AMERICANS, like Europeans, have been living in a politically constructed fantasy world.
Sympathetic, smiling glad-handers politicians seeking re-election have promised us generous benefits.
All the while, of course, they have been saddling us with fatal levels of debt.
The Congress of the United States has run up a public debt of almost $15 trillion.
That's $48,087.91 worth of debt for every man, woman and child in the country.
Actually, it's worse than that.
The phrase "outstanding public debt" doesn't include the projected cost of gargantuan programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
As economics professor Lawrence Kotlikoff explained on National Public Radio in August, add in the cost of those programs, and Congress has obligated Americans to pay $211 trillion for the benefits that, understandably, they don't want to give up.
We've been had, and we have nobody but ourselves to blame.
We let smiling politicians do this to us - and worse, to our children.
We watch with detachment the meltdown of the European countries whose politicians have played the same game, but we shouldn't take any comfort from distance.
Unless Americans set a new course, this country is going down, too.
Members of Congress, unable to agree on fiscal matters earlier this year, invented a kind of budgetary blunderbuss with which to threaten themselves:
If the current supercommittee of Republicans and Democrats can't agree on budget cuts by Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving, they will make automatic cuts to all federal programs, including defense.
Except, at Democrats' insistence, entitlement programs.
Bloomberg News, Oct. 31:
"Social Security and Medicare, the major entitlement programs for the elderly that together cost more than $1 trillion a year and account for a third of the budget, are exempt from the automatic cuts, which would be split between defense and domestic programs."
Against this backdrop, what should come in the mail but another missive from the American Association of Retired Persons.