We all hear a lot of talk about the United States’ “national debt.”

We hear it’s now more than $30 trillion, which is a number that doesn’t really register as anything comprehendible – or even real. Subsequently, most Americans hardly care about the national debt, and simply go about their lives without regard to what effect it might have on them.

But I think it’s safe to say that experts who issue warnings about it may well be correct about the debt’s potentially wide-ranging (and perhaps catastrophic) ramifications. No individual, company or any other form of organized entity can exist for an extended period while sustaining a constantly growing debt (let alone a wildly massive version), and I’m not sure the U.S. is immune to that fact.

So what exactly is the national debt?

Simply put, it’s the total amount owed by the U.S. federal government to companies, other countries and all other “creditors.”

In other words, it’s like you owing the bank for a house or a car, or Visa or Mastercard for purchases you made with a credit card. Basically, it’s what the U.S. owes in relation to what has been borrowed.

Even looking at it in such plain terms, the U.S. national debt is still hard to comprehend. And why wouldn’t it be? What exactly is $30 trillion, anyway?

It’s an amount that could never be repaid, and has never actually existed, either, other than on paper. There’s no way any country on the planet could ever muster up that kind of dough – not even over time, because there could never be enough time.

I’m not even sure all the money that has ever actually existed in the entire history of mankind would add up to much more than $30 trillion. It’s an absurd figure that is based on something outside of practicality – or reality, for that matter.

So does that make the national debt any less of a threat to Americans’ collective well being? That’s are legitimate question, but I’m not sure anyone has a legitimate answer.

But I think one thing can safely be assumed with regard to the subject: We’re not going to see China suddenly demand the U.S. to pay all of its debt (as some people claim will eventually happen), because China’s economy is largely based on the U.S. economy and the last thing the Chinese could afford is for America’s economy to go down – because if we go down, they go down.

But then again, maybe the Chinese will demand some form of compensation for the gigantic amount they’re owed, and maybe the U.S. will have to turn over ownership of darn near everything the nation owns to make good.

That seems so extreme, but we’re living in extreme times right now, and I’m not sure it’s out of the question.

Anyway, that’s a lot of rambling about a subject that most people don’t fully understand (me included), because it’s just so complicated, convoluted and downright weird that there’s no way the average person could. But nonetheless, it seems like something to be concerned about, you know?

And just so you’re aware, if you’d like to see how fast the national debt is increasing, you can witness it in real time online at usdebtclock.org. The speed with which the numbers increase is mind-boggling and kind of scary.

And altogether surreal.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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