A misleading graph: Federal income vs. federal spending

Self-evaluation corresponds with intelligence. If you are smart, being smart lets you understand that you are smart. If you are stupid, being stupid keeps you from knowing you are stupid. Thus, everyone thinks they are smart.
In related issues, everyone thinks they are above-average drivers and that the federal government can run short of dollars.


A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but what if they called it “stinkwort”? Labels do matter. Visualize this scenario:

Man row a row boat at sea — Stock Video © lucidwaters #82323100
The boater must take more water from the ocean than he receives from the ocean. That is, the ocean must run a water deficit for the boater to survive, just as the federal government must run a dollar deficit for the economy to survive.

A man sits in a rowboat in the Pacific Ocean.

Using his desalinization kit he fills his canteen with one pint of water, which he later drinks and excretes as urine,

But, because of perspiration evaporation and breathing, he excretes only 9/10th pint of urine.

So, for boater the Pacific Ocean runs a deficit of 1/10th pint of water.

Does anyone care?

No, the Pacific Ocean running a 1/10th pint of water deficit is meaningless, because for all intents, the ocean has infinite water.

Infinite water minus 1/10th pint still equals infinite. No change.

Now imagine the same scenario, except instead of viewing it from the ocean’s standpoint, view it from the boater’s standpoint. 

The man has drunk a pint of water, 9/10th of which he has excreted as urine into the ocean, and used the rest for perspiration, and other bodily functions.

That pint of water has allowed him to live for a certain time. Without the pint of water, he would have died.

That’s important.

In both scenarios we gave you the same information, but in one case we labeled it as a water measure from the standpoint of the ocean, and in the other case we labeled it as a water measure from the standpoint of the boater.

The following graph comes from https://www.chartr.co/newsletters/2023-02-08/. It labels money flow from the standpoint of the U.S. government:

This graph shows the nation’s money flow from the standpoint of the U.S. government, not from the standpoint of the economy.

Here are excerpts from the accompanying article:

State of the union’s wallet
Last night, President Biden held the annual State of the Union. A big theme was the economy. He threatened to veto any proposal that would cut spending on Social Security and Medicare while also imploring Congress to raise the debt ceiling.

I O U $1.4 trillion: In fiscal year 2022, the federal government collected nearly $5tn in revenue, with more than 50% of that coming from individual income taxes.

However, the US government spent even more, leading to a nearly $1.4tn deficit

To make up for the difference the US government does what everyone who overspends their budget does — they borrow.

This then adds to its already enormous tab (AKA the national debt), which currently sits at the $31.4tn debt ceiling limit.

With a debt pile that big, the interest payments aren’t small. Indeed, last year the US government spent ~$480bn on net interest payments, just shy of IrelandNorway or Nigeria’s annual GDP.

There are three major problems with the above scenario.

  1. It draws a false parallel between the finances of our Monetarily Sovereign government and the finances of monetarily non-sovereign “everyone.” The former has infinite money and the latter does not.
  2. It falsely states that the federal government must borrow in order to “make up the difference.” The federal government, having the infinite ability to create its sovereign currency, never borrows dollars, and never needs to “make up the difference.” To pay all its obligations, the federal government creates new dollars, ad hoc. It destroys all the tax dollars it receives.
  3. It labels the money movement from the standpoint of the federal government rather than from the standpoint of the economy.

Think of the Pacific Ocean as analogous to the U.S. federal government, and the boater as analogous to the economy.

Like the Pacific Ocean’s water, the federal government has infinite dollars. And like the boater’s limited water supply, the economy has limited dollars.

Alan Greenspan: “A government cannot become insolvent with respect to obligations in its own currency. There is nothing to prevent the federal government from creating as much money as it wants and paying it to somebody. The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print the money to do that.”

Ben Bernanke: “The U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost.”

Quote from from 60 Minutes:
Scott Pelley: Is that tax money that the Fed is spending?
Ben Bernanke: It’s not tax money… We simply use the computer to mark up the size of the account.

Statement from the St. Louis Fed: “As the sole manufacturer of dollars, whose debt is denominated in dollars, the U.S. government can never become insolvent, i.e., unable to pay its bills. In this sense, the government is not dependent on credit markets to remain operational.”

(The final sentence, above, is Fed-speak for, “The government does not borrow to pay its bills.”)

The U.S. government is not the only Monetarily Sovereign government. The European Central Bank also is Monetarily Sovereign (and like the U.S. economy, individual euro nations are monetarily non-sovereign.)

Press Conference: Mario Draghi, President of the ECB, 9 January 2014
Question: I am wondering: can the ECB ever run out of money?
Mario Draghi: Technically, no. We cannot run out of money.

To survive, the boater needs the Pacific Ocean to run a water deficit. Similarly, to survive, the economy needs the federal government to run a dollar deficit.

The Pacific Ocean does not need to receive any water from the boater nor does the Ocean “owe” the boater any water. Similarly, the economy should not be asked to give the federal government any money, nor does the government “owe” the economy any money.

Finally, the Pacific Ocean does not borrow water to give water to the boater.

Think of the Pacific Ocean and the boater the next time you hear about federal debt limits and taxes.

Labels matter.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell
Monetary Sovereignty

Twitter: @rodgermitchell Search #monetarysovereignty
Facebook: Rodger Malcolm Mitchell


The Sole Purpose of Government Is to Improve and Protect the Lives of the People.


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