Unexpectedly Intriguing!
24 January 2023

Update 9 March 2023: Econbrowser's Menzie Chinn is, once again, irrationally upset. Here's what he's worked himself up about now as it applies to information that appears in this article:

According to the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Debt (accessed on 3/8/2023), on January 20, 2023, gross federal debt was $31454980005742.4, and on January 20, 2021, it was $27751896236414.7. Using excel (so as to ensure no mistyping errors), I find the change in the two years to be $3703083769327.70, and not $3,695,343,467,324.62 (as indicated in the PoliticalCalculations blogpost he references). Since the January 20, 2023 number matches my figure, and the figure in the Treasury website, I can only conclude that he made a subtraction mistake. He also made a mistake in calculating the percentage growth rate. I obtain 13.3% (and not 11%) change. My advice – don’t trust the math in Independent Institute pieces.

We would like to thank Chinn for identifying the error. The real error we made traces back to 11 February 2021, when we incorrectly identified the U.S. government's total public debt outstanding for 20 January 2021 as $27.76 trillion. The figure we presented instead represents the total public debt outstanding from 22 January 2021 ($27,759,636,538,417.78). While the math presented in the remaining post is correct when using that figure, by omitting the first two days of President Biden's tenure in office, our analysis understates the full amount by which the nation's public debt outstanding increased by a very small percentage. Meanwhile, what he claims to be a mistake in calculating the percentage growth rate turns out to be something of a misdiagnosis on his part... keep reading to find out more!

But first, if you would like to know more about why Chinn is so irrationally upset at us, please do check out our Examples of Junk Science Series. The series features multiple examples Menzie Chinn unintentionally contributed through his self-destructive antics, including an example when he beclowned himself by failing to correctly diagnose a different error we made.

Back to the correction! Unlike Chinn, we acknowledge our errors and correct them. We've updated the following analysis to show the corrected results in (parentheses and boldface font) where you may hover your cursor over these to see the original figures we presented. We've also updated the chart accordingly (the original version is available here). As you'll see, other than the figure indicating the change in the national debt over two years, the corrections do not meaningfully affect the analysis.

You'll also see the 11% figure he quotes refers to the size of the national debt increase per household that, after the corrections, turns out to be more on the nose than we had previously presented! Chinn seems to be going back into his bag of deceptive junk science tricks in deliberately conflating the percentage change in national debt (13.3%), which we had never presented, with the percentage change in the national debt per household (10.9%, which rounds up to 11%) that we did present.

We wonder how James Hamilton feels about his co-blogger's strange sense of ethics and behavior.

Friday, 20 January 2023 marked the second anniversary of President Biden's tenure in the White House. On that day, the U.S. government's total public debt outstanding reached $31,454,980,005,742.40. The only reason it isn't higher is because the U.S. Treasury Department hit the nation's statutory debt ceiling the day before.

But that's not the real story. The more important story is the growth of the U.S. national debt during the last two years. That debt has increased by ($3,703,083,769,327.63) since 20 January 2021.

Large numbers like that can be difficult to grasp, so let's bring them down to a more human scale. If you divided the U.S. government's total public debt outstanding equally among every household in the U.S. two years ago, each would be responsible for paying the U.S. government's creditors ($216,051). Two years later, the national debt burden per household has grown to $239,745. The increase per household is ($23,694), or (11.0%), which of course, would be on top of whatever other debt each household has.

That increase is the equivalent of buying 131,202,000 American households a brand new 2023 Suburu Impreza! More on that metaphor in a bit....

We've visualized the growth of the U.S. national debt during the Biden era in the following chart. In the chart, we've also identified the U.S. government's creditors by major category:

U.S. National Debt During Biden Era

Here's the big question. Would American households be better off if President Biden actually did buy each a brand new Suburu Impreza instead of what he actually bought with all that newly borrowed money?

Or rather, did Americans get anything of real value to show from President Biden's debt-fueled spending and what it has wrought?


U.S. Census Bureau. Historical Households Tables. Table HH-1. Households by Type: 1940 to Present. [Excel Spreadsheet]. 10 November 2022. Accessed 23 January 2023.

U.S. Treasury Department. Debt to the Penny. [Online Database]. 20 January 2023. Accessed 23 January 2023.

U.S. Treasury Department. Major Foreign Holders of Treasury Securities. [Online Data Text File]. 18 January 2023. Accessed 23 January 2023.

U.S. Treasury Department. Monthly Treasury Statement of Receipts and Outlays of the United States Government for Fiscal Year 2022 Through December 31, 2022. [PDF Document]. 12 January 2023. Accessed 23 January 2023.

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