People know intuitively that the story of excessive debt always ends badly. That is why so many are alarmed at the inability of local, state and -- especially -- federal bureaucracies to the rein in their profligate spending.
There is now harsh evidence of where debt is taking us: Greece.
Shortly after its new socialist government took over last fall, it was revealed its debt was far more serious than anyone had let on.
Greece's 2009 deficit was nearly 13 percent of its total economic output -- GDP -- more than four times the European Union's limit of 3 percent.
The nation's national debt is expected to rise to 125 percent of GDP in 2010, the highest in the eruo zone, although Ireland and Spain are fast catching up.
Greek Prime Minister George Popandreou has announced a plan to raise an additional $75 billion to close its huge fiscal gap along with an austerity plan to reduce the deficit to 2 percent of output by 2013.
And he plans to do this in a nation with a strong aversion to paying taxes and where a large portion of economic activity occurs under the table.
And he plans to do this in a nation where nearly 850,000 workers in a country of 11 million people work for the state and many enjoy generous benefits, including a 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. work day for some.
If this sounds familiar, that's because it is.
In the U.S., international forecasts are that by 2011, federal debt will reach 100 percent of gross domestic output, up from 62 percent in 2007.
Sadly, there are no substantive efforts under way or proposed to change course. Social Security and Medicare continue to reel toward insolvency. And other nations are playing a larger and larger role in the nation's federal finances. The U.S.'s two largest creditors today are Japan and China.
The U.S., of course, is not Greece. But for it to continue its role as the world's leading economy, it must have its financial house in order if it is to have any credibility on pressing global issues.
Greece, said one observer, is the canary in a deepening hole of global debt.
It's a warning that should be heeded.