“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 last week’s banking meltdown, the film warns in 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. Kiplinger.com 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.