Powerball and other lotteries might seem like a quick and easy way to get rich, but saving money is still the best way to get ahead.
Someone in Los Angeles County had what promises to be a very good week:
“One ticket sold in California matched all the winning numbers drawn on Saturday for the Powerball jackpot that soared to an estimated $448.7 million on a surge of last-minute buying, lottery officials said.”
If the person holding this ticket wants a one-time, lump-sum payout, he or she will receive just over $279 million.
Of course it’s worth acknowledging that if you are born in the United States of America you’ve already partly won the lottery of life. Despite the gloom and doom rhetoric of cable news, we live in a country where, as a rule, we make significant efforts to educate the poorest among us, hold open and free elections, provide a social safety net, and maintain a healthy economy. Opportunity abounds for those who are willing to work hard and practice virtues such as thrift.
So why, every week, do millions of people continue to play the biggest money-draining activity imaginable—state and national lotteries? And why are the people who have the least disposable income spending the most (more than 60% of lottery ticket purchasers are among the bottom quarter of income earners)?
Lotteries were instituted for a simple reason—to increase revenue for the government without having to raise taxes. That might seem like a good idea in theory, especially if you’re a fiscal conservative who wants to see taxes kept low. But what happens in practice, as the state of California shows, is that elected officials feel even more entitled to over-spend when they see the government’s coffers filling up. And tax rates increase anyway.
So we’ve got a government-sanctioned activity that is meant to generate revenue for the government without having to raise tax rates. But tax rates keep going up. The government continues to spend money it doesn’t have. And the people footing the bill are the poorest among us. As well, the social welfare programs for those poorest among us are the biggest expenditures for our cost-unconscious government.
And what about the “lucky” people who actually win the lottery? Their stories aren’t the heartwarming rags-to-riches cliché that Hollywood loves to dramatize.