Megan McArdle Nails How Elitism Works In A “Democracy”

Megan McArdle wrote a post today arguing that Congress is not going to experience the same version of Obamacare as the rest of us.

What does seem likely is that they will not have the experience that ordinary people have. For one thing, those who buy on the exchange are having their premiums heavily subsidized by the federal employment system. For another, as the New York Times reports, whatever exchange they’re on will make damn sure that whatever the problems regular folks encounter, Congressmen and their staffers get taken care of.

McArdle, using the New York Times report, presents many reasons to expect Congress to have a qualitatively different experience than the rest of us. But even better, she offers an analogy from the business world:

If you write about Detroit at all, you’ll hear one story over and over. As the U.S. automakers began their long decline, senior auto executives were mystified. Various reports showed consumers complaining about the reliability and quality of their cars, but they drove those same cars every day, and they were fantastic. They couldn’t figure out what their customers were complaining about.

Of course, you know the answer: Those executives were not driving the same cars that ordinary Americans drove. Plant managers made sure that a car destined for a Detroit senior executive was earmarked from the moment of its creation for special treatment. Exquisite care was taken with its construction, and little extras were added — more insulation to cut down noise, perhaps. The car that was driven off the grounds and onto an executive driveway was the finest Detroit could make. But it was not what they were making for their regular customers.

If Detroit executives had just been buying cars like regular people, they would have comparison shopped at dealers, and quickly found out why people were flocking to foreign cars. But they “ate their own cooking” and as a consequence, they were actually more disconnected from the experience of ordinary customers.

This doesn’t just apply to the Affordable Care Act and Congress. It applies to the Affordable Care Act and virtually all national celebrities. And it applies to just about any other national issue. Why don’t celebrities care about the TSA and national security theater as much as the rest of us? Why do celebrities act like we’re nuts to want guns when the police are always so efficient, helpful, and polite? Why are celebrities able to visit awful countries and come away singing the praise of the ruling regime when everyone else finds them to be snake pits?

Because they never experience the same version as “normal users.”

This is one natural and sociological reason why elites think populists are so stupid: they don’t understand their reality. They have no idea how the police, the legal system, the security system, etc, actually function for “normal users.”

There are exceptions to this rule, for course, but it still generally holds true. As McArdle points out, “It is simply very difficult to ensure that senior, important people have the same experience as normal people.”