Sometimes, especially lately, it's depressing to think about the future of the U.S.
The economy has been in the doldrums since Barack Obama took office, and, in a slew of ways, is actually worse now. Median incomes are the lowest since 1995 [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/17/median-income-falls-inequality_n_3941514.html], the workforce is its smallest in nearly 50 years [http://dailycaller.com/2014/03/13/data-shows-millions-of-americans-falling-out-of-the-workforce/], real unemployment is running at 16.6 percent [http://www.gallup.com/poll/125639/Gallup-Daily-Workforce.aspx], and all those 20-something kids who should be working are moving back home with their parents. [http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/01/living/parents-moving-home-millennials/]
But that's not the real problem. See, on top of all that, we're $17.5 trillion in debt.
The last time America was debt free was 1836. That lasted one year. When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, the national debt was less than $1 trillion. When he went home to California, the debt was three times that. George H.W. Bush pumped the debt up to $4 trillion. Bill Clinton ran it up to $5.6 trillion. And by the time George W. Bush left office, the debt had nearly doubled to more than $10 trillion.
In Mr. Obama's first four years, the debt has soared more than $7 trillion.
How'd we get here? Consider this: When Mr. Obama went to Brussels this week, he took a 900-person entourage, three cargo planes, two 747s, a slew of support planes, a phalanx of Marine One helicopters and nearly 50 vehicles for his motorcade.
That was for a 24-hour stay.
But it's not just that. America has been so rich for so long, it just can't get used to the notion that it's not wealthy any more. It's as if America is the wife of a billionaire who finds herself suddenly divorced. No more suites at the Ritz-Carlton, time for the Days Inn. Oh, and get used to mac 'n' cheese.
There's a puzzling puzzle that virtually no one seems to notice: If America is the richest country in the world, why doesn't everyone owe us money? Why do we owe China $1.2 trillion? Hell, we owe ourselves $4.4 trillion.
Why didn't the U.S. invest the hundreds of trillions that have poured into the national coffers over the years so that the money was working for us, not the other way around?
Think that's insane? Think again. Norway (yes, Norway) has done it. The government created a massive fund into which "surplus wealth produced by Norwegian petroleum income is deposited." It's the largest "pension fund" in the world, although the deposits don't come from pensioners.
The fund currently holds $838 billion — that's $165,613 per Norwegian.[http://www.swfinstitute.org/swfs/norway-government-pension-fund-global/] Estimates show the fund will top $1 trillion by 2019 and $3.3 trillion just 11 years later. So right now, the citizens of Norway are debating how best to spend the huge piles of cash building up in the fund.
Cut to the U.S., where each citizen owes $57,764 on the $16.7 trillion debt. According to Harvard economic historian Niall Ferguson, future unfunded debt liabilities are estimated to top $125 trillion — or $398,000 per American.
So why, then, is the president flying off to Hawaii for a two-week vacation, at a cost of $7.7 million? [http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2014/03/26/Documents-Obama-s-Honolulu-Africa-Trips-Cost-Nearly-16-million-For-Flights-Alone] (And that was just for the flight aboard Air Force One; more than 100 staffers and security officials got to tag along).
Why did Medicare (read: you taxpayers) shell out $172 million in penis pumps between 2006 and 2011?[http://www.thewrap.com/daily-show-exposes-172-million-federal-penis-pump-spending-video/] Why did NASA book a one-way, first-class flight for its Ames Research Center director from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco for $14,773, when a coach ticket can cost as little as $189? [http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/u-s-world/nasa-spends-millions-to-fly-first-and-business-class-with-little-oversight] Why does the EPA spend $1.5 million to store pamphlets and brochures in a warehouse? [http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/mar/13/saving-trees-epa-wastes-15-million-storing-unneede/]
Because America has always been rich and still feels flush with cash. More, it spends money like it can just print more (well, it can, but that just adds to the debt, like running up the credit card for you normal people).
America's debt isn't just the president's fault; Congress sets the budgets, presidents only sign or veto them. But one thing is for sure: The U.S. will only survive if Americans vote in a president who vows to cut the nation's debt, fast. Let's hope that happens in 2016.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.