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The big question remains: What will keep people from forgetting this lesson just a few years down the road? Debt financing can be a powerful tool for spreading out the cost of something over the time during which it will be used -- which is why municipal bonds are a perfectly reasonable way to build schools, or a (rational) mortgage is useful for paying for a home in which a person will live for 30 years. But when it's routinely used to put off the notion of paying for current expenses at the current time, then it's a serious threat to stability. And when big banks just stop writing mortgages because they've gotten into so much trouble, it's obvious that the punch bowl stayed open at the party for too long. Speaking of threats to stability, protests and even riots in Haiti over the rising cost of food are a warning sign: People in poor countries and rich countries alike are paying higher prices than ever for their food. It's easier to absorb the cost increases in places where food makes up a smaller share of one's normal expenses. But in poor countries, there isn't a lot of other spending out of which to adjust for food hikes. And even though the use of certain crops for biofuels are only a part of the reason for rising food prices (a growing world population and rising living standards in places like India and China are significant factors, too), they represent an easy point upon which people can fixate: It's much easier to blame a rich person driving a car using corn ethanol than the comparatively nebulous concept of rising living standards in China. And that will strain the rich countries' position in the world. The US is not helping itself by using the Federal Reserve to try to smooth out natural bumps in the economy -- we're just getting more inflation out of it -- and conflict with oil-producing countries isn't making life better, either. A related threat then becomes the breakdown of law and order -- manifested, for instance, in recent outbreaks of piracy off the coast of Somalia.