'I.O.U.S.A.' looks at fiscal collapse

LIZ BRAUN - Sun Media

, Last Updated: 6:46 AM ET

Want to see a real horror movie? A new documentary about how the United States is on the brink of financial ruin will keep you awake at night in a way no bloodsucking vampire thriller ever could.

I.O.U.S.A. is a devastating investigation of a bankrupt nation. As the American national debt closes in on $9 trillion dollars, the filmmakers carefully explain what that sort of financial load means to this generation and the next.

It means trouble.

I.O.U.S.A. manages to explain how and why the United States got into this kind of fiscal fiasco and make it entertaining -- no mean feat. The movie opens with archival footage of several past presidents, each of them exclaiming how the country's debt has to be managed better. There have been financial ups and downs over the nation's history, but according to I.O.U.S.A., Bill Clinton was recently able to balance the budget. In fact, in the year 2000 the National Debt Clock in New York was actually turned off. The clock kept a running total of what America owed, but it seemed to have outlived its usefulness.

Then came President Bush.

During his years in the White House, Bush has managed to take the amount built up over hundreds of years and dozens of presidents and double it. The cost of war in Iraq is just one part of it -- far more expensive in the long run were those three major tax cuts, including one in 2002 that Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill objected to. O'Neill was fired for his efforts (and told to pretend he had quit.)

Despite how all that sounds, I.O.U.S.A. goes out of its way to establish that the financial problems facing the country will only be solved if all politicians, regardless of party, work together. It also explains in simple language what it will mean to the future of the United States if the country continues to borrow money from other nations, particularly China. The movie seems more intent upon helping educate the populace than laying blame.

To that end, I.O.U.S.A. devotes time and energy to the work being done by David Walker, the former comptroller general of the United States (or the 'top accountant' in America, as the movie calls him) and Robert Bixby of the Concord Coalition. These men and several of their colleagues undertook a Fiscal Wake-up Tour, travelling to dozens of cities all over the United States to hold 'town hall' type meetings where people could learn the real (and unpleasant) implications of a massive national debt.

I.O.U.S.A. includes interviews with Walker and Bixby, and well as with various other economists and politicians. Warren Buffett is interviewed, as is William Bonner, whose book Empire of Debt inspired this film. All the experts seem to agree that higher taxes and less spending are necessary, and those are hard realities that few politicians have the courage to approach. Dark topic notwithstanding, there's a lot of humour in I.O.U.S.A. (some of it courtesy of a SNL skit about spending money, with Steve Martin and Amy Poehler); the movie uses lighthearted interviews with regular people to illustrate how these financial matters are rarely thought about and not well understood. Let's hope I.O.U.S.A. could help change that.

Since I.O.U.S.A. was completed, the U.S. national debt has gone to $10 trillion.

(This film is rated G)


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