Modeling Prompt

Critically Examining National Debt

In Class Launch

Use after Unit 5, Lesson 17

Debt, both individual and national, gets a lot of publicity these days. People borrow money in many ways for many reasons. There are loans for things like cars, homes, and college. And when we use credit cards we are also effectively borrowing money. What about the U.S. government? They can borrow money from other countries but they can also borrow money “from themselves” by issuing U.S. Treasury bonds or by using funds set aside for a different purpose (for example, social security). 

The current debt of the United States government stands at over $20,000,000,000,000. This sounds like a phenomenal amount of money but needs to be put in context.

  1. About how much money is that per U.S. citizen?
  2. About how many dollar bills would it take to make a stack that would reach the moon? (or that would cover the earth)?

After the huge expenses of the Second World War, the amount of U.S. debt was about the same percentage of the total annual income in the country at the time. So it’s important to understand that this big number, 20 trillion, needs to be studied and interpreted to understand how much of a concern the current debt trends should be. Part of the goal of this exploration is to gain fluency in interpreting this number meaningfully. 

Consider finding and showing a video (one that is not too politically charged) to introduce some of the ideas behind this thorny issue.

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