The Lottery’s Benefit to Society

About once a month, my disgust with the work I am employed to do to make a living causes me to seek a miracle to extricate myself from the hell.  I wish for something to occur that will allow insanity to end.  The miracle I am hoping for is the SuperLotto jackpot.


Everybody knows the odds of winning the lottery are astronomically low.  From an expected value point of view, playing the lottery is not a good deal because the expected payout multiplied by the infinitesimal odds is less than the $1 cost of playing a Lotto pick.  Still, an important economic principle to note regarding this is the idea of utility.  In simple terms, the near certainty of losing $1 is worth the very tiny chance of winning a huge sum of money and getting out of the pathetic corporate existence you may be involved with.  The opposite is true with the concept of insurance.  Let’s look at fire insurance, for example.  The premium you pay is more than the odds of disaster*value of the loss.  However, should that loss occur, it would be devastating and it’s worth insuring even though from an expected value point of view, it’s not a good deal. So, I’ve made the argument that the expected utility of playing the lottery is actually positive for most people depending on their situation.  This, while being a good thing, is not by itself reason for my premise that the lottery benefits society.

For my purpose, I will ignore the benefits of the lottery on schools.  For me, this is just a transfer of wealth, so not a real “created” benefit.  The main benefit I want to deal with occurs with the chance of financial and job freedom from a SuperLotto jackpot and the psychological effects this has on the working populace (stiffs).  The large majority of the Lotto players are actually on the poorer end of the scale, as can be evident if you ever watch The Big Spin on TV or read about the winners.  These people are more likely to pay because they have worse jobs (and harder and less enjoyable ones) than those on the higher end of the pay scale.  (See Money For Nothing essay in main Musings page for more on this.)  It is true that middle class and upper middle class also play, but not in the same volume or with the same degree of desperation.  What the lottery allows for these people low in the working class is to give them hope.  They can play twice a week, however much they want, and know that there is some hope for them getting out of the mindless drudgery of the dull and low-paying jobs.  This hope, though tiny, is enough to give them the inspiration to continue slaving away and not become too depressed with their lot in life.  That small glimmer of hope allows them to work at things that sicken them.  The economy benefits from this because without the hope of the SuperLotto jackpot, many of these people would become despondent and their work output would suffer, or worse.  They may turn to drugs or heavy drinking to escape from the pain.  Suicide or a life of crime may be possible in extreme cases.  The positive hope of the lottery, however misguided it may be, is a better alternative than these other disastrous escapes.

There is the argument that the lottery can hurt people and society some as well.  This occurs when people who cannot really afford it, spend too much money on trying to win.  In my opinion, one play is all I need to get the needed hope to go on, but many poor people might play $20 or more per drawing and that is a lot of money for anyone to spend.  Some people might not really grasp how puny the odds are of winning because they are not very good at math to understand the statistics of the game.  These are all valid arguments for those decrying state-sanctioned gambling through lotteries.

My counter to this is that the Lotto is not a very addictive game, like other gambling games.  It’s pretty boring.  Therefore, these problems are not that prevalent, in my opinion and from my observations (though I am not really aware of the poor areas where there may be problems.)

I feel the morale-boosting effects that the glimmer of hope a Lotto win provides the peons of society more than outweighs the negative aspects of overplaying.  We all need hope and goals in our lives or we stagnate and produce poor work or even become incapable to produce at all.  The pin hole of light at the end of the tunnel that the possible Lotto fantasy provides to poor slobs, and even middle-class corporate drones, inspires the workforce to continue on in their pathetic positions in society and is one of the great engines of growth to the national economy.


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