Real Estate Agents are a catalyst for regulatory fascism.

BJTexs alerts me via email to a Reuters story about a visit by President Obama to central Pennsylvania, where he spoke about the wonderful Green Future. Far below his feet as he pontificated lies the Marcellus Shale, one of three known large shale formations in the United States (there are many smaller ones) which contain vast quantities of natural gas, the cleanest fuel available in any quantity. Unfortunately shale gas production requires “fracking”, which amounts to setting off small explosions far underground.

The world is full of ignorant people who react with alarm to any change in their local environment, and who are not willing to invest the time and attention necessary to find out what is actually going on and what the real consequences might be. To such folks, “explosions underground” are an automatic negative. Oshitoshit, what if it blows up my house? Never mind that they’re a mile away straight down, or that the people setting them off have a vested interest in keeping them contained (if the overlying rock is broken, the gas gets away before it can be harvested); it’s an automatic this is different and therefore bad and I’m agin it!

Real Estate Agents (I refuse to use their self-congratulatory neologism) feed on such concerns. The median real estate agent holds the attitude that anything not part of the daily experience of Victoria Regina depresses property values and is therefore Evil, and is just as ignorant as her clients. Not only are explosions underground likely to Depress Property Values, the facilities needed to set them off — drilling rigs and associated paraphernalia — are ugly (i.e., The Virgin Queen never saw one) and therefore ab initio impermissible. They reinforce the concerns of the (other) ignorant people in attempt to get the new process forbidden. This sets up a positive-feedback cycle, in which the ignorant express concern, the real estate agents fan it for their own interests, which generates more concern from the ignorant.

Enter the regulatory fascists, who pounce on that cycle, adding a little pat to amplify it on every round. There are lots of people working for EPA who are genuinely (if ignorantly) concerned about environmental protection, but like any other regulatory agency EPA is at root a bureaucracy, and the goal of any bureaucracy is to expand its brief, so that the agency grows, providing more and more slots for managerial-level bureaucrats and more opportunities to establish their importance by telling more and more people what to do. Empires are built by bureaucrats battling for budget; nations decay by “putting first things first!”; when you have a bureaucratic empire dedicated to Basic Protections it produces the worst of both worlds. Genuine concerns are fodder for the cynical, who can use them to establish a new Department of XX, with the one who established it promoted to GS-12 and put in charge supervising it.

Never mind that the resulting Luddism is likely to destroy their own basis for a decent life style — they are firmly in the “static analysis” camp, totally ignoring any by-effects of their actions. They get promoted, with a bigger salary, a nicer office, and subordinates to order around, and tacitly assume that that’s the only effect. Everything else is outside the building and outside their own tightly confined orbit, and therefore will continue to support them as it always has.

Real estate agents are a vital cog in the Ned Ludd cycle, because they are one of the two classes of people (the other is lawyers) whose work habits are snakelike, yielding plenty of free time for meddling, and whose interests can be served by nudging Government into action. In every town and city, real estate agents are important players in City Council meetings or equivalent, setting up ever more complex rules for how people’s houses and public lifestyles may be arranged. The people whose lives are thereby affected typically have jobs and other interests, making them less inclined to participate in town politics and leaving the field open. The real estate agents are therefore ideal candidates for intervention to fan the flames into a conflagration of Thou Shalt Nots.

The only hope here is a sad one: the activities of the Luddites, combined with the ultimately Fascist growth of regulatory power, have now become so destructive that many people now have time on their hands to spend looking into local Government activities, because they’ve lost their jobs and are simply trying to stay afloat against the tide of interference. This is where Tea Parties really come from, and there is some slight prospect of their being effective in breaking the cycle. Assembling on 12th St. NW with pitchforks and torches may become necessary, but it’s a distasteful prospect. We’d be much better off if we concentrated on educating, or squelching, their local enablers, which can be done without abrasions or contusions if we’re careful.