Magazine article The Spectator

Wasted Winnings

Magazine article The Spectator

Wasted Winnings

Article excerpt

The national lottery is the only tax which is fun. It is also the only tax which people pay voluntarily, even eagerly. It is therefore by far the most just of all taxes, indeed the only tax whose justification is morally unproblematical. In a perfect world, therefore, all taxation would be by lottery. But even in an imperfect world such as ours, there is clearly scope for the establishment of further lotteries to relieve the oppressive burden of compulsory, and therefore unjust, taxation.

The poor and uneducated are, of course, keener on lotteries than the rich and well educated. This is another advantage of taxation by lottery: the income of the rich would be freed both for truly productive investment and for genuinely charitable donation rather than expropriated and frittered away on hopeless schemes of social improvement.

The way in which the lottery has been administered has, of course, caused public consternation, but it seems odd that people should find it objectionable that the administrators of the lottery, who on the whole have been brilliantly successful both in raising money for the public purse and in making a large profit for their shareholders, should be paid very handsomely. The people who object to this enrichment obviously believe that, while it is perfectly reasonable for someone to be rewarded richly for having bought a winning ticket completely at random, those who actually exhibit entrepreneurial talent should not be similarly rewarded. This is a curious moral stance, to say the least.

It would, moreover, be wise to beware of Sir Richard Branson's offer to run the lottery. The very name he proposes to give it - the People's Lottery - should raise suspicions. In a demotic capitalist society such as ours, when any institution is qualified as being of the People it means it is meretricious, shallow, trashy, vulgar, lacking in substance or true worth and appealing to the lowest possible tastes. Under communism, the term meant undemocratic and dictatorial; under liberal democracy it means a populist camouflage for personal greed and self-aggrandisement.

A far more important question than that of the administration of the lottery, however, is that of the disbursement of the funds. There is little doubt that this disbursement has become more politicised under the present regime than it was under the last government.

The vulgar populism of the government, whose individual members combine in themselves Ruritanian self-importance and mock egalitarianism, has already infected the administration of publicly funded arts in Britain which are among the principal beneficiaries of profits from the lottery. …

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