A common theory is that humans just aren’t good at comprehending numbers which are very big or very small. My experience with people (nearly all of which are human) bears this out.
Humans count in their head like this; one, two, three… a whole shitload. Some arbitrary number constitutes the point where an individual’s brain defaults to “a whole shitload“. Once a person reaches that level of confusion, it’s hard for them to go beyond it. Attempts to differentiate between “a whole shitload” and “a whole mountain of shitloads” is an uphill battle. If you’ve ever spent an hour trying to explain the real world difference between a thousand and a million you can sympathize. It doesn’t digest easily and I’m not among those few who are eloquent enough to get past the boredom factor.
Which brings me to the National debt. It used to be a shitload. I was worried. Everyone who understood it was worried too. (Some folks have kept their concerns to themselves for personal or political reasons. Others have employed self delusion or willful ignorance. Regardless of public posture, those who understood the magnitude of the debt, without exception, knew it was serious.)
I knew it was going to get worse. You probably did too. It did get worse. It happened (and is happening) as the Baby Boomers retire; more or less on schedule.
Something else has happened. The debt crossed a Rubicon of scale. It went to a whole different dimension of huge. It is pegged at new and utterly unimaginable levels that have never before existed in any place, in any time, for any society, since the dawn of time. Read that sentence back to yourself; “levels of debt that have never before existed in any place, in any time, for any society, since the dawn of time”. You may disagree with my politics but that sentence is absolutely true. The number really has dwarfed all that came before it. Folks can try to pretend it doesn’t matter but they can’t pretend this has happened before. Phrases like “largest ever in humanity’s span of existence” are not exaggeration.
There is no way make this into good news and true statements start to sound like exaggeration. All because the numbers are so inconceivably huge. The debt is so large that it is literally “mind boggling“. The mind has difficulty comprehending numbers in the trillions. Set aside politics and you’ll realize that’s what “mind boggling” means. Your brain (like mine) can’t easily handle trillions of anything; debt, grains of sand, stars in the sky, etc…
Which brings me to an apt description of the debt gleaned from Monster Hunter Nation. (I encourage you to go there and read the whole thing.)
“Saying that this is the same old same old, is like saying that gophers digging up your lawn is the same level of disaster as Krakatoa. Over the last couple of years we’ve reached a whole new level of crazy. Our spending has gone insane. We’re spending more money, faster, than all of mankind, throughout all of recorded human history. Economists aren’t sure what’s going to happen, because this has never happened before. Ever. On Earth. We’ve strayed into strange new territory here and there are many possible outcomes if we don’t stray the hell back out. And don’t for a second think that any of those possible outcomes are remotely good. No. They range somewhere between the Great Depression and Mad Max.”
He also added a bit of wisdom about Social Security. Everyone younger than 50 should know this. I do. You probably do. I’m posting it for those few souls who still cling desperately to the false belief that Social Security will be there when it wont. If Kieth Richards can live to be old it’s possible for anyone. If you’re young and count entirely on Social Security a retirement of eating cat food in a cold impoverished hovel between shifts at the coal mine is not out of the question:
“I had a discussion the other day with some relatively intelligent folks about social security. The idea of cutting benefits or moving the retirement age shocks them. “How unfair! But I’ve paid into this my whole life!”
“…No matter how hard you wish, no matter how hard you hope, no matter how much compassion you can fit in your stupid compassionate heart, no matter how much you happen to like some program that helps somebody do something wonderful… math never lies and interest never sleeps. Caring don’t pay the bills…”
Enough doom and gloom; I always like to add a ray of hope. Here goes; “just because something is mind boggling to everybody else doesn’t mean you have to play their game”. Even in the Great Depression, many wise souls got by. Most of us have sufficient freedom to maneuver out of harm’s way. We are not required to make other people’s delusions true. Train that monkey brain you were born with to overcome mind boggling foolishness and ride it out as best you can. Leave the “deer in headlights” weakness to those who chose that path. I’ll be rooting for your success and I hope you’ll be rooting for mine.