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In any basic economics course, you learn that there are four ways to distribute resources: Market, command, queue, and lottery.  We're all very familiar with markets, and the ways they degenerate when left unbalanced by other forms of distribution.  Command economy, meanwhile, is just governments directing where and to whom resources go, such as with aid programs and education, or on the negative side, to bloated military-industrial complexes and/or corrupt contractors.  We in America have far too little contact with the benign form of command economy, but at least there is significant awareness of the problem, so I don't concern myself with that issue in this discussion.

Queue economies result when the price of a good or service is beneath the intersection of supply and demand, which can occur in either market or command contexts - e.g., waiting in line for a special sale at a store, or waiting for access to a doctor in a universal healthcare system.  Lotteries, however, are something we in this country have plenty of experience with, but they haven't been properly designed to be economically beneficial.  I explain why and what to do about it below.

Each form of resource distribution serves a key purpose: Markets are the most responsive to economic feedback; command economy corrects market failures and maintains social mobility; queue economy manages scarcity when prices are sub-market, either as part of a business strategy or a government policy; and lotteries introduce an element of chance into resource distribution in order to maintain dynamism and randomly elevate poor and middle-class people into the ranks of the wealthy.  

But here is the problem with how lotteries are managed in the United States: All the money that goes into lottery awards comes from the other poor or middle-class people who play, so while it does produce an element of class-randomization, it only occurs at the expense of the people who play and don't win.  This takes wealth out of the hands of the 99% and further exacerbates inequality.

A proper lottery mechanism would be free to those entered, entry would be universal, and each person could only be entered once per drawing.  There's no reason to reward gambling by allowing more entries at a price and thereby increasing the chance of winning (however remote the chances remain), because that would introduce a bias into the selection and defeat the purpose of randomization.  

Moreover, even if you keep lotteries as they are, 100% of the funds not used for operation and administration of the lottery should actually go into the prizes, and none should be used as a substitute for taxation in order to fund government programs.  As noted, the players are overwhelmingly poor, working-class, and middle-class, meaning that using lotteries to fund government programs is just preying on gambling behavior in order to shift the tax burden further toward the 99% and away from the wealthy.  This not only defeats the purpose of a lottery, but of the very command-economy programs that are funded - e.g., education - since their purpose is to create opportunity and social mobility.

So how should lotteries be funded?  I would suggest a small wealth tax, a small transaction tax covering stock trades, and a large inheritance tax specifically committed to funding a national, universal lottery.  Or, barring a nationwide system, at least state-level equivalents to accomplish the same objective.  And another point: No taxes should be paid on the awards - that defeats the purpose.  People who are already wealthy would be also be eligible, but given their relatively small number the probability is low, and since they would be the source of the funding there would be no net loss to the 99%.  Since the whole point is randomization, making a 7-figure millionaire into an 8-figure millionaire might sound trivial, but it could have some of the same benefits as other randomized wealth increases.  And they would be rare occurrences anyway.

Additionally, not all lottery awards would be jackpots, just as under current systems.  Large numbers of people would receive random checks for a variety of small to mid-sized amounts, or else simply have it deducted from their taxes, depending on their preference.  This not only has economic and social benefits, but think of the psychological benefits for people in general: As much as you enjoy being surprised with gifts by your significant others, friends, or family, people would have the same feeling about the lottery - basically like the opposite of jury duty.  Instead of "Aww, shit, I've been selected for jury duty," you could get something else in the mail and be like "Whoa, I won a hundred bucks from the IRS lottery!  Man, government ain't that bad."

Given consumer psychology, the vast majority of the small and mid-level awards would be spent immediately, injecting money directly into the economy rather than stagnating in some rich person's bank or assets.  And since it's random, both geographically and in terms of amount, there would be little or none of the kind of inflationary effects that come from broader command economy redistribution measures.  I can't think of a single substantial downside.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I think you're onto something here (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, Mr Robert, palantir, Egalitare

    I don't see a downside either - but then, I'm not rich!

    Follow our efforts to turn Southern Worcester County (MA) blue! Greater Blackstone Valley Dems

    by AnotherMassachusettsLiberal on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 06:26:53 PM PST

  •  I see a down side (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, palantir, Kickemout

    Politics.  It'll be tough to firewall off the funding.  Just look at how Social Security, tobacco settlements, and the current lotteries get raided.

    There is truth on all sides. The question is how much.

    by slothlax on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 06:29:21 PM PST

    •  Even if that happened, at least the money (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      slothlax, palantir, cynndara

      would come from the right sector of the economy.  And it's not like it would be politically feasible to refuse to pay anyone who had won, so even if they did that, it could just be a deficit issue.  

      In fact, here's an idea: The weekly drawings could be broadcast live on the internet and TV, much like some lotteries already do.  

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 06:47:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Most legal scholars believe that a national (5+ / 0-)

        wealth tax would require a constitutional amendment like the 16th was required for a national income tax.

        "let's talk about that"

        by VClib on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 07:06:43 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I don't see why. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          palantir

          Pour yourself into the future.

          by Troubadour on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 07:43:29 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Under the Constitution the federal government (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            johnny wurster, Neuroptimalian

            does not have plenary taxing powers. That is why an amendment was required to create the federal income tax. States have plenary taxing powers if they are included in the state constitutions, but not the federal government.

            "let's talk about that"

            by VClib on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 09:24:07 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Article I seems pretty clear that it has the power (0+ / 0-)

              to levy taxes.  I don't know what kind of silly right-wing Supreme Court decision made it necessary to have a Constitutional amendment allowing income taxation, but the fact that we have such an amendment does not necessitate that all forms of taxation levied by the federal government have their own explicit Constitutional authorization.

              Pour yourself into the future.

              by Troubadour on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 09:36:59 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  The Constitution allows for some specific taxes (3+ / 0-)

                but there has not been any SCOTUS has opined that the Constitution gives the federal government broad or plenary taxing powers. This has nothing to do with right-wing views, its a clear consensus. The taxing powers of the federal government are limited.

                "let's talk about that"

                by VClib on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 09:43:42 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  In any case, it's not central to this discussion. (0+ / 0-)

                  As long as the money for the lottery comes from the rich, any kind of tax or combination of taxes would work just as well.

                  Pour yourself into the future.

                  by Troubadour on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 09:45:30 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                •  In that case (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Troubadour

                  how is it that the SCOTUS ruled the ACA individual mandate constitutional SPECIFICALLY because it was a tax?  Or you're telling me that the Constitution explicitly authorizes taxation on individuals in order to force them to buy an overpriced product of lousy quality, but doesn't authorize taxing business transactions or inheritance, which is already federally taxed?

                  •  The estate tax has survived legal challenges (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Neuroptimalian

                    And I have not read that anyone has a constitutional issue with a transaction tax on securities. However, there is a lot written on an annual wealth tax and the consensus is that a separate amendment, like the 16th, would be required.  

                    "let's talk about that"

                    by VClib on Wed Jan 30, 2013 at 08:10:22 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

          •  its an unconstitutional direct tax. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Kickemout, VClib, Troubadour

            the last time we wanted to levy a direct tax (the income tax), we had to pass an amendment to do it

            as vclib notes, this is conventional wisdom stuff.  there are some outliers, but general sense is that it'd be unconstitutional (one of the more prominent proponents of the theory that it would constitutional is a pretty well known scholar, buy I can't remember his name.  anyways, his argument is so bad it beggars belief.  its basically "slavery was legal, ergo we can ignore the constitution's limits on the federal government.". if that's the best that supporters can do, I think the matter is pretty much settled.)

        •  Also, the exact taxation mechanism isn't important (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          nextstep, cynndara

          as long as it comes from the rich.

          Pour yourself into the future.

          by Troubadour on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 08:50:05 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Interesting idea (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, palantir, cynndara

    Why don't we tax the crap out of the 1% and use it to fund a lottery. I suggest that the tickets be given away to anyone on food stamps, disability, or social security.

    I don't think this will ever happen in this county, but I'm certainly willing to entertain the idea as a way of correcting the current imbalances in income distribution.

    The only trouble with retirement is...I never get a day off!

    by Mr Robert on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 06:32:02 PM PST

    •  There's no reason we can't do this. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mr Robert, slothlax, cynndara

      Things don't "happen" in a country - either people do them, or they don't.  And if the idea makes sense to us, it makes sense to others too.  Hell, it might even win the support of some industries if you could show them the math that it would increase their bottom lines by injecting money into the consumer base a lot more than it directly costs them in taxes.

      As to limiting it to the poor, that's not really the point of a lottery - it's randomization.  The economy would benefit from regular random injections of modest cash to large numbers of people; randomly elevating the poor to the middle-class or the wealthy; the middle-class to the wealthy; or even the wealthy to higher echelons, all at the expense of the wealthy as a class.  To specifically address the poor, it's better to just have direct command economy measures like higher minimum wages, healthcare, aid programs, etc.  

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 06:52:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Most people have little ability to handle money. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    palantir, Kickemout

    I think that this would make that problem much worse by making your income totally random. Forget planning, budgeting, and saving. Pray for a lottery win instead.

  •  Why even bother with a pretense of a Lottery. Just (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nellebracht, palantir, Kickemout

    take their money and distribute it out to everyone equally.  That way everyone wins.  

  •  yuck (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    johnny wurster

    I think lotteries suck to begin with. They're a tax on those who are bad at math.

    And the idea of a tax just to give money to some people at random is repulsive to me.

    We were not ahead of our time, we led the way to our time.

    by i understand on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 06:47:41 PM PST

    •  The rich already profit from lotteries. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      slothlax, palantir, Egalitare, cynndara

      That's all the stock market is - a casino whereby the rich periodically milk the economy through boom and bust cycles.  And then our tax money bails them out when it gets out of control.  We just don't have any mechanism going in the other direction, randomly transferring wealth back to the base of the economy.

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 06:59:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  lottery! no, the market isn't a lottery. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        VClib

        or, its a curious sort of lottery where you're guaranteed to win if you stay in it long enough.  but that's sort of like saying that is just a polygon with one side.

        •  last sentence should have been (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          VClib

          that a circle is just a polygon with one side.

          darn phone!

          anyhoo, Troubadour: you're an amazingly prolific and creative fount of ideas.  this one is a misfire, but that'll happen even for the razor sharp folks like yourself.

        •  Bullshit. You're not "guaranteed to win." (0+ / 0-)

          Most companies that enter the market fail.  I invested at one point based on the idea you just stated, making diverse investments across a number of industries, and it was completely false.  I lost money on some stocks, made money on others, and the losses added up to more than the wins - and there was no discernable pattern to the difference.  The only way to get rich in the stock market is either to gamble a bet everything on one or a few prospects - i.e., like a lottery - or else already be so damn rich that you can be a qualified investor and get into the game before the IPO.

          Pour yourself into the future.

          by Troubadour on Wed Jan 30, 2013 at 03:51:51 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  To make a difference in the economy how much (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, slothlax, palantir

    money would we be taking from the rich and giving to the winners? How many winners per year?   Seems like you would have to take an awful lot of money and give it to an awful lot of people to make a difference in the economy.  

    •  I don't think it would take that much at all. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      slothlax, cynndara

      At least divided over the entire base of people who would be paying this tax.  Let's throw out some arbitrary hypothetical numbers - and these are just guesses, so it can be structured any other way you want, so don't say any problems with these numbers invalidate the basic idea:

      Say 1 person per year gets $1 billion, 10 get $100 million, 100 get $10 million, 1,000 get $1 million, 10,000 get $100k, 100,000 get $10k, 1 million get $1k, and 10 million get $100.  Divide another billion among smaller prizes that a good third of the population would win at some point during the year.  That's $9 billion in total - not much in revenue terms, at least for a nationwide lottery (state prizes would be smaller).  And it's not like the money is just disappearing - most of it is going right back into the economy immediately.

      A 1 percentage point tax increase on the rich would more than cover it.  In fact, my numbers there are probably too conservative - maybe there should be more winners at the highest prize levels.

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 08:10:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I would add that nothing would stop (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      slothlax

      a single person from winning the same prize multiple times in a year (if there are multiple drawings for it), so individual winners would have a broad spread of yearly award totals at the end of the year.  It wouldn't be a logarithmic spread like the overall prize categories.

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 08:15:50 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Anything queue can do command can do better (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slothlax

    And market is wholly inadequate to the task.  The only quality your lottery has that a command-style, traditional redistribution program lacks is randomness.  You claim that this is a virtue and is supposed to introduce a dynamism into the economy that would somehow be lacking in a market or command approach.  However, another word for this kind of dynamism is volatility, not good for our fundamentally market based economy.  Which parts of the economy would be benefited, the degree to which they are benefited, and the duration of that benefit all become incredibly more uncertain.  It makes it hard to make good investment and consumption decisions.

    Good command policies, those that redistribute according to specific tests and policies, are, or can be, much better at redressing and correcting the systematic imbalances and failures of market dynamics, in this case, the tendency of a mature economy to distribute with ever greater inequality.  The issue with good command policies is twofold; figuring out what they are, and generating the political will to enact them.  

    This latter is an issue your lottery idea shares, and I'll guarantee you'll get opposition from every corner on this one, from the wealthy who don't now play and don't want to be forced to have to as well as pay for the winnings, to the poor, who will hate you for keeping them from buying more than one ticket.  Not to mention the perverse incentives against work or investment mentioned in a post above.

    From a moral perspective, you don't combat the immoral and unjust acquisition of wealth through gambling with other people's money by introducing an at best amoral way of gambling with other people's money.  

    From such crooked wood as that which man is made of, nothing straight can be fashioned. -Immanuel Kant

    by Nellebracht on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 08:50:39 PM PST

    •  Not so. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      slothlax, cynndara
      The only quality your lottery has that a command-style, traditional redistribution program lacks is randomness.
      Command redistribution doesn't make poor or middle-class people rich, it only helps them subsist and provide them with services and opportunities.  That's worthwhile, but it has nothing to do with what a lottery does - elevates individuals to higher classes, and injects money into the bulk of the economy in a way that doesn't drive inflation.
      However, another word for this kind of dynamism is volatility, not good for our fundamentally market based economy.
      Completely false.  The randomness lies only in who receives the money - there is no "volatility" involved relative to the overall market.
      Which parts of the economy would be benefited, the degree to which they are benefited, and the duration of that benefit all become incredibly more uncertain.
      False.  All of that is easily statistically determinable.
      It makes it hard to make good investment and consumption decisions.
      Totally baseless claim.
      Good command policies, those that redistribute according to specific tests and policies, are, or can be, much better at redressing and correcting the systematic imbalances and failures of market dynamics, in this case, the tendency of a mature economy to distribute with ever greater inequality.
      These mechanisms are not mutually exclusive, and command policies have their own weaknesses - especially, as we've seen, as they come under political attack.  A lottery of this sort adds another mechanism for accomplishing similar but complementary goals, and does so a lot more affordably and efficiently than having a giant bureaucracy having to apply to all sorts of means tests, complicated standards, and stop people from defrauding the program.  It's straightforward: Take the money from the rich, and reassign it randomly, and by that virtue the middle-class and poor naturally benefit without the expense and complexity of a social program.
      and I'll guarantee you'll get opposition from every corner on this one, from the wealthy who don't now play and don't want to be forced to have to as well as pay for the winnings, to the poor, who will hate you for keeping them from buying more than one ticket.
      First of all, no one "buys" tickets in this system - it's free and everyone is automatically entered, including the rich.  I made both of these points clear, so you must have stopped reading partway through in order to post this comment.
      Not to mention the perverse incentives against work or investment mentioned in a post above.
      The "perverse incentives" are no greater than in existing lotteries, and in fact far less since there's no direct gambling involved.  Existing lotteries are far more destructive for that reason, and also because they're funded by the classes that play them.  I explained this too.  I don't think you put much thought into what I wrote before responding.
      From a moral perspective, you don't combat the immoral and unjust acquisition of wealth through gambling with other people's money by introducing an at best amoral way of gambling with other people's money.
      There's no gambling.  Your entire comment is full of non sequiturs and claims that run directly counter to what I've already explained in the diary.  I don't know where you're getting any of this.

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 09:10:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Volatility (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Troubadour, cynndara

      There may be some volatility, but how much?  It seems to me (not an economist) that if there are only ups and no downs for most people, volatility wouldn't be as much of an issue.  And the ones paying into it would be paying at a steady rate.

      Another problem I see, though, is if this sort of system were enacted people would start to price in potential winnings, with some people inevitably assuming they will win more than they end up actually winning.

      There is truth on all sides. The question is how much.

      by slothlax on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 09:11:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's not much of an argument against the idea (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        slothlax, cynndara

        to say that giving people money from time to time might make some of them overly confident.  Because what about all the people who aren't reckless, and really make a go of the opportunities from it?  The whole point is that people keep getting a chance, and aren't backed into an economic corner by class rigidity.  It would also be politically beneficial in that it would somewhat disrupt the increasingly uniform social power of the hereditary wealthy.

        Pour yourself into the future.

        by Troubadour on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 09:16:18 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Command economies (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Troubadour

      are certainly the most efficient, but they suffer from other problems that are especially acute when trying to integrate them with American society: corruption and perceptions of unfairness and illegitimacy.  Corruption seems inevitable when that much power is put in the hands of individuals; conflict and degeneration into insider trading or stasis is inevitable when the power is conversely invested in groups such as committees, Boards, or legislatures.  Those who do not benefit will always perceive allocations as unjust.  And Americans have been programmed over the course of seventy years to automatically assume that command economies are illegitimate.

      Lotteries are most often used to short-circuit human decisions and guarantee "fairness", therefore they are appropriate at a point where citizen distrust of government operations has reached a historical maximum.  When no one can be trusted, the choice must be left to God, The Gods, or Almighty Fortune.

      •  Good point. (0+ / 0-)

        Command economy distribution measures begin as the most efficient, but the more rigorous they are, the more quickly they accumulate systemic breakdowns due to slow feedback and the accumulation of insider corruption and outsider angst.  Lotteries garner much less right-wing fury even if funded by the rich, and yet in many ways would do a similar job more rigorously.

        Pour yourself into the future.

        by Troubadour on Wed Jan 30, 2013 at 03:57:12 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  lotteries are money makers. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VClib

    they're funded by the ticket sales.

  •  Another goodie: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour

    Make eligibility dependent on good behavior, i.e., convicted felons can't receive lottery winnings (or have to wait a penalty period, maybe seven years, before they're eligible again).  Since so many poor and working-class families are tempted by crime, the possibility of lottery winnings might very well encourage those on the edge to avoid criminal careers in the hopes that the lottery might change their lives.

    •  We would have to avoid the temptation (0+ / 0-)

      to limit the lottery - it has to be universal to everyone but the employees who run it (the lack of which should be compensated with very high salaries, so that working there is almost like winning a mid-level prize anyway) and people presently incarcerated on a felony.  Specifically saying "No convicted felons" would badly distort the demographics of eligible citizens away from a number of impoverished communities with high rates of conviction.    

      Remember, it's not just the one person who wins, but their entire family and to some extent community.  Even if they win so much that they move out, usually people who make it big shower their old neighborhoods in gifts and endowments.  Now, nothing says that the government can't watch the hell out of someone who wins big that they don't think is a good idea to pay, and of course if anyone really heinous won, nothing would stop their past victims from suing the shit out of them.  The government could assist in these lawsuits if they agree that the winner doesn't deserve it, but at least the winner would have a chance to defend themselves and maybe offer settlements.

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Wed Jan 30, 2013 at 04:10:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't want to live on this planet anymore (0+ / 0-)

    This diary is a crime against sentience.

    There is absolutely nothing to be gained by randomly reassigning resources. All it does is untether successfully producing goods and services and from reward, which is last thing any society can do.

    (and as an aside, a Queue economy is basically a market economy forced to malfunction by poor regulation)

    •  What planet do you live on anyway? (0+ / 0-)
      All it does is untether successfully producing goods and services and from reward, which is last thing any society can do.
      Is that what you think the vast majority of rich people did to get rich?  "Successfully produce goods and services"?  Here's a bit of breaking news for you, skippy: The awesome act of Randian creativity most of them did to get rich was called Being Born.

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Wed Jan 30, 2013 at 04:11:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Brilliant, I like it. Bigger jackpots, quicker!!! (0+ / 0-)

    Plus the money goes to edumacation too, which is always good.

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