It's been said that the lottery is a "stupidity tax," and that people only buy tickets who fundamentally misunderstand the odds against them. However, I've seen people reply that, although they understand full well the infinitesimally small chance of winning, they view the lottery as a form of entertainment, and buy tickets with this in mind. Is this a sound rationalization for playing the lottery? Or is it just a way of laundering the same old irrationality?

Well, either it's not a way of laundering the same old irrationality or I'm irrational in this respect. I don't buy lottery tickets often, and even when I do, I don't spend much, but I do occasionally buy them, and it's for exactly the reason you suggest: it has a certain entertainment value.

Now I admit: there is quite likely an irrational corner of my psyche that holds out a stronger hope of winning than the probabilities warrant. But I know how the probabilities actually work, am reasonably self-aware about my lurking id, and haven't shown any tendencies toward compulsive lottery-ticket purchasing. That little irrational bit of me is no doubt what makes the "entertainment" possible. A certain sort of caution would would counsel that it's unwise indulge this benighted part of my nature, though I'd need more evidence to be convinced.

That said, my overall view is that government-sponsored lotteries are iniquitous because for many people they are indeed a tax on irrationality. It's a sleazy way for the State to feed its coffers, and I doubt that any lottery official could deny with a straight face that it's a way of preying on the desperate, the confused, and the superstitious. So I suppose I should admit not so much to irrationality but to a moral failing: my occasional purchases support an institution that I can't defend in good conscience. I now feel ashamed of myself.

But I bet I will still by an occasional ticket.

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