plain sailing

Maxed Out: American Debt and Excessive Spending: James Scurlock’s Documentary Investigates Reasons for US Debt

Maxed Out by James Scurlock is a surprisingly easy film to watch, despite the dark overtones and tragedy that have resulted from a nation living on dreams and out of touch with reality. Ignoring the warnings of Jimmy Carter in the 1970s, Americans elected a series of presidents who began borrowing billions of dollars to allow for a standard of living that was sure to fail. Ronald Reagan urged people during his presidency to “keep oon spending” as did George W. Bush following 9/11.

But others warned against the dangerous trend, such as Suz Orman, who prophesized that “We are in financial trouble.” A real estate agent discusses the move towards bigger and better, with consumers demanding huge homes with entertainment centers, elevators and mammoth square footage, predicated on incomes that were precarious. The recent economic decline and deep debt of the U.S. are signs that those with cautionary tales were correct, although ignored. A society of worshipping luxury and grandeur overcame the masses. Messages of prosperity and opulence were splashed across the country, deep into the heartland.

A Banking System that Promotes Debt, Dependence, and Financial Destruction

The film makes use of archival footage of prudent financial attitudes when credit first began appearing in modern life, and cuts back to more recent scenes of the cost of out-of-control debt. Dave Ramsey, a noted financial guru, states he was “stupid with zeroes on the end,” when he lost all of his money in his late twenties. Elizabeth Warren of Harvard, relates that consumer lending was “obscenely profitable,” and discusses a system that requires people who are least likely to ever be able to pay off debts, to take out loans in order to keep the creditors making lots of money.

It is a callous system, which left over ten million Americans filing for bankruptcy between 1994 and 2004. The cost of regular citizens is demonstrated by individual stories, from a mother who ran away from her family when her borrowing got away from her, to tragedy when a college student could not keep up with the debt being created.

Spurlock’s Maxed Out Represents Everyone Affected by an Out of Control System

In one scene, a young man shows a flimsy velcro product that he purchased from Abtronics for a small sum. Due to the payment schedule and overdrafts, the ultimate cost of the worthless product was $715.47, a symptom of how impulsive the purchaser was and how predatory the lenders were. Ever increasing bank fees, credit charges, and check cashing fees have escalated beyond the ability of most people to recover.

A few prudent people are still sound, but most Americans are deeply in debt, just like their debtor nation.

America’s wealth has been lost over trinkets and greed, according to Maxed Out. One of the most damning consequences has been the cost to our veterans, who have been unable to keep up with their costs when they were called to serve, yet did not make enough money to keep their families out of debt; meanwhile, they were serving side by side with contractors who had less dangerous duty and who were well compensated, creating a disparity that was shameful and discouraging for the troops. Upon returning home, some had only financial devastation to face, along with PTSD and stress. For the credit crunch, like the war, there is no apparent exit plan. Engrossing, humorous, tragic and informative; definitely worth watching.

Leave a Reply