National debt outgrows clock

The U.S. national debt is shown on the National Debt Clock in New York on Thursday. To accommodate the expanding number, it will soon be replaced. Bebeto Matthews, The Associated Press

AP

The U.S. national debt is shown on the National Debt Clock in New York on Thursday. To accommodate the expanding number, it will soon be replaced. Bebeto Matthews, The Associated Press

By Marcus Franklin

NEW YORK – A watched clock never moves – unless it’s the National Debt Clock.

In fact, the digital counter has been moving so much that it recently ran out of digits to display the ballooning figure: $10,150,603,734,720, or roughly $10.2 trillion, as of Saturday afternoon.

The clock was put up by the late real estate mogul Seymour Durst in 1989 when the U.S. government’s debt was a mere $2.7 trillion, and was even turned off during the 1990s when the debt decreased.

It will be replaced in 2009 with a new clock, said Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for the Durst Organization. The new clock will be able to track debt up to a quadrillion dollars, which is a ‘1’ followed by 15 zeros.

In the meantime, the ‘1’ from “$10.2” has been moved left to the LCD square once occupied solely by the digital dollar sign. A non-digital, improvised dollar sign has been pasted next to the ‘1.’

The current clock had enough digits to measure the amount of money owed by the U.S. government until debt recently hit $10 trillion. Since then, more eyes have been on the fixture near touristy Times Square.

When Nancy Gurzo spotted the sign one recent afternoon, she came to a halt. Standing in the middle of the sidewalk, Gurzo pointed up at the sign, gesturing for her daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren, all of whom had left her behind, to walk back and see.

“It’s a shame,” the 60-year-old Manasquan, N.J., restaurant manager said, anger and disbelief in her face. “It’s an absolute outrage. It may be the end of the United States as we know it today. We haven’t seen the worst of it. Everybody should stop and look at this clock. It affects all of us.”

Svet Stauber paused in front of the sign and held his camera up to snap a picture.

“It’s symbolic,” Stauber, a 40-year-old pilot from Switzerland, said of the counter’s lack of space. “It’s a very big symbol. It’s a complete failure of the system. It’s the most powerful country in the world with a conservative government for the last eight years, and it’s running the biggest debt ever.”

The reaction of Stauber’s wife, Roberta, to the escalating debt was more pointed: “It’s good for the United States,” the doctor said, adding that maybe the country’s current predicament would deflate its “ego” and “arrogance.”

“You think you are the best country in the world,” she continued. “I hope America reflects about this.”