Lottery is the game where a numbered ticket is purchased, numbers are drawn in a random selection process and prizes are awarded to those with matching tickets. While lottery is a popular pastime for many people, it has become increasingly viewed as an unsavory form of taxation that should be avoided at all costs. However, some people believe that it’s the only way they can ever hope to have a secure financial future.
In his book, The Lottery, author Michael Cohen describes how the popularity of lottery as a means of funding state governments came to be. He notes that the rise of lotteries began in the early part of the twentieth century, at a time when states were still able to expand their range of services without imposing especially onerous taxes on the working class. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, he writes, Americans enjoyed a sense of prosperity that allowed them to take advantage of a wide array of social programs, but in the nineteen-sixties the country’s fortunes waned, and as inflation, population growth and the cost of the Vietnam war began to chip away at state finances, budgets became increasingly tight.
During this time, state government commissions realized that they could capitalize on the public’s fascination with chance by offering a way for people to win prizes such as apartments in subsidized housing or kindergarten placements at a particular school. They were not above using tactics like those employed by cigarette and video-game manufacturers; everything about the lottery, from the marketing campaigns to the design of the tickets, was meant to keep players hooked.
The result was that, according to Cohen, lottery revenues began to grow, and by the nineteen-eighties it was possible for working class Americans to spend a full ten percent of their annual income on tickets. This, he writes, coincided with a decline in the nation’s long-held promise that hard work would yield financial security and wealth, and in the rise of inequality, deprivation and discontent.
While many rich people play the lottery, he points out, they generally purchase fewer tickets and spend a smaller percentage of their incomes on them. As a result, their jackpots are less than that of their poorer counterparts. This trend, he writes, has gone on to the present day.
The reason why this trend is so dangerous, he writes, is that it gives people the false impression that they can buy their way out of the problems that poverty and unemployment create, and teaches them to distrust government. This distrust is a dangerous thing in itself, but it also prevents us from seeing the truth about what government really can and cannot do. It can offer hope and opportunities, but it is not the panacea that many believe it to be. The real answer is to find better ways to help those who need it. And that requires a change in mindset. Not just about how we think about money but about what we want from the state and what our society values most.