April Fool’s Day

A

After the conclusion of the world’s largest lottery, ever, in the history of the universe, CBS News used the following as its headline:

3 Winners, Over 100 Million Mega Millions Losers

In all actuality, it should read: Over 100 Million and 3 Losers.

Some of the comments by those who participated illustrate why:

“What do I do with this useless lottery ticket now?”

What indeed. Since you were foolish enough to buy it along with over 100 million others, there is a good chance you can find someone even more foolish than yourself who may take it off your hands. Market it as a souvenir. Or you can affix it to a wall as a perpetual monument to your idiocy.

“I knew that when I bought the ticket, that I wouldn’t win. But I did it anyhow.”

So your reasoning is that tossing money away foolishly is okay as long as you realize that you are playing the fool? I’m sure there are a number of Nigerian princesses cut off from their fortunes who will be happy for your future assistance. Look for a forthcoming email. If you don’t get it soon, check your spam filter.

“The whole notion of ‘what if’ still has some currency with me.”

And if you continue to employ this sort of brilliance in all of your future monetary decisions, ‘what if’ will be all the currency you have left.

All told, Americans spent nearly $1.5 billion for a chance to hit the jackpot, which amounts to a $462 million lump sum and around $347 million after federal tax withholding.

The idiot tax nets $1.5 billion. Wonderful.

In a way, one cannot help but admire the ingenuity of the lottery. In what other industry can one get people to purchase a worthless piece of paper with numbers on it and continue to receive repeat customers even after they are utterly and predictably disappointed by their purchase? I would have to call that brilliant.

And it’s even more remarkable when the government gets involved. That the same entity which appropriates a percentage of income from its citizens every year can then entice them to give up even more of that income for what amounts to absolutely nothing in return is nothing short of inspired.

In a way, it’s somewhat of a no-brainer from an investment standpoint. You simply offer an enormous prize, have the people foolish enough to enter fund it and then net what is left over. It gets even sweeter when the government runs it, since they get to take taxes out of what is won, which increases the net yield even more. And if no one wins, it can simply be rolled over to the next contest. Since no money has been dispersed, whatever is ponied up by the masses in the next contest simply adds to the net. Hard to resist.

In all seriousness, however, the government (on either the local, state or federal level) shouldn’t be sponsoring or endorsing lotteries. It disproportionally targets the poor, (those earning less than $13,000 a year spend about 9% of their income on the lottery) and in this manner is a form of regressive taxation. That anybody would want to give the government more than what is taken from them in taxes is beyond me, especially in a scheme designed to minimize the probability of winning while maximizing the revenue obtained.

Any government that favors harming its populace in this manner as a source of revenue does not make for a society in which good is valued much. It also has the troubling aspect of conflating fate and the State.

The odds of winning this most recent debacle stood at 1 in 176 million. Compare that with the chance of being struck by lightning which is less than 1 in a million. (This gentleman was struck by lightning after purchasing his tickets. Unfortunately, he seems to have used up all his luck on the lightning.)

Given those odds and the nearly non-existent chance of return, it is truly incredible that almost one third of the population of our country decided to part with any amount of money for this. Granting the axiom that a fool and his money are soon parted, one might have cause for concern in regards to the financial decisions undertaken by a significant portion of our nation.

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By deviantmonk

Jason Watson

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