Last Thursday, I attended the premiere of I.O.U.S.A. in San Diego, CA.
I first heard about this documentary two years ago from Agora Financial. The original title was “Squanderville” (apparently taken from a cartoon about the economy that Warren Buffet created).
Agora Financial puts out many free and paid newsletters on the economy and investing. Bill Bonner heads up the organization and they are clearly anti-government libertarians who typically tell it like it is in the investment world. I read the Daily Reckoning (free on dailyreckoning.com) almost daily.
Surprisingly, although I arrived about 10 minutes before the movie started (that’s light years for me!), the theater was about 75% full already! I found a place near the front, and by the time it started, the house was packed.
The documentary was being presented to a live audience in Omaha, Nebraska, where Becky Quick from CNBC was the host, and the creator of the movie Patrick Creadon, and his wife Christine O’Malley introduced the movie. We got to watch tape-delayed coverage of this presentation.
The beginning of the film smacked the audience with our individual “personal debt burden”. I personally was surprised that I owe $184,000, when I never had any part in running that debt up!
The opening scene was a series of clips by various presidents saying how grave the deficit problem is in our country, and how we need to solve it. They then gave us a history of U.S. debt and how in the early days, the government always paid off the debt quickly (the founding fathers were terrified of having debt!)
We are then introduced to David Walker, the former head of the Government Accountability Office (GAO). He talked about how thrilled he was to have “served his country” (funny, I don’t remember voting for him or approving his taxpayer-funded position!).
The movie then focuses in on the Concord Coalition, which is a political advocacy group dedicated to “fiscal responsibility” in government, and preserving the welfare state (Social Security, Medicare, etc.) Robert Bixby is an eccentric character working for this coalition who shows us how the U.S. budget in 1988 was printed in a booklet, and now consists of three thick books, some containing pictures!
David Walker and Robert Bixby set out to educate the country on the debt problem on their “Fiscal Responsibility Tour”. Many “average people” are interviewed, and show that they know very little about what a deficit is or just how grandiose the problem is.
As the movie presents a graphical representation of U.S. government debt over the years, when they get to 1913, they gloss over the Federal Reserve, claiming that it was put into place in order to control inflation and manage the money supply. No criticism whatsoever about the Fed!
The constant mantra throughout the film is the idea that “you can’t cut taxes and keep spending”. There is no debate about taxes themselves, and the debate itself is framed to give the illusion once again that taxes are necessary and good. Government extracting money from us at the point of a gun is called “revenue”.
Old white men in suits who work for the government are constantly presented as experts throughout. One congressman interviewed (forget his name) actually said that the debt is the second largest threat to the U.S. next to Islamo-Fascism! Talk about propaganda.
Other propagandistic themes presented:
-Tax cuts are bad and foolish
-Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin balanced the budget
-Government is the solution to the problems that government created.
-A “surplus” for the government is a good thing
-We need “bi-partisan” solutions to everything
-Ending the war in Iraq is NOT a solution because it’s only 3% of the budget. (no mention of Afghanistan or the bases we have to pay for in 130+ countries)
My favorite part of the movie, and one of its only redeeming moments, was the exchange from 1999 between Ron Paul and Alan Greenspan on the congress floor. Ron Paul rips Greenspan to shreds and asks him how he thinks we can continue this irresponsible policy. Greenspan doesn’t know. Then Dr. Paul says if he were to treat his patients the way he treats the economy way, they’d be dead. This comment is greeted with about 15 seconds of dead silence!
The Federal Reserve is briefly acknowledged at this point as “part of the problem”. Hmm.
I found it amusing that they offered the idea that the government “could go out of business” if we don’t solve this! Boy, that makes me want to call my congressman to “do something”!
The solution is presented as something “we all must participate in”. Graphs and statistics showed us that ending the war and cutting social security completely would only put a small dent in the debt (I guess we should just continue being irrational since it doesn’t make much difference!). This part of the movie was actually scary to me. They are trying to steer the audience into believing that we can’t really cut anything government-related, instead, we all have to “sacrifice”, pay more in taxes, accept massive inflation, etc. Collectivist nonsense to the max!
The immorality being presented here is astonishing. Don’t worry about the insane amount of spending the government is doing. Ask your congressperson to make the “tough decisions”, suck it up, and pay for their mistakes. For the children of course. Wow.
Near the end of the film we are told that doing “nothing” is a problem, and we must get our congress to do “something”. We’re not told what that something is, but we can guess. We are then told to vote. Yes, because nobody has ever heard that before. Say, isn’t voting for government thugs what got us into this mess?
Then we are informed once again that the nearly $9 trillion debt (at the time of the movie) comes out to $184,000 per American. Another slap in the face to us as the camera focuses in on Abe Lincoln’s face on the penny and an upbeat tune plays as the credits appear.
In the entire movie, there was not one single mention of the only thing that is going to solve this problem: a gold standard.
They missed the mark by a long shot and framed the debate instead of giving us the truth and looking at real solutions.
Two thumbs down!
Post-Movie Panel Discussion
After the movie, there was a panel discussion brought to us live from Omaha, Nebraska.
The panel consisted of: Warren Buffet, Pete Peterson (funded the movie), David Walker (former GAO of the U.S.), William Niskanen (Cato Institute) and Bill Novelli (AARP CEO).
There’s nothing good to say about their proposed “solutions”.
From Buffet, we heard that the debt is not that big a problem, that he believes America always comes back, and that we should have some kind of “mandatory savings”. He also droned on and on about “leadership”.
Walker gave us a lot of hot air, screamed about “the children”, and just kept saying we must fix the problem and force our politicians to “make the tough decisions” (although he never detailed what exactly those decisions might be).
Niskanen discussed some nuances of how social security should be “fixed”, and how we should just work until we’re 70. He mentioned privatizing social security like they have in Chile (the truth is, the Chilean system is better than what we have now, but how about just not stealing from workers to pay for this ponzi scheme in the first place?)
Novelli, the AARP guy, offered little of substance, more of the typical “do something”, “vote”, and other mindless claptrap.
I felt like we were watching the communist party up there planning our future for us!
Needless to say, I do not recommend this movie, unless you want a glimpse into the disgusting way in which the mainstream media and the politicians are going to handle this crisis over the next few years.