The Chump Effect is Meigs’s clever term for the bipartisan, broadly shared feeling that various systems are rigged in favor of elites, insiders, and favored groups, which leads to a breakdown in societal trust and trust in institutions. If those guys don’t have to play by the rules, we think, why should I? Meigs delves into social-science experiments that show people motivated by the Chump Effect can act irrationally by effectively volunteering to pay a cost in order that others be punished for ignoring norms.
The political implications of the Chump Effect are obvious: Meigs begins with the story of a man who asked Elizabeth Warren if he, who scrimped to put his child through college, would be entitled to a refund under her proposed new system to forgive student loans. “Of course not,” was Warren’s response. The man was furious: He was being made a chump. Elites such as Warren blithely ignore the anger they generate among people who dutifully follow the rules every time they suggest a carve-out for whatever politically powerful group they seek to appease and flatter. “You’re laughing at me,” the man told Warren. In effect, she was, by suggesting a large class of people be rewarded for indolence, lack of discipline, poor planning, and miscalculating the cost-to-benefit ratio of higher education. A society that creates favored groups is a society that creates chumps, and a society of chumps is an angry society.