An inconvenient fact has gotten shoved out of the headlines by Lehman Brothers' demise, AIG's (NYSE:AIG) overnight implosion, the collapse of Washington Mutual (NYSE:WM) and Wachovia (NYSE:WB), and 60% plunges from the likes of National City (NYSE:NCC). As a result of a sickly economy, government bailouts, and an otherwise continued instance to spend more than we make, our national debt is about to surpass the $10 trillion mark.

The numbers are pretty amazing: 10 trillion dollars. Fourteen digits. About $33,000 per American. One quarter of it is owned by foreign investors. Almost 1 trillion has been added in the past year alone, with $300 billion added in just the past month.

Take a look at how fast national debt has grown over the past five years:


National Debt



$6.79 trillion



$7.35 trillion



$7.93 trillion



$8.52 trillion



$9.00 trillion



$9.89 trillion


Pretty scary stuff, especially in the context of the banking industry's ongoing dilemmas. What we've learned in the past year should resonate loud and clear throughout the national debt market: When you become overextended, bite off more than you can chew, and rely on debt to feed your way of life, bad things usually happen. In a year when every American has become far too familiar with the words "bailout," "leverage," and "bankruptcy," and as "debt" has become the naughtiest four-letter word of them all, few stop to remember that the U.S.A. is the world's largest debtor.

In reality, passing the $10 trillion mark is purely symbolic; in and of itself, it means nothing. Nonetheless, we live in a "boiling frog" economy; No one dares to move a finger until a crisis lies on our doorstep. Will $10 trillion finally be the number that graces enough headlines to wake America up to its looming debt problem? By golly, I sure hope so.

More on the national debt: