A lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn at random for a prize. Its history goes back centuries and it is a popular activity around the world. While some people think it is morally wrong to take part in a lottery, others view it as a fun way to spend money. It has also become a means of raising funds for a variety of public uses.
In the 17th century, it was common in the Low Countries to use lotteries to raise money for town fortifications and to help the poor. Some towns even used them to settle disputes and to give out property or slaves. But even before that time, lottery had been used as a form of taxation and the Dutch state-owned Staatsloterij is one of the oldest still running lotteries in the world.
Americans spend over $80 billion on lotteries each year – an average of more than $600 per household. This is a huge sum of money that could be put to much better use, such as building an emergency fund or paying off credit card debt. However, most people buy tickets because they enjoy the entertainment value and the thrill of possibly winning a large sum of money.
While there is a certain inextricable human attraction to gamble, there’s also a darker side to this behavior: it creates unrealistic expectations and the illusion that winning the lottery will make you rich and happy. The reality is that winning a lottery is not easy, and the odds are long.
The earliest lottery records date from the thirteenth century. In the seventeenth century, lottery-like arrangements became more widespread in England and America. These were often regarded as painless forms of taxation and were promoted as a way to relieve the burden of other taxes, especially those levied on the poor. Despite a restraining proscription against gambling by the church, lottery play flourished.
Many states have been plagued by fiscal crises in the past couple of decades and as a result have looked to legalize new ways to generate revenue, such as the lottery. But as Cohen notes, lottery revenues are often based on an inherently unsustainable model. The more states profit from the lottery, the less people have to pay in taxes – which are inevitably rising. And, in an anti-tax era, when many people have come to believe that the government will never be able to take care of them, this is not a wise strategy.
This story is a sad reminder of the ways that we humans mistreat each other, sometimes in accordance with our own values, and sometimes in violation of them. It also shows how easily we can fall into the trap of a cult of irrationality. Ultimately, it is the death of Mrs. Hutchison that underscores the fact that even if we don’t condone such oppressive cultures, they will continue to be imposed on us. We can only hope that the lessons of this short story will not be forgotten.