Archives for lottery



How Much of Our Success Should We Claim Credit For?

Our most recent podcast was called “Would a Big Bucket of Cash Really Change Your Life?” It showed that the winners of a 19th-century land lottery did not appear to convert their windfall into intergenerational wealth. This challenges the modern argument that cash transfers are one of the most effective ways of helping a poor family escape poverty — and, therefore, as we said in the podcast, might be seen as a depressing conclusion.

Judd Campbell from Odessa, Texas, wrote in to dispute the depressing part, and offer some worthwhile commentary:

I just finished listening to the latest podcast about the Georgia land lottery in the 19th century. I actually found it not to be depressing at all.

Here’s why:

1. It would be depressing to me to know that poverty has existed into modernity, and the solution would be a simple one-time transfer of wealth. Surely, we could have figured that out by now and eliminated poverty. Clearly, the issue is more complex than that, and thus we have an excuse for not developing a solution. Yet.

2. While I don’t consider myself wealthy, I do make a healthy salary and live in a comfortable home with 4 kids. There are a couple of things that I believe about my life, that may or may not be logical or factual, but provides me comfort:

a. My financial success is not due to my parents. I did it on my own. I did grow up in a comfortable home with loving and supportive parents, my father has a master’s degree, and I appreciate what they have provided me. But in my gut I feel like I achieved my own success. This podcast was uplifting, because it seems to confirm that I am responsible for my own success.

b. On the other hand, I feel like my financial success will help my children be financially successful. Even though I don’t give my parents credit for my success, I believe that I can influence my children to be successful.

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Using Lottery Payouts to Fight Tax Evasion?

Yesterday we gave an update on how attaching a lottery payout to bank accounts can help people save more money. A reader named Drew writes in about a different lottery nudge:

When I was studying abroad in China (2006) a friend told me that I should always insist on getting the receipt whenever I ate at a restaurant, because the receipts are scratch-off lottery tickets.

I didn’t think very much of it at the time (as a visitor, I didn’t think I’d ever collect any winnings), but one of the Freakonomics podcasts that talked about capturing unreported income (I think it was “The Tax Man Nudgeth“) reminded me of their ingenious system to encourage customers to demand that restaurants report their income.

I wasn’t sure if it was still going on, but this blog suggests that it still was at least a year ago. Here is an older post with a little bit more detail about the system.

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With a Lottery Option, Saving Is Easier

Back in 2010, we put out a two-part podcast (Part 1; Part 2) about Prize-Linked Savings (PLS) plans, which combine the safety of a savings account with the thrill of a lottery payout. It is one of the most intriguing ideas we’ve run across in some time. Maybe not earth-shattering, but potentially an important way to help people save more money.

Now a group of scholars (including the University of Maryland economist Melissa Kearney, who was featured in the podcast) have put out a working paper (abstract; PDF) that set up experiments to determine whether a PLS plan would actually induce better savings behavior. Their answer is yes. Read More »



Michael Jordan, the Bobcats, and Running the Lottery Treadmill

The Charlotte Bobcats came into existence in 2004.  At the conclusion of the next five seasons, the Bobcats finished out of the playoffs and hence earned a trip to the NBA’s lottery.  

After all of these lottery picks, the Bobcats finally made the playoffs in 2010.  That Bobcat team – the best in franchise history – only won 44 games and failed to win a playoff game.  Nevertheless, this squad was the highlight in the brief history of this team. 

Two short years after this epic campaign (epic by Bobcat standards), Charlotte has posted the worst season in franchise history.  In fact, with a winning percentage of only 0.106, the 2011-12 Bobcats were the worst team in NBA history.

If we look at what happened to Charlotte’s roster, it is easy to see why this team became so bad so quickly.  Back in 2009-10 the Bobcats were led by the following players (Wins Produced numbers taken from theNBAGeek.com, explanation of Wins Produced offered here): Gerald Wallace, Raymond Felton, Boris Diaw, Stephen Jackson, Nazr Mohammed, and Tyson Chandler.    Read More »



Lottery Loopholes and Deadly Doctors: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Season 2, Episode 5

Our latest podcast is called “Lottery Loopholes and Deadly Doctors.” (Download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)  This is the final episode of five one-hour Freakonomics Radio specials that have been airing on public radio stations across the country. (Check here to find your local station.) 

These hour-long programs are “mashupdates” — that is, mashups of earlier podcasts which we’ve also updated with new interviews, etc.

In two weeks, we’ll start releasing a series of brand new podcasts. Among the topics to listen for: the selling of souls, the value of college, and the strategic use of jerkitude (that is, acting like a jerk).  Read More »



A $640 Million Lottery Jackpot and a Lot of “Skewness”

The press and the streets in the U.S. are buzzing today about the world record $640 million lottery jackpot that will be drawn tonight at 11pm in Atlanta, GA. 

This excitement is what economists call “skewness.” The odds of winning have been quoted as 175 million to 1 — yet all of us are hoping to be that one. We explained the irresistible appeal of skewness (and the lottery) in our Freakonomics Radio podcast “The No-Lose Lottery.” In that episode, we also introduced a new financial product called Prize Linked Savings accounts — an idea that utilizes skewness for saving. We also explained why lottery commissioners would probably hate it. Read More »



John List Explains Why Lotteries Are in Fact a Good Fund-Raising Mechanism

We recently ran on a post on a reader’s query about the economics of a 50-50 fund-raiser. John List, the University of Chicago economics-of-charity wizard (related podcast here), wrote in with a comment:

The intuition of the reader is slightly off.  Although not directly a 50-50 charity drive, we have explored the efficacy of lotteries both theoretically and empirically.  As John Morgan (from Berkeley) has elegantly shown, under standard assumptions (no risk-loving or lottery-loving behavior is necessary), lotteries outperform the simple ask (what we call a VCM).  Lotteries obtain higher levels of public-goods provision than a voluntary contributions mechanism (VCM) because the lottery rules introduce additional private benefits from contributing.

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Lottery Loopholes and Deadly Doctors

Season 2, Episode 5

Americans have a famously low savings rate: a Harvard survey found that half of us, if faced with an emergency, couldn’t come up with $2,000 in 30 days. Most people would rather spend than save — and one of our favorite expenditures is playing the lottery. Last year, we spent more than $58 billion on lottery tickets, or roughly $200 per person. As entertainment goes, the lottery is pretty cheap – a dollar and a dream, and all that. But as an investment, it offers a dreadful return, which is why the lottery is sometimes called “a tax on stupid people.”

This episode looks at a little-known financial initiative that might help people save money while giving them the thrill of the lottery. Read More »