Last week many Americans were closely following the Mega Millions lottery offering a record $800 million jackpot. Some people were excited about the possibility of winning the jackpot, but even more people were excited by the prospects of taking advantage of somebody who won the jackpot.
Here’s how I understand the odds: The chances of being a lottery winner of $800 million are extremely remote, but the chances of sucking up to or defrauding a lottery winner and being 1 of the 800 people who each manipulate him out of $1 million are much, much greater.
History is full of stories of lottery winners who quickly lost their money after a two year spree of mink underwear, caviar toothpaste, and constantly bumping into hundreds of relatives they found impossible to track down a few years ago when they needed a kidney. I don’t feel bad for any of these rags-to-riches-to-rags stories because winning a lottery requires no hard work or ingenuity, but defrauding a lottery winner does. Winning the lottery is as hard as handing a cashier a 1 dollar bill. Defrauding a lottery winner requires a lifetime of training in the fine arts of idiosyncratic lying, shell game paperwork, and emotional keyword doublespeak.
In a survival of the fittest sense, the lottery works to redistribute income to ensure the wiliest segment of our society continues to thrive.
My biggest problem with last week’s lottery is that by allowing the lottery number to grow so large, too much undeserved money is concentrated in the hands of too few, and the opportunities to be wily and pretend to be a long-lost son are automatically limited. If one person wins $800 million, only two or three of us can realistically pretend to be a son he or she never knew about. If 800 people win $1 million, 2,400 of us have the opportunity for wiliness.
Once you hear somebody you know has become a millionaire, you’re going to start sucking up to them regardless of whether they have $1 million or $800 million. By allowing the jackpot to grow so huge, the number of people with realistic chances to separate a lottery winner from his winnings decreases.
Every lottery winner has the following trickle down impact on the economy and the ambitions of the wily:
10-2o immediate family members will ask for support of their terrible business ideas–none of these ideas will succeed but will provide important revenue to the repossession industry.
50-100 cousins and great uncles will ask for help investing in a perpetual motion machine or an expedition to find a faster overseas route between Europe and India.
400 high school classmates will immediately RSVP to the high school reunion, providing an important economic influx of money to the backwards small town they were all so ecstatic to leave behind.
500 local women hoping to snag the rich bachelor will join gyms and visit plastic surgeons, providing new revenue to local gyms, plastic surgeons, and therapists for the 499 who are unsuccessful.
100 magazine vendors will experience an increase in sales as local kidnappers snag the children of lotto winners and create ransom notes.
If one person wins $800 million, only 1,000 people will have the opportunity to take advantage of the winner, spend money on local businesses, and be inspired to improve their wily abilities. If 800 people win a million each, 800,000 people benefit.
In a world of 7 billion people, it’s unrealistic for us to teach our children to dream of being a millionaire, but they can realistically dream of marrying or defrauding a millionaire. The more undeserving millionaires we allow, the more dreams we create.