I.O.U.S.A. -- The discussion begins

I.O.U.S.A. has made an auspicious debut in nationwide release.  If you missed it last night, look on your favorite movie-search website for a "theater near you" this weekend.  And not just because Roger Ebert gives it three and a half stars.

It's funny how people react to it.  Their perceptions are colored by their preconceived notions.  Conservatives see it as a veiled call for tax increases.  Liberals see it as a veiled call for slashing Social Security.  It is, of course, neither of those things.  But this is good.  As I knew well back in my journalism days, if you managed to anger both sides of an issue, you did a decent job.

Now… I suspect many of the people who read this blog and saw it last night were disappointed that the movie was not a wholesale indictment of central banking.  That's an understandable sentiment… but that's never what this movie set out to be.  For one thing, the late Aaron Russo already made that movie a couple of years ago.  In contrast, I.O.U.S.A. is an attempt to start a very broad discussion among an ideologically diverse group — including, yes, certain establishment figures like Pete Peterson.  And the discussion begins on a simple point of agreement — that, contra Alexander Hamilton, the national debt, certainly at its present size, is anything but a "national blessing."  Seems to me that repudiating a central principle of the one founding father who threw a monkey wrench into the grand American experiment from the get-go is a darn good place to start the discussion, no?

Reuters has an account of the live-via-satellite panel that followed the premiere.  For all the passion former Comptroller General David Walker conveys, for all his recall of how debt had doomed earlier republics in history (let us not forget this whole movie thing got started with his reading Bill and Addison's Empire of Debt), his starting point for a solution to this godawful mess — forming the proverbial bipartisan blue-ribbon commission — was thin gruel indeed.

Which perhaps underscores the notion that people in power aren't going to do anything meaningful until ordinary folks like you and me get mad.  So if you didn't have the chance last night, go see the movie and get mad.

Update:  From the comments below, it's clear our readership wonders whether Buffett was out to lunch during the panel.  More where that came from (including reaction from a "puzzled" Addison) in today's 5 Min. Forecast.

My wife wonders how much of Buffett's attitude is tied in with the many U.S. positions he owns, and I think she's onto something.  Clearly Buffett is still "long America" even though Americentric value investing hasn't performed very well this year for guys like Bill Miller or Marty Whitman — or for that matter, Berkshire itself.  (Presumably they'd counter that by saying they're not necessarily investing on the basis of year-to-date performance.)  But really, it would be hard for Buffett to say "we're screwed in America" without facing some pointed questions from the audience at Berkshire's next shareholder meeting.

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