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Post Column: US debt includes too many wasteful costs

The debt clock should have one of those seizure warning thingies that are shown at the beginning of video games. There are so many flashy numbers with so many important things to say. I’m sure that, somewhere out there, a Nobel-worthy economist sees the next global market crisis through the gazillion changing digits.

Me? While watching the debt clock grow, I found out another baby was born; the U.S. population went from 315,173,705 people to 315,173,706. Congratulations to the lucky child — at the age of 10 seconds, his presence has already been immortalized by a newspaper, namely through this column. That kid will grow up to do great things.

Of course, fancy decorative numbers aside, the most important number in the debt clock is $16,394,000,000,000: the amount of debt the U.S. owes. As one newspaper put it, if you stacked 16 trillion one-dollar bills together with no space in between, the pile would be long enough to extend from the surface of the earth to the moon four times.

Meanwhile, there is only $1.16 trillion worth of currency in circulation in the United States.

Considering that astronomical amount of money, we have to wonder what exactly can cost so much to create a $16 trillion debt. There are the legitimate costs, such as national defense and social security. And then, sadly, there are the not-so-legitimate costs. When you look at government spending per year, there’s a lot that goes to waste.

First of all, 6 percent of Americans’ taxes go toward just paying the yearly-accrued interest on the country’s immense debt. The U.S. collects $20 trillion each year through taxes. That means the government pays out $1.2 trillion of our hard-earned money each year just because it spent too much in the first place.

Maybe the interest tab can’t be helped, but other wastefulness surely can and should be corrected. Every day, the Federal Reserve prints 38,000,000 bills, 90 percent of which is used to replace worn-down bills that are taken out of circulation. The extensive output of such money is a tremendous cost. In 2008, $848 million of taxpayer money was spent minting coins and printing bills.

That’s killing a lot of trees and minerals.

In October, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn released his “Wastebook 2012,” which pointed out the most egregious misspending by the U.S. government. Colburn detailed how the U.S. government wasted $765,828 on the “pancakes project,” in which federal funding was given to the Anacostia Economic Development Corp. to build an “International House of Pancakes franchise” to provide jobs for an “underserved community.”

It was only after the money was doled out that the government discovered the “underserved community” happened to be Columbia Heights, a cushy D.C. neighborhood classified as one of Washington’s “most desirable neighborhoods.”

A further $113,277 was given to the International Center for the History of Electronic Games to conduct a detailed conservation survey of video games. Another $100,000 was presented to the Washington State Fruit Commission to invest in an Indonesian celebrity chef show to help get an advantage in “an emerging market.” And $484,000 was given to a private investor to build a “Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers” store.

One might argue that the waste from these government enterprises is negligible in context of the $16 trillion debt. But, all the same, the government should crack down on such irresponsible spending.

After all, how does the government expect our trust when it’s too busy providing pancakes to the 1 percent?


Kevin Hwang is an Athens High School senior taking classes at Ohio University and a columnist for The Post. What else should the government cut from its budget? Email Kevin at

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