The cover of the latest Barron’s features a photo of President Obama and the headline: “Follow Me. We Can Be Like Greece.” Gene Epstein‘s cover story explains.

In his State of the Union speech last Tuesday, President Obama concluded that “the State of our Union is stronger.” The big question is: stronger than what?

Federal debt is a record $12.2 trillion, or 76% of the nation’s annual output of goods and services. While that’s still well below Greece’s 153%, we’re headed steadily in the wrong direction.

According to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office, adjusted by Barron’s to account for recent tax increases and other factors, if the U.S. doesn’t raise taxes further and cut spending dramatically, the national debt could easily reach 153% of economic output by 2035.

These are not just numbers. If the U.S. national debt continues ballooning, we can be sure of a deep, long-lasting recession — very likely a depression — sometime in the next two to three decades. The unemployment rate could easily surge to 20%.

The CBO has been issuing warnings about the looming risk of a debt crisis for nearly three years. So far, those warnings have gone unheeded, probably because the crisis seems so far away. But as the CBO keeps pointing out, the longer this particular can gets kicked down the road, the greater the risk that entitlements promised to tens of millions of the old and poor won’t be delivered. It could also lead to a fiscal crisis on an unprecedented scale.