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As we’re in the midst of celebrating the founding of the United States on for many is a long holiday weekend, it might also be a good time to consider the state of the federal government’s fiscal ledger on the eve of this year’s Independence Day.
In January 2017, the outgoing Secretary of the U.S. Treasury Jack Lew issued the Financial Report of the U.S. Government for the government’s 2016 fiscal year, which ended on September 30, 2016. In that report, Lew totaled up his estimates of the assets and liabilities of the entire U.S. government.
The chart below breaks down the U.S. government’s primary assets and liabilities while visualizing the sheer mismatch between the two sides of the U.S. Treasury’s ledger.
In the chart, we’ve shown the government’s largest asset as the combination of net Property, Plant, Equipment, Inventories and Related Property that the U.S. government owns, which includes the value of things like federal lands and forests, office buildings and equipment owned by the U.S. military, which accounts for over $1.2 trillion of the nation’s assets.
The second largest asset is the combination of Federal Direct Student Loans and Federal Family Education Loans, which together had a face value of $825 billion at the end of the government’s 2016 fiscal year. Other loans, such as those made by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Energy and others account for another $490 billion of the U.S. government’s assets.
Cash and other monetary assets, like the gold reserve held at Fort Knox, totaled up to $490 billion, and all other assets combined added up to $396.5 billion. All of these assets together added up to some $3.47 trillion.
Unfortunately, the value of the U.S. government’s assets are dwarfed by its $22.76 trillion worth of liabilities. Those liabilities are primarily made up of the $14,221 trillion of the U.S. government’s debt that is directly held by the public, which includes foreign nations, and also some $7.2 trillion of benefits promised to employees of the federal government and also to veterans of the nation’s military services.
Still, the assets that the U.S. government holds do provide part of the solution to that problem, where the Independent Institute’s William Shughart and Carl Close have proposed to sell them off as a real part of the solution to the U.S. government’s growing debt crisis.
Combined with getting the federal government’s spending under control by restraining its growth to be less than the rate of growth of the economy, this is the kind of revolutionary thinking that really needs to take hold in the U.S. Capitol this Fourth of July!