National debt crisis: what does $136 trillion look like?

You know you have a spending problem when your debt extends beyond the solar system.

Congress admits to having already spent $21.5 trillion (that’s $21,500,000,000,000.00) they don’t have. If you are a taxpayer, your share is a little over $58,000. What your senators and representatives would rather you didn’t know is that our reported debt is like an iceberg: what you see is only the tip. 90 percent of the iceberg lies under the surface.

The dirty little secret is that we are obligated to pay around $115 trillion – on top of the national debt – to programs like Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare.

Think about all the nice things you could buy with $1 trillion. Now think about all the nice things you won’t be able to buy, because for the past few years Congress has acted like a criminal that stole your credit card. Only you can’t call the bank and lock the account; you have to watch them spend your money, sometimes insulting you while they do it.

Altogether, the U.S. federal government has run up a $136.5 trillion bill that will have to be paid, using figures from Accounting for the unfunded liabilities, every single taxpayer in America is currently on the hook for just under $1 million dollars. And that doesn’t count the $10 trillion or so of local and state debt and unfunded liabilities.

What does $136.5 trillion look like?

If the Treasury Department printed out 136.5 trillion one-dollar bills, it would cost us $7.6 trillion. It would take the Bureau of Engraving and Printing over 200 years to stamp out the notes. And since our currency is made of 75 percent cotton, we would need to commandeer every cotton farm in the United States. For the next 28 years.

If you started a stack of our crisp, new dollar bills on your coffee table, you could keep stacking until you reached the moon, which is close to 238,855 miles above your table. You’d have enough bills left over from our pile of 136.5 trillion to do 38 more stacks to the moon. If you were to tape the bills end-to-end, the line could wrap around the world 531,000 times. With that many bills layered on top of each other, Earth would have a stubby green ring that could be seen from space, towering 190 feet high.

If the 13 billion miles of dollar bills stretched into space, the Voyager 1 spacecraft, (launched in 1977 and traveling at 38,000 mph) would have just now cleared the last bill. You know you have a spending problem when your debt extends beyond the solar system.

You can’t have everything; where would you put it?

But instead of stacking it around the equator, we should put all those bills somewhere more safe. NASA’s gargantuan Vehicle Assembly Building, where the Apollo rockets were put together for launch at Kennedy Space Center, would be a good spot to save the money since it is one big room. However we would need to build 42 more 526-foot buildings to hold our $136.5 trillion.

Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building. We would need a skyline of 43 of these to hold our national debt.

If we wanted to send that money to Washington, D.C. to pay off what we owe, we would need 1,617,648 tractor trailers to haul it. Or, to keep traffic congestion and greenhouse gasses to a minimum, we could ship it by sea. It would take the world’s largest cargo vessel 220 trips to transfer 5.5 billion cubic feet of money.

Perhaps we wanted to wipe out our debt – in style – by sending a symbolic “never again” message to Congress via air mail. We could roll the bills up into 500-lb. packages and mobilize the entire Air Force fleet of bombers (76 B-52s, 62 B-1s, and 20 B-2s) to airdrop the payment. Even with a staggering payload of 11 million pounds of bills on each mission, it would still take 28,000 trips to deliver $136.5 trillion.

Congress can easily spend $1 million per second. But even at that pace, it would still take those greedy guys and gals 103 years to ring up a $136.5 trillion tab.

Have you ever found a dollar bill lying around in the middle of nowhere? I found a $5 bill once and it was one of the happiest moments of my life. That is until I started to wonder if it was a trap. Then I felt guilty for not trying harder to figure out who the rightful owner was. But imagine finding a dollar bill, and then another, and then another… picking up a dollar bill every second. If you kept this up, you could singlehandedly solve America’s budget crisis – in just 103,881,278 years and six months.

While it’s pretty hard to visualize 103 million years in the future, consider that 103 million years ago dinosaurs were still chasing each other and the continents of South America and Africa had just split apart. Your dollar-a-second finding spree would have to be carried on by your kids, their kids, and so on… for over 5 million generations. By the time your descendants collected $136.5 trillion, you will be fossil fuel. Considering numbers that are easier to wrap our heads around, Congress can easily spend $1 million per second. But even at that pace, it would still take those greedy guys and gals 103 years to ring up a $136.5 trillion tab.

To pay your individual share of the national debt – plus the unfunded liabilities – you would have to send the government $2,619.60 each month for the next 30 years. Double that if you are married to another taxpayer. I don’t know how many households have $5,000 to spare each month, but I would bet not many. Bear in mind that the numbers used in this article are based on estimates and some sources figure unfunded liabilities to be much higher.

Meanwhile, Congress shows no intention to stop spending like drunken Nigerian prince email scammers. This time last year, we had just passed the $20 trillion threshold. In just one year, we have added another $1.5 trillion, which is staggering since it took America over 200 years to accrue $1 trillion in debt. In that time, we funded a revolution, the Louisiana Purchase, a civil war, two world wars, the Berlin Airlift, Marshall Plan, Korea, Vietnam, and other relatively minor budgetary items like the Manhattan Project and space program.

Article V, you’re our only hope

Make no mistake: the debts and bills the federal government has run up in your name have to be paid, and that day is coming. At this point our options are limited to cutting spending and raising taxes to astronomical levels. But there is a chance that we could bypass Congress through an Article V Convention of the States. The states themselves could draft Constitutional amendments, such as a balanced federal budget.

Currently 12 states (of the required 34) have passed legislation calling for a convention. 10 states legislatures have passed the resolution in one chamber and another 18 states have active legislation on the books. Check here to see whether your state has joined, and what you can do to help. And remember that the national debt isn’t just an imaginary number; Congress has done the legal equivalent of stealing your identity and is running up hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of dollars in bills that you will have to pay.

[Originally published at]

Author: Chris Carter

3 thoughts on “National debt crisis: what does $136 trillion look like?

  1. Fascinating…

    So what do you suggest will cause the same Congress that spent trillions of dollars more than the revenue they bring in to suddenly constrain themselves to a budget?

  2. We have 72 years to pay off that 132 trillion. In that period the USA will earn on the order of 44 quadrillion dollars. I’m not losing any sleep over this. Neither should anybody.

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