www.treasurydirect.gov puts the debt at around $17.3 trillion (this will change, so I'm not putting an exact amount).

A related quote from Wikipedia

On December 12, 2013, debt held by the public was approximately $12.312 trillion or about 73% of Q3 2013 GDP[5][6] Intragovernmental holdings stood at $4.9 trillion (29%), giving a combined total public debt of $17.226 trillion or over 100% GDP

Now, the reason I'm doubting this is because of two "dissenters". One says it is $90 trillion UC PROFESSOR PEGS NATIONAL DEBT AT NEARLY $90 TRILLION DOLLARS; and one says the US has a surplus of $1,138.26 trillion

Are either of those correct? The original article that piqued my interest was in Barrons entitled No Accounting for Government Cost.

Here's how the article starts:

The financial position of the U.S. is not just troubled; it is artificially created to fool the people.

A quote from the article that makes the claim is:

The government's financial reporting is misleading because our political leaders have subverted the democratic process to advance their personal interests. They have spent enormous sums of taxed and borrowed money to endear themselves to the electorate, but they do not want to be held accountable for the full extent of this spending. Hence, the legislative and executive branches collude to underreport expenditures.

In reality, the federal government's existing legal obligations exceed $90 trillion, which is far above the carefully defined debt-ceiling limit of $16.7 trillion and is almost six times the size of the gross domestic product.

A few paragraphs later:

The Constitution's statement and account clause requires that "a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time." Congress' false reporting has resulted in the violation of several rights, including the right to vote, freedom of speech, due process, equal protection, the right to financial information, and the right to political accountability.

So he is directly claiming that Congress is falsifying data. If you can't view that article, Google No Accounting for Government Cost and select the Barron's article to view the whole article. For some reason the direct link only gives an excerpt.

  • 3
    If the treasury doesn't convince you, it's not clear what source will. The video links to the "The Rent is Too Damn High" guy, a notorious anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, so I might not consider him a reputable source.
    – Publius
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 21:13
  • @Avi Not being sure about what ike would be convinced by doesn't preclude us from creating a good answer based on the best available evidence. Write for the internet, not just ike.
    – user5582
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 21:32
  • @Articuno the problem is that, writing for the internet, I'd link to the treasury or the CBO, but it doesn't seem like ike will accept that as an answer.
    – Publius
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 21:41
  • 3
    Asking us all to watch a 16 minute video that you haven't isn't very efficient. Please extract the basic argument, preferably with a couple of pull-quotes with time-codes, so we don't all have to sit through the same intro guff.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 22:16
  • 1
    The "$90 trillion" appears to be the "unfunded liabilities" nonsense the tea party has been pushing. Michelle Bachmann has wailed about it being $107 trillion.
    – Compro01
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 14:57

1 Answer 1


The national debt is, at time of writing, a bit over $17 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office wrote at the end of last November that the national debt was $17.1 trillion

The amount of outstanding debt subject to limit is now around $17.1 trillion

(Emphasis in the original text)

The Treasury concurs, listing the current national debt (a month and half after the CBO's report) at $17.3 trillion.

The paper to which you linked does not say that the national debt is $90 trillion, but rather that "off-balance-sheet commitments" combined with the national debt equate to around $90 trillion. These "off-balance-sheet commitments" don't measure the debt we've already incurred, but rather the debt we've already incurred as well as the debt we would have to incur in the future maintaining current spending levels, and with assuming predict growth in GDP and healthcare costs. As far as I can tell, Hamilton is measuring something other than the national debt.

The person in the YouTube video to which you linked, Jimmy McMillan, is, as far as I can tell, in no way qualified to make statements about the economy. He cites no evidence for any of his claims, so we can reject them as unsubstantiated and contradicted by the Congressional Budget Office and Treasury. This is ignoring the fact that the surplus he claims the US has is orders of magnitude greater than the entire world's economic output.

  • I clarified a specific claim in barrons that Congress is fabricating data. Can you address that? See edit to question.
    – ike
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 16:40
  • 1
    @ike I gave you data from the Treasury and the CBO, neither of whose estimates are determined or legislated by Congress. (In fact, the Treasury isn't even in the legislative branch). Assuming Congress has been 'reporting' that number, it is correct. If Congress hasn't, then regardless I've answered the original question of the value of the debt. What Congress has been saying the debt is is a different question.
    – Publius
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 16:52
  • CBO stands for "Congressional Budget Office". How is that not determined by Congress?
    – ike
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 16:53
  • 3
    @ike I don't see what it's name has to do with it. The Congressional Budget Office is a non-partisan (and widely considered reputable) group established by congress, but with its own independent methodology. It is not a part of Congress, nor are its estimates produced according what Congress wants. Congress didn't vote to make the CBO say that the debt was $17.1 trillion, the economists at the CBO calculated that. Regardless, you still have the treasury estimate. So whether congress has been doing "false reporting" is irrelevant: I've demonstrated what the national debt is.
    – Publius
    Commented Jan 7, 2014 at 16:57
  • 2
    @ike I have no idea what you're talking about with this whole money supply business (yes, the money supply can be less than the debt, but revenue can't exceed GDP), and Barron was still considering future spending. Regardless, I linked to reputable sources indicating what the national debt was, so it seems I answered your question. I'm not sure what more you want of me here.
    – Publius
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 2:11

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