Like many people – many, many people – I am playing Powerball in early January. I know it’s foolish. My friend Peter, a math teacher, says that the lottery is a tax on the mathematically stupid, and when he gets the urge to buy a ticket he flushes a five dollar bill down the toilet: same result. Peter is a smart guy, but he has not thought things through.
First of all, he has not considered what your $2 is buying when you play the lottery.
· Happy anticipation. I bought my tickets – four of them – at 9 a.m. on the day of the drawing. That meant I had purchased fourteen hours of happy anticipation. Even the mathematically stupid can calculate that the cost of my happiness is about $.57 per hour. Not bad. My reasoning does allow for the unhappiness that occurs when I discover that I did not win, but that isn’t much because a different part of my brain kicks in to tell me, “Hey, I knew I wasn’t going to win anyway.”
· Self-congratulation. Even if I don’t win, my $8 is going, more or less (probably less), to help the states repair roads and bridges, pay teachers, and fund fact-finding trips for legislators who want to travel. I feel good about helping, even as I search for deductions from my income tax. I also feel good about contributing to the person who actually does win, because I know that poor people buy most of the lottery tickets, and I am helping redistribute my wealth to the poor. Or to the formerly poor. Of course, it may be that they are poor because they buy lottery tickets . . ..
What’s more, our friend Miguel is as smart as Peter, which is to say that looking up to them from where I stand, their intelligence is about the same. He sent me a text before the big drawing in which he explained that in calculating the size of the prize against the odds of winning, a $2 ticket was worth $2.60. Miguel did not emphasize that my odds of winning were not changed by this calculation.
With all that in mind, I am free to plan what I will do with my half of the Powerball winnings. (Kim just reminded me that they will be our Powerball winnings, since she is the one who told me she would do the breakfast dishes if I went out to buy a ticket.)
· Pay taxes. (See above.)
· Give a big chunk of money to worthy charities. There are several reasons to do this. 1) It’s the right thing to do. 2) The Lottery Gods, will recognize my virtuous (though revisable) intentions and reward me with a win. 3) It will lessen the taxes I will have to pay.
· Buy some new shoes for when I go to the gym.
· Pay an electrician to repair or replace an outlet that I do not feel competent to do myself.
· Invest the rest in a way that will earn at least 3% interest. Keep the principal intact just in case I can take it with me when I die.
· Pay for a thorough family tree so I can sort out who among the “relatives” who show up have any genetic relationship.
· Hire a philosopher (we work cheap) to discuss with me if a genetic relationship is or is not grounds for a gift of money.
· Buy some new socks to replace the ones that Kim has been quietly moving from my drawer to the garbage.
· Go to Seattle. Never been there, and we have an Amtrak voucher that will take us halfway.
· Enjoy a weekly massage at the Massage School, where an hour for seniors is only $30.
· Go out to dinner and order without considering the price.
· Upgrade quality of bourbon in my liquor locker.
That’s about it. Kim has other plans for her half of the money, plans that involve getting houses for our kids, building one for us on a large wooded lot with a wetland, and maybe purchasing a fully staffed Pullman car for our vacation travels.
You may have noticed on the news that we didn’t win. Boo-hoo! Just to show how little that loss bothered me, Kim and I went to the mall and I bought $60 worth of socks.