Saturday, August 23, 2008


I attended the screening on Thursday of I.O.U.S.A. While it is not my intent to use this forum for movie reviews, this is something worth a post. I attended on the 21st because I particularly wanted to see the panel discussion afterwards.

The movie was a fairly straightforward look at the financial health of our nation with a historical context which I found helpful. (Oh, and catchy music too, of course, can't have a movie without catchy music.)They looked at where we are currently, where we have been and where they believe we are going if "something" isn't done now. They briefly presented the concept of financial war on an international level which I found interesting. They showed the home and talked about the expectations in life of an average Chinese (city dwelling, factory working)couple.

They pointed out our current challenges and the necessity for doing something quickly to avoid leaving a huge financial burden to our children and grandchildren.

They did not , however, present any real options for what people should do. By real options, I refer to things the average American can do today to address the situation.

The movie shows Americans buying bonds to support our efforts in WWII but does not explain how this was helpful to the country. They addressed this a little bit(it means our nation's debt is to the nation's people)in the panel discussion. The panel also briefly addressed the benefit of regular savings accounts to the economy(making funds available for lending) but noted that savings accounts are penalized by being taxed twice. (It's taxed when you make it and taxed again for any interest it makes.)

Then the panel discussion went on to exhort the American people to put pressure on our elected officials to vote for fiscally sound policies at all levels. Unfortunately they did not provide any way for the average American to discern, in these days of media spin, what such policies would look like.

This is an area that needs to be addressed. I have noted in other forums the disservice done to a people by media bias and it is no less crucial here. If one has no way to gather accurate and relatively unbiased information, it becomes nearly impossible to know what one should approve of as far as the upcoming votes of one's legislators. Where can I find reasonably unbiased information on current spending proposals before my legislators? How can I verify that such a source is reasonably unbiased?
Almost anything would be better than nothing, but where do I start?

Another solution raised by the panel, but not in the movie was raising the retirement age. The entire panel and most of the audience seemed supportive. Most people understand that Social Security was never intended to be a way of life. There was also a brief mention of forced savings. A mandatory savings account for every worker was mentioned as an option. (One assumes that this is because the government has no faith in the willingness of the next generation to take care of our elderly citizens. Is it a good idea to force people to save - whether you want to contribute or not? And if the government was untrustworthy with Social Security and are untrustworthy on fiscal issues now - another point of the panel discussion - why should we trust them to administer any of our money?) This kind of leads into my next area of concern about the movie's message...character issues.

There was an underlying assumption, throughout both the movie and the panel discussion, that the character of the people of this country is such that we need not question current and future generation's dedication and willingness to do the right thing even if it is difficult. I'm not so sure this is a valid assumption anymore and here's why:
  • The baby boomers came from a generation that went to church regularly and understood many of the qualities of good character without having them explained. It wasn't necessary, those qualities were demonstrated by their parents and neighbors. There was a well defined set of moral and behavioral standards that were generally accepted. That is no longer the case.
  • GenXer's, such as myself, were raised by those who were breaking out of those values sets because they found them to be too restrictive. We did not have the benefit of regular church attendance in many cases and were told that "if it feels good, do it" was the way things should be. That having standards was prudish and not relevant to our modern world.
  • For Generation Y, moral relativity is now the rule of the day. Nobody has the last word on what is right or wrong and so nothing really is. It's all about what works for you.
  • Today's youth are showing some signs of recovery from this plague of moral relativism, but by and large they believe that there will be no Social Security system for them when they reach retirement age. In their view, their parents and grandparents lived high on the hog and now want them to pay the bill. This is jarringly out of step with the character values the film is asking them to display. The attitude that we may reap as a nation may very well be one of "Those older people keep telling us how much better they were and are than us and look at what they've done to our generation. Why should we bail them out? "What's in it for me?" has become the question of the day for the Millenials.
  • Once again, we come to the remarks of the panel that the current leadership of our nation cannot be trusted to do the right thing,fiscally, because their focus has become getting re-elected rather than doing the job. How can we change that? It must be changed because otherwise our young people are correct in questioning the character of those who made the fiscal situation what it is.

I personally believe that our people young and old will come through, but I don't think it will be without consequences. I hope and believe that personal character will become an absolutely overriding factor in elections once again. I'm just not sure how we will get there from here and this movie doesn't provide more than a very tentative starting place.

There would probably have been more than 28 people in the theatre with me if they had advertised it as "doing for Congress what "Supersize Me" did for McDonald's" rather than comparing it to "An Inconvenient Truth".

"The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. "

~Prov. 22:7

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