You probably grew up on Aesop’s Fables like The Tortoise and the Hare and The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. But have you heard of The City That Sold Itself? It’s a lesser known tale with a too familiar moral.
There once was a beautiful city on a hill. The air was scented with jasmine and tangerines and its people came up with many ways to gather together in celebration. They were a creative people and loved making things, and soon the streets were lined with shops of their handiwork. It was not a prosperous land but the people loved and took care of each other. They built a towering well at the top of the hill to guide people there and as a sign of their city pride. People would gather at the tower for weddings and birthday parties and to share their dreams and their tangerines.
As time went on and the city got older, it began to show its age and repairs were needed. At first the people ignored the problem because they still didn’t have much money and they figured it could be solved later. They continued to ignore it until the beautiful city they’d once been so proud of was rundown and the towering well was rusty and dingy. People still gathered at the well to talk, but not for weddings or parties because they were ashamed of how badly it looked.
One day the city counselors held a meeting to discuss the condition and decided to raise taxes. The people, though not wealthy, did not object because they loved their city and wanted to see it restored to its former glory. So the taxes were collected and the city counselors worked hard to decide how to best spend the taxes. In one meeting, as one counselor made his case for spending the money to repair the park playground and another argued for using it to fill holes in the road, a third spoke up, “Let’s do both! We can just collect more taxes!” So they voted for another tax. This time the people grumbled and some moved away from the city, but both counselors had money for their projects so they were happy.
The city counselors began meeting every week, and every week they voted to collect more and new taxes. “Why didn’t we think of this before? It’s so easy!” they exclaimed. When they ran out of the usual taxes, they got creative, “Let’s tax them for their parties! Let’s tax them when they open a new shop! Let’s tax them for fixing their house!” The people were no longer grumbling. They were angry and told the counselors so, but the counselors didn’t listen. All they could think about were the taxes and how much more they could collect. They wanted the pile of treasure to be bigger every day and so stopped doing projects to clean the city because the projects made the treasure pile smaller.
The people couldn’t afford the taxes so they closed their stops and stopped having parties at the towering well. Some people had secret parties to avoid the taxes and some stopped gathering altogether. The once bustling streets were still dingy and overgrown with weeds. But they were also empty.
There was a storeroom in city hall where all the taxes were stored and the city counselors began to hold their meetings in it so they could enjoy the sight and smell of all their treasure. One day, when no suggestions had been offered for new taxes, a counselor suddenly had an idea. “Let’s sell the land by the towering well! No one gathers there anymore. We can use the money from the sale to repair the towering well!” All the counselors thought it was a good idea and put up the land for sale.
There was a young man who still went to towering well every day to eat his tangerine and dream. He would dream about how he would clean the city if he had the chance and bring the towering well back to its glory. When he heard the land was for sale he gathered all he had and presented it to the city counselors to pay for the land by the towering well. The counselors were in such a hurry to get the money that they didn’t read their bill of sale. Days later, the young man realized the city counselors had not just sold him the land, they’d also accidentally sold him the towering well.
The young man, who loved his city deeply and didn’t want the people to be without a source of water, went to the city counselors and offered it back in exchange for all the treasure in city hall. The counselors had to accept his deal, and soon after, all had left the city in shame. The young man used some of the money to repair the city and gave the rest back to the people. The parties and shops returned, now on clean, gleaming streets, and the city on the hill was freed from greed.
Greed is a hungry beast who only gets hungrier the more it eats.
Truth versus fiction: The City of Brooksville did accidentally sell the water tower. The young man they sold it to graciously gave it back once he realized their mistake. Two of the five City Council members have been voting against all the new taxes.