Friday, March 30, 2012

I never win. I just know I will this time, though. I'm due!

Tonight, a multi-state lottery game with a jackpot payout of $640 million took in $1.5 billion, most of it flowing into state coffers (retail cuts are generally 5% on the sale and nothing on the payout, except the big winner). I'm being genuine when I say I'm surprised by how much I've heard people talking about it in public over the last week, rationalizing their ticket purchases with obnoxious cliches like "can't win if you don't play". But their taxes are too high, of course!

The libertarian in me says it's a voluntary tax, and a regressive one at that, so let it be. Allow people to impoverish themselves if they want to do. People do irrational things all the time--we're hardly a rational species. In a partially socialized society like we have in the US, however, there are externalities that others who have no part in the explicit cost end up having to pay.

For God's sake, AE, it's just a lottery! People drop $10 to in exchange for the ability to fantasize about being rich for a few hours before probability hits them upside the head. That's a reasonable amount of utility for the cost. What's the big deal? Is it any worse than going to see a movie or ordering a couple of beers?

No, it's not that big of a deal. But I see the mentality surrounding it, emblematic of the contemporary West though it may be, as poisonous--being rewarded for doing nothing worthy of reward, idly dreaming about abundant material wealth while squandering a bit of the meager pile one has managed to scrape together, the errant belief that one's odds are better than everyone else's are, etc. What a lazy, flabby, impulsive people we are!

Anyway, two of my favorite lottery aphorisms:

- Lottery is the ignorance tax--the dumber you are, the more you pay. (First heard from my high school AP English teacher, though I've seen it attributed to Adam Smith among others)

- Lottery: The process of taking money from a bunch of poor people and giving it to one formerly poor person. (John Stewart and co.)

Parenthetically, if lottery ticket purchases are part of your routine and that helps you get through your days, more power to you. Yeah, the unexamined life isn't worth living, but if I'm not careful, I might find that finger pointing right back at me!

9 comments:

Georgia Resident said...

Sometimes I shake my head at the logic people use to justify lottery ticket purchases. Then I remember that my college tuition was paid for with lottery profits, and it all becomes okay.

Black Death said...

Some years ago, my state had a referendum on the lottery. I told one of my friends that the lottery was probably a bad idea. He looked at me in a peculiar way and said, "How can you possibly object to a voluntary ax on morons?" Anyway, the lottery won.

chucho said...

One of my more sober friends expressed shock some years ago when I told him I had played craps at a casino recently. "You *do* know that the game is rigged, right?" he smugly inquired. But he missed the point: gambling is not an investment, but entertainment. You're paying for that dopamine rush.

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

I would love to see a study of lottery winners and their position in life 10 years after receiving the big payoff. My guess is it would show that they're just as abjectly poor and miserable as they were before they struck it rich.

This is simply a variant on the notion--one which I believe--that if you amassed all the world's assets and redistributed them to every adult on the planet in a cash payout, ten years later the people who currently are rich would be rich again, while those currently poor would be right back on skid row.

Audacious Epigone said...

Chucho,

Okay, but if you're going to gamble, don't you want to spend your money playing a game where 1) You have some influence on the outcome, and 2) your odds are as close to the house's odds as possible? Craps satisfies both of these conditions, as much as they can be from what I understand, so what you do is a lot easier to understand than frenzied lottery feeding is.

Ed,

I've seen several variations on this theme before, which suggests you're on the money with your assessment.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I shake my head at the logic people use to justify lottery ticket purchases.



I'm not sure why you, and AE, think that it needs to be "justified".

People can spend their own money any damn way they please. If they want to buy beer with it, they do not need to "justify" that choice. if they want to spend it on tickets to see "their" sports team, they do not have to justify it to anyone. If they want to light dollar bills on fire, they can do it.

There's a Puritan strain to libertarianism, as odd as that may sound at first.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a study of lottery winners and their position in life 10 years after receiving the big payoff. My guess is it would show that they're just as abjectly poor and miserable as they were before they struck it rich.



I've never seen any solid evidence to suggest that lottery winners are poor and miserable before they win the lottery.

Joan Ginther has won four lotteries of over one million dollars each. She also has a Phd in statistics from Stanford.

Jack Whittaker, winner of a $300 million Powerball lottery, owned his own construction company and had a net worth of over US$17 million prior to winning.

Bios of all lottery winners are not available online, but it does not seem to be the case they they are typically unemployed drug addicts living in their mothers basement.

Audacious Epigone said...

Anon,

Of course they can. Lots of people really think they're going to win, though.

And don't worry, I don't get worked up about it in any serious manner. No righteous anger here, I'm just having a little fun.

Anon2,

Those are exceptions that more-or-less prove the rule (although I'd guess winners tend to be working-class stiffs, not come from the underclass).

rjp said...

The libertarian in me says it's a voluntary tax, and a regressive one at that, so let it be. Allow people to impoverish themselves if they want to do. ... however, there are externalities that others who have no part in the explicit cost end up having to pay.

Do welfare recipient have a right to winnings? I know it would just lead rise to a legal specialization of "lottery claimant" but it is MY MONEY that bought the ticket.

I refer to the instant lottery vending machines at the supermarket as negro-IRA-machines.

anonymous said: If they want to light dollar bills on fire, they can do it.

Burning money is a violation of Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code.