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November 01, 2011

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Michael J.J. Tiffany

Buying lottery tickets is widely ridiculed by intellectuals as irrational - "a tax on people who can't do math." But the expected utility of a lottery ticket can easily exceed its purchase price, because lotteries pay off in the short term while low(er) risk forms of "savings" do not. Consider a lottery that takes half the money and pays out the other half to the winner. The nominal "expected value" of a $1.00 ticket is $.50. But a lot of people would consider being a millionaire now (from the lottery) ten times more valuable than being a millionaire at age 72 (from the compound interest on the money otherwise spent on lottery tickets). Once again, the people at my local bodega show more wisdom that the ones at my local coffeeshop.

On balance, I bet that tight relationships and webs of trust are more inflation-proof than the dollar. But Madoff is a potent counterexample, since his success was based on exploiting those things. Still, I would bet on my community's fraud-resistance and future productive capacity over the future value of holding any particular currency.

Reuben

This is so awesome Michael.

Can you help by explaining this part of little more. I'm pretty sure I know what you're saying, but I like to be sure for me and for readers. (If I don't hear from you within an hour, I'll come down to Coney Island and have the folks at your local bodega explain it to me)

YOU WROTE " Consider a lottery that takes half the money and pays out the other half to the winner. The nominal "expected value" of a $1.00 ticket is $.50. But a lot of people would consider being a millionaire now (from the lottery) ten times more valuable than being a millionaire at age 72 (from the compound interest on the money otherwise spent on lottery tickets)"

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