We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Howard Roark laughed

It is a widely accepted axiom that our memory plays tricks on us. I beg to differ; it does not play tricks, it is just pitifully unreliable.

Technology is always a good indicator as to the truth of this. Many of us are rather wary of ‘new fangled things’ when they first appear on the market. But enough of us adopt them to make them viable. Then more of us adopt them and, before long, they are universal.

I bought my first mobile phone (cellphone) back in 1994 and have had one ever since. I was in the minority then. Now I am just a part of the crowd. More than that I can barely remember how I managed to cope without my mobile phone. How on earth did I ever get along without the convenience it provides? But I know that must have done.

A similar phenomenon applies to state regulatory regimes. Governments enact them to initial responses of suspicion and confusion but, applied vigourously, in a few short years they become a part of the social fabric and nobody can imagine living without them nor how we all coped beforehand.

A perfect example of this is Britain’s planning and building control regime which requires all new building (and even alteration of existing buildings) to be approved by a committee of local bureaucrats who, in turn, are answerable to central government.

Now, it will come as a surprise to nobody to learn that I think the whole mountain of legislation in this area should be scrapped; placed on a bonfire and burned to ashes while we all dance wildly around till dawn. I have good reason for wishing it so and I am not reluctant to broadcast this view.

Yet, whenever I do, I am greeted with almost uniform blank incomprehension.

Don’t be ridiculous. How could we live in a civilised society without planning laws? How would buildings be planned? Who would control land use and building quality?

My answer is, of course, nobody. The first planning laws were not enacted until 1949 amidst the post-war euphoria for sovietisation and when bureaucratic planning of every aspect of modern life was considered by all to be the wave of the future. Yet the vast majority of Britain’s towns and cities grew and prospered without the benefit of such mandates.

But how would I stop my next-door neighbour from opening an all-night discotheque? How would we stop greedy developers ruining our country with monstrosities and eyesores?

Valid concerns but long before we handed over responsibility for them to our elected officials, they were more than adequately dealt with by private treaty and mutually enforceable land covenants. Indeed, they are still in use today only now they are subordinate to the wishes of state-appointed officials who minister for our alleged good.

But what about architectural quality? How would this survive were it not for the state intervening?

In my view, it would not only survive but true architectural achievement would undergo a rebirth. Britain is fortunate to still retain so many buildings from its glorious past; the kind of buildings that inspire Hollywood movies and which tourists travel from all over the world to marvel at and photograph. All of them were built before 1949 and just about every soul-destroying eyesore and ugly edifice of urban blight in this country has been built since 1949.

It would not be right to say, though, that the dead hand of planning regulations have no effect because they do. They have the effect of suppressing innovation, reducing available housing stock and unnecessarily inflating the cost of the housing stock that does exist.

Yet, everybody believes that we would be lost without them despite that fact that we fared far better without them and within living memory.

The analogy with my mobile phone ends here because I can dispense with my mobile phone if I wish to. However, it benefits me both professionally and socially by facilitating communication at a reasonable price. Therefore it improves the quality of my life and I choose to keep paying for that.

Would that I could exercise such freedom of judgement when it comes to building a home.

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