Posts tagged with: lottery

In a prime example of how irony is lost on politicians, lawmakers in North Carolina are proposing to prohibit people receiving welfare from playing in the lottery.

lotteryPerhaps the legislators aren’t aware of what state lotteries are, in effect if not intent, designed to do: redistribute the income of mostly poor Americans to a handful of other citizens—and to the state’s coffers.

Nevertheless, the lawmaker’s moral intuitions seem to be leading them to good intentions. As Rep. Paul Stam says, “We’re giving them welfare to help them live, and yet by selling them a ticket, we’re taking away their money that is there to provide them the barest of necessities.”

Okay, so maybe the irony isn’t lost on every politician.

You might be wondering how they could actually implement such a ban since it’s not obvious who is on welfare. According the Christian Post, at present the proposals seek to ban lottery ticket merchants if they “knowingly” sell a lottery ticket to someone on welfare. So the lawmakers are hoping that cashiers and sellers would be able to recognize locals who use food stamps, and therefore should refuse to sell lottery tickets to those people.

In other words the government wants to punish business owners for helping facilitate government sponsored gambling to people on the government dole.

I have a better idea—not a good idea, mind you, just a better idea that the punish-the-innocent approach that the government wants to take.
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, November 29, 2012

When it comes to government programs for redistributing income, nothing is quite as malevolently effective as state lotteries. Every year state lotteries redistribute the income of mostly poor Americans (who spend between 4-9% of their income on lottery tickets) to a handful of other citizens—and to the state’s coffers.

A prime example is yesterday’s Powerball jackpot. Two people became instant multimillionaires from a voluntary transfer of wealth from their fellow citizens. The money came from the 563 million tickets that were sold, as the old adage says, to those who are bad at math.

The odds of winning were 1 in 175 million, which means that if every person in America had bought a ticket, only two would have won. The chances of a single ticket holder winning the Powerball were only slightly higher than meeting a random stranger on the street who hands you a million dollars.

Yet despite the harm it does to our financially vulnerable neighbors, Christians—who are called to seek justice for the poor—often participate and encourage this activity. Even more disconcerting is that the state not only allows, but participates, in this exploitation. Jordan Ballor explains how lotteries allow the state to prey on the poor:
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Whether the lottery is, as the old adage states, a tax on people who are bad at math, it is most certainly a tax on the poor. Those who have the least spend an inordinate percentage of their income every year on lottery tickets (estimates vary from 4-9%). Yet while it is irrational for those in poverty to waste their limited resources on a one in 176 million chance, there is something almost rational in the reasoning for doing so. As The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson points out:
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 19, 2007

One of my favorite industries to criticize is the state-run lottery business.

Philosopher William F. Vallicella writes the following: “Your chances of a significant win are next-to-nil. But suppose you win, and suppose you manage to not have your life destroyed by your ‘good fortune.’ The winnings are arguably ill-gotten gains. The money was extracted via false advertising from ignorant rubes and is being transferred via a chance mechanism to someone who has done nothing to deserve it” (HT: the evangelical outpost).

One could of course argue that the winner did take the superficially meritorious action of risking a small amount of money for the potential for a huge reward. Lottery players do at least have to “opt-in.” Perhaps that’s the action that accrues some semblance of desert.

But then again, if Vallicella is right about the nature of the system and its state-sponsored advertising, in the larger sense participation in such a corrupt industry might overshadow any meritorious action.

Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that in modern life characterized by the lack of meaning,

One gambles with the future. Lotteries and gambling, which consume an inconceivable amount of money and often the daily bread of the worker, seek the improbable chance of luck in the future. The loss of past and future leaves life vacillating between the most brutish enjoyment of the moment and adventurous risk taking.

Add to those effects government sponsorship and promotion, and you have a pretty foul mix.

The John Locke Foundation recently published a report linking lotteries to high poverty and high unemployment in North Carolina counties. See the case of Jack Whittaker for someone whose ruin was occasioned by the influx of great wealth.

Even so, philosopher David Schmidtz expresses a way in which the “merit” of lotteries shouldn’t be accrued to the actions leading up to the windfall, but rather following it. Speaking of what he calls transitive reciprocity in his recent book, Elements of Justice, Schmidtz writes,

Having received an unearned windfall, we are in debt. The moral scales are out of balance. The canonical way to restore a measure of balance is to return the favor to our benefactor, as per symmetrical reciprocity. However, the canonical way is not the only way. Another way is to pass the favor on, as per transitive reciprocity. Transitive reciprocity is less about returning a favor and more about honoring it – doing justice to it. Passing the favor on may not repay an original benefactor, but it can be a way of giving thanks (83).

Schmidtz leaves us with a picture of the lottery winner as one who has inherited a responsibility to act in an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude, passing the favor on to others.

I like that.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Last month the Pacific Research Institute released a report estimating that costs associated with the American tort system exceed $865 billion per year (HT). Check it out for a detailed breakdown and comparison of these costs with other sectors of the economy and government spending. (Here’s a WSJ op-ed from the authors of the report.)

ABC’s 20/20 had a segment last week on the largest lottery winner in history, Jack Whittaker of West Virginia, who won $315 million in 2002. It’s a sad story for many reasons, but I want to point out one aspect of Whittaker’s tale.

At the time of his jackpot, Whittaker owned a successful construction company that was “doing $16 million to $17 million worth of work.” According to the story, Whittaker “enjoyed years of success with few complaints, but less than a year after winning the lottery things began to change.”

“I’ve had over 400 legal claims made on me or one of my companies since I’ve won the lottery,” said Whittaker.

When asked why that might happen, Whittaker said it’s because “everybody wants something for nothing.”

Rob Dunlap, one of Whittaker’s many attorneys, said Whittaker has spent at least $3 million dollars fending off lawsuits.

Another recent development in tort news is the mainstream acceptance of animal law, which will likely be front and center in any class-action lawsuit resulting from the poisoning of thousands of pets via Menu Foods products. Are pets persons or property?

Amy A. Breyer, one of the only full-time Chicago-based attorneys who specializes in animal law, says that when animals are considered property, as they are in Illinois, they have no voice in the courts.

For more reading on the devolution of the American tort system, check out Trial by Fury: Restoring the Common Good in Tort Litigation, by Ronald J. Rychlak, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Mississippi School of Law.