ten Thousand Dollars $10,000 - Enough for a great vacation or to buy a used car. Approximately one year of work for the average human on earth.
One Million Dollars $1,000,000 - Not as big of a pile as you thought, huh? Still this is 92 years of work for the average human on earth.

One Hundred Million Dollars $100,000,000 - Plenty to go around for everyone. Fits nicely on an ISO / Military standard sized pallet.

One Billion Dollars $1,000,000,000 - You will need some help when robbing the bank. Now we are getting serious!

One Trillion Dollars $1,000,000,000,000 - When the U.S government speaks about a $1.7 trillion deficit - this is the volumes of cash the U.S. Government borrowed in 2010 to run itself. Keep in mind it is double stacked pallets of $100 million dollars each, full of $100 dollar bills. You are going to need a lot of trucks to freight this around. If you spent $1 million a day since Jesus was born, you would have not spent $1 trillion by now...but ~$700 billion - same amount the banks got during bailout.

15 Trillion Dollars $15,000,000,000,000 - Unless the U.S. government fixes the budget, U.S. national debt will top $15 trillion by Christmas 2011. The Statue of Liberty seems rather worried as United States national debt passes 20% of the entire world's combined GDP (Gross Domestic Product). In 2011 the National Debt will exceed 100% of GDP, and venture into the 100%+ debt-to-GDP ratio that the European PIIGS have (bankrupting nations).

114.5 Trillion Dollars $114,500,000,000,000 - U.S. unfunded liabilities. To the right you can see the pillar of cold hard $100 bills that dwarfs the WTC & Empire State Building - both at one point world's tallest buildings. If you look carefully you can see the Statue of Liberty. The 114.5 trillion dollar super-skyscraper is the amount of money the U.S. Government knows it does not have to fully fund the Medicare, Medicare Prescription Drug Programme, Social Security, Military and civil servant pensions. It is the money the USA knows it will not have to pay all its bills. If you live in USA this is also your personal credit card bill; you are responsible along with everyone else to pay this back. The citizens of the USA created the U.S. Government to serve them, this is what the U.S. Government has done while serving The People. The unfunded liability is calculated on current tax and funding inputs, and future demographic shifts in U.S. population.

Wow! This is a fantastic visualization. I am particularly stunned by the statements under the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th pictures. They follow: 
$10,000 - Approximately one year of work for the average human on earth. 
$1,000,000 - 92 years of work for the average human on earth. 
$100,000,000 - Plenty to go around for everyone. 

Now why is it that the majority of individuals against government spending in light of the horrendous national debt seem to overlook these three above statements? Namely, that there would be enough money to go around for everyone and that the majority of people aren’t getting to enjoy their fair share. Nobody yammering about the public debt seems to care about a realistic distribution of wealth. Merely that government spending must be stopped. 

Well, I don’t like debt. It makes me less able to enjoy the illusion that I am free. Must be the same for everybody. And I think the U.S. Government had better take a look at its spending and its income and create a balanced budget. Everybody must think that, too, right? 

The funny thing is that the people who complain loudest about bad budgeting are unanimously ready to fix the budget problems at the costs of the people who have to devote 92 years and more of their lives working in order to survive. This is called "austerity" and implies that all citizens of a nation as individuals forgo luxury goods and tighten their belts for the benefit of all, for the common good. That sounds good to me. But modern application of "austerity measures" isn't targeted to all individuals equally. Only to the poorest individuals. Big Business still goes home with the tax breaks (like the 2009 Exxon Mobil $156,000,000 tax rebate - can we make a visualization of that pile of money, too?) 

The United States Government was created by the Founding Fathers of our nation, not, as the text in this message suggests, by the “citizens" of the USA. (Let’s not forget that only the white males were citizens...) In fact, that guy with his face on the picture above, Ben Franklin, didn’t think very highly of citizens. He even stated, "I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” 

Wow, Father Ben, you really explain well why the government of the United States of America was created as a republic! No illusion there about democracy! People unavoidably corrupt need despotism. 

Well I guess I’m not unavoidably corrupt because I don’t need the despotism of the government you created, nor the despotism of that piece of paper with your picture on it. You predicted the fall of the American government but you were wrong about the people. We are capable of another. The United States is not the only government in debt. The majority of the governments of the world are in debt. (see below) The entire global economic system is functioning on money that is not there. And it will collapse. 

And at least 2 billion people will die (can we get a rendering for that, too, please?). 

There are alternatives. But we need to create them ourselves. Before it's too late.


  1. One of the disagreements that I constantly have with people is over the concept of "fair share" of taxes.

    My friends on the left constantly state that the corporations aren't paying their "fair share" of taxes, so they want the tax rates raised on the wealthy.

    We already have a graduated income tax system and the wealthy are already in a very high tax bracket. I believe that there is a "sweet spot" when it comes to taxes. It the rates are too low, not enough money comes in; if the rates are too high, it slows the economy and, again, not enough money comes in.

    I keep telling them that the problem is not the tax rates, but the loopholes.

    The problem is that the loopholes are the product of perfectly legal, political corruption. The corporations give political contributions and promises of lucrative future jobs to politicians in exchange for these loopholes.

    And both major parties in the US do it, so how can we seriously expect congress to solve this problem? They are the ones who are causing it.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Loudog. I agree with you that within the framework of the current economic paradigm there is a "sweet spot," as you call it. Finding that right balance has been what has kept this economic paradigm functioning so long. And you are also very right that if there were less corruption, the paradigm would go on functioning a little longer.

    But I want a new paradigm. One that isn't based upon manipulation by an elite class of a "working" class (if we can call it that these days). One that isn't based upon a post-colonial structure of maintaining a world hegemony (of the West, not specifically the U.S.) at the expense of the resources and integrity of developing nations. One that allows for people to develop as human beings and doesn't kick them down like dogs. One that isn't reliant on oppression. The paradigm of capitalism is caving in. This doesn't intrinsically bother me, but the suffering that will ensue from an unpaved cave-in bothers me a lot. I would welcome more thoughts on preparations for future alternatives, instead of always trying to figure out how to keep the current model limping along a little longer.

    I have a problem with "the left," commonly called liberals, when they try to keep this paradigm alive. They think that to just tax the rich is a solution in and of itself. Of course I believe that the rich, especially the very rich, should be taxed much more. But that is only a short-term fix and won't bring us much (except maybe a more balanced federal budget). Better might be to examine the mechanism that has allowed for the development of these very rich. It is not just loopholes. It is the structure of capitalism. The structure of mergers and take-overs. Capitalism has been eating the world up for centuries, more intensively for decades, and now for the past years it has been eating itself up.

    The governments might collapse (after bailing out the banks, of course). But how will Monsanto collapse, or Nestle collapse? Do you think these monsters have been created just through loopholes? It is the nature of capitalism. This is the dictatorship of the invisible hand. The products of a free market. And where will we be with collapsed governments and privatized monsters, that do not allow any space at all for other competition? It is a dystopia I do not hope to see, but fear I might have to.

    Of course we need to fight corruption. But how, when you say so aptly that "congress are the ones who are causing" the problem? It won't do to just vote for this or that representative of this or that party. Our strength and endurance as a country is waning in light of a long series of election campaigns and disappointments that whittle away at the American spirit.
    How do you suggest that we combat corruption? How can we eliminate these loopholes? And if we succeed there, then isn't the government merely better regulated - a word that is shunned by conservatives - isn't that the opposite of what you would want, Loudog?

  3. Oh my gosh!!! There are so many things wrong with this article, I don't even know where to begin!!!
    I'll try to begin with this...
    1) No one in America can live off $10,000 per year.

    2) "$100,000,000 - Plenty to go around for everyone."

    How the heck is this "plenty to go around". We have 300 million people in America and everyone is going to get their $0.33 cents and be that it???

    3) Let's talk about "Fair Share". There is no fair share. You don't deserve anything and you aren't entitled to a dime. That said...people should be free to "Pursue Happiness". If you choose to do that through financial and materialistic wealth, then get ready to climb whatever mountain is in front of you because you aren't entitled to a free ride, a helping hand, or anything but the freedom to put one foot in front of the other.

    HATE the entitlement attitude!!

    @Loudogblog: Let's talk about corporations paying their "fair share". Really...Since when did business become a public service?? Intended to provide capital to the government, who in turn provides services to people. Companies are there to unashamedly make a profit!! The more constraints there are on businesses the less people they can employ and the more motivation the company has to get out of dodge!!

    There needs to be a flat rate tax system. Like it or not, it is the only fair system. Everyone pays the same percentage of their income. As you make pay more, but never over a set percentage (ideally, 10%). No more sales tax, beer tax, air tax....blah, blah, blah!! Taxes have become the opiate of politicians and it is time to put their asses in rehab!! Bottom line...if the government can't operate on that income, then they need to begin prioritizing and trimming the fat!! If people demand something they can't afford, get over it or encourage the private sector to provide it. Enough of the damned "Federal Family" crap!! (Obama called himself that during Irene...I nearly vomited!!)

  4. Ah, I love the way you think :-)

    You want something different than the status quo of capitalistic cannibalism that has reached such a massive size that it thinks it can survive by cutting away at its own flanks, frying it up and calling it dinner!!

    Oh, how I would love that...but the answer isn't one that will support an ever increasing abundance of flat screen tv's, new cell phones, and SUV's for the world to consume. It involves contentment instead of consumerism. Can we, as a people, pursue personal development as a way of life instead of "Following the Jones'" to the next credit card paid vacation?? This is what it comes down to Fay...breaking the consumer cycle. It fixes everything because it takes the one element out of the equation that keeps the whole house of cards from being built...MONEY!!

    Corruption is rooted in money and the pursuit of it. Politicians seek it relentlessly because it equates to power. Power equates to gratification of their every selfish desire. It will be impossible to get honest, public serving politicians until you take the corruption of the heart from the equation. The corruption they all fall to is rooted in the love, pursuit, and worship of the almighty dollar!!

    Truth is Fay, I would LOVE to find a country, culture, and people who weren't obsessed with American consumerism. Who really enjoyed the quality of relationships with others over the pursuit of "stuff". I have found that I love the connection with people far more than anything you'll find on a shelf, in a store. Sadly, living in a country of consumers makes it very difficult to find like-minded people to share life with. I have a few and I hold them close. Hopefully the collapse you talk about WILL happen...and force us back to what matters.

  5. Shawn, you can stick to disagreeing on your point #3, but you have to give me a little liberty on points #1 and #2. You know I wasn’t suggesting that Americans should live on $10,000 a year or split $100,000,000 equally amongst themselves. With the former I wanted to remind the reader that the vast majority of people in the world have next to nothing. And with the latter I wanted to point out that there are indeed enough resources for everyone to share if we could but have an attitude of abundance and share. There is plenty of money. There is plenty of food. It is not shared. Indeed it might not be good sportsmanship on my part to draw in world statistics juxtaposed to a national issue, but the original author of the e-mail did the same. Additionally, I wished to point out (through the last graphics) that the national debt is a global problem.

    As to “fair share,” I have a human rights view of the issue and would gladly draw on the majority of points in the International Declaration of Human Rights ( If you accept these rights as universal (and not just leftist dogma) then you would have to agree that there is indeed a “fair share” and that we are indeed “entitled” to something. To many things actually. To many, basic things. In fact Article 25 even claims: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” That’s a lot of entitlement. And I don’t think it’s fair to ask for anything less. You go tell somebody living in a slum in Nairobi to pursue his happiness. If he had enough strength he would box you in the face. If he were to even understand what you meant. And it’s not just Africa. Mothers in America go sometime entire days without eating in order to be able to afford to feed their children. They are entitled to more. They are entitled to eat.

    You suggest to Louis that the private sector might pay for these entitlements. Propose a modern model that would work then. The sad rule of the game, however, is that you can no longer draw from religion or morality in creating your structure. It doesn’t matter if one thinks there should be more religion or believes that “the Church” (whichever one he might be referring to) should take care of the poor, or some such. The point is that no church can or will and most people wouldn’t want that. So propose a private sector solution. I’m not clinging to the idea that government has to be involved in the solution. But I cling resolutely to the concept that we human beings are entitled to minimum rights and that the current system doesn’t enable the fulfillment of those rights.

  6. Shawn, we think alike in terms of consumerism. It would make a great study to see just how many people could each own a flat screen television, a cellular phone and a SUV in the world if all money were put in one great pot. There’s enough money out there (well, borrowed, fake, worthless money, at least) to buy the whole world all of its basic needs and a few SUVs and televisions, too, I bet. But I know that if you put all the money in one pot the system would break and the money would be worthless. Our resources remain, however, and there is still enough to spread around, even though we have done our best to completely deplete them.

    Yes, the collapse will come and force those people who are left back to what matters. But I’m not sure how soon this positive insight will be gained. I see several variations possible. There could be an utter, extreme peak-everything collapse with the majority of mankind killed off. This might bring the change of heart we both so much wish for. But it’s a high price to pay for it. More likely, however, is a slow (quick in a larger perspective) tightening over about three generations, wherein current structures are intensified, wars take on new magnitudes and are more frequent (already starting), a militarization of society is instilled (already starting), migration gets broader (already starting), scarcity increases (already starting), economies burst (already starting), resources diminish (already starting) and disparity increases (already starting). Billions of people will die (already starting). I don’t see a happy ending there. It might come one day but the price there, too, is very high. I have a friend who believes that the fall of capitalism will automatically be replaced with a kind of utopia for those who survive. I see no guarantee. People might go back to their uneconomical ways, especially if personal suffering was not great enough. So we might watch and wait and hope for a better world that will never come. That’s why I believe we have to guide it. We need to consciously, actively choose a post-capitalist model any which way. If we actively choose it now and work towards implementing it now we might be able to curtail a small portion of the damage that is to come.

  7. Fay, I loved the comments you added at the end.

    Shawn, your first point seems to misapply the global income PER CAPITA -- approximately $10,000 -- to the US income PER EARNER. (?) When the global number is properly applied to the US, disposable income is actually well above the US poverty thresholds. I sincerely wish I had time to go through all the other points in your responses, as I feel we both would benefit.

  8. Thanks Philip. I didn't understand what you wanted to tell Shawn about income, but I'll gladly add this:

    Shawn, regarding Americans living on $10,000 per year being absurd, I just came across the following statistic from the Census Bureau: in 2010 46.2 million Americans lived in poverty, defined for that year as $22,314 for a family of four.

    If you divide that yearly income by four, then you come up with $5579 per family member. That $10,000 we talked about would almost be a luxurious double in income (or in many cases more) for 46,200,000 Americans.

    So it looks like people can and do live off of $10,000 a year in America.