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 oilbusinesses 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.