IOUSA Movie Summary and Review

Obama watching IOUSA the movie
President and Michelle Obama watching a 3D movie at the White House. Could it be IOUSA?. Photo: Getty Images News

I.O.U.S.A. The Movie is a 2007 documentary that warned about the U.S. debt when it was merely $8.7 trillion. Its message is even more important now that the debt is more than double that. 

The movie does an excellent job of explaining all of the issues surrounding the growing Federal debt. It's both clear and entertaining, which is not easy with such a technical topic.  It starts off with interviews with average Americans and asks them "How big is the U.S. debt?"  The answers are funny but frightening.

Most people don't know. 

The movie uses easy-to-grasp visuals to illustrate the massive size of the debt. It compared it to the entire output of the U.S. economy. The so-called Gross Domestic Product was $13.7 trillion then. It's $18 trillion now. It's sickening when you realize the debt-to-GDP ratio was 64% then, and people were concerned. Now it's around 100%. The movie is prophetic because it warned that the debt would only grow if nothing were done.

I.O.U.S.A. features former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker as a key speaker about the U.S. Federal debt problem. He was featured on this 60 Minutes interview in 2007. In the movie, Walker explains the many reasons why the U.S. debt will continue to drag down our standard of living. It helps you understand how the debt will affect you and your children.

It uses dynamic graphics that show how the debt was created by four types of deficits.

The first three are a leadership deficit, a savings deficit, and a balance of payments  including a trade deficit

Most time is rightly given show exactly how ongoing budget deficits worsen the debt. Each year, government overspending is added to the debt. In other words, the debt to fund World War II has never been repaid.

That's why each war until then did increase taxes and lead to post-war recessions.  For more, see How the Deficit Increases the Debt, and Vice Versa.

It points out how Reaganomics and subsequent supply-side economics expanded the debt. The theory said that lower tax rates would free up businesses to create more than enough growth to replace the lost revenue. Instead, debt skyrocketed. To see exactly how much, see Which President Contributed the Most to the U.S. Debt?

Official budget deficit reports don't show the true addition to the debt. The movie explains how politicians use the Social Security fund to subsidize government spending. Thanks to decades of pilfering, the funds are dwindling. That threatens future retirement benefits for all who paid into it. For more, see Budget Deficit by President.

The debt becomes even more unsustainable when interest rates rise.  When that happens, the interest on the debt will cost more than the $250 billion it does now. 

The film's credibility is enhanced by interviews with financier Warren Buffett, and Former Federal Reserve Chairmen Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker. It was directed by Patrick Creadon.

The Peter J. Peterson Foundation funded the movie.

If you would like to work on solutions, check out the Foundation's website.

This film was made before the financial crisis in 2008 that created trillions more in debt.  The problem is even worse now and will continue to escalate. It's a good reminder that the U.S. debt was at crisis levels during President Bush's Administration. It was added to, but not created by, President Obama. Find out how much each President contributed to the debt. 

The only downside was that it wasn't widely distributed. Sadly, it ran for less than a week. When I saw it, I was pleased to see that the theater was fairly full.  Here's the two-minute trailer.

You can watch the entire movie free on Youtube right now. There's also this thirty-minute summary. It isn't available on Netflix.