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Americans received some old-fashioned and very sensible advice from a group of economists recently. Basically, it said to be thrifty, save money, and stop living high on the hog with credit cards.

How many people will pay attention to that sound counsel is problematic. Unfortunately, the odds are high that people will keep spending at the same disastrous rates, putting themselves and the nation in precarious financial position.A group of leading economists in a group known as Rebuild America, says the U.S. has fueled its growing economy for decades by buying more and more, usually on credit, instead of investing in savings accounts and new factories.

This living on credit has pushed the levels of personal debt to all-time highs, has left the rate of personal savings among the lowest of all U.S. trading partners, caused a huge trade deficit, and starved the source of funds for new investment.

In this decade, private investment in factories and development of new products has fallen 30 percent from the levels achieved between 1950 and 1980. At this rate, the U.S. will end up as a second class economic power and Americans will become poorer.

Ordinary citizens are not the only ones with the problem of living on credit. The worst offender is the federal government. Some day, the bill is going to come due and the country may not be able to pay it.

Debt can be a cruel and relentless taskmaster, for governments as well as for individuals. The U.S. is beginning to find that out. And it is a lot harder to get out of debt than it was to get in.

If Americans can save more and gradually change the emphasis from consumption to thrift and investment, a bright economic future can lie ahead. All of the talk by economists is merely reinforcing an old saying that is still true: A penny saved is a penny earned.