When we hear that tiny smelt shut down a quarter-million acres of the nation’s prime farmland, or Byzantine regulations require years and millions of dollars before a bridge can be built, or oil businesses are paralyzed by filling out tens of thousands of pages in duplicate regulatory forms, conservatives usually shrug over the waste and impediments to productivity while liberals point to the children who will be saved by more fish, quieter afternoons, or less carbon in the air. But the impulse to regulate is far more personal and self-serving.
Behind the new regulatory state are millions of academics, lawyers, bureaucrats, organizers, and freelance consultants who first create a new need for the rules, and then magically step in armed with their rare expertise (environmental impact statements, subsidized graduate research showing class/race/gender discrimination, communications in legalese, etc.) to allow the rest of us to “comply” with their own utopian (or rather self-serving) visions. Fifty years ago junior wanted to be a civil engineer or master welder—today an environmental impact statement researcher.
The net result is that a guy on a tractor, a welder on a bridge, and a street paver are supporting distant others who are monitoring what he is doing while being far better paid with far less work. We see variants of this from the new explosion of non-teaching administrators who now oversee and match in number faculty, who upon retirement are replaced by exploited part-timers, the savings to pay for the overhead (universities will end two tenure-track positions in French literature to save one diversity czar), to the legions of clerks milling around in the building inspector’s office or DMV behind the two open public windows with lines out the door. In the Solyndra case, one wonders how many were actually making solar panels versus how many were reporting on the feasibility of the new plant (environment, sound, water, etc.), angling for the loan, lobbying, conducting PR, and then filing compliance reports for the laws their like kind drafted.
Behind the sloganeering of the shovel-ready jobs, infrastructure, investments, or millions of green jobs that a $16 trillion in debt government is borrowing for, is the truth that the new hordes of regulators, trimmers, suers, and explainers are simply overrunning the shrinking number of employers and workers who grow food, generate power, produce oil, mine minerals, teach students, and build or put together things. The background and profiles of the policy-setters at the top of the Obama technocracy are metaphors of our age.