The Allure Of Exclusion
I got an interesting perspective on sociology this week. I was up at Lake Arrowhead in the mountains north of San Bernardino, California with my family. My brother-in-law has a boat, so he managed to get it into the lake to watch the fireworks on the 4th.
Lake Arrowhead is a popular lake due to its proximity to LA, but it’s quite a small lake. So the lake association is extremely restrictive on who can put a boat in the lake. There’s hoop after hoop to jump through. After we got home, of course, the entire family was talking about how happy they are that they restrict access to the lake so much. After all, even with a busy 4th of July day (the busiest day of the year for the lake, due to the fireworks display), the lake wasn’t overcrowded.
But in its own right, I was shocked to hear their reaction. After all, they’ve spent the last month trying to jump through all the hoops the lake association put in front of them, and cursing those hoops the whole time. In order to get the boat in the water, they had to add my brother-in-law to the title of the house (with a tiny share) to make sure that the name on the title of the house matched that of the boat’s registration. In addition, the lake association requires exorbitant insurance levels on the boat, which were in excess of the added insurance he already has on his boat. That doesn’t even consider the myriad of fees and schmoozing. When all was said and done, it was not even a reasonable amount of money.
What struck me was the response of the family. If they hadn’t gotten the boat in the water, they would have been cursing the lake association all weekend, all the more so because we were staying in a house without air conditioning in 95-degree weather. They would have complained about why it’s so hard to put a boat in, especially since they own a home in town. But because they did get a boat in, suddenly they were big fans of the exclusivity.
This is another example of government policies which reward either the rich and/or those willing to grease the wheels, and screws everyone else. But it was particularly interesting to see the same people who were being excluded and had to work their butts off to get a boat on the water immediately turn around and praise the exclusivity once they got in.
This is one of those things is a constant when government is involved. So much of economics doesn’t involve zero-sum games, and yet much of government does. The premier example is that of immigration. Americans have this innate belief that because our ancestors were brave enough to leave their home countries and come over here 1, 2, or 10 generations ago, that we deserve access to special treatment that everyone else does not. But this extends to much of government. Corporations receiving subsidies are against welfare programs, while rationalizing why their own subsidies aren’t really “welfare”.
Exclusion is pretty nice, when you’re on the inside. When you’re on the outside looking in, though, it’s not so nice. When you know it’s someone giving access to private property, at least it’s understandable. When you’re being held out of public property by some petty bureaucratic regulation (supported, of course, by the voters who are invariably included, not excluded), though, it’s a bit maddening. And to watch the position of someone change as they move from exclusion to inclusion just shows you how tied to principle most people are.