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Former Treasury head warns of dire economy

Dec. 4, 2008 at 7:37 PM

PITTSBURGH, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- The U.S. economy could sour further if the nation does not get its financial house in order, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said.

O'Neill, former chairman of Alcoa Inc., told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the United States is headed for dire economic straits.

"We're headed for the wall at lightning speed. And every day that we don't deal with that set of problems is another day closer to absolutely vaporizing our economy," said O'Neill, who served as secretary of the U.S. Treasury from 2001 to 2002.

He said the U.S. economy is "vaporizing," referring to the country's estimated $53 trillion in unfunded liabilities, which are coming due over several decades.

O'Neill said a series of mistakes has left the nation's finance, auto and housing industries in shambles.

"We've been building the problem for a very long time," he said. "It used to be that home mortgages were limited to people who could afford a 20 percent down payment; it used to be that a company would as a matter of principle, not to mention financial health, minimize its debt."

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