Is Our Debt Burden Really $100 Trillion?

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Derek Thompson
theatlantic.com
November 28, 2012

Wanna scare somebody about America’s debt on the eve of the Fiscal Cliff? I mean, really scare somebody? Here’s a trick. Don’t talk about the debt. Talk about “unfunded liabilities.”

The U.S. national debt comes out to about $16 trillion today. That’s something. But it’s nothing compared to the extra $87 trillion in unfunded liabilities to Social Security, Medicare, and federal pensions. Here’s how that works. If you add up all of the U.S. government’s promises to pay retirement and health care benefits for the next 75 years and subtract the projected tax revenue dedicated to those programs over the next 75 years, there is a gap. A $87 trillion gap — in addition to a $16 billion hole.

“Why haven’t Americans heard about the titanic $86.8 trillion liability from these programs?” Chris Box and Bill Archer ask in the Wall Street Journal. The authors blame the U.S. government for using shoddy accounting and for misleading the American public on their finances. In fact, the most misleading thing about that $87 trillion is the way the figure is often used in the media.

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This article was posted: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 11:18 am

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