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National Debt Clock

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Coordinates: 40°45′23″N 73°59′02″W / 40.756329°N 73.983921°W / 40.756329; -73.983921

Photo of the National Debt Clock at Sixth Avenue and 44th Street, at which time it read $19.9 trillion in national debt
The current clock, as seen from Sixth Avenue in February 2017, at which time it read $19.9 trillion in national debt

The National Debt Clock is a billboard-sized running total display which constantly updates to show the current United States gross national debt and each American family's share of the debt. It is currently installed on the side of a building at the southwest corner of 44th Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, New York City. It was the first debt clock installed anywhere.

The idea for the clock came from New York real estate developer Seymour Durst, who wanted to highlight the rising national debt. In 1989, he sponsored the installation of the first clock, which was originally placed on Sixth Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets, one block away from Times Square. In 2004, the original clock was dismantled and replaced by the current clock at the new location one block away. In 2008, as the U.S. national debt exceeded $10 trillion for the first time, it was reported that the value of the debt may have exceeded the number of digits in the clock.

Context[edit]

New York real estate developer Seymour Durst, who invented and sponsored the clock, stated that it represents a non-partisan effort and explained the motivation behind the project in terms of intergenerational equity: "We're a family business. We think generationally, and we don't want to see the next generation crippled by this burden."[1]

According to Seymour's son Douglas, his father had been toying with the basic idea of drawing attention to the growing national debt since at least 1980, when during the holiday season he sent cards that said "Happy New Year. Your share of the national debt is $35,000" to senators and congressmen.[2] In the early 1980s, when Seymour first developed the idea of a constantly updated clock, the technology required to implement the project was not yet available.[1] Back then, the debt was quickly approaching $1 trillion.[3]

First clock[edit]

Photo of the first National Debt Clock at the original location near Times Square
The first clock at the original location near Times Square (2002)

The first National Debt Clock was installed on February 20, 1989.[4] The national debt stood at US$2.7 trillion dollars that year. The original 11-by-26-foot (3.4 m × 7.9 m) clock was constructed at a cost of $100,000.[5] It cost $500 per month[5] to maintain the display's 305 lightbulbs.[3] It was mounted on a now-demolished Durst building at Sixth Avenue near 42nd Street (a block from Times Square), facing the north side of 42nd Street and Bryant Park.[6] Built by the New York sign company Artkraft Strauss, the clock featured a dot-based segment display emulating the then-typical character resolution of 5-by-7. Similar to the second clock, the updating mechanism was such that the display was set to the estimated speed of debt growth (odometer-style) and adjusted weekly according to the latest numbers published by the United States Treasury.[5][7][8] Seymour Durst vowed that the clock would "be up as long as the debt or the city lasts," and that "if it bothers people, then it's working."[9]

Up until the week before his death in May 1995, Durst himself adjusted the tally via modem.[5] After his death, his son Douglas became president of the Durst Organization, which owns and maintains the clock.[5][7][10] Artkraft Strauss has been keeping the figures current since then.[5] On November 15, 1995, the clock stopped counting up for the first time in its six years of operation. As a result of a federal government shutdown, the clock was frozen at a value of $4,985,567,071,200.[11] In 1998, the clock broke down shortly after the numbers surpassed $5.5 trillion. The cause was attributed to the numbers "being too high." In response, Artkraft installed a new computer inside the clock.[3]

In early 2000, the clock started to run backward because the national debt was actually decreasing.[6][10] It showed a national debt of $5.7 billion and an individual family share of almost $74,000. With the original purpose of the clock being to highlight the rising debt, the reversal of the figures gave a mixed message, added to the fact that the display not being designed to properly run backward.[1] In May 2000, it was reported that the clock was planned to be unplugged on September 7, 2000, what would have been Seymour Durst's 87th birthday. Douglas said that the decision to unplug the clock was made because "it was put up to focus attention on the increasing national debt, and it's served its purpose."[12] In September, the clock was unplugged and covered with a red-white-and-blue curtain, with the national debt standing at roughly 5.7 trillion dollars.[1] However, less than two years later in July 2002, the curtain was raised and the clock once again picked up tracking a rising debt,[13] starting at 6.1 trillion dollars.[14]

Second clock[edit]

Photo of the National Debt Clock on September 24, 2004, at which time it read approximately 7.3 trillion USD in national debt
The National Debt Clock on September 24, 2004, at which time it read approximately 7.3 trillion USD in national debt

In 2004, the original clock was moved from its location near 42nd Street, and the building where the sign had been mounted was demolished so One Bryant Park could be built.[15] An updated model was installed one block away on the side of a Durst building at 1133 Avenue of the Americas, facing Sixth Avenue near the southeast corner of the intersection with West 44th Street.[1][16] The new clock is located next to an Internal Revenue Service office.[9][17] The new clock, which can run backward, is outfitted with a brighter seven-segment display with multiple LEDs per segment, allowing the numbers to be read more easily.[1]

In the midst of extensive media attention during the financial crisis beginning in 2007, the National Debt Clock's display ran out of digits when the U.S. gross federal debt rose above US$10 trillion on September 30, 2008.[17][18][19] In the farthest-left space, the debt clock displayed the digit "1" in place of the dollar sign after the display began overflowing.[20]

An overhaul or complete replacement adding two more digits to the clock's display was being planned as of 2008.[8][21][22] The clock would be able to show a debt of up to $1 quadrillion.[9]

As of September 2009, Douglas Durst's cousin Jonathan "Jody" Durst, with whom he currently shares a co-presidency of the company, is in the process of taking over the day-to-day operations as president. In an interview with The New York Times, Jonathan said that maintenance of the clock is planned "for years to come."[23]

Similar projects[edit]

Photo of the German national debt clock at the Berlin headquarters of taxpayer watchdog group Bund der Steuerzahler
German national debt clock at the Berlin headquarters of taxpayer watchdog group Bund der Steuerzahler

The idea of conveying a message through a periodically updated clock found an earlier expression in the Doomsday Clock. However, the innovation of the National Debt Clock was to feature a constantly running counter; it has since inspired similar projects elsewhere, both in the United States and further afield.[5][24] In particular, it has become a national fixture shows that the U.S.'s increasing debt. By 1995, the New York Times reported that politicians were citing the clock to advocate for a reduction to the national budget.[5] Various tracking counters of national debt are also kept online.[a]

The National Debt Clock has also been credited as the inspiration behind other running totalizers, for example an AMD campaign employing an electronic billboard; instead of a debt, it tracked the supposed additional cost of using a rival chip.[25] In 2010, a "death clock" parodying the debt clock was erected in Times Square, counting how many maternal deaths happen worldwide every 90 seconds.[26]

Two displays related to the national debt were shown during the 2012 Republican National Convention. One of the displays showed a ticking number similar to the original clock. The second display showed a number estimating the amount the national debt had increased since the start of the convention.[27] According to the Republican Party, the purpose of the RNC's clock was to underscore the fact that national debt had grown at a fast pace under the presidency of Barack Obama, who was then running for reelection.[28] RNC chair Reince Priebus stated that the clock represented the "unprecedented fiscal recklessness of the Obama administration."[27]

In popular culture[edit]

The clock is featured in the 2006 documentary Maxed Out, which is about national debt. Several members of the Durst family appear in the film.[29]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Examples for online debt tracking resources include:

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f "US debt clock running out of time, space". China Daily. AFP. March 30, 2006. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  2. ^ Koh, Eun Lee (August 13, 2000). "FOLLOWING UP; Time's Hands Go Back On National Debt Clock". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c "SUNDAY: NOVEMBER 8, 1998: THE NATIONAL DEBT; Depressing Displays". The New York Times. November 8, 1998. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  4. ^ Daniels, Lee A. (November 8, 1991). "Chronicle". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Toy, Vivian S. (May 28, 1995). "The Clockmaker Died, but Not the Debt". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  6. ^ a b Amadeo, Kimberly (January 1, 2010). "Did You Know There's a Clock to Track the Debt?". The Balance. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  7. ^ a b Upham, Ben (May 14, 2000). "NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: TIMES SQUARE; Debt Clock, Calculating Since '89, Is Retiring Before the Debt Does". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  8. ^ a b Rubinstein, Dana (October 6, 2008). "Durst To Add Extra Trillion Dollar Digit to National Debt Clock". observer.com. Archived from the original on October 10, 2008. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  9. ^ a b c Stephey, M.J. (October 14, 2008). "The Times Square Debt Clock". Time. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  10. ^ a b "National Debt Clock stops, despite trillions of dollars of red ink". CNN. Associated Press; Reuters. September 7, 2000. Archived from the original on January 29, 2008. Retrieved February 2, 2017 – via Internet Archive Wayback Machine. 
  11. ^ Van Natta Jr., Don (November 15, 1995). "BATTLE OVER THE BUDGET: NEW YORK;Like Workers, Debt Clock Is Placed On Furlough". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  12. ^ Sutel, Seth (May 13, 2000). "National Debt Clock winds down" (PDF). The Recorder. Greenfield, Massachusetts: Associated Press. Retrieved 2017-02-03 – via fultonhistory.com. 
  13. ^ Marino, Vivian; Herring, Hubert B. (July 14, 2002). "PRIVATE SECTOR; Restarting a Debt Clock, Reluctantly". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  14. ^ Stevenson, Robert W. (July 13, 2002). "White House Says It Expects Deficit to Hit $165 Billion". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  15. ^ "National debt clock torn down, new clock on way" (PDF). The Recorder. Greenfield, Massachusetts. Retrieved April 14, 2004 – via fultonhistory.com. 
  16. ^ Haberman, Clyde (March 24, 2006). "We Will Bury You, in Debt". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  17. ^ a b Bonisteel, Sara (October 8, 2008). "National Debt Clock Adds a Digit to Accommodate Growing Deficit". Fox News. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  18. ^ "National Debt Clock runs out of digits". Times Online. London. October 9, 2008. Retrieved February 2, 2017. (Registration required (help)). 
  19. ^ "US debt clock runs out of digits". BBC News. October 9, 2008. 
  20. ^ McShane, Larry (October 9, 2008). "National Debt Clock runs out of digits". NY Daily News. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  21. ^ Boniello, Kathianne (October 5, 2008). "'1' Big Tick is due for Debt Clock". nypost.com. Archived from the original on May 30, 2009. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  22. ^ "U.S. debt too big for National Debt Clock (MSNBC video)". NBC Nightly News. MSNBC. October 7, 2008. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  23. ^ Marino, Vivian (September 11, 2009). "Square Feet | The 30-Minute Interview: Jonathan Durst". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  24. ^ "Debt Clock Moves Next Door to Government". Deutsche Welle. June 18, 2004. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  25. ^ Hesseldahl, Arik (May 3, 2006). "AMD Sticks It to Intel—Again". BusinessWeek. Retrieved October 27, 2009. 
  26. ^ Haberman, Clyde (September 20, 2010). "An Alarm on Maternal Deaths, Global and Local". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  27. ^ a b Southall, Ashley (August 27, 2012). "As Convention Opens, Debt Clock Ticks". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 
  28. ^ "Republican Convention to Highlight Debt Clock". Weekly Standard. August 27, 2012. Retrieved February 3, 2017. 
  29. ^ ""Maxed Out" - A high-interest look at our collective debts". The Seattle Times. March 9, 2007. Retrieved February 2, 2017. 

External links[edit]