The fable of Ugly Bill and Fair Sheba
By MICHAEL D. KLEMENS
Once upon a time in the center of a great land there lay a fair kingdom blessed with fertile soil, great lakes and valuable minerals. It was prosperous, though perhaps less prosperous than it once had been. The people of this kingdom labored long to raise corn, dig coal and conduct commerce.
The kingdom was ruled by kings named James, chosen by the people; the people also selected nobles to assist the king. James I was loved by many, respected by most and despised by some. In the northern part of this kingdom stood the City, where Richard II held sway. Lesser lords ruled smaller cities and the countryside.
There lived in this kingdom a giant named Bill, an enormous fellow who had long been an ally of the kings and the local lords. He helped the lords build the roads and bridges that permitted commerce in the kingdom. He built the schools where the children were taught and the parks where they played. He punished scoundrels, put out fires and hauled garbage.
Bill did not work for free. Each year he wrapped himself in the Cloak of Incomprehensibility and haunted the home of each citizen, where he mysteriously determined the value of the land, houses and other buildings. Then Bill decided how much each should pay and demanded payment a year or so later. No one understood how he did it, but everyone was certain that Bill charged him too much and his neighbor too little. Citizens considered Bill so repulsive that they could hardly gaze upon him and nicknamed him "Ugly" Bill.
For years Bill had helped the lords almost by himself, but as the kingdom grew and prospered he had trouble keeping up. An earlier king and his nobles decided that Bill needed a helper and obtained for him a helpmate, Sheba.
Sheba eased the burden on Bill. She could do anything he could and was soon put to work teaching children and helping take care of the sick and the poor. Bill finally got some rest.
Sheba was kinder and gentler in extracting payment from the citizens. She visited each and took 2 or 3 cents for each dollar that the citizen earned. She took the same percentage from each and thus earned her nickname, "Fair" Sheba.
Fair Sheba worked mostly for the king and his nobles, who set out her tasks. Sometimes the money she collected in one part of the kingdom would pay for work in another part, causing anguish for citizens who liked to see where their money was going. Sometimes she worked for Richard and the local lords.
Ugly Bill worked exclusively for the lesser lords scattered about the kingdom, and people could better see what he did. Richard and the lords depended upon Ugly Bill, who could always be counted on even when Sheba was involved with tasks elsewhere in the kingdom.
Some believed that Fair Sheba should do more of the work and Ugly Bill less. More work for Fair Sheba meant more pennies from the citizens and more work done outside the view of citizens. So, little was done but grumbling continued.
Early in the last decade of the last century of the second millenium, distress over Ugly Bill reached new heights in the kingdom. Citizens complained to their king, lords and nobles that Bill was taking too much of their money: "We are being forced out of our homes," they wailed.
Bill could not be retired because the local lords needed him. For their part the local lords complained that the king did too little and demanded that they do too much. The king and the nobles, in turn, suggested the lords demand less of Bill.
The king and the nobles, and those who would be king or nobles, heard the people and pledged to help. And they met in a great assembly to craft a plan to save the people from Bill. Now a wise elder named Charles gazed upon this assembly and warned, "Beware. They'll mess it up."
Some suggested that if citizens only knew what was being asked of Bill, they would understand. The people cried, "We are paying too much."
Some suggested that Fair Sheba should do more of the work and Ugly Bill less. The people cried, "We are paying too much."
Some said it was the lords' fault, or the nobles' fault or the king's fault, not Bill's. The people cried, "We are paying too much."
The king and the nobles pressed on: "There is a limit to what the people can pay." They rode forth to find Ugly Bill and restrain him.
The king and his nobles found Bill up north, building roads. "You have served us long and well, but you weigh too heavily upon our people," King James II told Ugly Bill. The king and his nobles told the giant that he could charge the people no more than 5 percent more each year for his services. "From this day forth, you are limited," they said.
Ugly Bill did not protest; it meant less work for him. But the local lords fretted over who would do Bill's work.
It came to pass at that time that two brothers decided to build new houses. They commissioned a famous builder, Rank Floyd Wrong, to design these houses. One, a merchant, built his near the City in a town called Boom. The other, a farmer, built an identical house far south in a small town called Bust.
The houses were each brother's pride and joy. Each married in his house and raised his children in his house, all the time keeping the house bright with paint and tight against the elements. Now Boom thrived, and more and more people flocked there. Bust suffered through hard times, and people moved away.
Many years later the brothers shared dinner at feast and talked about their families and their houses. The merchant said his had grown many times in value. The farmer said his had not. And, as it was wont to do in that kingdom, the talk turned to Ugly Bill, and the brothers found that the giant collected the same from each.
The farmer was greatly displeased and confronted Bill. "My brother's house is worth several times what mine is, yet you charge us the same."
Bill replied, "I would have your brother pay more, but I cannot. His majesty and the nobles have limited me."
And so the farmer turned to the king and the nobles and said, "It is not fair."
The king and nobles (James II and his nobles being by then long gone) pledged: "We will fix Bill."
And Charles, the wizened seer, sighed, "They'll mess it up. "
24/April 1991/Illinois Issues