Don’t bet on the lottery to bring riches

By Richard Nelson

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January 15, 2016

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"How could we have been so lucky? I can't believe how blessed we've been.” Steve and Carolyn West had won $300 million dollars in the lottery. Like all lottery winners, their life was changed the moment those lucky numbers were called. For some this meant a relief from their debts, poverty, and the like. For others it has meant turmoil, troubles, and the loss of anonymity. For every winner, the lottery became more than they ever anticipated. In a similar way, the previous sentence can be true of everyone. In reality we are all affected by the traps of potential millions and I don’t mean the penchant for purchasing a ticket. Rather, the lotteries are universally driven by the purchase of tickets from those that should not be diving at the chance at mega millions.

Think of it like this: place a map of your city on the table with hotspots for the most economically challenge parts of your community. Now place another map on top of it that shows the hotspots for the highest amount of lottery tickets sold. It’s a good bet (pun intended) that the overlap between the two would be very, very similar. What does that say? The lotteries grow from the backs of the poor. They take advantage of astronomically low chances for affluence from those who don’t have as much to lose. It’s “easy” for a middle class individual to buy $20 worth of lottery tickets. That amount of money, however, is not as easy to slough off as collateral damage. But it is the poor who play more than the middle, upper-middle, and upper class society. The promise of riches is too enticing, and corporations know that. It is predatory, and it should stop. 

Conservatism resides in wanting society to hold on to the things that are true and good. It is a grasping on to those things that have proven true through time, conflict, culture, etc. That preservation is not the same thing as stagnation. Nor is progress the same thing, true progress anyway. But it is about retaining the best of shared culture, without being wedded to the times in which they were created. Materialism has grasped American culture like the jaws of life, and it will take more than disarming lotteries for the nation to see it. However, it seems like a pretty good place to start. 

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Director, Commonwealth Policy Center