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“The U.S. government is, by any measure, the luckiest government in centuries” because it has not yet been forced to pay for its profligacy, he said.

The U.S. Treasury, in fact, is benefiting from a “flight to safety” among investors taking their money out of Europe, a process that has driven its borrowing costs to record lows.

But eventually, the U.S. and its political leaders will pay a price for having repeatedly put off solving the debt problem while relying on the U.S. Federal Reserve to buy large portions of the Treasury’s debt to keep interest rates from soaring as they have in Europe, he said.

“The U.S. has risen to unforeseen heights of monetary excess, and has been rewarded for doing so,” he said. But a close look at Europe shows that “lower flying planes are starting to stall out, and one can only imagine - from this height - how fast and how far the U.S. may fall.”

Many Europeans are bitter that, thanks in part to the largesse of the Fed and its money-printing presses, Washington has thus far escaped their harsh fate despite having debts that are potentially as crippling as any seen in Europe.

The U.S. budget deficit, at $1.3 trillion or nearly 10 percent of economic output, far exceeds the deficit shares in Italy and Spain. In the U.S., the gross debt of federal, state and local governments recently exceeded 100 percent of U.S. economic output, putting it in the same company as the most debt-strapped Old World nations.

U.S. political leaders seem to think that “things will miraculously improve on their own,” said Harm Bandholz, chief U.S. economist at Unicredit Markets, perhaps because the U.S. has been able to finance its debts at ultralow 10-year interest rates of about 2 percent.

Italy, by contrast, is having to pay close to 7 percent, even though it “has shown the willingness to take the painful steps in the right direction,” he said.

Spain, whose deficits and accumulated debt are much lower than the U.S., is paying 5 percent. Despite having bitten the bullet with stringent measures to address its debts, Spain’s ruling Socialists are expected to get ousted in parliamentary elections scheduled for this weekend.

“Most European countries have already started to implement serious austerity measures, which hurt growth and are felt by the population,” Mr. Bandholz said. “The U.S. is still spending its way out of crisis.”

The U.S. may be in a grace period before it encounters the market storm that engulfed Europe, he said.

“Right now, the market does not fully appreciate the severity of the situation in the U.S.,” he said, even though the deepening debt problem caused the federal government to lose its AAA credit rating from Standard & Poor’s Corp. last summer as parties in Congress dawdled and bickered over what to do.

Mr. Bandholz estimates that at the current rate of deficit spending, the gross debt of the U.S. will exceed Italy’s gross debt at 120 percent of economic output in a couple of years - putting the nation in a quandary that can be difficult to reverse and lead to insolvency.

Mr. Bandholz said the Fed’s intervention thus far has protected the U.S. from the ravages of the markets.

The European Central Bank, by contrast, has made it harder for governments there by being unwilling to endlessly underwrite the debt of big-spending nations like Italy and Greece. The ECB has only sparingly bought the debt of such stricken governments, usually after they enacted major economic reforms.

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