Taxation, representation, escaped goats, and basic economics: A ghost story

By Christopher Havel

Siler City, NC – I was always told, when I was little, that the original meaning of “scapegoat” came from the practice of keeping a goat or two with a group of horses, in the Wild West, when a stagecoach or the like was traveling through outlaw territory. The idea was that if bandits tried to let the horses loose, without which the stagecoach was of course essentially immobile, the stagecoach’s guards would corral the horses and re-secure everything, while letting the outlaws get away — with the goats, which were worth far less, but which, in the chaos of a bandit attack, would very easily fool those same bandits into thinking they’d actually got something of value there. Wikipedia, of course, tells me that I’ve been fed a load of horse…

Well, anyhow, apparently, the real derivation is a religious one. Sacrifice one goat, let the other off into the wild, with the idea being that the sacrificed goat ascends to whatever deity one’s praying to, as a ‘pure’ being, and all the sin and whatnot gets transferred somehow into the goat that’s let into the wild — the escaped goat… which, presumably, ends up as bear food or something.

We don’t really do goat sacrifices in modern times. We consider ourselves much too civilized for that, somehow — I could provide plenty of counterargument, but that’s neither here nor there — and we don’t travel by horse, or stagecoach for that matter, any more, except sometimes in historical reenactment type stuff. So, we have a somewhat different understanding, nowadays, of what a “scapegoat” is.

Taxation in Chatham County is proving quite the provocative and controversial example. Remember, folks, this is four cents on every one hundred dollars. That’s four one-hundredths of one percent. I readily admit I’ve not pulled out a calculator and done the math, but I’m not entirely sure that’s even enough to account for inflation from fiscal year 2023 to fiscal year 2024

The real problem in this county, and especially in and around Siler City, has nothing to do with taxes, except that we all gotta pay some, somehow. Really the problem; well, okay there’s really three of em. But it boils down to, we hardly really have an economy at this point. One, there’s no housing, most especially no affordable / low-income housing. Two, there’s no jobs, either. Three, there’s nothing to do, either.

image from Freepik

Other than that one vacation home timeshare listing that for some reason pops up surprisingly often in the classifieds, from what I’m told, by the time a house has been listed on the Chatham Chatlist, chances are it’s already been sold, and for plenty more than asking, and it’s been ‘flipped’ into a multi-unit rental for ridiculously high a month. It’s simple, if sinister, logic — “People gotta cover their basic needs — food, water, shelter, etc — and they’ll pay what it takes to do so. It doesn’t matter what we charge, they’ll find a way.” Awful as it is, for better or worse it’s not wrong, and the human capacity for mental rationalization in adverse circumstances is truly something to behold, for better or for worse. Low-income housing? You get to apply and wait. I readily admit, I’m in some. You don’t want to know how low my rent is — suffice to say I’m one lucky bastard for sure — but you also don’t want to know how long I waited for it, and in circumstances that… well, let’s just say things could’ve been a lot better than they were.

Right now? I’d be surprised if you could get anything inside of six months, but nobody will be straight with you about times like that, because they know you’ll never even bother to apply if you know how bad it really is. Truth is, there’s too many people needing a roof and nowhere near enough roofing to cover em… and if I know anything about how developments work, any low-income housing brought in by Chatham Park is gonna be token at best. People like that don’t like to see people like me; especially as neighbors. We’re bad for property values.

There’s no employment, really, either. Last I heard, the friggin’ chicken plant had a damn waiting list; and, well… ewwwww. I’m not ashamed to say, there’s plenty of other people who can have that job, I don’t want it. Sure, there’s stuff like McDonald’s and Dollar Tree and WalMart, but the last time that was a viable career, Nixon wasn’t actually a crook. You basically need to work nearly full-time at three of those to even have a chance to make rent and still eat; that’s for both parents, in a family with a kid. It’s technically doable, but chances are extremely high that you’ll both work yourselves to an early death, literally, if that’s all you can manage. As for entertainment; you have to go to Apex to watch a movie in an actual cinema, or, well, did the two-screener in Sanford even survive COVID (and does anyone actually care?)

All the really nice restaurants are there, too, or even farther — Raleigh or Greensboro… you can’t even get decent Italian if you live in Siler City (I’m sorry, but Elizabeth’s would do us all a favor if they closed up shop and made way for a better place — try the one in Greensboro before you go off at me), and that’s a dang low bar indeed. At least in SilerCity, there’s nowhere good to eat unless you like Mexican or Chinese — although I keep hearing about that Greek place in Pittsboro, alas, I can’t get there, Chatham Transit being what it is — and, sure, there’s the Arts Incubator thing that’s trying to be one last desperate gasp for air from an economy that arguably has been nearly dead since sometime around when Independence Day came out — the good one, mind you — but it’s honestly just equal parts overly pretentious and overly boring.

We don’t even have proper broadband around here (although Spectrum’s not bad if you can get it) so Netflix and the like are of questionable viability at best. I keep hearing there’s a drug problem beginning to spread. Gee, I wonder why, since we’ve become one of those places with too many landscape companies and not enough lawns, and you can’t even watch that new Mad Max movie unless it’s worth ninety minutes of highway traffic to you.

If you want to fix the local economy, sitting around hollering at each other about less than a nickel being tossed at Uncle Sam isn’t gonna do a dang thing. Let’s be real, here, neither is Chatham Park, in any real way, nor is Vinfast or that Wolf-whatever company that used to call itself Cree… nor, for that matter, will a round of Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” at the lunch counter at Johnson’s, either in literal form or by way of conversation. You want to fix this? You got two choices; start working on the problem in a way that actually makes a difference, or make like an old Chevy and get the heck out of Dodge.

Actually solving the problem is a majorly thorny issue, because you’ve usually got to have actual money in an economy to get the stuff flowing, and a major part of why we don’t have much going on here, is that there’s just not enough cash to really put forth any sort of noticeable flow. So you’ve kind of got to start by making something out of nothing. People need jobs, and they need housing, and they need something to do on Saturday afternoons that isn’t crack or meth or each other. I don’t have the answers, and I’ll be honest about that. I don’t know how to crack that egg and turn it into an omelette. All I can tell you is, whatever we’ve already tried, it ain’t worked, and all this yammering ain’t gonna do any more.

But, we’ve still got some bright minds around… and plenty of them are on the Chatham Chatlist. So I’m sure we could come up with something, if we wanted to. I’ll readily admit that I’m not worthy of a Brain Trust membership card, but I’ll also point out that a lot of other folks on the List have had some really good posts in the past. This is absolutely a hill we can conquer if we want to.

Me, though, I’ve already got my answer, if opportunity ever provides. I see the U-Hauls on 64 and I envy them — they’re the smart ones, in my book. As far as I’m concerned, the last chapter of this place’s story has already been written, it’s just not hit the presses yet. All ya’ll are gonna keep whinin’ and moanin’ about stuff that ain’t matter worth one fig on the tree behind the Siler City KFC, and wonderin’ where all the good times went, until there’s nothin’ left of this town at all — or the county around it. Either gentrification will roll through and make the place look like another square of downtown Raleigh, or there’ll be one more ghost town on the map. After all, that’s the easy way to do it.

Hey, on the bright side; at least as far as we know, ya can’t tax conversating!

If you want to avoid that kind of future, roll up your sleeves and get to fixin’. It’s basic economics, it can’t be that hard. Can it? At least you can’t say you weren’t warned; and, sure, you can make a scapegoat out of me, too, if you want — hey, at least I can say I’ve got experience in the field, even though the pay’s not really worth it — but that won’t save the place, any more than goat sacrifices actually brought rainstorms in an ancient drought. It’s not like I’m makin’ this speech for the first time, either. I’ve been spoutin’ this same script for years.

Thing is; you can find a solution to this, or you can stand there and holler all you want about how your great-great-great grampa Silas bought that land in Eighteen Whenever with his pension from the war, and it’ll take God Himself and an army of angels to keep you from being the last man standing. I’ll have the same answer to each and every one of you that thinks you can stubborn your way through this and be just fine. Go ask Tom Joad’s ghost what it’s like to rule over an empire of dust, or ask Rick Moranis what it’s like to be just another mall rat. If all you do is keep on gabbin’, one or another of those is your future.

Bottom line, if we as the ordinary people we are, don’t do something extraordinary, and soon — well, to quote one of my favorite movies…

I hope you like ghost stories — you’re in one.