So if you're at all panicked by S&P's decision to downgrade the country's top-tier credit rating - and the resultant freefall in U.S. stock prices - brace yourself: It's going to get a lot worse before it gets better. But make no mistake, it will get better.
In fact, at this point, a U.S. default is the only conceivable remedy to our debt affliction.
Here's why ...
The Wrong RoadThe United States has been able to coast on its top -tier credit rating for far too long. The truth is, this country stopped being a AAA credit risk in early 2007.
That's when the Bush administration's excess spending and military forays into the Middle East sent us down the wrong road and ultimately drove the fiscal 2008 federal deficit to more than $400 billion. That's despite the fact that the economy was at the top of an economic boom at the time.
It's true that our fiscal position has grown substantially worse since then, but that's mainly because of the G reat R ecession of 2008-09.
Even if an imaginary amalgam of Calvin Coolidge and Bill Clinton had been in the White House since 2008, inheriting the overspending already built into the system, the federal deficit still would have reached $700 billion to $800 billion over the last few years.
Just the bailouts of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) and Chrysler would have added enough to the structural costs of recession to push the arithmetic off kilter.
The Bush administration's additional spending in 2008, U.S. President Barack Obama's $800 billion-plus of "stimulus," and the g rotesque addiction that Congress continues to have to subsidies for farmers, ethanol, and idiotic "green" energy projects have all made the position worse. But they only account for about half of the annual deficit.
Of course, while recent political decisions don't bear much responsibility for the current lousy U.S. position, our current crop of politicians have been - and will continue to be - ineffective in their attempts to emerge from it.