Wednesday, March 14, 2007

State Lotteries are Civic Corruption

“Libertarian defenders of state lotteries can’t have it both ways. If a lottery is, like dry cleaning, a morally legitimate business, then why should it not be open to private enterprise? If a lottery is, like prostitution, a morally objectionable business, then why should the state be engaged in it?

…Not surprisingly, lotteries direct their most aggressive advertising at their best customers- the working class, minorities, and the poor.

…Massachusetts, with the highest grossing per capita lottery sales in the country, offers stark evidence of the blue-collar bias. A 1997 series in the Boston Globe found that Chelsea, one of the poorest towns in the state, has one lottery agent for every 363 residents; upscale Wellesley, by contrast, has one agent for every 3,063 residents. In Massachusetts, as elsewhere, this ‘painless’ alternative to taxation is a sharply regressive way of raising revenue. Residents of Chelsea spent a staggering $915 oer capita on lottery tickets last year, almost 8 percent of their income. Residents of Lincoln, an affluent suburb, spent only $30 per person, one tenth of 1 percent of their income.

…With states hooked on the money, they have no choice but to continue to bombard their citizens, especially the most vulnerable ones, with a message at odds with the ethic of work, sacrifice and moral responsibility that sustains democratic life. This civic corruption is the gravest harm that lotteries bring. It degrades the public realm by casting the government as the purveyor of a perverse civic education. To keep the money flowing, state governments across America must now use their authority and influence not to cultivate civic virtue but to peddle false hope. They must persuade their citizens that with a little luck they can escape the world of work to which only misfortune consigns them.”

-Michael J. Sandel, Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics, “Against State Lotteries”, pgs. 70-72.

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