The government of the United States does a lot of things right. We,
The People, are always the reason. Miracles materialize simply
because a gifted leader has the courage to stand before millions and
say things like, “We WILL stand on the moon before the end of this
decade.” Other such statements which come to mind might be “Mr.
Gorbachev – TEAR DOWN this wall!” “I have a dream.”
Some ideas, like Social Security, have a magical promise.
Good idea, lousy execution. There are sparse few programs
which are LOUSY ideas. Uncle Sam actually does very few
things wrong. Embracing the lunacy of lotteries is near the
top of a fairly short list. A local billboard proclaimed,
“Hundreds of Millionaires Created!” The images were silent
about real damage inflicted on real people who can scarcely
afford to parlay a lottery ticket. The reality weighs heavy.
Brunching and Browsing Beyond the Basics
My wife and I had ventured into one of our favorite restaurants
for a relaxing brunch. This eatery is located in a local
mall. As I took my last sip of java, Wendy announced that
she had some quick shopping to do – and that she’d be able
to “save me” several dollars over the next few minutes.
This is one of the mysteries of life that shall remain a mystery.
I needed an escape pod, because I certainly didn’t want to be
an accomplice in this unfolding “saving” conspiracy.
Sweat forming on my brow, I desperately sought refuge. Bed,
Bath & Beyond? Zales Jewelry? Fat chance. Ah. I sighted a
Barnes & Noble. I needed a copy of Mary Farrell’s latest
book, Beyond the Basics, for a feature that we were planning for
Better Investing. My ticket to salvation. I was launched. “Gee,
honey, I’d really like to watch you try on fourteen pairs of
shoes, but I really need a certain book for work.” (It was more
than a half truth – the second half, anyway.)
I was in luck. Mary Farrell’s book was on display in the
entrance. It takes far less time to swipe a credit card than it
does to try on eighteen pairs of shoes. I needed to absorb
some time. Spending it with Mary’s words of wisdom is a
very worthy way to invest a few minutes.
I found a bench and settled in. Across the hallway, I noticed
a wooden Indian guarding the entrance to a cigar shop. The
neon sign in the window proclaimed that this establishment
also sold lottery tickets.
I glanced up from my pages to watch an elderly couple
meander around our Indian guide, gingerly approaching the
counter to buy a stack of Lotto tickets. They sauntered out
and were seated at a nearby table. “Today may be the day!”
“No winners for the last two weeks. We’re due. Hard to
believe that we’ve been striking out so much lately, huh?”
I tried to focus on Farrell’s fantastic feature, but it wasn’t
easy. These two were scratching in a frenzy, dumping their
barren losers in the waste receptacle next to their table.
Eavesdropping isn’t polite, but their groans made it a real
challenge. Suddenly, “YEE-HAH!” filled the corridors. She’d
scratched and exposed a $50 Instant Winner. She scrambled
to her feet and dashed back to the counter.
She returned with $50 worth of more potential Instant
Winners! The frenzy continued and the scratching continued,
but alas, no more screeching followed.
The return to an “investor” in the average lottery ticket is negative
99.4 percent, or something like that. In this case, it was clear
that the return was minus 100 percent. This couple would have
been far better off buying stock in that shoe company. A sure
thing? My spouse had just spent the last few minutes “saving us
money” and providing an impact that was probably enough to
make a visible difference on the company’s income statement.
A Few Moments to Dream
My thinking is wishful. My hope is that our nation of gifted educators
will focus on delivering a certain wisdom to our young people.
It’s time for our national and state legislators to tear down lottery
roadside signs and cease the television commercials. Allocate
those resources to teaching our time-honored practice of investing
small amounts – regularly. Prepare our citizens to access a lifetime
of successful investing well before the day they become eligible to
purchase lottery tickets.
Lotteries are a national disgrace. In this case, the intellectual
advantage belongs to my wooden Indian friend.