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Voting and the lottery

Opponents of lotteries make the derisive claim that the games are designed for "people who are mathematically challenged." These people are sometimes politically intense characters too. Hence I'm grateful to Slate's Steven Landsburg for providing me with a ready answer to them:

Don't Vote: It makes more sense to play the lottery

Last time around, about 6.5 million votes were cast for major party candidates in New York state and 63 percent of them went to Al Gore. Assuming an electorate of similar size with a similar bias, my chance of casting the deciding vote in New York is about one in 1.4 times 10 to the 200,708th power. I have a better chance of winning the Powerball jackpot 7,400 times in a row than of affecting the election's outcome. Which makes it pretty hard to see why I should vote.

The traditional reply begins with the phrase "But if everyone thought like that ... ." To which the correct rejoinder is: So what? Everyone doesn't think like that. They continue to vote by the millions and tens of millions.

Even for the most passionate partisan, it's hard to argue that voting is a good use of your time. Instead of waiting in line to vote, you could wait in line to buy a lottery ticket, hoping to win $100 million and use it to advance your causes—and all with an almost indescribably greater chance of success than you'd have in the voting booth.

Put differently, it's not dollars and cents, but the consumption value of these activities that motivates behavior.