Response to IOUSA Director Patrick Creadon

Dean Baker
October 29, 2008

I am glad to see that Patrick Creadon has seen fit to engage our critique of his movie IUOSA, although it is difficult to understand how he can claim that he still does not recognize that his film was one-sided.

Mr. Creadon points out that he talked to both Democrats and Republicans, but he chose to interview a select group of Democrats and Republicans all of whom agree with his view about the federal budget deficit. The fact he found one Democratic Senator to agree with his agenda proves nothing. Would a statement from Senator Lieberman show bi-partisan support for President Bush’s war in Iraq?

If Mr. Creadon really wanted to show a range of views on the budget he could have talked to Senator Robert Byrd, the former majority leader of the Senate and a long-time Chair of the Appropriations Committee. Or, he could have talked to Senator Edward Kennedy, the chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, and one of the most respected members of the Senate. If he wanted a recent cabinet member, he could have spoken with former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

If Mr. Creadon wanted to talk to a Republican with a different perspective, apart from members of the current administration, he could have spoken to former Federal Reserve Board Governor Lawrence Lindsey or former Treasury Secretary James Baker.

If Mr. Creadon wanted to talk to economists who would have given him a different perspective he could have talked to Paul Krugman, Robert Solow, or Joseph Stiglitz, all Nobel Prize winners. He also could have spoken to Brookings economist Henry Aaron, one of the country’s leading budget experts.

All of these people would have given a very different perspective, one that is that altogether lacking from the film. Obviously the experts selected were chosen because they share Mr. Creadon’s agenda. There was no effort whatsoever to present a range of views or any balance of perspectives.

Clearly IOUSA was not intended to present a balanced analysis of the budget problems facing the country. However, it is more important to deal with the substance conveyed in the movie than Mr. Creadon’s motives. On this point there can be no dispute: the budget problem is a health care problem.

As Peter Orszag, the Director of the Congressional Budget Office, has repeatedly pointed out (e.g. here and here), the projections of explosive long-term budget deficits are entirely driven by projections of exploding private sector health care costs. If the United States could contain its health care costs, so that they only increase in step with per capita income and with the aging of the population, the deficits projected for further decades will be manageable. If per person health care costs in the United States were in line with those of other wealthy countries (all of whom enjoy longer life expectancies than the United States), then the budget projections would show enormous surpluses as far as the eye could see.

In short, the U.S. budget problem is really a health care problem. Mr. Creadon could have performed an enormous service if he sought to educate the public on this fact and called attention to the need to fix our health care system. Perhaps the debate surrounding IOUSA will help to correct this enormous failing of his film.

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer. He also has a blog on the American Prospect, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media's coverage of economic issues.