I have seen the future, and it is grim. That's the bad news.
The good news is that things are not hopeless. But we have to do certain things about the economy on a national and personal level, and we have to do them quickly if we want to have any hope at all.
That was the message at a breakfast forum I went to featuring Peter G. Peterson, a billionaire investment banker and fiscal conservative, and David Walker, a former comptroller general of the United States, whom you may have seen on "60 Minutes" saying "the most serious threat to the United States is not someone hiding in a cave in Afghanistan or Pakistan but our own fiscal irresponsibility."
Both are now at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which was created this year to increase public awareness about "the nature and urgency of several key challenges threatening America's future."
According to the foundation, there are six critical challenges that must be addressed "sooner, not later, since time is currently not in our favor."
The six are: budget, savings and current account/trade deficits; entitlement benefits; health care costs; energy consumption; educational competitiveness; and potential proliferation of nuclear and other dangerous materials."
Well, don't be. Not entirely, anyway. At the breakfast, Peterson said there were actually solutions to all these problems, but the real difficulty was getting people to recognize the seriousness of the situation.
"The problem is not a lack of ideas for doing something about it, it is doing something about it," he said.
He went on: "We actually believe we can solve the problems of the economy - but if we don't solve this current crisis, we will have a crisis like nobody has seen. Young people today don't know what hard times are."
The Peterson Foundation has produced a colorful (red, white and blue) little booklet that lists a few things the government needs to do right way including:
Re-instituting tough budget controls "to stop digging our fiscal hole deeper."
Reforming entitlement and other programs (including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security) to constrain the growth in costs and make them more efficient, effective and sustainable.
Eliminate low-priority and ineffective programs.
Reform our tax system, making it simpler and fairer while generating additional revenues.
Setting enforceable fiscal policy goals and holding elected leaders accountable for their actions or inactions.
But it is easy to tell the government what to do (though it is difficult to get the government to do it). Here is what the Peterson Foundation thinks individuals can do:
Establish a personal budget, and stick to it.
Formulate a financial plan that includes short-term and long-term objectives regarding education, family and retirement.
Put that plan into action immediately.
Become more responsible about spending and using credit while saving and investing wisely.
Teach children the importance of planning, savings, budgeting, investing and using credit responsibly.
"We are on train-wreck scenario," David Walker said at the end of the breakfast. "But we can solve these problems."