Here in the powerful, wealthy United States, it's tempting to believe that nothing truly disastrous could befall our economy. Sure, we all realize that we have economic ups and downs, but we don't often think that the catastrophes that have overtaken some other countries might happen to us, here, in 21st century America.
We might want to think again.
Not long ago, the people of Greece may not have imagined that their modern European country could face the calamity that has struck there today. If you had told the average Greek citizen, say, 15 years ago that his country needed radical reform of social welfare and other spending to avoid going to the brink of collapse, he likely would have said you were being "unrealistic." When people in any country have become accustomed to government doing more and more for them, they may forget there isn't a giant money tree out there to pay for it all.
Nevertheless, the bills eventually come due -- with interest.
Well, the bills have been coming due in Greece for a few years now, with frightening results. Greeks are taking to the streets in mass demonstrations and even riots to protest spending cuts that they once would have called not only "unrealistic" but "unthinkable." Expected pension benefits are rapidly drying up. Crippling tax increases are being imposed, compromising Greece's ability to grow economically.
Despite those painful austerity measures, Greece still cannot pay its bills. And the financial irresponsibility was allowed to go on for so many years that it is not certain that even a huge new bailout from the European Union can rescue Greece.
But we're in the United States, not Greece, so we don't have those kinds of troubles, do we?
Decide for yourself. Each U.S. citizen's share of our national debt is now higher than each Greek's share of Greece's debt. And any debt limit deal Congress works out in the coming days -- as well as any longer-term budget deal it may devise -- is likely to involve cuts that are much too small to rein in the federal spending that is bankrupting us.
In other words, our country is still not taking the problem seriously.
President Barack Obama said a House-passed GOP plan to limit spending and require balanced budgets would create "unrealistic" restrictions that would, in his view, unduly curtail the federal government's ability to shower more money on education, research and so forth.
So he favors plans that would keep long-term taxing, borrowing and spending high, and put off difficult decisions until some unspecified tomorrow.
His reckless actions only prove that he, along with many other leaders in Washington, has not come to grips with the level of spending cuts our nation needs. If they fail to make the tough decisions now, we could find ourselves inviting the kind of economic meltdown that Greece is suffering.
Supposedly "unrealistic" spending cuts today are better than definitely "unthinkable" cuts later.