… here’s some cheery news for you, courtesy of David M. Smick’s article in the latest Commentary (not yet posted online). An impending “public-debt crisis” is likely to put the United States in some dubious company:

Take a look at the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent projections. Within a decade, the CBO says, the U.S. government will be borrowing $722 billion just to service its debt. And that doesn’t include the likely borrowing needed for shortfalls in Social Security and other entitlement programs. The U.S. is about to enter a fiscal trap, chasing its tail just to pay off its creditors. That is an experience heretofore confined to Third World regimes. Their currencies lose all credibility, and they suffer from high and crushing interest rates, only to end up wards of the International Monetary Fund.

Indeed, the debt itself may be a reason for continued weak consumption and the long-term underperformance of the U.S. economy. This, of course, is the logic that buttressed the 19th-century economist David Ricardo’s idea that a mere fear of rising debt can inhibit consumer confidence. People anticipate future tax hikes to pay for the debt, or inflation and higher interest rates to finance the debt, or all of the above.

Public-opinion polls tell the tale. Americans are experiencing deep feelings of anxiety, and not solely because of short-term concerns about recession, double-digit unemployment rates, or lack of health care. They are worried about a pending national fiscal nightmare that could doom the U.S. economy to slow growth and second-rate status. Our public debt already amounts to nearly $40,000 for every living American, or $160,000 per family. And the burden is quickly rising.

Happy new year!