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A Grin at the End: Common sense investments

carl-sampsonBy Carl Sampson

During the past year, I’ve undertaken a study in alternative economics. I call it “The Use of Voluntary Taxation as a Means of Funding Higher Education.”

In short, I bought lottery tickets in hopes of getting money to pay for my kids’ college education.

The result: It didn’t work.

Not only that but I found that the lottery is probably the worst “investment” anyone could make.

In terms of return, it is right up there with setting dollar bills on fire or throwing them out the window as you drive down Highway 22.

Here’s how I structured the experiment.

Approximately every week, I went into the convenience store near where I work and I asked the clerk to sell me the winning ticket to either the Power Ball or Mega Millions lottery game.

Every week, she would roll her eyes and tell me, “That’s what everybody says when they buy tickets.”

Undeterred, I would wait until the day after the drawing, check the ticket and then throw it away.

During the course of the year, I spent $62 on tickets and won a grand total of $4. That means I was out $58.

I’d have been better off buying beer with that money. I’d have at least gotten something in return.

I’m not against lotteries. I’ve always considered them to be voluntary taxes. I don’t have to buy a ticket and give the state government money – I choose to. So do thousands of other Oregonians. I know that government will do a better job of spending that money than I would (cough-cough). At least the Oregon state government doesn’t buy lottery tickets with its revenue.

The Oregon Lottery always has signs in the stores saying that its games are “not an investment” and are for “entertainment purposes only.” I agree with the first statement. Anyone, including me, would have to be an idiot to think playing the lottery would result in anything other than a hole in my wallet.

As a form of entertainment, if losing your hard-earned money gives you a thrill, have fun.

My wife and I have four kids. Two are out of college – thank goodness – and are on their own. One is a sophomore in college and one will start in the fall. My wife is also in graduate school.

I probably know as much about the business end of colleges as anyone. I find some college business offices to be extraordinarily helpful, even suggesting ways to get more financial aid. Others have all the charm of drill sergeants. They seem to enjoy the fact that parents are laying out the price of a new car every year to keep them in a job. Note to college administrators: If you want to cut the budget, start with the smug and unhelpful dead wood in your business offices.

I believe in education. I believe there are enough ignoramuses in the world without me adding four more to the mix.

Every day as I read the newspaper or listen to the news I am reminded of how little reporters and their editors know. I am reminded that political leaders continue to make the same mistakes year after year – and century after century. I am reminded that most people don’t know anything about science, history, logic, math, theology or English.

It makes me worry about the direction civilization is headed.

That’s why I believe in higher education. It’s a way to invest in my kids, and invest in the future.

I am just smart enough to know not to try to pay for it through the lottery.

Carl Sampson is a freelance writer and editor.

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