It's called Chinese handcuffs, a trick that perfectly illustrates why America's in a fiscal pickle. The thing is, it's not tricky at all.
Stick two fingers into opposing ends of the tight wicker tube. If they pull in opposite directions, the tube contracts and won't release them. But if the fingers stop resisting and move slightly toward each other, the tube relaxes and releases them.
Say what you will about the result of the "fiscal cliff" negotiations. They showed that we can wiggle out of a stalemate that threatens America's future.
With their free hands, majorities of senators and congressmen held their noses and voted for something that both cut spending and raised taxes. They moved ever so slightly toward each other.
This happened despite screams against tax hikes by tea party fantasists, not to mention the most frightening words for all elected Republicans: "Grover Norquist is on Line 1." At the same time, some lawmakers on the left like Sen. Tom Harkin thought the measure was too kind to the wealthy.
The fact is, however, something was very right about the fiscal cliff resolution, stopgap and threadbare though it may be. For one, it raised taxes for every person who earns a pay check.
That's right: every one. That's as it should have been.
The measure let lapse the 2 percent payroll tax cut contained in economic stimulus legislation. This means that people paying $20,000 will pay $425 more this year. Those paying $40,000 will pay $747 more, and so on. And so be it.
So much for the ignorance behind the Romney-esque claim that 47 percent of Americans are tax freeloaders. They pay payroll, property, sales, motor fuels and utility taxes, to name just a few.
Well, everyone should pay more, because it was under our watch, all of us, that public policy put the nation so deeply in the red. That includes the wars for which some, including many who tout "less government, lower taxes" so avidly beat drums.
You might feel in your heart that you're being taxed too much, but your national credit card account, 10-year wars included, says you're not.
Despite what the tea party may say, taxes as a portion of Gross Domestic Product are at historic lows.
Cut spending? It's self-evident that we need to, and dramatically. By the way, name the president under whose watch government employees declined most significantly — ever. That would be Barack Obama, for all those who believe he just can't spend enough. Obama also imposed a two-year freeze on federal pay.
Only those swimming in anti-Obama bile will fail to acknowledge that he has made major spending concessions, and will make more. He has to.
On the other side? Most congressional Republicans signed, and this time broke, a no-new-taxes pledge for lobbyist Norquist, whose Americans for Tax Reform has the resources to punish any who defy.
Because of such a threat, though Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan talked about closing tax loopholes, their intent was not to raise revenue so much as a dime. It was to lower tax rates — that old voodoo.
Well, consider Obama's re-election and the fiscal cliff resolution the sounding of "Taps" for trickle-down economics. Enough of the fantasy that lower taxes result in lower deficits.
If we are serious about debt reduction we are going to have to abide by the two-sided nature of the Simpson-Bowles recommendations. We are going to have to cut military spending just as well as domestic spending. We are going to have to raise revenue, and not just through hoped-for economic activity. That spells taxes (and possibly Norquist immolating himself in the public square).
Something has to give. In the fiscal cliff negotiations, both sides gave. Trickle-down economics is dead. Fiscal responsibility now has a chance to live.
Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.