The graph above is from Matt Yglesias. It is taken from information in a new book by Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. What it shows is something that Dean Baker talks about a lot: it is ridiculous to simply look at government debt. As he has pointed out a number of places, the federal government owns hundreds of trillions of dollars in land. If it wanted to pay off its debt, it could just sell a bit of it.
What the graph shows specifically is that since the country was founded, we have had more federal government assets than we have had debts. Even at the peak of our debt during World War II, we were producing more in assets. And that has continued all the way to today. As Yglesias writes:
This is the graph we should all look at whenever the “problem” of public debt comes up. There is no debt crisis. There has never been a debt crisis. It is just a fear that conservatives use to force cuts on government programs for the poor and middle classes.