The federal debt’s $20 trillion, and the fastest growing part of it — entitlements (which make up 60% of all federal spending) — are surging as baby boomers retire in droves. Interest on all this red ink is piling up and rising interest rates are only going to make things worse. So Uncle Sam’s broke, right?
That’s the common view.
Not so fast. If you’re only looking at the liabilities side of a company’s balance sheet, you only get half the story. At the end of its last fiscal year, Apple AAPL, -0.13% had $75 billion in long-term debt. Think Apple’s broke? Of course not: the other side of its balance sheet shows that the company is sitting on tons of assets.
Yet this is how we evaluate the federal government. We look at its liabilities while ignoring its assets. Think the feds are broke? Not so fast, says a 2013 report from the Institute for Energy Research, which points out that the government owns “above ground” assets such as “buildings, lands, roads, railroad infrastructure, levees, dams, and hydroelectric generating facilities, to name just a few, many of which are underutilized,” and “below ground” assets such as “rights to mineral and energy leases, from which they receive royalties, rents, and bonus payments.”
Let’s focus on a giant part of this: Mineral rights for oil and gas reserves.
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