I have admitted several times over the years that when it comes to economics, my knowledge is such that I can sometimes balance my chequebook, but not very often. However, during the past five years or so even that has not been a problem because I doubt I have written more than three cheques in that time.
The advent of internet banking allows me to keep a daily check on the state of the family finances; it allows me to always pay my monthly bills on time, and casual bills, too, so long as the provider lets me have a bank-account number.
I don't have to put money in the plate at church; an established automatic weekly payment from my internet account takes care of that. And various other charities which we support benefit the same way. In fact, I tend to ignore any charitable requests unless I can pay online.
On the other hand, our national superannuation payments appear in the internet account statements regularly every second Tuesday, except on long weekends when they arrive on a Saturday. The same goes for monthly payments I receive from several newspapers (yes, I do get paid for writing this stuff).
We have a standing overdraft limit on our bank trading account, which hasn't been used for years but is there in case of a dire and expensive emergency. We have no mortgage or any other time-payment debt.
So you can, perhaps, understand my bewilderment when I read that the United States Government can't get by on a debt limit of US$14.3 trillion and wants to raise it in stages by at least US$2.2 trillion.
A trillion dollars is 1000 billion dollars, and a billion dollars is 1000 million, which means (I think) that the US Government is in the red to the tune of $14,300 billion or $14,300,000 million. To render 14.3 trillion in figures would wear out the zero key on my laptop. I am quite simply unable to conceive of such sums.
In fact, it stretches my imagination even to comprehend New Zealand's overseas debt, which is a pittance at $250 billion, of which only $36.15 billion is government borrowing and the rest corporate borrowing. There is, of course, no comparison; it's just the sums involved that astound.
In Europe and elsewhere, several countries are also facing bankruptcy. Ireland, Portugal, Greece and others are economic cot cases and are being bailed out by the International Monetary Fund with multi-billion-dollar loans. Britain and even Germany are contemplating severe austerity measures to keep their heads above water.
What I would very much like is to have someone explain to those of us who are fiscal ignoramuses what these incomprehensible figures mean.
For instance, where does all this unbelievable amount of borrowed money come from and why do governments allow themselves to get into such a situation?
How come the US$5 trillion surplus that Democrat Bill Clinton bequeathed to the US in 2001 has in a decade, most of it under Republican George W Bush, been turned into a $15 trillion deficit? How does the US Government manage to pay the interest, let alone any principal? What is the money spent on? What are the chances of such a debt ever being repaid and, if so, with what?
What happens if a major creditor suddenly calls in loans? What is the security offered on such loans?
Where does the IMF get the money to lend to nearly bankrupt nations? Is that also borrowed and if so where from? If all the borrowed money was repaid today, where would it end up?
The other astonishing thing about the US debacle is that the debt limit is to be raised but taxes are not. Surely the obvious way to cap or to reduce debt is to increase income, rather than take the axe to public services.
Why is it that the wealthy, some of whom have more money than they could possibly spend in several lifetimes, refuse to pay their fair share of taxes?
Giving tax breaks to the wealthy makes as much sense as doubling or tripling payments to social-welfare beneficiaries and pensioners.
That, of course, has an echo in New Zealand, where the latest tax cuts, introduced by the Key Government and which benefit mainly high income-earners, are ostensibly being paid for by deep cuts to public services.
Could that, perhaps, explain why New Zealand's 10 richest Rich Listers managed a 20 per cent increase in their wealth in just 12 months? That this is somehow seen as praiseworthy in some quarters makes me want to puke.
And don't talk to me about "investment" and "business growth" and the "trickle-down effect".
If any of those things were anything but mirages, this country and others would not have hundreds of thousands, and in some places millions, of citizens unemployed, living in poverty, riddled with sickness and facing the daily fear, or reality, of hunger if not starvation.
Watch it grow
* For the latest figures on the US debt go to www.usdebtclock.org/