Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Desrtopa comments on Lotteries: A Waste of Hope - Less Wrong

28 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 13 April 2007 05:36AM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (68)

Sort By: Old

You are viewing a single comment's thread. Show more comments above.

Comment author: JSolitude 11 January 2013 03:48:50AM *  2 points [-]

Although I do agree with the arguments of the writer concerning the odds, it is an article clearly written from the viewpoint of someone who belongs to the (upper) middle class, probably academically trained and with a reasonable payed job or peers or family who are financially supportive.

The article lacks to identify the reasons (which ARE rational) of (mostly) lower class income people to play the lottery.

As an excercise in empathy for the writer I do put forward the following scenario's:

Suppose you are stuck in a dead end boring job or no job scenario, living from health care, etc. Although most educated people believe this is a situation they will not encounter in their lifetime, this situation has increasingly become real for an increasing amount of people. One might blame the world economy for this or one might blame the players who have finally been dropped out or have chosen to drop out of the rat race.

May it be to poor education at a younger age, traumatic experiences, simply having the wrong education for the current playfield, being sacked at an older age, having no available finances to support further education, a lack of intelligence or simply spiraling down the road of depression due to a lack of chances or being stuck in a debt one can never recover of in a lifetime... these are all scenario's in which the player on the Lotto actually rationally pays for the soothing dream of a better (financial) future. A future that will not happen if one would not win the lottery.

One might even say playing the Lotto is the same as religion. The one who plays is still a 'believer'. The player plays for hope. Despite the odds being stacked mile high against winning the Jackpot, one believes he or she might win it. It's the same as praying: by praying one hopes to find support in a supernatural being who might forsee in a better future of the believer.

Sure, the person might save some money not playing the Lotto, but these savings will not be able to seriously increase his or her chances for a better future. So, in fact seen from this view point the investment becomes rational: playing the Lotto becomes a very small investment for what might be a very large return on investment..

So what is rational? Playing a negative sum game like the lottery is as such from the above perspective not irrational. It's even very rational if one accepts that money simply will afford at least a higher amount of choices one can make about his future. One could splash out on luxury if one wins the jackpot, one could simply enjoy the financial freedom of being able to choose each day what to do with their life or divide the money with friends or relatives who have drawn (by randomness) the short end of the financial straw.

The article also gives also the impression the writer condemns the personal situation or motivation of people who play the Lotto (being dumb assed, not knowing about their odds, etc.). This is what I would call 'The American Dream' fallacy: if one only studies or works hard enough, one would gain enough financial income one would not feel the need to play the lottery. Reality is very different.

My main point is: simoly stating playing the lottery is not rational because the odds are stacked mile high against the player, is short sighted. It oversees the rational reasons to identify why so many people with a low income play. Their rational reasoning to play the lottery might be justified.

Comment author: Desrtopa 11 January 2013 04:45:28AM 0 points [-]

these are all scenario's in which the player on the Lotto actually rationally pays for the soothing dream of a better (financial) future. A future that will not happen if one would not win the lottery.

There are other ways for a low income person to strike it rich. More people may find it believable that they'll strike it rich in the lottery than, say, write the next big novel, but that doesn't mean that the lottery is their most realistic avenue to wealth.