Like everyone else in Massachusetts or any of the 42 states (plus DC and the Virgin Islands) that play the MegaMillions, I put down money to get in on the $540 million drawing the other week. As they say you’ve got to be in it to win it. So despite my own money worries, I bought several tickets to hope along with millions of other Americans that I might have the winning numbers. The odds to win may be the same as being struck by lightning twice during an Al Qaeda terrorist attack, but we have to try. We are hopeful. It’s that American optimism that allows us to do it, and getting rich has always been part of the “American Dream.” So we buy our chances, increase the size of the pot and hope against hope.
Three people or groups of people from Maryland, Illinois and Kansas split the top prize of $656 million, winning about $218 million between them all. With the lump sum option they each will get about $105 million after taxes. Congratulations to all of them. They are basically set for life, no longer in debt and free from worry about having little to no money. They’ve left the ranks of the 99%, and it doesn’t mean a damn thing.
As Chris Rock pointed out, there’s a difference between having money and having wealth in this country. Being rich gives you a leg up and security in life; being wealthy gives you power and influence in addition to having the security of money. The people who won are now rich; they aren’t wealthy, nor will they be. They will never have access to the people who can ensure that they keep their fortunes–not financial advisers or accountants, but the politicians, heads of states, wealthy foreign elites and the like. Having gotten very rich suddenly, they wouldn’t have learned about the necessity of trust funds, estate planning and tax shelters to preserve wealth for future generations and the mindset to setup policies to make that easier. And if they think they will be accepted among the ranks of the Bushes, the Heinzes or the Waltons, they have another thing coming; they circle and protect their own. These new lottery millionaires will have money but not wealth and what comes with it.
The American consumerist philosophy is extremely schizophrenic. We are supposed to buy whatever is the latest thing, whether we need it or not; acquire more and more stuff; stand out and be bigger than the next guy. This is required of us if America is to be a symbol of the world. But we aren’t supposed to share or care about the next guy either. To get the next best thing, we need more money that takes more resources to make more stuff. We lay waste to things around us in order to acquire things. Being bigger than the next guy means being a bully, and Americans don’t like bullying… unless we are the ones bullying.
Having fewer money problems is a good thing; having to be the problem of someone else to solve your problems is not. There is no balance in the consumer philosophy. The market cannot do and heal all as many wealthy would have us believe. It cannot provide adequate care to a populace, cannot educate all its children, cannot keep itself secure. Wealthy people may do this for themselves and their own, but to think that money alone does this for others is a mistake. It is especially a mistake to think that to do this for a few people is right. The market is what we put into it and no more.
Two weeks ago, three groups of people split $656 million. For that much money, Massachusetts could provide 194,548 low income children with health care, or salaries for 8,253 elementary school teachers, or give VA medical care to 62,464 veterans, or salaries for 10,068 firefighters– all for one year. But that won’t happen. We still put down our money to dream of hitting it rich.