Are you tired of all the stories on Europe’s financial crisis and American politicians’ endless bickering about debt and deficits? Are you tired of weekends of hectic negotiations as policymakers rush to cobble together some agreement before markets open? If you are, you are not the only one.

Millions of people, including stressed-out policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic, wish to put these issues behind them. Unfortunately, despite many announcements, they are unable to do so decisively, and for good reason.

So we better understand why, if we want to minimize the risk of collateral damage and unintended consequences.

To do so, you need only remember one rather clumsy phrase: “safe de-levering” (also known to some as “safe de-leveraging”), or the lack thereof. Consider please each word, starting with the second one.

De-levering refers to the rehabilitation of balance sheets that have gotten over-indebted to such an extent that they are unsustainable going forward. The contributing causes are usually numerous and many years in the making.