Whatever their squabbling in Washington this week, one thing Democrats and Republicans were able to agree on was the apparent novelty of the country's current financial woes. "We have an unprecedented crisis," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, in a phrase frequently invoked by other congressional leaders. But, in truth, the dire situation in the United States does have a precedent: It looks remarkably like the crisis that struck Japan 20 years ago, when a stock market meltdown exposed years of speculative lending, mostly dependent on real estate, and led to an economic collapse. In response, Japan's government launched a strategy that actually made the problem worse, leading to ten years of stagnation, which became known as Japan's "lost decade. " The bad news is that, today, the United States may be making some of the same mistakes; the good news is that, just as Japan ultimately righted its economy, so can we.

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