George Walford: If It Ain’t Bust Don’t Fix It

Our friends (which does not mean they regard us as their friends) of the (Anarcho-) Socialist Party of Great Britain propose to abolish existing society, under which more than five thousand million people are able to maintain themselves, and replace it, without any transitional period, with a system which is completely untried, one which on their own showing has never existed anywhere and for which, therefore, there can be no empirical or experimental or direct evidence that it will work at all.

That is an extreme example of fixing something which is not bust, but milder instances are constantly appearing all around us. They are known as reforms; each of them is directed to the correction of an abuse or a malfunction and each of them, if adopted, usually turns out to entail another abuse or malfunction. The reformers had failed to recognise that the original arrangement was successful at least in averting or avoiding the abuse or malfunction entailed, as the event revealed, by their own proposal. They fixed something which in that respect at least, was not bust, and in doing so introduced a new problem. Under the above heading we propose to give, from time to time, examples of this.

Greater ease of divorce produces more single-parent families.

Control of drugs creates the “pusher.” (Opium and its products, and later heroin, were on free sale until early in this century; during that time addiction was not a serious social problem).

The various acts controlling the letting of residential accommodation have produced a shortage of flats and houses for rent.

“Amongst the Barabaig (East African cattle-herders GW) the introduction, on the initiative of colonial powers, of a veterinary service led to an increase in the number of livestock and, as a result, to overgrazing and the exhaustion of pastures.” (A. M. Khazanov, Nomads and the Outside World CUP 1984 p.77)

from Ideological Commentary 21, November 1985.