Expecting too much

Sometimes people hold an attitude which I call "expecting too much," even if they do not always articulate this view as such.  Here are a few possible examples:

Some Germans: "Yes we know that the eurozone is problematic for some of the poorer countries.  We expect that they get their fiscal house in order, and produce some major productivity gains, as we have done in the past.  We expect this even if we don't quite tell them this."

Some Americans: "I expect my government to solve Problem X (fill in the blank, the list is a long one) without raising my taxes, and in the meantime I will refuse to countenance a tax increase.  To support this attitude I am willing to sound fiscally unreasonable, if necessary."

Some economists: "It is a tough labor market, to be sure.  Yet it is expected that you be willing to move around to get a job, as many immigrants do, or that you find a way to make a lower wage work for your life and for an employer.  My grandparents managed that, why can't you?"

There are numerous other examples.  Is "expecting too much" ever a reasonable attitude?  A reasonable tool of motivation?  A reasonable bargaining stance?  A reasonable defensive strategy against institutions which will otherwise treat you unfairly or perhaps even rapaciously?

I find that expressions of "expecting too much," whether they are articulated as such or not, often send intellectual opponents, on the respective issues, into a fury.

"Expecting too much" is a frequent attitude among the American public today and it is rooted in common sense morality.  To the extent "expecting too much" is a reasonable point of view, the public is wiser than its critics will admit.

I am still debating how much reasonable force there is behind this kind of argument.


"Sometimes people hold an attitude which I call "expecting too much," even if they do not always articulate this view as such."

I expect too much!

I'm not sure the three cases are analogous:

1) Germans have some power over the rest of the eurozone.

2) Americans have some power over the government, but express it best in broad dictates: "Solve Problem X", "Don't Raise Taxes."

3) Economists and laborers have little in the way of power relationships.

Case 2 strikes me as a reasonable strategy. You have a large amount of power, but limited bandwidth for feedback and evaluation. Even if you could solve the problem, you have little authority to implement your own solution. In that case, you're better off to establish goals and accountability than specific policies.

Re. "Some Americans" - many of us pay our bills each month, and then having paid them refine our long term plans. These "some Americans" seem to be of the opposite group, those that make minimum payments and then go shopping.

I expect there are many different kinds of situations where expecting too much makes sense. Not clear such situations will have that much in common. One scenario is where you want to wash your hands of some problem by placing responsibility on someone else. You claim the problem wouldn't be there if they did what seems a very reasonable thing, so you decide to "expect" that they will in fact do the thing you call reasonable. When they don't, the problem is on them.

Examples 1 and 2 do not seem overly unreasonable. As to example 2, I'm pretty sure that we pay enough in taxes and cannot understand why the people who run the government never de-fund one program and re-allocate the funds to whatever is more efficient or desired. Except, of course, that there is no competitive pressure to do so.

Example three is in fact an example of being unreasonable. Moving isn't always a good option and is usually a last ditch effort to find work or food or whatever. There are social costs to constant mobility; I am living proof of that.

I know you are suggesting that "some Americans" are being inconsistent, but even by your initial wording, they are not: it is not inconsistent to want the government to do X while not raising that person's taxes. Someone else's taxes get raised. That dynamic is the central dynamic of American politics and it unites the Democrats and the Republicans (particularly, the social conservative ones).

The following are, to my mind, very plausible examples of reasonable "expecting too much":

I expect my teenage children not to endanger their lives for little or no reason. But of course, teenage children do that. If I stop expecting them not to, however, they'll do it more.

My wife expects me not to lust after other women. Of course, sometimes I do. But if she stopped expecting me not to, I would do it more, and start wondering if she really expects me not to act on my lustful feelings.

We expect other people to be reasonable (at least in some limited sense at least). But of course they're not. We should keep expecting them to be, however. (Case in particular: I expect my students to speak grammatical english and present cogent arguments, even though that is very rare.)

We expect people to respect their financial obligations. Of course, many people don't. But we should keep expecting them to.


Who was it who said "Common sense is frequently neither"? I think that gets to the crux of the problem of people expecting too much. I also don't find much of what happens in American political discussions to really in any way, shape, or form to be even vaguely close to moral. If Jesus were walking around today in modern attire espousing his views on caring for the poor, and people knew that he was Jesus, he'd be called a communist sympathizing pinko by Rush Limbaugh and all the other Fox News Blow Hards(TM), and very likely would be accused of having slept with several of his followers in an attempt to diminish the timeless wisdom of his statement that whatever you did to the least of people in your society, you did also to him.

'Sometimes people hold an attitude which I call "expecting too much," even if they do not always articulate this view as such.'

I agree with this. It does not mean said people are irrational, just perhaps overly self-centric by way of self preservation(I MUST have healthcare. It would be nice if my neighbor did, too).

Look at enthusiastic fans of the Chicago Cubs during spring training...

Exceptionalism (of the American kind or any other kind) seems like fertile ground for expecting too much. Also: having a hero. If no one was ever a hero to his valet, it is probably also true that no one was ever a hero to someone who was careful not to expect too much.

Wow, the actual numbers on "raise tax" or "cut benefits" come in even worse than my 55:55 example. It's 56% opposed to tax increase, and 66% opposed to entitlement cuts.

That's why hunkering down and waiting for "them" doesn't work.

Rich, the polling overlap pretty much proves that some Americans are being inconsistent. Or innumerate.

Rich: "What's inconsistent about trying to live at someone else's expense?"

I would have thought those people would support more taxes on others. My point is that most do support lower taxes, while also supporting higher spending.

I expect the economics profession to significantly downsize and get real jobs so that we can get the same crappy advice (print money so that we can return to the golden age of 2005!), but pay less for it.

Do I expect too much?

Capitalism : Desire to live at others expense make it live. Just because a sweating life isn't worth it.

"Capitalism : Desire to live at others expense make it live. Just because a sweating life isn't worth it."

I have no idea what you mean, but I sure like the way you say it.

I think government employees who expect taxpayers to fund ever-increasing salaries and pensions "expect too much."

I've been to Singapore, and enjoyed the food. My sister had a private car there ... very rare. That might also shape the cost of transport projects. Fewer roads per capita, probably with less carrying capacity required.

There are Americans who expect the Government to solve problems?

Expecting way too much, indeed.

These all sound like variations on "the cost which others pay seems low to me."

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