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I just checked the US national debt clock and found out that every single American citizen, at birth, owes the government $208,668.

What did the average American citizens achieve for that amount of debt?

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    I'm don't have time for a full answer right now; but I think you have a misunderstanding of what the national debt actually entails. For starters, large portions of that money are owed to other groups within the US government. But mainly; there's no sense in which individuals would ever be responsible for "their share". – aaron Dec 1 '17 at 18:39
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    I see, cause in europe we got those social welfare systems at a income taxation in total of ~30-60% but the debt per citizen is definitely lower. – user18532 Dec 1 '17 at 18:44
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    While the USA does not have all of the same Social welfare programs (or at least, they tend to be less expansive); the same concept of "paying taxes and that money being spent on things that benefit you directly or indirectly" applies. The numbers and implementation are different, but the same principles apply. – aaron Dec 1 '17 at 18:48
  • roads, schools, higher education, infrastructure, nuclear submarines and so on and so on; try buying that for $209. – Mozibur Ullah Dec 1 '17 at 19:25
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    Your title doesn't match the body of the question. Please edit to make make the title "How does the national debt benefit America citizens" or something similar. – James K Dec 1 '17 at 20:20
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What you saw was the debt per capita, not what each citizen owes to the federal government. There is no explicit provision in the U.S. Constitution for the federal government reclaiming its debt from its citizens. If the government tried to do this, it would simply not work. That figure you cited is roughly four times the median household income in this country, and I guarantee we would have close to 100% turnover in the U.S. Congress next election.

What did the average american citizens achieve for that amount of debt?

There are two ways to approach this.

First, look through the U.S. Constitution for a list of powers the government has. Specifically, Article I lists the types of laws that the U.S. Congress may pass. Some specific examples called out there are establishing a postal service, roads, army and navy, and regulating interstate commerce.

Second, look at the budget. There are many resources out there showing government spending, and it is a bit more complex than it looks at first. Here is one such breakdown of the budget. First, the budget covers interest on the debt. Next, it breaks down into mandatory and discretionary spending. Mandatory spending is mostly social security (government-run retirement for all citizens) and Medicare (government-run medical insurance for the elderly). Discretionary spending is broken down into quite a few categories, primarily military, government overhead, with others like education and veterans' benefits taking smaller pieces.

It is worth noting that here in the US, social security is paid via a separate payroll tax than the regular federal income tax. However, the fact that it is separated like that does not mean much considering it comes out of our paychecks and goes to the same federal government, who then spends it on checks written to people currently receiving the benefit.


That was the budget, not the debt, however. Every year, the government has a budget. That budget generally includes more spending than income, resulting in a deficit (there have been surpluses, even in the past 20 years, but these are rare in modern times). As the years pass, that deficit piles onto the debt.

In general, the US debt has bought its citizens whatever has been in its budgets. However, there have been other spending items added into the debt that politicians like to sneak in outside of the general budget. For example, the Iraq War in the 2000s was largely funded by supplemental budgets that increased the debt without impacting the budget per se.

The price tag has drawn criticism not only because prewar projections by the White House were closer to $50 billion, but because of the manner in which the bill was budgeted: through supplemental requests, often with little time for congressional oversight or full disclosure of how the money is allocated.

Source: The Cost of the Iraq War

The answer to your question is "the US public gets pretty much everything the government spends money on for its debt."

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  • may I show you another argument? debt clock 1980 > usdebtclock.org/1980.html $20.000 debt per citizen, I don't see "per capita" but "total debt per citizen" – user18532 Dec 1 '17 at 21:37
  • @user18532 I am not really sure what the argument is. I explained what the debt paid for, and the benefit should be fairly self-evident (e.g. military to defend the nation, retirement income to live off of). – user5586 Dec 1 '17 at 21:41
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    The issue is that debt clock misleads you. It is misleading because there is no such thing as a debt per person. It is using a per person approach in an attempt to show how huge the national debt is. That said, as I think someone alluded to in a comment to your question, if it costs me $200,000 or whatever amount it supposedly is per person, I'm fine with that (and so are most Americans, even the complainers) because I get nuclear submarines and a massive military, etc., guarding against becoming a war-torn land like Europe was and the Middle East is. – A.fm. Dec 2 '17 at 9:52
  • The US national debt is made up of government bonds, which are sold to investors and may take up to 30 years to mature. So technically the current US national debt has paid for spending over the last 30 years. Also, the yield on US bonds is currently less than the rate of inflation, so in effect investors are paying the US government for the privilege of lending money to it. (They do this because US government bonds are considered an extremely safe investment.) – Royal Canadian Bandit Dec 4 '17 at 16:01

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