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What it might take for the US to remain No. 1

Economists call for greater thrift, less dependence on foreign oil, and a closer watch on Wall Street.

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After the dust settles on the deepest economic slump since the Great Depression of the 1930s, will the United States retain its status as the No. 1 economic power in the world?

If you listen to economists, the answer is very much in doubt.

"The jury is still out," says Allen Sinai, the chief economist of Decision Economics, a consulting firm in Waltham, Mass.

Mr. Sinai is "incredibly disappointed" by the damage Wall Street excesses have done to American capitalism and the economy. Americans are already far less rich than they were a year ago, he says, adding, a bit sardonically, that some families will have to live with two cars, not four or five.

Another economist, Peter Morici of the University of Maryland, College Park, also sees "a real danger" of the US losing its top economic status. He suspects the American standard of living could decline by as much as 10 percent in the years ahead as the country moves to reduce its massive trade deficit, restore a reasonable savings level, and eventually bring its federal budget into better balance.

"The [President] Bush years will seem like a walk through the park compared to the real income losses Americans will suffer during the [President] Obama years," he maintains.

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