After historic downgrade, U.S. must address its chronic debt problems

The days when the debt-ridden Uncle Sam could leisurely squander unlimited overseas borrowing appeared to be numbered as its triple A-credit rating was slashed by Standard & Poor's (S&P) for the first time on Friday.

Though the U.S. Treasury promptly challenged the unprecedented downgrade, many outside the United States believe the credit rating cut is an overdue bill that America has to pay for its own debt addition and the short-sighted political wrangling in Washington.

Dagong Global, a fledgling Chinese rating agency, degraded the U.S. treasury bonds late last year, yet its move was met then with a sense of arrogance and cynicism from some Western commentators. Now S&P has proved what its Chinese counterpart has done is nothing but telling the global investors the ugly truth.

China, the largest creditor of the world's sole superpower, has every right now to demand the United States to address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China's dollar assets.

To cure its addiction to debts, the United States has to reestablish the common sense principle that one should live within its means.

S&P has already indicated that more credit downgrades may still follow. Thus, if no substantial cuts were made to the U.S. gigantic military expenditure and bloated social welfare costs, the downgrade would prove to be only a prelude to more devastating credit rating cuts, which will further roil the global financial markets all along the way.

Moreover, the spluttering world economic recovery would be very likely to be undermined and fresh rounds of financial turmoil could come back to haunt us all.

The U.S. government has to come to terms with the painful fact that the good old days when it could just borrow its way out of messes of its own making are finally gone.

It should also stop its old practice of letting its domestic electoral politics take the global economy hostage and rely on the deep pockets of major surplus countries to make up for its perennial deficits.

A little self-discipline would not be too uncomfortable for the United States, the world's largest economy and issuer of international reserve currency, to bear.

Though chances for a full-blown U.S. default are still slim now, the S&P downgrade serves as another warning shot about the long-term sustainability of the U.S. government finances.

International supervision over the issue of U.S. dollars should be introduced and a new, stable and secured global reserve currency may also be an option to avert a catastrophe caused by any single country.

For centuries, it was the exuberant energy and innovation that has sustained America's role in the world and maintained investors' confidence in dollar assets. But now, mounting debts and ridiculous political wrestling in Washington have damaged America's image abroad.

All Americans, both beltway politicians and those on Main Street, have to do some serious soul-searching to bring their country back from a potential financial abyss.