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To prepare to write about the looming fiscal cliff I read long essays in The Atlantic, The New Yorker and Time. After doing that, I decided the best way to see some deals go down was to ignore Washington and instead watch a few episodes of Pawn Stars on the History Channel.
Talk about hardball negotiating and old-fashioned horse trading. A half hour with the Old Man, Chumlee, Big Hoss and Rick restores your faith in the power of the almighty dollar to bring people together. The pawn shop guys will buy anything they think there is a market for – it doesn’t matter to them if it’s a pirate’s peg leg or a Super Bowl ring. When they are stumped they call in an expert, who magically arrives within a few minutes, sheds light on the value of the item in question, and then gets out of the way so a deal can be reached.
Pawn Stars is sort of the anti-Antiques Roadshow. While people often are giddy on the Antiques Roadshow, there is a different ethos on Pawn Stars. Instead of getting breathtaking “insurance value” or “auction value” quotes from upscale antique dealers, people get a cold slap of reality from the pawn shop guys, who, by virtue of having the cash, have the upper hand. The pawn shop guys close the deal quickly and almost always on their terms.
What has struck me recently is the sense that both John Boehner and Barack Obama have been acting like the pawn shop guys, intimidating and low-balling and waiting for the other guy to cave. But apart from the political theatre of it, who really has the stronger hand? Both of them can’t be the pawn shop guys – somebody’s going to come out ahead on this deal. This time around it’s the President with his calls for higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. Why is Obama going to win on this? Because no action is required for Obama to win. The Bush-era tax cuts for those at the highest income levels will automatically expire on January 1. For that not to happen, both houses of Congress and the President have to pass new tax cuts for the rich. Think our divided government will get together to do that?
Are you worried a deal won’t be reached? My advice is to not let the inflamed rhetoric of the “official statements” and proposals and counterproposals make you anxious. Negotiating through the media is not how the deal will get done. That’s just posturing and posing and flexing to appeal to their constituents. The real deal will get made behind closed doors. And a deal will be made.
Until that happens, expect more posturing. And if you get sick of how long it drags on and on, tune into Pawn Stars, where everything gets wrapped up in half an hour with time left over to bid on a set of George Washington’s teeth and Sean Connery’s toupee. Those guys have a can-do attitude our political leaders would do well to emulate. I can already sense a Chumlee for Congress groundswell starting. Can you?