Is the U.S. in “way, way deeper debt” than Greece?

On tonight's edition of Fox Business' Follow the Money, host Eric Bolling once again did his viewers a disservice by misinforming them about America's debt problems in an effort to feed Fox's anti-government fear machine. Specifically, during a segment called “Fear and Loathing in America,” Bolling falsely claimed that the United States is “in way, way deeper debt than a country like Greece...,” just before Schiff informed viewers that they could look forward to “austerity... default... runaway inflation...riots and protests as the economy crumbles.”

From the December 15 edition of Fox Business Network's Follow the Money With Eric Bolling:

BOLLING: Take a good look at that video. Protesters in Athens, driven by rage, fear, teargased, beaten, bloodied in the streets for rejecting austerity measures aimed at pulling the country out of debt. Follow the Money stays all over “Fear and Loathing in America” and if you think this can't happen here, you'd better think again. I'm going to go over to my good friend, Peter Schiff. What about it Peter? It's all about keeping Greece from being buried in debt. We're in way, way deeper debt than a country like Greece is.

SCHIFF: Oh look. It's not a question of if, it's a question of when. It's going to happen here. It's going to be relatively soon. We're in the same position. We've made promises that we can't keep. And the reason people in Greece are rioting is because the government is coming forward and saying we can't give you everything we promised. Well the same situation is here. We're broke. We can't keep our promises; we can't make all the social security payments we promised. We can't give all the government retirees the pensions we promised. We can't pay back all of our creditors the money we borrowed. It's impossible because we can't get the revenues from the taxpayers. So we're either going to have to have the austerity and default and renege, or we're going to have runaway inflation. But either way, there's going to have lots of riots and protests as the economy crumbles in the United States.

First of all, can anyone take Fox hosts seriously when they reject accusations of fear mongering? The segment is called “Fear and Loathing in America!” “Fear” is right there in the branding!

Second, the only way Bolling's statement that "[w]e're in way, way deeper debt than a country like Greece is" makes any sense is if he's talking about the actual dollar value of our debt. In that case, yes, America, with 310 million people and a $14 trillion economy, has more debt than Greece's 10 million people and $330 billion economy. Good job Eric. The relevant statistic, the one that actually means something for a country, is the amount of debt a country has relative to the size of its economy. By that metric, according to the OECD, Greece's “total central government debt” stood at 126 percent of GDP at the end of last year. For the U.S. the number was just over 53 percent. In the year since OECD's data has been updated Greece has gone through a major debt crisis and seen its debt-to-GDP ratio skyrocket to an estimated 143 percent. The United States' debt has also increased, but not to anything approaching that level.

Going beyond the fact that the Greece/U.S. comparison is ludicrous, what Bolling is doing here is framing the issue in a way that paints Greek citizens as petulant children and the Greek story as a cautionary tale. It's a great story if you want your viewers to be cowed into accepting massive cuts in government services. Not so great if you want them to have an accurate picture of the problems facing the United States.