Why do poor people play the lottery?


The odds of winning the lottery are so low that buying a lottery ticket is arguably pointless. Therefore, many people believe that buying a lottery ticket is tantamount to paying an “idiot tax.” There’s a lot of truth to that point of view, but the cynicism of that point of view overlooks a very profound and very real truth about life in predatory capitalist economies such as the United States of America.

This truth stems from the fact that, in America, if you can’t afford a $30,00+ university degree or you’re not smart enough to pass all the exams or write all the essays required to earn a university degree then the glass ceiling of higher education prevents you from making a living wage…ever. Granted, there are still some options available to people who aren’t wealthy or smart enough to go to college. You can still join the military or go to trade schools, but the reality of the world we live in is that there are still some people who aren’t cut out for even that. Even if they were able to jump through the hoops it takes to get a decent paying job, our economy stills pays workers as little as possible while charging customers as much as possible while marketers do everything they can to convince everyone to buy as much as possible whether they need those advertised goods/services or not or whether they can afford those goods/services or not. Between the oppression of low wages and high prices, the reality of our economy is that millions of people will never be able to make a living wage.

Here’s the thing about that. If you’re a middle class citizen who was able to buy your way up though the glass ceiling of higher education then buying lottery tickets is objectively a dumb idea. You make enough money to be able to save for a comfortable retirement or to be able to start your own business despite America’s restrictive small business laws. This means  the cost/benefit analysis of spending money on the lottery doesn’t add up for you.

However, the cost/benefit analysis of buying lottery tickets is not the same for an upward mobile middle class citizen as it is for a lower class wage slave. People who have to work their entire lives for barely enough money to survive and/or don’t have the intellectual intelligence to navigate the oppressive bureaucratic obstacles to starting their own business have little to no chance of ever fighting their way out of poverty. For these people there is no hope of saving their money and making a better life for themselves. Even if they do save all of their money and deny themselves any of the frivolous joys that the rich enjoy every day, they still won’t be able to save enough money to enjoy the good life of the rich and famous. The best they can hope for is to save enough money to cover a tenth of the medical bills they’ll inevitably rack up in old age. Even after a lifetime of back-breaking hard work they won’t be able to save enough money to cover the cost of a decent retirement home. In other words, they have no hope in life…period.

The lowest class workers may not be smart enough to earn a college degree, but they’re smart enough to see that no matter how hard they work and no matter how much of their minimum wage paycheck they save they’ll never be able to live a life of full human dignity. So, given the hopelessness of their prospects in life, the cost/benefit analysis of buying lottery tickets actually does truly add up.

The poorest of the poor never had any chance of having a good life no matter how much they saved because they were never going to make a living wage to begin with, and all the money they do make is inevitably going to be stolen by insurance companies, banks, utilities, taxes, cell phone bills, rent and all the other expenses that come from living in a predatory capitalist economy. So, given that the poorest of the poor never had a chance of saving enough money to make a good life for themselves, the 1 in a billion chance of of having a good life from winning the lottery is higher than the 1 in 0 chance of having a good life from working hard and saving their money.

That’s why poor people spend their money on the lottery. it’s less because they’re stupid and more because the predatory economy that they live and toil under is stupid.

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About wise sloth

Note: The information I share here may seem random, but it explains why I write about a lot of the subjects I do. I was raised poor white Texas trailer trash. At the age of 17 I got baptized in a Southern Baptist Church, and at 18 I attended a Christian college where my Biblical studies promptly led me to the conclusion that Christianity is mythology. I left that school at 19, and a year later I joined the United States Air Force as an all around computer technician. I was stationed in Italy, Germany, Kuwait and Hawaii where I took online and night classes in psychology, which led me to the conclusion that the military is a cult. For all the good things I got out of the military, I never got a good explanation of why we invaded Iraq. So I volunteered to separate from the military early when my career field was downsized and moved back to my home state of Texas. I found that during the seven years I was enlisted, either America had changed or I had. I was dismayed by the apathy, materialism, wastefulness and anti-intellectualism of civilian life in American suburbia. So I sold everything I owned and immigrated to New Zealand. As majestic as that was, it wasn’t the land of milk and honey I was looking for. Unable to find work in the IT sector I managed a warehouse, worked alongside migrant laborers in fruit orchards and vineyards and studied creative writing. For personal and financial reasons I eventually moved back to America. I’m still kicking around trying to get it all figured out. My long term goal is to build an intellectual monastery where smart people can live for free in a stress free environment where they can focus on their life’s work. It would sure help if I got a MacArthur Fellowship, sponsorship and/or an agent. I’ve been blogging since 2006 about topics that I feel are important and don’t get enough attention. The Wise Sloth blog contains editorial, philosophical, instructional, inspirational and satirical posts in the form of essays, lists, comics, and fiction, which tend to be irreverent, humorous and controversial. I update it as often as possible. View all posts by wise sloth

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