Nina Smith

I.O.U.S.A: compulsory viewing for every dollar-spending American

Filed By Nina Smith | October 01, 2008 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living
Tags: financial crisis, I.O.U.S.A.: One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt.

"Capitalism without failure is like Christianity without hell." - Warren Buffett

I.O.U.S.A.: One Nation. Under Stress. In Debt. is the new Sundance-selected documentary that I watched recently. Michelle Orange of The Village Voice called it an "Inconvenient Truth for the debt crisis." The film addresses four deficits confronting America: the budget deficit, the savings deficit, balance of payments/trade deficit, and of course, our leadership deficit.

In the wake of the current banking meltdown, the film warns in a timely tone, "What's coming down the pike could make the subprime mortgage problem seem like a speed-bump."

The New York Times calls it:

Yet another documentary that everyone should see but most will not, "I.O.U.S.A." tackles the unsexy topic of our soaring national debt and its likely consequences for present and future Americans -- or at least those who survive the tsunamis, water shortages and Beijing-level air quality promised by Al Gore.

Brimful of disquieting facts on inflation, trade deficits and Wall Street's influence on national monetary policy, Patrick Creadon's resolutely nonpartisan movie tracks America's "fiscal cancer" through centuries of budgetary highs and lows.

Deficits and Americans: this isn't really a recent phenomenon. After all, it took a deficit throughout the Revolutionary War to break free from the British Empire. The nation has typically prospered through each of its ups and downs.

The problem now, though, is the Baby Boomers. With 80 million reaching the age of retirement eligibility, the government has made massive commitments to Social Security and Medicare programs. These and other unfunded liabilities total a staggering $53 trillion and Gen X & Y will pay the price for the ills of the previous generation.

Perhaps the Baby Boomers don't deserve retirement. That might solve some of the problem. Hey Mom and Dad, keep working!

All in all, the film is a bit depressing. And scary too. Of course, it's meant to be a wake up call. But it seems to fail at the end. explains how the director:

...tries to mobilize his audience with a closing sequence that feels like a pep rally, calling viewers to save money and to hold politicians accountable. But just as Gore left viewers mystified as to how joining an e-mail list could solve global warming, I.O.U.S.A.'s call to action sounds a bit feeble...

As Alan Greenspan noted in the film, "Human beings cannot survive unless they create a provision for the future." Sure, we can all send demanding emails to our Senators and Representatives about the need to do something to halt what appears to be pending fiscal disaster, but it seems like the best remedy begins when it gets personal. As in personal finance. Bottom line, Americans need to save and stop spending more money than we earn.

In an interview at The Huffington Post, the director echoes this sentiment:

I think that is a realistic hope. I also hope people who watch our film start saving more money and investing it wisely. Without savings there is no future, and yet for the past 2 years America has had a negative savings rate. We've spent more money than we've earned. That has to stop.

The book version just became available on Amazon. For more information about the movie and The Fiscal Wake-Up Tour, visit:

I.O.U.S.A. - The Movie
Peter G. Peterson Foundation
Concord Coalition

Have you seen the documentary? What were your feelings? Please share your comments below.

When Nina is not watching scary films about the economy, she can be found blogging about money over at Queercents.

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I haven't seen the documentary yet but thanks for the introduction. It will come to Palm Springs as we get most of the Sundance films in our avant guard theatre. Scary isn't it. Everything is on plastic credit cards and paper money will soon be worth nothing.

I don't agree with what you said really....
please explain further a bit more for me :D


beachcomberT | October 2, 2008 4:25 AM

A good start toward solving this problem would be for both presidential candidates to stop promising tax cuts and work seriously on the Social Security and Medicare fiscal problems.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | October 2, 2008 5:42 AM

When Social Security was enacted the average life expectancy of all persons was under 65 on average. The spread between a black male and a White female was nearly 13 years to the advantage of the White female, but she only had a life expectancy of 66.2 years. What is happening and what will continue to happen is that we will work longer until eligible and receive less.

Social Security, originally, was an old age disability cushion to those who were about to die. Tough news perhaps, but the alternative is less convenient.

I haven't seen the movie, but I hope to now!

Charles: I'm sure it will hit Palm Springs soon. By the way, I was out there this past weekend... staying at the Korakia, my favorite hangout and the best deal going in the desert!

Zodiaclove: Umm, what part is confusing? Spend more than you earn and you'll be in debt. That goes for individuals and our mighty government.

BeachcomberT and Robert: I couldn't agree more! The social security system is a mess.

Bil: Knowing how much you dislike Bush, you might enjoy this New York Post piece on Main Street:

"Fiscal conservatism used to be synonymous with fiscal responsibility. Then the Bush administration came to town..."

Korakia is beautiful. I didn't know about it but will recommend it to friends.