xmas3.gif (5351 bytes)


"We have a $32 billion surplus"


Personal Savings and IRAs are two different figures which makes it far easier for politicians to "lie with statistics".  Politicians like Clinton try very hard to do that and have been immensely succesful at it with some, if not most, Americans.   Not one single newspaper, magazine, radio show, TV program, nor investigative reporter even questioned Clinton's figures when he claimed that "we have a $32 billion surplus".  The very least they could have done is look up what the total amount is in IRA and Personal Savings accounts and compare that to our total debts. To be specific, the Census Bureau reports in their Current Population Survey that there were 23.1 million households with IRAs in 1993 which contained an average of $12,985 each, which is $300 billion. The latest survey from http://www.cache.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/p70-71.pdf   adjusts that figure for inflation to $316 billion, and shows that the figure for 1995 was $361.5 billion. It is fairly well known that we are now the only industrialized nation in the world with a negative Personal Savings rate http://www.bea.doc.gov/bea/dn/pitbl.htm#Table%202

Because politicians lie with statistics so often, it's important to look at other sources like the US Statistical Abstract to see what happened to debt during that time--consumer debt increased by $256.6 billion to $1,095.7 billion. In other words, where the Current Population Survey talks about a $45.5 billion increase in assets in IRAs, the Abstract shows that just the consumer debt increased by more than 5 times more than that. iow, consumers borrowed $211.1 billion more than they put into IRAs, which is clearly not a very healthy trend.  In 1995, just the mortgage and consumer debt exceeded the money in IRAs by 15 fold, and when the $5.8 trillion public debt is added in this debt exceeded IRAs by 31 fold.



Just between1993 and 1999, consumer debt increased by $556 billion to $1,395 billion, mortgage debt increased by $2,107 billion to $6,319 billion, public debt increased by $1,549 billion to $5,900 billion, corporate debt increased by $1,717 billion to $4,286 billion, and state and local debt increased by $84 billion to $1,252 billion. Even IF IRAs increased to $500 billion since then (a very unlikely prospect with nasdaq down fifty percent and Personal Savings in the red), the total amount of money in IRAs would be only 2.6% of the size of these massive debts, which still makes IRAs almost trivial by comparison.

Plenty of people claim that these government statistics under-represent our debt problems by sliding the numbers for welfare and social security around. Those concerns are certainly justified when you compare the words out of politicians mouths with the statistics on their very own web sites. They are almost night and day.

To put this in perspective, claiming that we have a "$32 billion surplus" when we have at least $19,152 billion in debts is equivalent to a drunk walking into a bar in which he already owes $1,915 and saying "bartender, buy this place a round of drinks--I have a $3.20 surplus".  The obvious answer from any bartender who is fiscally responsible enough to remain in business is:

  1. You can't even buy one drink in here with that "surplus", much less can you buy the house a round.
  2. Before you spend that "surplus" on something else, you need to tell me how you are going to pay off the $1,915 you already owe me.
  3. You need to see a shrink if you think $3.20 is a "surplus".
  4. Hey, pal, sit down and have a drink.

Of course government isn't as fiscally responsible as the average bartender because it doesn't have to be.  It can demand, get, and spend ever more money without worrying about going broke like the bartender would if he kept on loaning money to deadbeats who already owe him enough money to buy the house a round twenty times over.

32billionsurplus.gif (29061 bytes)




Increase 1993-99

Mortgage Debt




Public Debt




Corporate Debt




Consumer Debt




State/local Debt








"$32 B Surplus"