America's No. 1 Export: Debt

It's debt. And that explains a lot about why things are such a mess right now

Illustration by Harry Campbell for TIME

Japan and Germany make cars. Saudi Arabia pumps oil. China supplies the world with socks and toys and flat-screen TVs. What does the United States produce? Lots of stuff, but in recent years this country's No. 1 export--by far--has been debt.

When you look at things this way, it becomes clearer what the frenzy in New York City and Washington is all about. There are major quality issues with our nation's flagship product. The authorities have acknowledged the problem--"This is a humbling, humbling time for the United States of America" is how Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson put it in one TV...

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