Mike Ashley and Chesterton's Fence

Chesterton’s Fence is a favourite of ours. The lesson being that you cannot decide that something’s no longer necessary unless you understand why it was instituted in the first place. This being a hurdle that Mike Ashley seems not to have cleared:

Retail tycoon Mike Ashley wants to see a 20pc tax levied on online sales and prison sentences for executives who consistently "fiddle" their way out of paying the levy, as part of his plan to save the country's "dying" high streets.

He said any companies with more than 20pc of their sales generated online should have to pay the tax, which would "level the playing field" in the retail sector and give local councils more money to help encourage people to shop close to home, such as offering free parking.

Yes of course this is drivel. No one should be paying extra taxes because they economise on expensive inputs like High Street retail space.

However, the bit that really interests, because we do so love Chesterton’s Fence, is that idea about free parking.

For why was the parking meter first invented? In order to increase retail footfall.

Yes, really. It was noted that the provision of free parking spaces meant that people would turn up, bag a space and then go to work or the like. Do something all day at least. By limiting the time a space could be used - the right way, by price - that meant that more people would use it over the day. Increasing the number of people in the area thereby and so that retail footfall.

Yes, certainly, charging “too high” a price can mean a diminution again. But it seems to be as with booze consumption. None, or no price, is as harmful as a lot, the it inbetween being beneficial compared to either. So with car parking pricing. Free doesn’t work.

Sure, new policy ideas are welcome but it does help if people understand why we’ve got the ones we do first.