I hand it to Mary Anne so she can feel it. “I can’t believe how much you have,” she says.
from: In Business with Mallory
written by Laurie Friedman
illustrated by Barbara Pollak
Carolrhoda Books, 2006
In high school I worked as a sales clerk for The May Company, a national department store chain with a local outlet. The store was close to home and I usually walked there and back. I had my driver’s license, but I didn’t have a car. Not too many of my friends (and none of the girls) had one, and that was okay.
When I started working, most people paid with cash. Some used a Charge-a-Plate to buy on credit. I think their bank issued it. I approached my mom with the idea for my own credit card, but she didn’t think much of it. I’m not sure what I did to prove to her I would only buy something if I already had enough money in the bank to pay for it. That seemed counter-intuitive to me, but I played by Mom’s rules. I opened up a checking account so I could pay off my new Charge-a-Plate as soon as I received my bill.
The card was a small silver-colored rectangle, embossed with my name and a number. It was about half the size of the Visa Card and the Discover Card I have in my wallet today. I wish I could remember what my first purchase was.
People spoke about a cashless society and I wondered what that would look like. Well, it looks like now. I know people who buy their morning coffee on credit, and charge restaurant meals and groceries, too.
Here’s the thing about buying groceries on credit. Before they’re paid for, I’d have cooked, eaten, and eliminated (or more likely, stored as fat!!) most of what I bought. That feels strange to me.
I understand the necessity for credit. Not everyone can save up for a car, or a home remodel, or even a washer or dryer or new fridge. I expect to pay interest to the bank for the convenience of having what I want (or need) immediately. Sometimes, it’s an emergency.
When I asked them my parents explained the National Debt in familiar terms. People pay taxes to the government, then the government pays the senators, congressmen, and judges. They buy electricity to keep the buildings open. The government pays to run the national parks and federal agents to solve crimes and the CIA to keep us safe. And the government funds Social Security and Medicare. Aid goes to people who don’t make enough money or who don’t make any money for whatever reasons, some good, some bad.
When the government spends more money than it has and needs to borrow, it is called deficit spending. It’s what my mom cautioned me not to do.
If the bills are not paid in full each month, the bank or other lending institution applies interest that is added to the total, increasing the National Debt without getting any more goods.
Besides getting money from the tax-paying population, the government can issue bonds. Private citizens and corporations can buy them. The government can borrow money from other programs (or really our kids) by tapping into Social Security and Medicare. And they can borrow on the world market. Our government borrows from other countries, too.
About 66% of the National Debt is money the government owes the public, businesses, and foreign governments that bought investments in the US. The rest is what the Federal government owes itself for loans it took from Social Security and Medicare and other trusts.
The US debt is over 22 trillion dollars. That’s a 22 with 12 zeros (22,000,000,000,000). A billion only has 9 zeros. One trillion one dollar bills laid end to end will reach one quarter of the way from the earth to the moon.
As of May, 2019, the United States government owes China $1.11 trillion (One trillion, eleven billion dollars). That’s 27% of the debt held by foreign countries.
Why does all this even matter? If the US keeps borrowing and increasing the amount of the debt, world markets could lose confidence in our government. Obligating ourselves to other countries is a risky business.
Raising taxes and reducing spending is one way to borrow less. That’s pretty uncomfortable, too.
I don’t know the answer to this very complicated problem, but I’ll keep reading and listening. Stay tuned.
I’ll also look for a class in Chinese.
-—stay curious! (and informed)