There was both joy and skepticism on Wall Street, as third quarter GDP figures showed growth in the U.S. economy for the first time in over a year, a 3.5 percent annual rate expansion fanned by government stimulus spending seen as suggesting an end to the recession.

One group not seen stocking up on party hats is the economists. "The economy has emerged with gusto from the deepest recession since World War II," Unicredit Markets economist Harm Bandholz told Reuters. "The short-term prospects for the economy remain good."

"Short-term" is, indeed, the watchword, and Reuters underscores it with the words of economist Chris Low: "The economy is entirely dependent on federal deficit spending at the moment… Once the government steps aside, growth is likely to fall back to a one to two percent rate of growth."

So the long-term problem of the federal budget deficit and escalating national debt remains, and will have to be dealt with before the long-term is allowed to play out. That's a message you've heard here before – but here are a few new tidbits to help you wrap your mind around the issue and get involved in making the spending choices that are determining our present and shaping our future:

  • Lessons from the land of the rising sun: Japan, which has tried government deficit spending as an economic cure for a lot longer and to the point where its gross public debt is now twice the size of its $5 trillion economy (U.S. debt is nearly 98% of GDP), is now being treated to analysts wondering about the yen and one suggesting its bond-financing strategy could falter within three to five years.

  • The merging of two titan issues: deficit reduction and health care. Democrats rallying for the latest version of the health care bill said the Congressional Budget Office estimated the coverage-related cost at $894 billion over the next ten years. Christina Romer, the head of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, in a speech Monday, was emphatic that it would be "fiscally irresponsible not to do health care reform" and stressed that "we are also on track to meet the president's promise that health care reform will not add one dime to the deficit."

  • The Prosperity Index. Finland's #1. Click here to see how we're doing. Then check out our discussion guides and our curriculum for citizens and students – and get started. Each of us is able to both understand what's at stake and do something about it.

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