Tuesday, October 12, 2004


What's a mere $473,000 of (hidden) debt per household (and rising) among friends? From an excellent story in USA Today that should be reported in every newspaper three times a week...

The long-term economic health of the United States is threatened by $53 trillion in government debts and liabilities that start to come due in four years when baby boomers begin to retire.

The “Greatest Generation” and its baby-boom children have promised themselves benefits unprecedented in size and scope. Many leading economists say that even the world's most prosperous economy cannot fulfill these promises without a crushing increase in taxes — and perhaps not even then.

Neither President Bush nor John Kerry is addressing the issue in detail as they campaign for the White House.

... the nation's hidden debt — Americans' obligation today as taxpayers — is more than five times the $9.5 trillion they owe on mortgages, car loans, credit cards and other personal debt. This hidden debt equals $473,456 per household, dwarfing the $84,454 each household owes in personal debt.

The $53 trillion is what federal, state and local governments need immediately — stashed away, earning interest, beyond the $3 trillion in taxes collected last year — to repay debts and honor future benefits promised under Medicare, Social Security and government pensions. And like an unpaid credit card balance accumulating interest, the problem grows by more than $1 trillion every year that action to pay down the debt is delayed...
An interactive graphic is worth a thousand words to a newspaper article, and there's an excellent one illustrating at lot about this debt -- including a calculator showing the value of the benefits you are promised compared to the taxes you will have paid.

Hey, for me it says I'm going to make a profit of $264,000 on Medicare! Whoopee! As long as the taxpayers of the future are willing to finance that deal for me and everyone else of my generation. And more. Lower-earning persons and couples with only one working spouse profit by a lot more.

In contrast, my projected gain from Social Security is only $24,000, less than 10% as much -- and only about 2% as large relative to my taxes paid into the system (Social Security taxes versus Medicare taxes).

When the topic of unfunded retirement benefits comes up in conversation almost everyone talks about Social Security. But read this story and play with that graphic, and soon you'll be saying "Medicare ... Medicare ... Medicare ..."