A United States of indebtedness

Posted: August 22, 2008

The poster art for I.O.U.S.A. - one scary, scary horror flick, by the way - shows the White House with a "For Sale - Foreclosure" sign propped on the lawn.

In fact, as director Patrick Creadon lays out the chilling facts of America's economic crisis in his salient documentary, it becomes clear that the fiscal philosophy of the current administration, combined with a costly war and an off-the-map trade deficit, have put us - and our children, and our children's children - in dire straits.

As Judd Gregg, the Republican senator from New Hampshire, puts it, talking about the seismic debt-load: "The only issue that's more severe than this would be the idea that an Islamic fundamentalist would get his hands . . . on a nuclear weapon and use it against us.

"Beyond that, there's nothing that's more severe. . . . This issue represents the potential fiscal meltdown of this nation."

It's not easy making economics sexy or exciting, and I.O.U.S.A. has its pie charts, bar graphs and daunting statistics. But Creadon, responsible for the nimble crossword-puzzle doc Wordplay, lines up an impressive array of experts - former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker, former Secretaries of the Treasury Robert Rubin (under Clinton) and Paul O'Neill (under George W.), billionaire Warren Buffett, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, and others to deliver the bad news in dramatic fashion.

Using William Bonner and Addison Wiggin's cautionary book Empire of Debt as a template, and focusing on the amusing Robert Bixby, cofounder of the Concord Coalition - a nonpartisan group dedicated to bringing accountability and sound accounting back to the federal government - the film is almost jaunty at times, delivering its dark message with more than a little humor.

Still, there's nothing funny going on here. Although fingers can be pointed at the current administration, I.O.U.S.A. goes out of its way to show how a legion of presidents - Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and the first Bush, among them - have played the same game, talking fiscal responsibility while racking up the deficits.

There's no quick fix for a culture "addicted to debt," as one wag puts it in the film. But watching I.O.U.S.A. is a good place to start.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "In the Mix," at http://go.philly.com/inthemix.

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