Bioethics Blogs

Powerball Fever Is Born of Epic Inequality

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

Like many Americans and Canadians, I hold in my hand a ticket for a chance to win to the record $1.5 billion lottery. For a couple of bucks, you can dream: My spouse and I talked about being able to pay off student loans, buy a new house, maybe buy a vineyard in France. The media write articles on the long lines, the high hopes, and how this money will help fund schools and public programs.

My question is why is the idea of winning huge amounts money so attractive that it encourages people in droves to spend their money on a 1 in 292 million chance of winning big? After all, the odds of winning are awful. Your chances of being hit by lightning in any year is 1 in 700,000 and over your lifetime is 1 in 3,000. Odds of being attacked by a shark is 1 in 11.5 million. Chances of being struck by a meteorite are 1 in 250,000. Odds of becoming President of the U.S. are 1 in 10 million. The only odds more remote than winning the jackpot is being struck by re-entering space debris at 1 in 100 billion.

The answer is that we live in a society of great and increasing wealth inequality. I’ve written about income inequality where the top ten percent of earners bring home about 28 percent of all income and CEOs make 300 times their workers. But wealth is the value of all of one’s assets. This is not just income, but also your homes, investments, and more.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.