I played the New York lottery for the first time last week.
My $2 ticket didn't win the $588 million payout – surprise, surprise – but it did buy me several minutes of musing, most of it instructive, some of it enjoyable.
I quickly ran out of spending ideas – slightly larger apartment, new computer, clothes for my wife, a car to replace the two we sold when moving to Manhattan. I realized I couldn't even spend the income on a lottery bonanza, unless I started buying things I don't need or particularly want.
In the end, I liked the idea of financial security, but saw little to be gained from sudden wealth. In fact, given the misery that tends to befall lottery winners, I might have dodged a bullet by not winning.
After this brief fantasy, I wondered more than ever why the wealthy work so hard to avoid taxes and other obligations of citizenship. Even though their effective taxes are lower than they were during the Reagan years and far lower than during the great prosperity of the post-World War II era, the wealthy are lobbying fiercely to pay even less in taxes. Once again, they seem willing to crash the government for everyone, rather than pay their share of its support.
This past weekend, millions of Americans crossed their fingers and tuned into the Mega Millions drawing, hoping that they would beat the odds and strike it rich. At my office, a pool was formed; I was the only one who opted out. Although it is good to dream, I did not want to waste my money on the slim odds. After the money was collected for the tickets, we went around the lunch table, and chatted about how we would all spend our Mega Millions. Nearly everyone mentioned giving away a significant chunk to charity.Of course, this is only the right thing to do, when one has so much money (their thought processes went).
This got me thinking ... Does it take $640 million to make a difference? What does it say about us, Americans, who live in the world's richest country – that we view radical generosity as a “rich person thing” for a later time?