lottery20 Jan 2008
I haven’t really blogged about politics in a while, but.. Recently, my friend Nick received a press release from Bill Hobbs about the lottery. Knowing my history of disagreement with hobbs, he asked me what I thought about it. Rather than just respond via e-mail I figured I’d blog about it here. This is gonna be brief, since I don’t really find the lottery to be that complicated an issue. Specifically, he’s responding to Larry Daughtrey, who wrote in the Tennessean:
The demographics of lotteries are well known: the poor buy the most tickets and the middle and upper classes get most of the scholarships. The Democrats want to make money available on the basis of need; Republicans, none of whom voted for the lottery in the first place, want to hold the line.
That issue is this: Democrats for the most part want to lower academic standards for getting a scholarship. Right now a student must graduate high school with a B average to get a scholarship; Democrats want to lower that to a C average, presumably making thousands more students eligible for the scholarships, which will soak up more lottery revenue.
First, a minor quibble: in referring to the lottery money’s application, Hobbs says it will “soak up more revenue”? “Soak up” here is a weasely synonym for “use”. What’s up with that? “Soak up” implies that it’s being wasted somehow. What else would we use it for? That’s what the lottery is supposed to be for, right?
Second, Hobbs’ main contention is that the lottery revenue scholarships serve as a significant incentive for high school students to keep their grades up – and turning it into an entitlement program will eliminate this incentive. That may be so, but frankly, it seems a bit unlikely that the lottery poses any real incentive for high school students. The stratification of student performance in our schools runs far deeper than mere grades – falling mainly along (surprise) class lines. So, I think these scholarships are unlikely to be a truly significant factor swinging things here.
Republicans understand that turning the program into an entitlement program puts taxpayers on the hook should the number of needs-based students ever eclipse the lottery’s revenue.
This seems to be a premature assumption – an entitlement program can be budgeted like anything else, can’t it? There’s no need to make commitments to anything that would have to put “taxpayers on the hook”.
Lastly, but most importantly, he sidesteps the primary point of Daughtrey’s analysis entirely – that the lottery is basically a conveyor belt of money from the lower class to the middle and upper classes via college scholarships. Hobbs sidesteps this contention by simply blowing it off as “tired old class-warfare rhetoric”. It’s difficult to ignore, however, the enormous and well-established bodies of evidence that a lottery is one of the most regressive forms of revenue-generation there is. It’s morally bankrupt and not worth defending on either side of the political aisle.