Well, it’s too bad that the only politically popular way for governments to raise revenue comes in for this kind of criticism. Before state lotteries were in effect I didn’t really think there would be such criticism. It wasn’t the first or last time I was excruciatingly wrong about public reaction to a government policy.
Anyway, I am totally and unequivocally in favor of state lotteries and of the state monopoly on gambling.* I don’t really trust myself to make a good case for it though so I don’t mind getting chewed out by the SDMB anti-lottery forces.
The state has monopolies on lots of stuff. Taxation, currency creation, national defense, law enforcement, social welfare, free education, among others. (Some would argue that private security firms are sort of like police; some would argue that private schools that offer tuition assistance amount to free education. If you want me to say a “near monopoly”, fine, but I also see no problem with gambling on Indian reservations so I guess I support only a near monopoly for government.) There are states in which liquor sales are a monopoly - a fair solution to the obvious problems in letting profit-driven private liquor stores enforce laws against selling to minors upon themselves (I’m not sure exactly how I feel about giving the state a monopoly on liquor but the pro- argument is worth considering).
Maybe I should phrase my defense of lotteries as a challenge:
[ul][li]Do you support free primary and secondary education?[/li]
[li]Do you think it should be at public expense?[/li]
[li]If so, can you find a politically-acceptable funding source, or combination of sources, which is able to consistently fund public education both in times of prosperity and recession?[/li]
[li]If not, can you find a private organization willing to shoulder the burden?[/ul][/li]Basically, I think some of the arguments against gambling have merit. For one thing, the argument that “people would gamble anyway, so the public should at least get some of the money” argument holds water until the state starts making (invariable horribly annoying) radio commercials advertising the lottery. Excuse me, if people would gamble anyway why do have to have that obnoxious lady begging us to do so at the expense of the programs you are supposed to be supporting?
The argument that it taxes the poor more than the rich only holds water if you put a lot of stock in elitist beliefs that the poor have inherently worse math skills. I don’t know. I know a lot of rich people with lousy math skills. To me it is not a tax on the poor, it is a tax on the naive. If more poor people are naive, so be it; the non-naive poor people are still reaping the benefits of better public services, just as the non-smoking poor people reap the benefits of “regressive” cigarette taxes in cleaner and better public services.
The argument that they glorify luck and ignore real virtues is correct. The argument that they rely on greed is correct; the idea that they encourage greed is rather more suspect. Whatever the arguments about the lottery are, the crisis threatening public education is vastly more important. See The Economist, January 4th, 2003, p. 22 on the crisis threatening my neck of the woods:
The consequences to the loss of good, recession-proof public education have been and will be much worse than a dose of avarice and mischief. I worry about how another generation of ignorant, semi-literate, unsocialized youth is going to handle the future if it is robbed of what was once considered its birthright. My generation is quite apathetic and dopey enough, thank you.
Maybe if we have enough money for basic reading and math education the next generation will be too savvy to even want to play the lottery. That will be one loss of revenue to which I will give a hearty “Huzzah!”
- Actually, one variant I might support would be allowing private companies to do this run lotteries, taxed to the point where the state made as much money off of it as they do off current public lotteries. This might reduce administrative costs, since private companies would have an incentive to reduce their costs like any business does, meaning more money for the winners and public services the lottery supports. The goodwill this plan would generate among anti-monopoly forces would be vastly outweighed, I think, by the antipathy it would generate among anti-tax people. So I’m not holding my breath.