Bottom of the Bottomless Debt

I love John Prine.  If you never heard of him, you have missed one of the best songwriters ever.  His ability to turn life’s joys, sorrows, and ironies into song is awe-inspiring.  People to whom I introduce his music invariably say, “That’s exactly how I have felt!”

Now I don’t know whether John would agree with what I am about to say, so let me extend my apologies just in case.  A song of his came to mind early this morning as I was reading about our deficit.  The song is entitled Bottom of the Bottomless Lake and it tells a fabulous tongue-in-cheek tale of a family who takes off on a drive to see Uncle Jake.  As they reach the river, the brakes on the car fail and the ferry is not there so they fall…you guessed it…into the Bottomless Lake.

We are falling down, down to the bottom
Of hole in the ground, smoke ’em if ya got ’em
I’m so scared I can hardly breathe
I may never see my sweetheart again

We too are falling, and some people think there is no bottom to the deficit–we will just keep falling.  Of course, we all know that there is no such thing as a bottomless lake or a bottomless pit or a bottomless plumber (e-mail me when that one’s funny).  We eventually hit bottom, and the longer the drop, the harder the stop.  Right now the debt is over $12 trillion dollars.  It increases at $3.9 billion per day.  By the time we add unfunded liabilities to the picture, according to some, we can never pay it off.  The math does not work.

The choices are stark.  We can rein in a pathological government by refusing to elect people who spend like Imelda Marcos on speed or we can wait for the car to “Hit the bottom of the Bottomless Lake.”  When it does, we will wish it was as funny as Prine’s song.


Terry checked his sons’ science text books.  There was a lot about global warming, but no mention of the Bottomless Lake.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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