Once there were two siblings who had worked out a financial arrangement. One sibling would decide what they ought to buy, and the other sibling would go out and buy it. The second sibling would use a credit card to pay for the things the first sibling said to buy, and every month the credit card company would send them a statement.
Part of the siblings' financial arrangement was that the first sibling would have to give permission before the second sibling could pay the credit card bill. The second sibling had come to think of the first sibling's permission as a mere formality, and so it seemed at first. Then, one month, after the credit card statement arrived, the first sibling said, "I'm not going to give you permission to pay the credit card bill unless you make it worth my while."
Needless to say, this left the second sibling in a quandry as to how to respond to the first sibling. One alternative was for the second sibling to say, "Well then, I won't pay the credit card bill. The credit card company will cancel the card, and we'll both starve to death." In other words, the second sibling could call the first sibling's bluff. The trouble with that idea was that it might not be a bluff. The first sibling was more than a little suicidal, and had been known to remark from time to time that it would be for the best if the two of them did starve to death.
Another alternative would be for the second sibling to say, "Fine. I'll give you whatever you want as long as you give me permission to pay the credit card bill." But the second sibling knew that that wouldn't be the end of it. Once it had been established that the first sibling could use the payment of the credit card bill to blackmail the second sibling, the second sibling would be in thrall to the first sibling for the rest of their lives.
Yet another alternative would be for the second sibling to say, "I'm legally obligated to protect our credit rating, so I'm going to pay the credit card bill whether you give me permission or not." That would take care of the credit card bill, but it would also cause a rift between the two siblings. The first sibling would sue the second sibling for violating their financial arrangement, and the case would end up being tried by a third sibling who was a judge. The second sibling knew that the third sibling was rather unstable, so there was no way of knowing who the third sibling would decide for. Even worse, the first sibling might have the second sibling arrested; the second sibling knew this for a fact, because the first sibling had done that very thing not too long before, after finding the second sibling in a compromising position. The second sibling had been aquitted before, and would doubtless be aquitted this time, but being arrested was a traumatic experience that the second sibling wouldn't lightly risk.
Then a thought occurred to the second sibling. Some time before, the first sibling had given permission for the second sibling to raise money by baking and selling smiley-face cookies. It seemed silly at first thought, but it might well be possible for the second sibling to bake a very special smiley-face cookie, and use that to pay the credit card bill. Of course, it might not be possible, and either way, there was always the risk that paying the credit card bill with a smiley-face cookie might also provoke the first sibling into suing or arresting the second sibling.
The second sibling stood and pondered what to do . . .
Are there smiley-face cookies at the bottom of the fiscal cliff?
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