Chairman Ben Bernanke of the Federal Reserve has signaled that there will be no QE3, no more Fed purchases of $100 billion a month in U.S. government paper. Buyers for that $1.2 trillion a year of U.S. debt will have to be found elsewhere.
And with the economy stagnant or sinking, the Democrats on Capitol Hill are starting to back away from any deep budget cuts, even as Republicans are now even less likely to sign on to any tax increases to reduce the $1.5 billion deficit.
Indeed, if the economy is stalled or sinking into recession, what economic theory is it that argues for austerity and tax hikes?
And the perceived economic stagnation not only diminishes the chance of a bipartisan budget deal but also points to deadlock on the debt ceiling.
Republicans are already holding out for $1 in spending cuts for every dollar increase in the debt ceiling. And the country seems to be behind the GOP position: If the Senate and White House don't agree to $2 trillion in spending cuts, we don't raise the debt ceiling by $2 trillion.
The U.S. government does not run out of money to pay its bills until August. But markets probably will be making judgments upon the likelihood of a U.S. default well before then.
How did we get here? How did the richest and strongest country in history, triumphant in World War II and the Cold War, approach so soon the condition of the late Spanish and British empires as they began their precipitous declines?
Answer: We overextended ourselves. We bankrupted ourselves.
We undertook the defense of nations all over the world having little to do with our vital national interests. We fought unnecessary wars. We doled out trillions in foreign aid to ingrates, incompetents, opportunists and thieves.
We promised all our seniors Social Security and subsidized medical care for the rest of their lives and failed to put the money away to pay for it. We dropped half of U.S. wage earners off the tax rolls while creating a mammoth welfare state to dwarf anything Norman Thomas and his Socialists dreamed of in the 1930s.
Not only for the United States but also for the West, the days of wine and roses are over.