|"The Lottery," by William Hogarth (Metropolitan Museum of Art)|
Friday, 4:30 p.m., stand up, coat on, hat too, quick glance at the desk before I flick off the lights and head for the train.
There, something I hadn't noticed: a folded piece of paper: "I (HEART) MY AWESOME COLLEAGUES," A red heart. My own heart sank, I open the paper. A note of thanks from a coworker. And a lottery ticket to the Mega Millions $1 billion drawing that night.
My first instinct was to give it back. The lottery is stupid.
But I hesitated. What if the ticket I handed back won? Just my luck. Besides, what would I say to her: "Don't drag me down into your fantasy world?"
What if I won? The first of an army of concerns waved its hand: my responsibility toward this co-worker. Well, I'd of course do the decent thing. I'll give her, umm, a million dollars.
That seems fair.
No, actually, it's not fair. Not if you do the math. A million dollars is 1/10 of 1 percent of $1 billion. Giving her $1 million in gratitude for my $1 billion windfall would be the same as rewarding somebody who returns a dropped $20 bill with a tip of two pennies. The ratio is the same.
See, you enter the lottery world and, "I'll give my coworker a million dollars" becomes ill-considered cheapness.
I tried not to think about it. That night, at dinner, recounting the day, I mentioned the burden of this lottery ticket dropping into my lap.
"Oh good!" my wife bubbled. "I meant to buy a ticket!"
My mouth opened closed a few times, goldfish-like.
Ah heck, why not? We fell to fantasizing about the money, or trying to. The boys would be ruined, I observed. Why study hard, forge a career, with hundreds of millions of dollars waiting? If we gave them a share, they'd squander it. But if we held it back, they'd hate us. My colleague would hate me if I didn't give her enough, and my relatives would hate me if I did.
See? You're supposedly paying for the chance to dream, but it's more like paying for new worries.
Coverage of the lottery is the media at its worst. I didn't win Friday's drawing. Nobody did, though good luck finding stories that pause from panting "Rollover!" to note that it means had you bought every single ticket sold you'd have still lost. We ignore that not only does the vast majority lose, but that winning is vastly also overrated.
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