I.O.U.S.A. is a 2008 Americandocumentary film directed by Patrick Creadon. The film focuses on the shape and impact of the United States national debt. The film features Robert Bixby, director of the Concord Coalition, and David Walker, the former U.S. Comptroller-General, as they travel around the United States on a tour to let communities know of the potential dangers of the national debt. The tour was carried out through the Concord Coalition, and was known as the "Fiscal Wake-Up Tour."
The film competed in the Documentary Competition at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. It began its nationwide showing at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha, Nebraska on 21 August 2008, with a live discussion among Warren Buffett, Pete Peterson, David Walker, William Niskanen, and Bill Novelli following the screening. The film was broadcast on CNN on January 10, 2009.
The film follows Bixby and Walker who describe systematically four serious deficits shaping the U.S. economy: budget, savings, the balance of payments, and leadership. As of the early 2008 release of the film they had created a national debt of over $9.6 trillion, $30,000 for each American.
- The budget deficit section highlights the 53 trillion dollars in unfunded benefits (medicare, medicaid and social security) that will come due and can only be paid by tripling taxes or cutting all government spending except for that to those programs.
- The savings deficit is created by individuals living beyond their means and accumulating personal debt instead of savings.
- The balance of payments problem is the trade deficit caused by the U.S. importing more than it exports, especially from China, draining money and goods from its economy. China has the greatest trade surplus in the world while the USA has the largest trade deficit in the world.
- The leadership deficit is the lack of civic or political leaders willing to make it clear Americans must cut government spending, pay more taxes, save more of their personal income and use less imported materials.
The cast includes Robert Bixby, David M. Walker, Warren Buffett, Douglas Durst, Alan Greenspan, Yoni Gruskin, Kay Harms, Chrissy Hovde, Paul O'Neill, Diane Rehm, Robert Rubin, Scott Spradling, Mike Tully. It also includes several members of Congress, including Senators Kent Conrad and Judd Gregg, and Representatives Ander Crenshaw, George Miller, and Ron Paul.
Archival footage included in the documentary features Humphrey Bogart, Bing Crosby, Stephen Colbert, Sue Herrera, Steve Kroft, Chris Parnell, Peter G. Peterson, Donald Rumsfeld, Tim Russert, Brian Williams, as well as footage of ten former U.S. presidents: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
In the cut of I.O.U.S.A. screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2008, the original designers from Agora Financial had audiotape of Nixon conspiring with his advisers to blame the decision to close the “gold window” on “speculators. ” After they sold the film to the Peterson Foundation, that story beat was edited out. The final cut of the film released in Aug. 22, 2008 blames rampant inflation in the 1970s on Arthur Burns, then chair of the Federal Reserve.
In February 2008, Walker announced that he would be resigning from his post as Comptroller General to become the president and CEO of the newly established The Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a position from which he could more freely draw attention to the serious issues the U.S. is facing.
I.O.U.S.A. received mostly positive reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes reported a score of 86% among critics, and a Certified Fresh rating with a consensus of "A potent and lithely constructed documentary about America's financial crisis, I.O.U.S.A grabs you with figures but holds you with irreverent wit." It received a score of 70 from Metacritic and a label of "Generally favorable reviews".
In a January 2008 review after the film's Sundance premiere, Justin Chang wrote:
- "With the same eye for snazzy visual aids and casual human eccentricity that informed his delightful crossword-puzzle docu Wordplay, helmer Patrick Creadon tackles a markedly grimmer story in I.O.U.S.A., an alternately amusing and alarming primer on America's off-the-charts fiscal irresponsibility. Meant to raise awareness of the skyrocketing national debt and the disaster it spells for future generations, this highly informative docu reps a heady mix of charts, graphs and talking heads, but its superb packaging and timely subject matter should give it a shot at theatrical exposure before it cashes in on homevid and broadcast slots."
In an August 2008 review focused mostly on the film's subject matter, Roger Ebert began with the following:
- "A letter to our grandchildren, Raven, Emil and Taylor: I see you growing up into such beautiful people, and I wish all good things to you as you make the leap into adulthood. But I have just seen a documentary titled I.O.U.S.A. that snapped into sharp focus why your lives may not be as pleasant as ours have been."
According to Ebert:
- "I don't really believe this review will inspire enormous numbers of people to go see the film. But if they do, they'll find it accomplishes an amazing thing. It explains the national debt, the foreign trade deficit, the decrease in personal savings, how the prime interest rate works, and the weakness of our leaders. No, not only George W. Bush, but politicians of both parties, who know if they vote against tax cuts, they will be lambasted by their opponents and could lose their jobs."
Later that year, I.O.U.S.A. made Ebert's list of Top Five Documentary Films of 2008.
I.O.U.S.A. - The Book (ISBN 0470222778), published by John Wiley & Sons, was released in September 2008. Written by the film’s executive producer Addison Wiggin and Agora Financial's Managing Editor, Kate Incontrera, the book expands on the film and details America’s budget, personal savings, trade, and leadership deficits. It also elaborates on several statistics mentioned in the movie - from the $9 trillion federal debt to the $738.6 billion trade deficit to the fact that each citizen owes an average of $30,000. The book includes interviews with Warren Buffett, Alan Greenspan, Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin, Alice Rivlin, Pete Peterson, David Walker, Paul O'Neill, James Areddy, Arthur Laffer, Steve Forbes, and Bill Bonner. I.O.U.S.A. was also loosely inspired by Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin's book, Empire of Debt.
- ^"2008 Sundance Film Festival Announces Films in Competition"(PDF). 2007-11-28. Archived from the original(PDF) on 2008-06-25. Retrieved 2008-01-07.
- ^"Press release on CNN showing". IOUSAthemovie.com. Retrieved 2011-11-02.
- ^Paul B. Farrell, A $75 trillion fright fest, Eight megahorror debts chilling America, Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2008.
- ^Cynthia Fuchs, Review of I.O.U.S.A., PopMatters.com, August 26, 2008.
- ^Capsule Reviews Of Current Releases, Cleveland Free Press, Volume 15, Issue 88, January 22nd, 2009.
- ^ abI.O.U.S.A. on IMDb
- ^The 5 Min. Forecast, August 15, 2011, Email[not specific enough to verify]
- ^Walker Resigning GAO Post To Lead New Public Policy Foundation from CQPolitics.com Archived February 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- ^"I.O.U.S.A." Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2011-11-02.
- ^"I.O.U.S.A. Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More". Metacritic. 2011-10-19. Retrieved 2011-11-02.
- ^Justin Chang (January 23, 2008). "I.O.U.S.A. (documentary)". Variety. Retrieved 2011-11-02.
- ^ abRoger Ebert (August 21, 2008). "I.O.U.S.A." Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-11-02.
- ^"The best films of 2008... and there were a lot of them". Chicago Sun-Times. December 5, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-07.
- ^Wiley P/T Press Room | I.O.U.S.A. by Addison Wiggin, Kate Incontrera, and David WalkerArchived August 28, 2008, at Archive.is
Today Bloomberg reported: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said large U.S. budget deficits threaten financial stability and the government can’t continue indefinitely to borrow at the current rate to finance the shortfall. Since most of our citizens still haven’t figured out that 13 minus 11 equals fiscal destruction, it’s a great time to watch and recommend the outstanding film I.O.U.S.A.
The film breaks down our fiscal crisis into four severe deficits:
- The Federal Budget Deficit
- The Savings Deficit
- The Trade Deficit, and
- The Leadership Deficit
The first section explains that when our government spends more money than it earns, financial and social instability is inevitable. Apparently, like any genuine addict, our entire society is living in denial about the effects of our Federal Budget Deficit. The older generations are enjoying government services which will be paid for by their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Their actions say: “Your financial slavery to our national debt (to be paid for with future taxes) is not my concern.” As one person says in the film, it’s analogous to an individual running up a huge credit card debt and then leaving it to their offspring when they die. Selfish? Irresponsible?
The second section explains the Savings Deficit. Basically, Americans don’t save money. This behavior directly amplifies the problem with the Federal Budget Deficit because when people don’t have money saved, the government usually ends up paying for things like healthcare, food, shelter, etc. The government could say “F you,” but that leads to social unrest. And the NUMBER ONE thing a government cares about is keeping order. Everything else is a distant second. So, we are in a vicious cycle.
The third section explains the Trade Deficit. Currently, we import and consume more goods than we export and produce. To make up for this deficit, our suppliers lend us money (i.e., they purchase US Treasury Bonds) which the government pumps into the economy. This is like a retailer which gives you a store branded credit card to buy their goods. So long as you can find money from someone else to pay the debt to the retailer, all is swell in Pleasantville. However, when the game of hot potato ends, someone’s hands get burned. In our situation, the more money we borrow from other countries like China, the more of our tax dollars we will send them. Worse, when that process gets maxed out, our creditors will force us to either sell assets (land, houses, cars, etc.) to pay them or simply start selling our debt. If they sell our debt too fast, our currency will lose value. If our currency loses value, inflation sets in. Once this horrible cycle starts, we will all be working much harder to acquire the same things we have now. Not fun.
The final section of the film highlights the bipartisan contribution to our Leadership Deficit. Rather than talk straight about our illness and the prospective paths to fiscal health, FOX News and CNN focus on petty dramas and blameshifting. We have radio talk show hosts and other entertainers heavily influencing both political parties. We have people who are such diehard fans of a political party, that there is no hope of rational conversation. We are at the point where as a country we must realize that governors, presidents, legislators, etc. are people who make mistakes. In this case, they’ve made some huge ones. But, they have the power to fix those mistakes if we focus their election-centric brains on what we need. Unfortunately, like any good parent knows, it’s hard to be the bad guy when the medicine doesn’t taste good. And our current crop of representatives (if they represent our best interests, please shine some light for me) are more interested in their political careers than our country’s well-being. Clearly, this contradiction must be ripped out like the heart of the guy who got sacrificed in the original Indiana Jones.
With all that said, this movie has wonderful charts and graphics to transform complicated realities into simple understandings. I highly recommend this film if you are:
- interested in transcending partisan politics so our society understands the truth of our problem;
- explaining our fiscal problems to friends, family, or co-workers;
- debriefing someone who is an unbeknownst member of the FOX, CNN, or MSNBC cults; or,
- trying to teach your children fiscal responsibility or simply explain how out national budget is f*ed.
I guarantee that anyone who watches this film will be more enlightened after 125 minutes.