Gigantic Run-Up Of Federal Debt For What?

Robert Higgs | The Independent Institute | February 6, 2013

At the end of fiscal year 2008, the federal debt held by the public was about $5.8 trillion. By the end of fiscal year 2012, it had grown to about $11.3 trillion. Thus, in just four years, it had nearly doubled: the government ran up almost as much debt in four years as it had accumulated during the entire previous history of the nation. The additional debt amounts to more than $18,000 for every man, woman, and child in the United States, or more than $73,000 for a family of four. If the typical family had just run up this amount of personal debt, the head of household certainly would be losing sleep wondering how so much additional debt can possibly be handled.

In view of this astonishingly large additional burden the government has loaded onto the public, who must shoulder the responsibility for servicing and repaying it, one might well ask: what has the public received in return? This question, of course, cannot be answered in an aggregative manner because the public consists of diverse, differently situated persons, who differ in their receipt of government services and their valuation of those services.