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Buying Hope

posted by Melissa Jacoby

NumbersThose interested in The Stakes of Design back in April may appreciate Why We Keep Playing The Lottery. Thanks to The Morning News for alerting readers to the article, and thanks to author Rosecrans Baldwin for co-founding The Morning News, and . . . that's enough.

Numbers image courtesy of Shutterstock


While it is quantitaively irrational to play the lottery, people have been doing it or something like it for probably a century or more. I think there is something more to it than quantitative errors. I think there is a component, which you might recognize in the association with the word "play". It is a form of entertainment and play. That is all. There are a lot of quantitatively dumb things people do, such as paying to attend a sporting event that is broadcast on TV for free. But they provide entertainment. So one can think of the price of a lottery ticket as having two parts, one, the rational amount and, two, an entertainment price. And of course that doesn't even take into account the economic benefit from recycling the overpay into the delivery of government services.

There's an entertainment aspect, but that isn't how lotteries earn their keep. They prey on the poor and desperate who know they need lightning to strike to get out from under. It has nothing to do with odds and everything to do with finding an escape hatch out of the lower level of the Titanic when you can't afford a bank account, let alone a "quantitatively rational investment" (and let's save for another day what a rigged crap shoot the markets are for the individual investor). To see what's going on, one need only notice that Hargrove didn't put her billboards in Lake Forest.

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