Life and debt

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

As they struggle to get a car loan or watch their neighbors move out following a foreclosure, everyday people are waking up to the snowballing economic problem.

Robert Bixby appreciates that awareness. He just wishes it would have happened sooner.

Especially because there's more to it than what's affecting people in the short term, Bixby said.

"I think still people aren't aware of the magnitude of the unfunded obligations that we have out there for the baby boomers' retirement," said Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition. "And that's really the crux of the problem."

Indeed, a graph projecting the breathtakingly sharp U.S. descent into uncontrollable debt is the most striking image in I.O.U.S.A., a film featuring interviews with Bixby. He will make a stop in Columbus for a Friday screening at AMC Easton, and he spoke to Alive last week from Atlanta.

The Concord Coalition advocates for responsible fiscal policy and charges itself with educating the public about the causes and consequences of federal budget deficits.

I.O.U.S.A., directed by Sundance veteran Patrick Creadon (Wordplay), fills that roll as well, blending interviews with unnamed, average Americans and industry greats like Warren Buffett and Alan Greenspan. There's plenty of animated charts and graphs, too, along with an opening montage of clips from decades of State of the Union addresses.

The movie follows Bixby and former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker on their national "Fiscal Wake-Up Tour," which started in 2005 and continues today. The film examines four forms of deficits -- budget, savings, trade and leadership -- examining each separately.

And although they're interrelated, leadership might be the most important factor because of the power it has over the others.

"This is a leadership challenge for future generations," he said, referring to both the next elected president and today's youth.

In the movie, Bixby likens the United States to a family, where each member comes with financial contributions and needs. The family isn't doing well, Bixby says.

And throughout the film, facts and political figures blame easy credit, Americans' overspending and government promises like Medicaid and Social Security for plundering from unborn children. Doing nothing to control it now, Bixby says in the movie, is immoral.

But no matter what he and current leaders might be able to do, "I think it's always going to be a problem," he told Alive. "There's not, like, a fix."

So what's the best advice Bixby has for young professionals and families? The ones who will find themselves with a government with very different abilities when they retire?

"Save more," he said. And treat debt "like fire" -- use it, but with respect. "Noboby should assume that Social Security is going to be all you'll need in your retirement, because you'll need more," he added.


Opens Friday at AMC Easton 30