Toward An Ethical Lottery


Powerball, like all government-sponsored lotteries, is unethical in every way except that it is not fixed, at least as far as we know. The excitement over lotteries is also depressing. The whole scenario is like something out of a movie about a dystopian culture in which only a lucky draw can rescue citizens from despair and failure—this, in a society of unique personal freedom and opportunities for success. The worst aspect of lotteries—arguably, since there are so many bad things about them—is that they are cruel cheats. As often as not, indeed more often than not, winning a jackpot just provides conclusive proof of why the individual needed a lottery to achieve even temporary affluence. The poor decision-making skills, inadequate education and self-destructive tendencies of many of these winners lead to disaster and  financial distress incredibly quickly; many have lost all of their winnings within five years or less,.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are people, many of them, who have the skills, ideas, talents and character to achieve great things for themselves and society if they had a little help, like some spare time and extra cash. Some of these people achieve a great deal without the time or cash, but might do more good for society with some help.

I would like to see a merit, ambition and potential-based “lottery,” which individuals enter with an explanation of their aspirations and some valid support for their ability to achieve them. Have the entrance fee reasonable, say, twenty bucks, and allow nominations to be submitted by others for a lesser amount, say, ten. Wait until the pool reaches an appropriate size, like 20 million dollars, and have a selection committee choose finalists to interview. In the end, a group of  worthy candidates are awarded a million dollars (or more, or less—I’m not designing details here) to see what they do with it. There will be no further strings attached.

Naturally there will be frauds and failures; it will be the job of the selection process to try to sniff out and avoid them, but some duds will slip through. Never mind. This would still be a “lottery” that has a fighting chance of benefiting society rather than a lucky few who spent money on an upscale, state-promoted version of the numbers game they should have been investing in a college fund for their kids or in a degree for themselves.

It would have a chance of making life a little better, rather than worse, which is what the current “games” do.

14 thoughts on “Toward An Ethical Lottery

  1. Not saying you’re wrong about the ethics, but with that set of criteria, you’d be waiting quite a while for the “jackpot” to reach $20 million.

    Besides, something like you suggest already exists: MacArthur Fellowships, aka “genius grants.” The difference is that there’s no entry fee and no application process. Winners must be nominated; nominators are a secret group and the selection committee that determines the winners is also anonymous.

    I suppose one could argue that’s a form of lottery…

    • No, not genius grants. Those people are already successful by definition: the guy who wrote “Hamilton” won a genius grant. No, not grants at all. A publicly created, non-tax pool of significant cash so a down and out, smart, ambitious man or women can get out of a hole and do something productive. I could name 20 such people off the top of my head—none of them are geniuses, all are being under-utilized by life.

      I also think that the pool wouldn’t grow as slowly as some here think.

  2. “I would like to see a merit, ambition and potential-based “lottery,” which individuals enter with an explanation of their aspirations and some valid support for their ability to achieve them. Have the entrance fee reasonable, say, twenty bucks, and allow nominations to be submitted by others for a lesser amount, say, ten”

    Don’t we already have a haphazardly administered federal grant system?

    • Bingo. There’s also crowd funding these days. However that works.

      I have an admittedly quasi-crackpot theory that things like the lottery (aka, the numbers racket) and Horatio Alger novels are underwritten by the super-wealthy to keep the underclass down. Telling people to play the lottery and have another Colt 45 while you’re at the Seven Eleven keeps them distracted from actually making any economic or social headway. It keeps them in the underclass and working at in entry level jobs.Telling people to pull themselves up by their boot straps is another way to keep the underclass from ascending. It’s a good way to get them to miss the point that it can often take generations for a family to succeed. Each generation makes a few gains and eventually a later generation flourishes. Instead, Horatio Alger says it can all be done in a single life time with just a little effort. Jewish and Chinese families figured this out long ago. What do poor Americans do?They say, “I’m kicking my kid out of the house when he’s eighteen so he can make it on his own. Like I did.” Hah. The super wealthy take care of subsequent generations for life from before the cradle. It’s called “privilege.” You know, that much maligned term these days. It’s people strive to give to their children because no one or no government program can do so.

      • Truths. There’s a much maligned local Phillipino community here, ten years ago, the grumblings were “They’re taking all the nursing jobs and living like sardines, packed 20 to a house,” and “We’re giving Canada to them.” And now it’s just “They’re taking all the nursing jobs.” Because they pooled their earnings and bought homes. And we aren’t “giving” them Canada, they’re earning it.

        We have this weird standard of living/comfort expectation that keeps us down. “Own your own house”, “own your own car”, “buy new things” “buy buy buy” “iPod! iPhone! Tablet! Fitbit!” (ipod has a squiggle under it, iPod doesn’t. Wonderful.). These are all really bad decisions for the vast majority of people, especially starting out. Of all the stupid things to come out of the social-justice-whiner regressive left, the idea of privilege as a thing is one of the ones with merit, not only do we have privilege, it is advantageous to reject it sometimes. Live with your parents until you can afford the down payment. Go to school for something that pays well, as opposed to learning how to play with dolphins. Live within your means. Have realistic expectations. Settle for less sometimes. And never buy anything that starts with “i”. My god. What radical ideas.

        • Igloos, iguanas, imitation crab, Insane Clown Posse CDs…good gravy. You’re right. That letter I thing is actually brilliant life advice.

          Can’t agree more about the immigrant communities. They have one up on us already because they tend to stay together as families as opposed to shipping the elderly off to retirement communities and going to rent bachelor pads as soon as they turn 21 to impress the ladies.

          • I guess in a consumer driven economy, the only desirable demographic is consumers. Not savers and long term, multi-generational thinkers. Very corrosive. Again, back to Jack’s point about the corrosive effect of lotteries.

      • Misplaced in thread: that was in reference to Windypundit’s “functioning.” Negatively speaking. In the positive sense, to Texagg04’s use.

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