The subject here is the national debt and various claims about how to eliminate it. One of the most quoted statements made by a national politician came from former Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen. In a conversation related to the national budget he said, “A billion here and a billion there and the first thing you know you are talking about real money.”
In a recent interview with Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of The Washington Post Donald Trump said he could eliminate the national debt in eight years. We would all love it if that were the case. However, considering that the entire national budget is less than $3.7 trillion and the national debt exceeds $19 trillion, cutting the budget enough to eliminate the debt in eight years seems well beyond impossible. It was another in a long list of ridiculous claims by presidential candidate Trump.
In a recent column I wrote about the Fact Checker, ”4-Pinocchio Rating” as it applied to Republican front runner Donald Trump. In short, such a rating means that the statement has no truth at all and the person delivering it should, like Pinocchio in the children’s story, have a very long nose after telling it. With candidate Donald Trump, just when you think he has said all of the off-the-wall statements he can think of, he comes up with another one.
Nineteen trillion dollars is a sum that is easily written down but not easily understood. For those of us who have difficulty making sense out of more than two or three zeros in a number, a trillion dollars has 12 zeros. A billion is 10 hundred million dollars, while a trillion is 10 hundred billion dollars. Let’s try something that may put it in a more understandable context.
A billion seconds ago it was 1959. A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive. A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the stone-age. Our government spends a billion dollars in about eight hours and 20 minutes. I would make the same comparisons with trillions but there is no way to go back that far. Where does all this money come from? Well, from me and thee, folks. We have, by actual count, 48 different taxes assessed on the American public each year. [a][b][c]
In case you do not have your own list of taxes, try mine. It isn’t exhaustive but you will get the idea; Corporate Income Tax, Federal Income Tax, Federal Unemployment, State Income, State Unemployment, Workers Compensation, Property, Sales, Building Permits, Cigarettes, Marriage License, Dog License, Fishing License, Vehicle License Registration, Gasoline, Hunting, Inheritance, Liquor, Luxury, Medicare, Real Estate, Social Security, Road Usage (truckers), Recreational Vehicle, School, Telephone Federal Excise, Telephone Federal Universal Service Fee, Gasoline, Vehicle Sales, etc. If you give it a little thought I’m sure you can come up with some I have overlooked.
All of these together generate about $3.4 trillion and leaves us about 10 percent short of the money we need to run the country which, along with wars, is where the deficit has come from over the years. There have been only five years of balanced budgets since Harry Truman was president.
I would add that only one of these taxes existed 100 years ago. The income tax was created by an Amendment to the Constitution in 1913. At that point in time our nation was the most prosperous in the world and had no national debt. We also had the largest middle class in the world and Mom stayed home to raise the kids.
I would love to have a solution to the national debt. Unfortunately, smarter people than me have tried to deal with it over the years and most have given up in exasperation. Mathematics tells us that we either have to cut spending or raise income. Translate the latter to, “raise taxes.” Surely it is not that simple, or is it?
— Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. You will find Hopkins’ latest book, “Journey to Gettysburg,” on Amazon.com. Contact him at email@example.com.