The Lottery and Socialism

The Lottery and Socialism

Nov 29
The Lottery and Socialism

Today it was announced that two people will split the $580 million Powerball jackpot.  I thought it was time to write a little about gambling.  It has quite a bit in common with socialism.

I once explained this to a class of high school students by taking a $50 bill out of my wallet.  I held it up for them to see.  They asked if it was real.  I assured them it was.  I told them that we were going to play a game and the winner would get $50.  I had their undivided attention.  One even asked if I was serious because he didn’t want to get his hopes up if he couldn’t really win it.

The game is simple.  I auctioned $50.  Bidding started at $1 and all bids had to be in increments of $1.  The winner gets $50.

The catch:  everyone pays me whether they win or not.  Gazing longingly at  the fifty dollar bill, everyone agreed to play.

So I took bids, recording each and every person who made a bid and how much.  I stopped the bidding when the highest bid was $75.  Yes, you read that right — the highest bid was $75 OVER what they would receive for winning.  And they would have kept raising it if I hadn’t stopped them.  Because nobody wants to be out $74 and have nothing to show for it, so they’d raise, placing the other at a disadvantage, who would raise…on and on, throwing more money after a very bad decision.

The winner bounced up and down excitedly and asked if they could have the money now.  I made a point of putting the bill back in my wallet as I said, “Oh, you misunderstand.  You don’t MY fifty dollars.  When everyone pays me, I’ll give you fifty dollars out of that.”

Gambling is successful in that it promises people the chance to get rich.  Somebody is going to win.  That somebody could be you.  It doesn’t cost much to play and the more you play the better your chances of winning.

The lie of gambling is that it doesn’t hurt anybody.  Just as in my example, the winner doesn’t actually get money from the government, the casino, a corporation, or any other faceless entity from which it is “okay” to take money.  The money comes from the person sitting next to you.  Your neighbor.  Your family.  Anyone who plays the game.  However, very few of us would knowingly take money from our friends, neighbors, and family.  So we say that the money comes from a lottery commission, or a casino, or a company.  Now you don’t have to feel guilty for taking their money, because you won it from the casino or from the lottery.

That makes us feel okay — it isn’t like we’re taking money from PEOPLE.

Now, I won’t dispute that everyone who plays the game does so knowingly and intentionally.  That isn’t my “beef” with it.  It’s the lie of it.  How the money is hidden and renamed so that it seems innocent.  Casinos have lots of money and won’t miss it if I take this from them.

You NEVER win the casino’s money.  Your money comes from everyone who played and lost.

Maybe you’re okay with that.  Maybe it doesn’t bother you.  Maybe you think it’s all fair.  If that’s the case, suppose we change the game a little.  The outcome is the same, but it’s played slightly differently.  Suppose that instead of receiving a check (or however lottery winners get paid), everyone who lost has to hand their money to the winner.  Personally.  The losers would have faces and names.

Personally, I think fewer people would play if they truly realized they were taking money from other people and not from some faceless entity.  Sadly, for some people that would make the game more attractive.

I think this is also why the term “big” has been swung around like it’s bad.  We hear about “Big Oil” and “Big Business” and “Big Government.”  It’s now hip to be against anything “big.”  Big means they have more than they need.  More than their fair share.  With some people there’s even the implication that perhaps these organizations are dishonest, corrupt, or greedy because they are “big.”  Big is bad.  Taking from the big is okay.

Lottery tickets were selling at a rate of 130,000 per minute on the day of the drawing.  Let’s say that each person bought 100 lottery tickets.  That’s 1,300 people every minute.  Most of whom lost every penny they spent.

In 2010, U.S. lottery ticket sales amounted to $58 billion dollars.  The recent Powerball jackpot would be about 1% of that.  Where did that $58 billion come from?  Did the lottery give away their own money?  Did it come from the government?  Did they print new money?  Of course not.  It came from your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors.

Unlike the “evil corporations” that we’re encouraged to hate, the people who gave them money got absolutely nothing in return (for the most part).  At least a company sells a product or a service.  A lottery sells only hope and a false one at that.  I know I’m supposed to hate Wal-Mart because it’s a big, greedy company that exploits people.  At least the people who spend money there get something.  How should I feel about a lottery, which exploits people and gives them nothing for the money they spend?

How is the lottery like socialism?  Because both take money from a group of people and redistribute it in a way that makes it not seem like stealing.  We’ll only tax the “big” — the wealthy and those who have more than they need.  The government will collect the money and then give it to the “winners.”  You won’t actually be taking money from anyone — it’s the government’s money!

Socialism, like the lottery, is guilt-free robbery of your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors.  You get some of what they have without having to take it from them yourself.  At least in the lottery they give it up willingly.

Even in those cases where you don’t receive anything yourself, you are still saying that it’s okay to forcibly take money from one person and give it to another.

Law is coercion.  There is no choice.  When you support a new law you are supporting the idea of using force to make someone behave in the manner you choose.

Just because a majority of us can agree on something, it doesn’t make us right.  I always thought the subjugation of ANY minority by a majority was wrong.

Now I’m being told that’s only true if the minority isn’t wealthy.

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