Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008

I.O.U.S.A.

By David Luhrssen
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The federal debt stands near nine trillion dollars, a sum nearly as incomprehensible as the measure of infinity. David Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, calls it a “fiscal cancer” in I.O.U.S.A. and it’s hard to argue with him. A documentary that seems even more timely now than when it first surfaced earlier this year, I.O.U.S.A. rings loud alarm bells about the health of our nation.

To quote Walker again: “Our current standard of living is unsustainable.”

The United States was already deep in debt when George Washington took the oath as President, having borrowed heavily from foreigners to finance the Revolution. By 1835 the debt was reduced to zero but along came the costly Civil War. During the past century deficit spending has been the rule, not the exception. The trend accelerated under Reagonomics, with its proposition that cutting taxes would eventually increase federal revenue through spurring an overall growth in wealth. Problem was Reagan overspent any gains in wealth through an expensive arms build up.

Clinton managed to achieve a budget surplus by the end of his administration through the peace dividend after the Cold War and a buoyant economy. But within a few years Bush reversed the direction and dug America into a deep hole, cutting taxes and borrowing money for costly adventures with a recklessness that would have alarmed past generations of Republicans.

As the documentary insists, the current economic mess can’t be blamed entirely on George Bush, Allan Greenspan or the “risk taking” CEOs who piloted the world into the maelstrom. The average American shared in the fool’s paradise of recent years, living on easy credit and running up debts that will be difficult to pay. I.O.U.S.A. is a scathing indictment of consumer culture run amok.

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