Our National Debt Has Outgrown The 'National Debt Clock' In NYC

Now that we’ve hit double-digit trillions, the “National Debt” clock that’s been running constantly since 1989 in New York City’s midtown can no longer properly display the total. Brian Williams says they’ve had to temporarily adjust the display while they build a new one, slated to go up next year. We’re not sure anyone should be spending money on a fancy new hi-tech clock right now—maybe they should just hang a big chalk board, and hire an unemployed investment banker to write the new debt each day. See the video below.

For the deaf, those without speakers, people at work, or people too impatient for video, here’s a handy caption of what it says:

We also wanted to show you a rather grim sign of our times. It’s not far here from here in midtown Manhattan. The national debt has grown too large for the national debt clock.

It went up back in 1989 when the nation’s debt was less than 3 trillion dollars. The debt has been piling up so fast lately they had to drop the dollar sign to make room for an extra digit, as the number turned over to more than 10 trillion dollars now and counting every second.

A whole new clock with two extra spaces will go up next year.

“U.S. National Debt Grows Too Large For Clock” [YouTube via Towleroad]


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  1. ironchef says:

    I just can’t help noticing how the last 8 years had something to do with this.

    Isn’t he “the one” who promised shrinking the size of government and telling us about the wonders of fiscal conservatism?

    • Tux the Penguin says:

      @ironchef: You don’t even have to go back to the last 8 years. We just had Congress sign us up for another $1 trillion.

      Sadly enough, neither McCain or Obama will do anything about it. If McCain has any upside, its that he is at least saying he’ll not spend us into oblivion. Obama… I shiver when I think about the spending that he will start… and has promised to.

      But I was thinking: imagine if Bush hadn’t promise to try and limit spending. Oh dear Lord.

    • Canino says:

      @ironchef: Blame the President all you want, it’s congress who approves, allocates, and spends money. The executive branch proposes a budget, the rest is up to congress.

      The (for the past 8 years) democrat-controlled congress, that is.

      • BusyBusyBusyBusySleep says:

        @Canino: Just to clarify:

        [en.wikipedia.org] – “Aside from duties relating to heading the House and the majority political party“…
        [en.wikipedia.org] – Dennis Hastert (Republican) was Speaker until 2007 (the Republicans having lost in the 2006 midterm elections).

        [en.wikipedia.org] – “the President pro tempore is now usually the most senior senator of the majority party…
        [en.wikipedia.org] – Ted Stevens (Republican) was President pro tem from 2003 to 2007 (again, because the Republicans lost in 2006).

        Maybe “(for the past 8 years) democrat-controlled” means something other than I think it does, but it looks like Republicans controlled the House from 1995 until 2007, and the Senate from 2003-2007…

        Again, my history may be off (as I was young and impressionable at the time), but it looks like it hasn’t really been a “democrat-controlled congress”. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

        • mac-phisto says:

          @BusyBusyBusyBusySleep: thanks for that – i was beginning to think i was losing my mind. i have a pretty good memory & lately i’ve heard a lot of folks spouting off this misinformation.

          all i can think of is, remember how people used to joke that maybe W didn’t know he could veto bills that crossed his desk? he didn’t veto a single piece of legislation until july 2006 – [en.wikipedia.org]

          i don’t subscribe to the school of thought that wants to place all the blame on the repubs, but i get really steamed when people just start pulling history out of their asses.

      • mozillauser says:

        @Canino: Hehe… democrat controlled congress for the last “8 years”… I wonder if anyone will actually believe that. For those counting, its been only 2 years, though they still should have done better in those 2 years.

      • OletheaEurystheus says:

        @Canino: Are you neo-cons that STUPID. Its been a REPUBLICAN CONTROLLED HOUSE AND SENATE FOR 10 of the LAST 12 YEARS.

        My god no wonder people are stupid enough to vote for Insane McCain.

      • ironchef says:

        @Canino: Budgets are submitted from the President and finally signed into law by the President.

      • Decius says:


        The Congress was Republican controlled for nearly 7 of those 8 years.

      • Decius says:


        Wrong and corrected often here already. The change was that banks couldn’t deny people an _offer_ based on race or district of residence. An offer is far from “must give poor people mortgages”. Bankers gladly gave poor people mortgages because they made a commission on every mortgage sold, regardless how toxic, and didn’t have a risk because they sold the mortgage on Wall Street inside of months anyway.

      • Decius says:


        You’re wrong and spouting partisian talking point with this post I must say.
        Nobody force mortgage companies to give out bad loans. The change you refer to (which was under Carter, not Clinton) force banks to stop denying service to people based on race or place of residence.
        Mortgage companies lobbied to be allowed to give bad loans. Why? Because they got commission on every loan they sold and in turn sold the mortgage/loan to Wall Street for another profit, removing any risk for themselves (it’s a bit more complicated, since CDS comes in too, but that’s the gist of it).

    • fever says:


      It wasn’t “him” who spent the money, it was us and them.

    • Ixnayer says:

      Hate to be the bearer of bad news but the problem started with Clinton, when he forced fannie mae and freddie mac mortgage companies to consider welfare and foodstamps as income and to make available half their mortgage loans to minorites and low income individuals without a credit check. This was the beginning of the housing crisis. Blame Bush all you want, the problem started with Clinton when he forced politically correct loans rather than financially correct loans.

      • SanguinePony says:

        @Ixnayer: You’re wrong and you need to take a civics class. The President can’t “force” a company to do anything. It’s the job of the legislative branch (that means Congress) to create laws. Both the House and Senate had a Republican majority from 1995 through the end of Clinton’s term.

    • GoVegan says:

      @ironchef: I have to agree with you ironchef. The last 8 years have really sucked. The Bush administration was handed a surplus budget and they decided to pulverize it to bits. I am also sick of people saying that the Bush administration is not at fault. Do you think that 8 years of war and tax cuts have had nothing to do with our economy going down the tubes? The problem with the republicans is that they don’t deliver at all. They talk about fiscal responsibility, lower taxes and reducing the size of government and then do the complete opposite. They might actually be a decent political party if they walked their talk. Here in California, we recalled Governor Davis because he supposedly turned our surplus budget into a deficit. They also accused Davis of ignoring California’s energy crisis during our deregulation experiment with the power companies. Well here we are with a 10 trillion dollar deficit and $4.00 a gallon gas. Why are they not demanding impeachment now?

    • GoVegan says:

      @ironchef: I will admit that some of these commenters have it right when they state that Congress and not the President hold the checkbook but the fact is that Congress gave the President a blank check after they were fed a bunch of lies and he went wild on our bank account. What happened to oil money financing the war or the bunkers full of chemical munitions in Iraq just waiting to be used by some evil bogeyman against us? Not only is the war not being financed by oil money but the Iraqis are charging our troops for the gas they use there while. Also, where are these bunkers full of chemical weapons? I haven’t even seen a can of Raid being pulled out of Iraq. What we got was the same line of crap that was fed to us during the Iran Contra Scandal and that is a bunch of politicians telling us “if you knew what we knew, you would be supporting us”. I hate to say it but a huge chunk of our deficit is the fault of the current presidential administration. Now our economy is in real trouble and we will all be paying taxes for years to get out of this mess.

  2. TheFuzz53 says:

    Maybe we can convince China to give a principle write down too!

  3. UnicornMaster says:

    fiscal conservatives my butt. The only difference between Republicans and Democrats is where they spend the money.

  4. silver-bolt says:

    Why not just hang a one on the left of the last digit and be done with it.

  5. noscamsplease says:

    i do believe when bill clinton was in office, we had a surplus.

    • feerlessleadr says:

      @noscamsplease: not to rain on your parade, but Clinton’s policies are ONE OF (note i said one of and not the only) the reasons we are in this mess today. Due to his administration wanting every American (even those who couldn’t afford it) to own a house.

      and Bush is definitely not a fiscal conservative BTW

      • ARP says:

        @feerlessleadr: I think your timing is off on your argument. Before the subprime mess, our debt was already spiraling out of control. Few spending cuts, tax cuts for the wealthy/corporation that didn’t create the trickle down increased tax revenue that they always argue will happen (and never does) and fighting two wars, etc.

        I also think you’re mischaracterizing the Clinton administration’s goals. The goal was not, get everyone in a house whether they can afford it or not. It was to provide a backstop/subsidization of mortgages to encourage home ownership. So, it wasn’t as reckless as you make it out to be. Also, I believe that Bush II also strongly encouraged home ownership (as that was one of the few good areas of the economy).

      • OletheaEurystheus says:

        @feerlessleadr: Actually his policy was to prevent banks from having two sets of rules, one for upper middle class and better, and one for everyone else. Prior to his REPUBLICAN VOTED rule changes, it was legal to discriminate against giving a loan to people the bank didnt feel where capable of a loan, regardless of background, or income.

        His policy change, if it had been followed by the banks in the way it was meant, wouldnt have caused this mess, because banks would still have the right to avoid making loans to people who couldnt pay them. Banks manipulated it to allow them to make loans to people who couldn’t afford them with ideas that they could profit off them enough that the defaulting wouldnt hurt too much, especially if the cost of housing went up.

    • Ixnayer says:

      @noscamsplease: Bill Clinton forced mortgage companies to make politically correct loans rather than financially correct loans. This was the beginnning of the economic mess. I’m not a big fan of Bush, but I’m not going to put blame on him that should be going elsewhere. Why arent the liberals bitching about Barney Frank? This was his watch. The democrats spent the last 2 years doing the same thing the republicans did previously, NOT A DAMN THING! Both parties failed this nation.

    • DoctorMD says:

      @noscamsplease: If you don’t include Social Security or Medicare. With those included we still were WAY in the hole.

      We should all use that accounting technique. My credit card balances are not debt because I can just default on them.

    • GoVegan says:

      @noscamsplease: Yes the good old days. Please bring back Clinton and put Monica on the payroll if we have to. Anything is better then what we have now!

  6. Have you seen the game Budget Hero? It’s at [marketplace.publicradio.org]

    I’ve played, and I’ve never been able to pay off the debt in the game’s timeframe, but by doing lots of slashing and returning to Clinton-level taxes, the game certainly suggests it would be possible to pay off the debt (not just eliminate the deficit) in about 15 years. But of course Washington doesn’t have the discipline.

    Right now as I write, the debt is an estimated $10 trillion. Divide that by the estimated 304 million, and each citizen’s share is a shade under $33,500.00. So paying off the debt isn’t impossible (at 6% interest over 15 years, it costs $283 per citizen per month), but it certainly is difficult, and requires discipline.

    The biggest problem is that we’ve allowed ourselves to think it’s impossible, that we’ll never do it, and it doesn’t matter.

    George Bush I infamously didn’t have an answer in 1992 when he was asked how the national debt affected him personally. I can answer that. Every tax dollar I pay in interest is one dollar less that the government could be spending on something that matters to me. That’s true of every taxpayer, regardless of political affiliation.

  7. orielbean says:

    Can we build a giant National Debt Cockpunch instead?

  8. equazcion says:

    “We’re not sure anyone should be spending money on a fancy new hi-tech clock right now”

    The clock is privately-owned by an individual, as far as I understand. So having a new clock built means money goes from some rich dude back into the economy. Probably a good thing.

  9. Marshfield says:

    “A rolling loan gathers no loss” — that was the phrase back before the old S&L bailout. History repeating itself now. And since there’s a bailout, no reason to think it won’t happen again in the future.

  10. Meathamper says:

    I like the chalkboard idea. Maybe the CEO from Lehman Brothers can do the writing. And no toilet breaks until 4:00 PM!

  11. Baron Von Crogs says:

    Yeah, why do they need to spend more money on a new sign? Maybe things will get better and go down! HAVE HOPE!

  12. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    I think the government should spend $700 billion on a new sign.

    Who’s with me? Come on…..

  13. Onouris says:

    Sorry, why do you have a clock showing how woefully in debt you are?

  14. u1itn0w2day says:

    What the heck,just add more digits just like the government printers are doing.

  15. Hongfiately says:

    Maybe the government can bail out the big clock.

    And for the record, Bush is not a fiscal conservative (QED). He’s a “compassionate conservative”, which apparently means enter office when the federal budget is approaching $2 trillion (which took more than 200 years to achieve) and in your two terms, double it. Back in the fall of 1999, he even chided the then-Republican Congress not to “balance the budget on the backs of the poor.”

    [Will Saletan article in Slate]

  16. DoctorMD says:

    There should also be an Inflation Clock

    “How much the fed stole from you this year…”

  17. Quilt says:

    Why didn’t they just write a big “0” on a piece of lined paper and just add it to the end of the counter? Spend a few cents to make the counter right, or spend many thousands of dollars to make it right? Top ten reasons you guys have such a huge debt.

    • Parting says:

      @Quilt: It’s a private board. It does not belong to the government. So if the owner(s) wants to modify it, it their caprice. And they do have money for it, contrary to USA’s treasury.

  18. papahoth says:

    Since World War II, the National Debt as a percentage of the GDP has increased under the following administrations: Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, George W. Bush. It has decreased under all other administrations. Blame Congress all you want, but I blame the last three Republican presidents.