Normalized Low Expectations

April 12, 2022

By Michael Kayes, CFA Charterholder

Yesterday, on the way home from a pole vault competition, I stopped at a Panera Bread in Salisbury, NC.  Panera is one of my favorite restaurants.  To make a long story short, this particular one was filthy.  There wasn’t a clean table or booth in the place.  So, as we waited for our food, I decided to do something about it.  I asked the manager for a wet rag and some antiseptic wipes and I cleaned several tables, including one at which an elderly couple was sitting.  They thanked me.  No one else, said anything to me about the cleanliness of the restaurant or what I was doing about it.  My volunteer cleaning took about three minutes. Our food soon arrived and it was delicious. End of story?

According to a Wall Street Journal editorial – America’s Shoplifting Epidemic, retail thefts are happening at an alarming rate at stores around the country.   I was a bit surprised to learn in this article that there is a “National Association for Shoplifting Prevention.”  Given recent trends, I guess we need one, but it still seems strange to me.

In recent years, we have witnessed a deterioration in support for the police while many states have lowered the penalties for stealing.  Perhaps there should be a National Association for teaching people to be honest?  More on that later.

Putin invaded Ukraine for many reasons, one of which is the fact that the U.S., has shrunk from the world stage over the past few administrations.  Is it our job to police the world?  Interesting question, but if we don’t play that role who will stand up to thugs like Putin?  I think it is accurate to say that America isn’t respected globally, as it once was.

Currently, we have a labor problem in this country.  Businesses can’t find the right people, nor it seems, can they find enough people who want to work hard.  A friend of mine shared this story.  It might sound funny, but it really isn’t.  His company hired a young man and told him to start work at 8:00am the following morning, which the young man did.  The next day he showed up around 9:00am and his manager asked him why he was late.  His response was that he didn’t realize he had to be at work at 8:00am every morning.

So, let me see if I can sum all this up…  We have normalized low expectations.  If that sounds really awful, it should.  We aren’t surprised, let alone outraged, when restaurants or public restrooms are dirty.  We expect rude behavior at the airport.  Instead of finding effective ways to prevent shoplifting, or to encourage honesty, we reduce the penalties for crime.  Instead of encouraging and rewarding hard work, we have government programs that do the exact opposite.

I really wish something or someone could help change this narrative.  I’d like to see this new narrative built on two important points.  First, it is important to realize that we are all connected.  Covid surely taught us all that painful lesson.  Second, low expectations bring everybody down.  High expectations, over time, would have the opposite effect.  That seems like a simple concept but the situation seems to be getting worse with every piece of new legislation or policy.

Perhaps we could all share in the responsibility for a few basic things, like clean restaurants, and safe stores where people shop without shoplifting.  I’d also like to find ways to recover our great work ethic, which is what made this country the envy of the world a generation or two ago.

We all have to do our part…  I’m going to carry extra antiseptic wipes with me and if I see unclean tables at a restaurant, I’m going to clean them.  Now, I’m not sure how I will react if I witness shoplifting.  I’m not particularly brave, but I hope I will do something to stop it.

I’d also like to try to work on the root of the problem here, instead of always treating the symptoms.  In my view, in our country today, we just don’t value integrity very highly.  If we don’t solve that problem, I see no chance of solving any related problem.  Instead, we will continue to add costs and inefficiency to society and our economy.  That’s where we are today and we seem stuck.

Think of one thing you can do to get us unstuck.

Michael Kayes, CFA


Source:  Wall Street Journal April 8, 2022

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