My husband and I have always wanted to take a cruise to Alaska. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? The luxury, the scenery, the freedom from responsibility. Despite the fact that we couldn’t afford it, we decided to borrow money to take a cruise.

Well the cruise was wonderful, though now we have to borrow money to make the loan payments on the cruise, as well as borrow more money to make the interest payments on the loan. But we loved that cruise so much we’re booking another one next year. It’s OK, we can borrow the money. We plan to take another cruise the year after. And the year after that. And the year after that.

Meanwhile, we’ll blame someone – anyone – for the fact that we’re so deeply in debt. I think I’ll blame, um, my brother. It’s not our fault that we can’t stop ourselves from digging the debt hole deeper, or that much of the debt is incurred for frivolous reasons. It’s my brother’s fault.

What’s wrong with this picture? If you’re the federal government, apparently nothing.

We now know that the actual figure of America’s debt is much higher than the petty and trivial sum of $14.3 trillion given by the Congressional Budget Office. And make no mistake, $14.3 trillion is not pocket change (for a knock-you-flat visual of a trillion dollars, click here).

“The Government is lying about the amount of debt. It is engaging in Enron accounting,” says Laurence Kotlikoff, an economist at Boston University. That’s because the CBO doesn’t count the euphemistically called “off-budget” obligations like Social Security and Medicare. (This is like my husband and I deeming our mythical cruise payments to be “off-budget” in our yearly expenses.)

So how much does our nation owe? Mr. Kotlikoff says the debt is actually $200 trillion – 14 times the “official” amount. That’s a lot of cruises. And our nation is taking more and more trips.

Does this sound sustainable to you?

Of course not. How can America possibly pay back $200 trillion? It can’t. Sooner or later the people who keep lending us money will stop. When that happens, I see no possible alternative except a collapse of our national economy.

The danger of a financial collapse goes beyond the day-to-day struggles of Joe Sixpack. The danger is that Americans will look for solutions in all the wrong places, the same way Germany and Austria looked for solutions to their debt and inflation problems in the 1930s. Their solution took the form of a failed artist with a funny mustache who told people what they wanted to hear and promised to make it all better by blaming someone else. (The Jews were a convenient target since my brother wasn’t born yet.)

In 1938, an Austrian woman named Kitty Werthmann was an eyewitness to the creeping totalitarianism of Hitler’s Germany. Now living in South Dakota, she wrote an eerie and horrifying account of what happened during her childhood. It’s easy to understand the horrifying part. But it’s eerie because we are following, virtually word for word, the same path in this country, albeit at a slower pace.

“Totalitarianism didn’t come quickly,” writes Werthmann. “It took five years from 1938 until 1943 to realize full dictatorship in Austria. Had it happened overnight, my countrymen would have fought to the last breath. Instead, we had creeping gradualism. Now, our only weapons were broom handles. The whole idea sounds almost unbelievable that the state, little by little, eroded our freedom.”

A broken economy is what started the Austrians down this path. Hungry, unemployed and scared, they voted 98 percent to annex Austria to Germany and have that guy with the funny mustache solve their problems. After all, he had all the answers.

And at first, it worked. Unemployment virtually disappeared. Everyone was fed. Women received equal rights. Then education became secularized. Compulsory service in the labor corps was implemented. Daycare became available 24/7. Health care became socialized and free. “All day care and education were free,” writes Werthmann. “High schools were taken over by the government, and college tuition was subsidized. Everyone was entitled to free handouts, such as food stamps, clothing and housing.” Anyone who said something against the government was taken away. Undesirables were euthanized. Guns were registered and later confiscated.

Tra la la, does this sound familiar? Does anyone on the progressive side of the spectrum see the eerie similarities, or do they still claim it can’t happen here?

We’ve been paralleling this path for decades. But the final straw for its full implementation will be the collapse of the United States economy. People will be just as hungry, unemployed and scared as the Austrians were in 1938.

Hungry, unemployed and scared people do eerie things – like vote for politicians who promise to have all the answers. It’s understandable, really. Folks will do anything to keep their families from starving.

Once upon a time, there was a solution to this inevitable collapse and subsequent totalitarianism. That solution was to toss out the massive bureaucratic nightmare into which our government has mushroomed, and instead embrace the streamlined plan originally outlined when our nation was founded.

Sadly, I fear it is too late. Our debt is too high, our entitlements too entrenched and our apathy too deep. And the “funny” people with all the bright ideas are already in place. For citizens caught up in this unfolding economic nightmare, I can only suggest you Pray, Prepare and Participate.

The Pray and Prepare parts are obvious, but what do I mean by Participate? I mean vote. Rally. March. E-mail. Don’t let our guns, our speech and our other freedoms dissolve any more than they already have. Watch out for funny guys who promise solutions to all our problems as long as we give up something in exchange.

Remember, please remember, that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I really don’t want to live in 1938 Austria.

America has been taking too many cruises on credit for too many decades. Each of these vacations from responsibility has drawn us further away from the simple things that made our country the greatest in history: faith, freedom and honor.

I’m afraid we’ve booked another cruise, this time on a ship named “Titanic.”

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