November 6, 2008

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I.O.U.S.A (PG)
Whether we all woke up Wednesday to a President McCain or a President Obama we’re one nation in deep economic poo, so says I.O.U.S.A, a documentary offering a serious buzz-kill to your post-election high.

Or (depending on how you voted and the outcome) maybe it will just serve as further evidence that the country is going to heck. I saw (and am writing about) this movie the day before the election, so I don’t know which senator is now the inheritor of our massive federal debt and our much more massive federal fiscal burden (which includes things like future Social Security and Medicare bills not included in the debt that is currently marching toward $9 trillion). But if Obama/McCain gets a little too happy with his win, he need only check out this 90 minutes of fright to come thoroughly back down to earth.

The documentary doesn’t specifically look at the housing crisis or the credit crunch, it looks at the finances of the U.S. government more or less since its beginning with special emphasis on the last 30 or so years when we spent ourselves into a hole and especially on the last eight or so years when that hole became a Grand Canyon. The heroes here are David Walker (former Comptroller of the United States) and Bob Bixby (of the Concord Coalition), who cross the country like Al Gore with his global warming slide show, only in this case the disaster is our current spending of future generations’ wealth and the call is not for environmental awareness (though a focus on energy policy and breaking our dependence on foreign oil is part of the prescription here) but for fiscal responsibility. And, because the government’s monetary policy has impacted our financial system, the story does get to elements of why money to buy homes with sketchy mortgages was so available.

Warren Buffett, Paul Rubin, Alan Greenspan, Paul O’Neill and Paul Volcker all make appearances here as do our own Senator Judd Gregg and Texas Congressman (and recent political primary scrapper) Ron Paul. The movie doesn’t seem to have a specific political viewpoint (though I would guess it doesn’t agree with either Obama’s or McCain’s tax plans). But like Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth it gets you thinking about the problem, wanting to know more and thinking about your own behavior (and in the solutions department I’d argue that this movie has an edge — you can create a change in your own finances much more quickly than you can change the state of, say, climate change in New Hampshire). The information is presented in a graphically pleasing, easy-to-understand style (very similar to the kind of “how a bill becomes a law”-type films you might have watched in high school). Even if balancing your own checkbook makes your head hurt, the movie is able to explain these complex issues in a way that’s not difficult to grasp.

TV ratings and anecdotal accounts in the media suggest that we as a people have become much more invested in politics throughout this election season, much more willing to turn our mental energy and our free time to educating ourselves about and getting involved in the issues. Now that the presidential election is (maybe) over, I.O.U.S.A. is a perfect reminder that there are still plenty of issues worth your political energies. B+

Rated PG for some thematic elements. Directed by Patrick Creadon and written by Creadon, Christine O’Malley and Addison Wiggin, I.O.U.S.A. is an hour and 30 minutes long and is distributed by Roadside Attractions. It’s screening at least through Thursday, Nov. 6, at Cinemagic Merrimack. A list of other theaters showing the film and a 30-minute version of the film are available at www.iousathemovie.com