By Frank J. Rich
Let’s all cheer for … the lottery? In a game of pitch and toss, each hurling is an all-in bet. Win and join the few that can rise above the first person singular and not lose their good judgment and good sense in the use of the windfall (the odds of bankruptcy grow astronomically among lottery winners). Lose and join the multitudes of haters who wish only the squandering of winnings by winners. We are seldom made truly of good wishes for the good fortune of others.
Last year’s Powerball (at this time) at over $1.5 billion, the largest in its history, raises an interesting question. According to the parade of presidential candidates, and most others, the nation faces unparalleled social and economic challenges. Too few citizens are prepared to compete in a complex workplace, pay taxes, afford a home of their own, and enjoy savings greater than $15,000. To revive a slow economy (even though better than most), consumption must increase. This depends mightily on wage growth and consumer confidence in the economy—now and in the future.
Politicians speak of so many ways to answer the call; each branding his model of blaming others and naming the fulfillment that obtains by their handiwork. Oddly, this dance is perhaps the most reliable activity in each—past and present. Missing are real solutions to slow economic growth, a more competitive educational model, equal opportunity, and a trustworthy electorate. Until now!
Let’s solve all of these problems with a simple, sweeping solution that turns into prodigious policy. Follow the math.
Let’s turn the lottery toward the people and not the government. Why? Because the government has already shown it lacks the imagination, the will, and the courage to act on behalf of its citizenry, and primarily for its benefit. If every household were a winner, each week the lottery would turn into an annuity that delivered needed funds for many.
* More would play, knowing that their money would bring back more each week. Invest $2, get back $10. Everyone would be a winner, every week. A $10 billion a week lottery would be common.
* Those that don’t need the extra cash might return it to the lottery commission for distribution to those who do.
* The distribution of wealth would occur without the assistance of government—the marketplace would take its course.
* Consumption would increase as income rose.
* Economic confidence would rise, encouraging risk-taking enterprise.
* The electorate nationwide would work harder to add programs that returned more money to citizens for discretionary funding.
* People would feel connected to an economic system that brings attention to the opportunity to grow and prosper by their own steam, aided in some part by an economic catalyst that has their best interests in mind.
Take 1.5 billion, that’s $1,500,000,000 and divide it by the number of households in America—roughly 100 million. Then send 10 percent of “households” a pro rata share of the total lottery ticket sales. Let’s assume that lottery sales would average $2.5 billion each week, since every household would be a winner over a 10 week period, and then again over the next 10 weeks. $2,500,000,000/100,000,000 = $25, or $125 over the course of a year. A $10 billion lottery would deliver a $600 windfall each year to households, a $600,000,000 shot in the arm for local economies across the nation. Over the course of 10 years a total of $6,000,000,000 (billion) would be delivered into the hands of citizens, a flat distribution to those who need it or not. Just as the Bush Tax Rebate evidenced, many that do not need it would decline it in favor of those that do.
Let’s add the interest earned from America’s retirement funds. Its accumulation over just 2 years would relieve the national debt, according to research. The point: there are creative ways to assist and encourage America to regain its economic footing—and free market systems lead the way. A life well counted is made not of what we get, but what we give.