If you are inclined to want to put people into groups like “Classical Liberal” so be it … I find it increasingly not useful. But you may put that particular label in your head for now, or perhaps the “libertarian” label. My sense is that if you asked a particular group member what they thought of State Run Lotteries, they would react with revulsion and disgust. Why? Well, the “state” generates billions of dollars every year (my guess is in the $50 billion range, but a quick dig through some data sources doesn’t seem to have it all in one place). That’s bad enough for some group members. What else goes on? Well, the money is often said to go to support schooling in the state that it is operated – you may even have to watch TV commercials celebrating this fact like the one currently airing in New York State that has a youth chorus appear from the back of a convenience store as an unsuspecting Lotto player looks on.
And why is that bad? Well, my bet is that very few of the lottery dollars actually end up in schools – and indeed, maybe the lottery money itself crowds out other support for schools. And finally my sense is that team members are going to excoriate the lotto for being regressive. The people who pay and play the Lotto are poorer than the recipients of the funds.
But I think the Lotto is inconvenient for team members – and for maybe two reasons. If you take for a moment, as a given, that the government must collect revenues, would not a team member cherish the opportunity for those revenues to be given voluntarily? It’s not at all clear to me that having the government collect lottery revenues should offend libertarians in the slightest. And the second reason this is inconvenient (or convenient, depending on how you spin this) is closely related. A lot of people, in this manner, gladly “donate” money to the government. A lot. I got to thinking that after hearing yet another tired libertarian talking point about “if you want to pay more taxes, you can do that on your return, yet no one actually does that.”
That line of argument is annoying, hurts “the cause” and is in fact disingenuous. I choose to pay more taxes than I need to by my location decisions, my spending decisions, and as in the case, by doing things like playing the Lotto. Just because folks don’t regularly check boxes on their tax returns doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen in some other way. Of course, to be fair, few people who play the lotto do so as a way to support schools. But when you play a 50-50 raffle at a sporting event, are you ONLY playing it for the chance to win cash? What leads you to believe that when it comes to Lotto we behave for one reason and when it is the Lions’ club 50-50 we do it for charitable reasons?
But what may or may not be cause for celebration is this. People do it. Poor people do it (donate to government via lottery, that is). So, does the fact that we CAN support some measure of a “voluntary” “government” mean the libertarian dream is closer than ever? Or, does the fact that no rich people play the Lotto actually undermine everything that libertarians argue about charitable giving, the rich and whether we could support a private safety net without the government?
There are of course many confounding factors and I am making something that is actually complicated into something simple for the sake of arguing, mostly with myself. So what do you think, does the lottery’s success pose an existential problem for libertarians?