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Don't Panic — The Debt Ceiling Explained

I know I’m supposed to be all freaked out about the nation reaching its debt limit and our credit being downgraded and we’ll stop paying some bills.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Source: Allied Artists Pictures
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

But I live in California. This is normal. Daily panic and doomsday scenarios over government finances started here. Political gridlock, kicking the can down the road…that’s how we roll.

Maybe I’m being silly, but I’ll start to freak out when I flip on the lightswitch and there’s no electricity, when bread starts disappearing from store shelves, when I can’t get clean (ish) water out of my tap. Yeah, I hear the stories that credit will tighten up, become more expensive, blah blah blah.

Um, as I may have mentioned, I live in California. Credit is already tight. Things are already more expensive.

In fact, debt ceiling politics are old hat in Hollywood. Just watch this clip from “The West Wing”, Hollywood’s version of Washington, where Martin Sheen is President.

The clip, from 2004, explains exactly what is going on right now. We learn that if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, we’ll see “The immediate collapse of the U.S. economy, followed by Japan sinking into the sea, followed by a worldwide Depression the likes of which no mortal can imagine, followed by Week 2.” And when asked if “this debt ceiling thing” is routine or the end of the world, the reply is, “Both”.

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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