Where We Live: The National Debt and You!

UConn Law professor James Kwak writes about economics and the national debt.

National Debt Clock in New York City
National Debt Clock in New York City Photo:Wally Gobetz (Flickr Creative Commons)
Where We Live: The National Debt and You!
Download Audio
Audio Playlist
Where We Live: The National Debt and You!

If you wander around New York City for long enough, you'll probably run into the National Debt Clock. It shows what the national debt is at and what your family's share of the debt is. And every few months it seems, Congress is debating the debt ceiling. It's something that has become a campaign issue at the Congressional level and presidential level. But how does it affect those not running for political office?

James Kwak is an associate professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law. He’s also a fellow at the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance. His latest book is co-written with economist (and brother-in-law) Simon Johnson, called White House Burning: The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt, and Why It Matters to You.

Both authors will be speaking at the Connecticut Journal of International Law symposium tomorrow at the UConn School of Law. You can register for the event here.



Yesterday's Discussion w/ Professor Kwak RE National Debt

I've been following this issue since the Treasury under the Regan Administration & obvious blessing of Congress, including Democrats, allowed balance of payments with foreign governments & entities holding US notes, bonds, T-bills, etc. to plunge heavily into the red (By the way, I first heard the reporting of this on public radio-AMC in September 1984 as Regan's re-election campaign was shifting into high gear). Billions then started flowing into the US economy fueling the mid to late 1980s economic boom and in the next 2 years the US shifted from status as the world's leading creditor into the world's largest debtor nation which it hasn't lost since. Today, a huge and still growing portion of our current almost $16 trillion-dollar national debt (I've recently read about 40%) is to foreign creditors. I could go on about this issue and others as well concerning the grave implications of our current debt for our nation and economy, but will end here by saying that I couldn't disagree more with Professor Kwak's comments that the national debt currently isn't that big a deal. What we should agree on though is that with the exception of the Clinton years, the unwillingness displayed by US citizens and leaders on all fronts over the last quarter century to confront and gain control over this problem will put us into a position of no longer having the capacity, likely leading to subsequent loss of opportunity, to do so. Whether with dread or consolation, we should remember that the history of the world is about the rise and fall of regime's and nations rather than a never ending ride ascending blissfully onward to utopia. Is America the exception? If we want it to be we have a lot of work to do and sacrifices to made. Are we up to the challange?

Dennis of Andover