The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

A Member of the Law Professor Blogs Network

Friday, March 30, 2012

A tax on the stupid
Tom Smith

Lottery fever is sweeping the nation. I guess that's fine.  For most people it's a harmless source of amusement.  I think most people would not buy lottery tickets except that they cannot really conceptualize the vanishingly small probabilities involved in actually winning.  Some commentators have tried to inform folks.  You have a better chance of being struck six times by lightning and surviving each, one said.  A greater chance of being killed by space debris (riskier than I had realized, one chance in mere thousands said the talking head).  Somebody has to win, people say, as if that somebody could really be them.

It's a shame in some sense to see what are rather attractive traits, such as optimism, energy, and belief in one's own luck, so systematically exploited. I gave up buying lottery tickets when I realized I could fantasize about being rich perfectly well without them, and save a little money at the same time.  Some self-help book LWJ read years ago opined that fantasizing about being rich was bad for your soul, which it probably is, but it's cheaper than buying lottery tickets.

http://rightcoast.typepad.com/rightcoast/2012/03/a-tax-on-the-stupid-tom-smith.html

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Comments

Richard Feynman was fascinated by gambling. Not how to win, but the concept. How do you get people to give you a dollar and accept ninety cents in return?
Feynman didn't understand how a person could be a "professional gambler" in Vegas, since the deck was stacked against you. He spent quite a bit of time on the question and determined that the pro-gamblers (he used "Jimmy the Greek" as an example) don't bet against the house. Instead they hang around Vegas casinos and make bets with strangers, usually about sports. Technically against the casino rules, but the colorful "professional gambler" brought in custom so the rule-breaking was overlooked.

Posted by: Terry | Mar 30, 2012 8:41:11 PM

Wrong.

The expected return on Blackjack is close to 100%, on Roulette around 95%. So only fools and those who gladly pay for the fun will participate.

The expected return on insurance varies from 2% to 80%, and being insured is no fun at all, so a person has to be really stupid to voluntarily insure himself or his property. The return on health insurance for a white man in his 20's is way below 50%, so a young man has to be fantastically stupid to participate in Obamacare when he could be hanging out in Reno or Las Vegas.

Posted by: Jimbino | Mar 31, 2012 8:45:38 AM

So, you've made a lot of money gambling, Jimbino?

Posted by: Terry | Mar 31, 2012 5:58:00 PM

Yes, but I only gamble on sure bets, like parting a fool and his money. Or so I did in my youth.

In my youth, I earned a fortune going door to door selling "crotch brushes" to lonely young lawyer-wives in Silver Spring, along with dozens of toothbrushes, expensive combinations of hairsprays. I could sell combs and dandruff boxes to bald men and quickly found the biggest suckers lay right behind the doors that had "No Solicitors" signs in big letters.

Easier than taking candy from a baby, once I built up a list of suckers, I never had to find a new client.

Now that I'm older, I see that that's how religion, insurance and patent medicine have always worked: you can establish a rich life merely by identifying and milking the suckers. Maharishi did it; Madoff did it; the Pope continues to do it. Now that I've matured, I just can't bring myself to sell a bill of goods to stupid poor folks.

But I have indeed made a lot of money by gambling: I have never subscribed to life, health or auto insurance, having figured out early that it's cheaper to pay any penalty than to spend your hard-earned wages to support insurance that covers other folks' superstitions, breeding, incompetence and bad habits.

I have no aversion, however, to applying my superior scientific and legal skills (all gained under full scholarchips) to gaming the system whenever I can in order to gain whatever benefits from religion, socialism and other superstitions, including Medicaid, foodstamps, and affirmative-action scholarships, that greater fools continue to offer me.

My latest scheme is to post notices at my local senior center offering to take care of their left-behind pets, for $150, in the event of the Rapture. Loaded as it is with Baptists and Methodists, Texas no doubt has more suckers per square inch than any other state. At least ones the Pope and the Texas Lottery haven't gotten to first!

Posted by: Jimbino | Apr 1, 2012 1:58:37 PM

Jimbino wrote:
I have no aversion, however, to applying my superior scientific and legal skills (all gained under full scholarchips) to gaming the system whenever I can in order to gain whatever benefits from religion, socialism and other superstitions, including Medicaid, foodstamps, and affirmative-action scholarships, that greater fools continue to offer me.

Okay dude! Rockin'!
Maybe one day you will become president.

Posted by: Terry | Apr 2, 2012 5:08:19 AM