The Lottery of Life



A gambling game in which numbers are drawn for prizes. Often used to raise money for public benefits.

The odds of winning the lottery are very low, but there is a certain appeal to playing. Billboards on the highway dangling big jackpots lure people to spend a little bit of their income, and even the most careful financial decision-makers can get pulled in by these siren calls.

There are many ways to win the lottery: The lottery of life

The word “lottery” has multiple meanings, but some of them are useful. A lottery is an event in which something is decided by chance, and it can be anything from who gets a particular unit in a housing complex to who gets kindergarten placements at a reputable public school.

In the era after World War II, states that had large social safety nets found that they could expand their services without onerous taxes on the middle and working classes by running state-owned lotteries. The idea was that a few millionaires would help offset state spending, and they could then make sure that everyone had access to quality education and public health services.

But there is another message that lottery commissions are sending. They are implying that winning the lottery will improve your life, and it’s not clear how this message plays out with people who actually play. There is an inherent desire to believe that they are making a better decision than other people, and this, combined with the fact that it is very hard to calculate the expected utility of a ticket purchase for a given individual, can make a lottery purchase seem like a good idea.