A mere twenty days ago, Donald Trump gave an interview to the Washington Post. In it he made this utterly fatuous and fantastical claim:
DT: We’re not a rich country. We’re a debtor nation. We’ve got to get rid of — I talked about bubble. We’ve got to get rid of the $19 trillion in debt.
BW: How long would that take?
DT: I think I could do it fairly quickly, because of the fact the numbers . . . .
BW: What’s fairly quickly?
DT: Well, I would say over a period of eight years. And I’ll tell you why.
BW: Would you ever be open to tax increases as part of that, to solve the problem?
DT: I don’t think I’ll need to. The power is trade. Our deals are so bad.
BW: That would be $2 trillion a year.
DT: No, but I’m renegotiating all of our deals, Bob. The big trade deals that we’re doing so badly on. With China, $505 billion this year in trade. We’re losing with everybody. And a lot of those deals — a lot of people say, how could the politicians be so stupid? It’s not that they’re stupid. It’s that they’re controlled by lobbyists and special interests who want those deals to be made.
And he dispatched minions and mouthbreathers out to carry the word that he would do this by selling off every stick of property the United States owned. Like, for instance, this chubby little fellow:
Bennett: We can get rid of government buildings we’re not using, we can, uh, extract the energy from government lands, we can lease government lands, we can do all kinds of things to extract value from the assets that we hold.
Reporter: Sixteen trillion dollars worth?
Bennett: Oh, my goodness. You know how much land we have? You know how much oil is offshore, in government lands? Easily.
As Leon pointed out, this is horse-apples.
I actually have some grudging admiration, professionally, for what Bennett is doing here. First of all, for how easy he makes it sound – like $16T would just be a drop in the bucket compared to what we actually own, and that selling it all off wouldn’t really affect the operation of the Federal government at all. No problem!
Second, he clearly made this up on the spot and sprung it on this hapless MSNBC reporter, who has no reason to know what the total value of all assets held by the United States government is, so he knows there’s virtually no chance he’ll be confronted with the actual figure of what the value of those assets might be. Genius.
Problematically, of course, as a factual matter Bennett’s solution is complete bovine fecal material. We do, in fact, know how much land the United States has, and the total value of all real estate currently owned by the United States government (which is by FAR the most valuable asset the USG has) is $1.8 trillion. The total value of all real estate in the entire United States is about $23 trillion at last estimate, which of course is mostly owned by private entities.
Now, as part of the program of making Trump appear lucid and civilized for short periods of time, Trump is backtracking from this claim… fast. Like this interview in Fortune:
You’ve said you plan to pay off the country’s debt in 10 years. How’s that possible?
No, I didn’t say 10 years. First of all, with low interest rates, you can think in terms of refinancings, and get it down. I believe you can do certain things to pay off the debt more quickly. The most important thing is to make sure the economy stays strong. You can do it in smaller chunks. You can do it in larger chunks. And you can do it in refinancings.
How much of the debt could you pay off in 10 years?
You could pay off a percentage of it.
It depends on how aggressive you want to be. I’d rather not be so aggressive. Don’t forget: We have to rebuild the infrastructure of our country. We have to rebuild our military, which is being decimated by bad decisions. We have to do a lot of things. We have to reduce our debt, and the best thing we have going now is that interest rates are so low that lots of good things can be done that aren’t being done, amazingly.
In Trump’s defense, he didn’t say 10 years, he said eight. Therefore the “percentage” that could be paid off should be 125% because he was given two additional years to pay off the debt. What are these “good things” that can be done? He doesn’t say and it is probably just as well. I’m not sure the Fortune reporters could have survived the answer.
Trump, as someone said recently, is actually worse than a liar. He’s a bullsh**ter. Unfortunately, he’s found there is a bullish market for bullsh** in America and no amount of reporting the truth is going to change that.