Harry Potter and the National Debt

October 5, 2003

I always have a number of books on the “to be read” stack, but this summer, my reading list came to resemble a log jam. Here I was with two P.G. Wodehouse Blandings Castle novels (as I strive to relive the moment when Lord Emsworth falls down the stairs); a Leila Hadley travel book, Give Me the World, that begins with one of the best lines in travel literature (“I had wanted to get away”); a fresh new copy of Seabiscuit about which I was hearing rave reviews; a plump, inviting paperback of The Man in the Iron Mask, a novel I haven’t reread since high school and now is the time because I am fresh off a re-reading of Twenty Years After, all held at bay by the fifth Harry Potter, a book I had to finish for three reasons. One, I am committed to the series. Two, the latest could not be discussed in my hearing until I’d finished. And three, I wanted to know what the heck was going to happen.

But I could barely bring myself to pick the book up. One, I read mostly at bedtime and the weight of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was making it hard to breathe. But more importantly, the thing was too much like real life. Here were people in authority, people who knew the truth, who knew that evil was being done. But they could not solve the problem, and so turned their efforts to silencing, ridiculing and persecuting as liars those who were telling the truth.

I don’t need fiction for that. I see and hear and read it every day in the news. And in some cases, it’s what I don’t see, the truths that are going unspoken because they are so unpopular. When Cornelius Fudge, head of the Ministry of Magic, declared that He-who-must-not-be-named was not back and that Dumbledore was a liar, I immediately went into a funk over the National Debt, which the vast majority of people in authority do not want you to believe in.

Yes, people are beginning to discuss the Deficit, but just last month the Syracuse Post-Standard ran a front page story on the Deficit without once mentioning the National Debt. To clarify, the Deficit is how much more money we’re spending than we’re making each year. The National Debt is the cumulative result of that, year after year. It doesn’t go away. We are now in hock up to our eyeballs, and no one in office or running for office wants to say a word about it.

Of course, politicians of all stripes know that no one gets elected by promising to increase taxes and cut entitlements, and that no one remains in office by telling the truth about money. Oh, we can take the truth about sex, we want all the details, but don’t tell us the truth about money.

But I’ll tell you the truth. In September 2003, when I began taking notes for this rant, the National Debt was $6,816,660,821,236.41 — approaching $7 trillion. That’s money the U.S. has spent, but didn’t have. Money we owe. And like a credit card, there’s interest. In 2002, the United States spent $332,536,958,599.42 just to pay one year’s interest on the National Debt. More than $300 billion — more than $40 million an hour.

Next to Defense, interest payments on the National Debt are the largest single item in the annual U.S. Budget. Just the interest. Not paying down the principal. We haven’t a prayer of paying that off. Redwoods will be planted as seedlings and grow to towering majesty, unmolested by humans, before that happens.

People talk about the Deficit as if it is temporary. Or someone else’s fault. Or manageable. And they don’t mention the National Debt. They don’t mention that Congress approved the spending of the Social Security Trust and its replacement with Bonds, i.e. borrowed money. It’s gone. The Social Security Trust is now a grand Ponzi scheme where new borrowed money is used to pay the people whose “Social Security” payments were supposed to be put into a trust, saved and invested to generate income. But Congress took the money and spent it to avoid the appearance of a deficit.

And guess what: By the time the government and the electorate face the truth, every man and woman who got us into this situation will be out of office, dead, or both. We will see reduced Social Security payments, fewer programs, lose-lose choices, higher taxes, and the electorate will blame the bearers of the bad news.

And so as I read, page after page, how Harry Potter was being lied about because he told the truth, as I read about victims being blamed for the crime, it was just too much like real life. But I had a commitment. And so I read on, until the liars and appeasers could no longer keep the lid on evil, and it forced its way into the open. Just as it will in real life.

But not yet. In the meantime, I am back on track with my reading, and Seabiscuit has reaffirmed my faith in the nobility and honesty of animals, if not in mankind.

* * *

In 2011, as I updated this, the National Debt had passed $14 trillion.

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