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I recall a professor of mine once mentioning an economic parable that stated "Everything (Probably) exists/happens for a reason) The parable used the metaphor of a fence in an abandoned field. If a traveler came across the fence, he would be better served leaving it stand, as someone more-likely-than-not built the fence there to serve some purpose. While that purpose is unknown, and may no longer exist, the chance that it does mandates the traveler to leave the fence standing, and not tear it down. The philosopher then applied this to economic institutions.

Is anyone familiar with this parable? If there is an exact reference to the thinker who stated it?

Thanks in advance.

  • Sounds like the law of bureaucracy. Any rule or program that anyone ever implemented needs to be enforced forever, just in case. – user4894 Oct 8 '14 at 23:42
  • Ahh, I am proud to admit I was unfamiliar with that. Thanks. Maybe that will help with the search for the Law's origin. – Dog Oct 9 '14 at 18:56
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It was easy enough to Google it up: http://www.chesterton.org/taking-a-fence-down/

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

Interestingly, it is an extremely valuable principle in professional software development too, where I have learnt Googling things up effectively, since that's 80% of getting the job done; so thank you for this question!

  • That looks like it. I can't say I've read G.K. Chesterton myself, so I will be sure to do some exploration from your link. Thanks much. – Dog Oct 9 '14 at 19:37
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    Nir is definitely correct. This is one of the planks of Chesteron's idiosyncratic brand of Catholic, socialist, political conservativism. – shane Oct 9 '14 at 19:59
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I haven't heard of this parable, but it is a disguised form of Aristotles principle of sufficient reason.

This is not to say that Aristotle was the first to determine it, but the first I know that recorded it.

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