Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Film review: "I.O.U.S.A." (documentary)

I recently watched the documentary I.O.U.S.A. – a quite chilling wake-up call to Americans about our nation teetering on financial collapse due to our ever mounting national deficits. (view the trailer on YouTube)

The filmmakers interview some of the most principled and influential economists, politicians and business people in the know about this pending crisis including: AlanGreenspan, former treasury secretaries including Paul O’Neill and wealthy Berkshire Hathaway CEO, Warren Buffett. Much of the film time, however, goes to former Comptroller General of the US, David Walker who explains through simple and understandable graphics the serious brink of financial crisis at which this nation is currently poised.

The country faces four distinct national deficits: A budget deficit, savings deficit, trade deficit and leadership deficit.

Most people are familiar with the Budget deficit which as, at the time of the film released had reached $8.7 TRILLION dollars… and is continuing to climb. You might guess that perhaps most of our tax revenue is consumed by Medicare, the Iraq-Afghanistan wars, Social Security? Nope - The largest portion of the taxes you and I pay go to interest on the loans the government has taken out to pay for all these services. As Mr. Walker points out, “the government has no money”, it pays for things through taxes and borrowing. And the rate at which we are borrowing is unsustainable and disastrous for the future of this country.

The personal savings rate of people in this country has dropped to zero. Our trade deficit has placed us almost at the bottom of the world’s trading economy. We produce far less than we import and we are mortgaging out national assets to purchase things we cannot afford. And yet, we continue to blithely stupefy ourselves with the funeral arrangements of Michael Jackson and NFL playoffs.

Crucial to the problem is our Leadership deficit – Congress is anathema to speaking the heresy that they KNOW will doom their re-election prospects: Taxes. It is not possible to spend more than your income; neither for an individual family or a nation. Americans don’t care how much in taxes we pay – whatever it is, it’s too much. Our elected leaders are beholding to short term business interests through the lobbyists they employ. The likelihood of ever enacting any true fiscal responsible policy seems distinctly dismal, in my view.

Unfortunately, this subject does not hit the public consciousness. It’s boring so the news media doesn’t cover it. It’s complex so our politicians don’t talk about it. And planes don’t fall out of the sky because the nation is in debt. Like cigarettes; the tragedy of lung cancer is still many years down the road.

But this is a film that should be shown in every high school classroom. It should be the topic shown every night on the news… a runner at the bottom of the screen showing how much of our tax money we pissed away to China and Japan that day.

Americans usually act when disaster strikes, are very good at putting out fires. We are piss-poor at preventing them in the first place. We have one hell of a wake-up call heading our way. I.O.U.S.A. is trying to shake Americans awake before it is too late. See it.

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