CONSTRAINT

Posted in Quick Hits on April 30th, 2012 by Ed

The study of public opinion has been a sixty-plus year long search for what we call constraint – the degree to which a belief held by an individual is predictive of other beliefs. A constrained belief system is an internally consistent one; for example, if you believe in lower taxes we would expect you to believe in lower spending as well. This seems like a remarkably obvious concept, but since Converse we've found that frighteningly few Americans organize or constrain their beliefs about politics into anything approaching a coherent worldview. This is why so many voters hold ideas that make absolutely no sense together, even when the conflicts are glaring.

The modern Republican ideology is often criticized for inconsistency on the grounds that it abhors Big Government but promotes government involvement in our private lives through social issues. It is strongly pro individual rights in theory but with dozens of "exceptions" in practice. That said, I see a kind of constraint across prominent political issues in the contemporary GOP: they generally believe that problems have supply side solutions. Poverty exists because the welfare state enables it; without food stamps and TANF, people would be working. Illegal immigration is solved with guns and border fences, not by eliminating the demand (American employers who knowingly employ immigrants of dubious legality). You get the picture.

There are, however, two glaring exceptions to the supply-as-constraint idea. First, the drug war is very much a demand side problem to Republicans. Sure, some efforts are made to stop the importation of drugs at the border, but the vast majority of law enforcement resources (including manpower and time) in the War on Drugs is devoted to rounding up users and small-time dealers (who are merely the retail kiosk of a system that generates supply much farther up the food chain). Second, gun violence is emphatically a demand-side problem. The supply and availability of guns certainly isn't seen as a problem. The problem is what some individuals ("Bad Apples", of course) decide to do with the plethora of firepower to be had.

I'm sure there are other examples of issues that Republicans define as supply problems as well as others that are considered demand problems. I find it interesting and somewhat revealing that two prominent issues that contradict the overarching supply side understanding of socioeconomic and political issues are the War on Drugs – when seen as a demand problem, the state responds by putting countless poor and/or dark-skinned people in prison – and gun politics as a whole, where a demand-based explanation ensures widespread access to the guns people need to make themselves feel secure and/or powerful.

So I'd argue that the average Gingrich / Perry voter does have a constrained set of political beliefs. The problem is that their underlying motivations – dislike of the poor/dark and gun fetishism – are stronger than any ideology or worldview that might attempt to constrain them.

NPF: CRUEL, RANDOM PERFECTION

Posted in No Politics Friday, Skip this if you hate sports on April 27th, 2012 by Ed

Ever have one of those days where you feel like everything you do is right? Like you're in the zone and nothing can stop you? Yeah, me neither. But apparently it happens to even the lowliest among us sometimes.

I'm on record as an admirer of the perfect game, a feat so rare that despite an anomalous burst of four in four years, there are still fewer people who have done 27 up, 27 down in the Major Leagues (19) than have orbited the moon (24). Baseball fans are unsurprised that the list includes legends and Hall of Famers like Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning,* and Roy Halladay, or solid All Star players like David Cone, David Wells, Mark Buehrle, Kenny Rogers, and Dennis "El Presidente" Martinez. We might expect that in a large sample of pitchers of that caliber, a few of them would accomplish a statistically improbable feat over time. What is more surprising, and I think more interesting, is the presence of pitchers like Don Larsen (Career record: 81-91, ERA+ 99), Len Barker (74-76, ERA+ 93), Dallas Braden (26-36, 4.19 career ERA), and, as of Saturday…Philip Humber?? Philip Humber, he of 12 career wins, zero complete games, and, on Thursday night, nine runs surrendered in his follow-up start? How does that happen?

This, I think, is one of the more intriguing aspects of baseball in particular and sports in general – the potential that on any given day, some slob can stroll out on the field/court/etc and enter a zone of complete perfection. We expect to see Michael Jordan or Arnold Palmer or Roger Federer approach perfection. They do it all the time. We never expect to see the guys we've never heard of come out and accomplish things that even the legends of the game rarely approach.

In 2001, I was watching so much baseball that it was probably detrimental to both my health and my personal life. Yet on September 3, 2001, just a few days before sports became the last thing on our minds, a gentleman by the name of Bud Smith, allegedly of the St. Louis Cardinals, threw a no-hitter. It's not quite on par with the perfect game, but it is a rare and difficult feat in its own right. And I looked at the TV and said aloud to no one, "Who in the hell is Bud Smith?" Bud threw the no-hitter in his 13th career start, aged 21. He was not considered a hot prospect. He would start less than a dozen more games in the majors after that day. He was out of baseball by 23. Career record: 7-9. ERA: 4.95. Bud Smith, ladies and gentlemen.

The sheer randomness of such feats from a player who either has no talent or is clearly unable to harness his talent even semi-consistently is fascinating to me. I suppose it comes down to the law of large numbers, of the million monkeys with a million typewriters who, given the time, will eventually produce the works of Shakespeare. Psychologically it must be very challenging to try to re-create that level of perfection throughout one's career only to face the cold, hard reality of regressing to the mean – that is, returning to mediocrity. What did I do on that day that made me perfect, and why can't I do it again? I don't expect that Philip Humber will be out of baseball in a year like Bud Smith, nor will he become a dominant player. We often write off failures to randomness and bad luck – Don't worry about it, it just wasn't your day! – but are less eager to do the same for successes. "Luck" is not the right word here, but the fact remains that people like Humber can simply have a day where everything goes their way. Every stoplight on the way to the stadium is green, the wind is blowing in the right direction on every pitch, and the players on the other team are all in slumps. If and when such a day ever comes for me I hope I'm able to recognize it while it's happening and enjoy it, knowing well that it's unlikely to happen again.

*Yes, it's common knowledge that Bunning is only in the Hall because he was a powerful Senator at the time of his election. There are politics involved.

I'M SURE THIS HAPPENED

Posted in Quick Hits on April 26th, 2012 by Ed

The first three posts for this week have been fairly in-depth, and I'm trying to make major financial decisions at the moment. In the meantime, please continue to enjoy Monday through Wednesday. Oh, and this. Chew on this for a while too.

I recently asked my neighbors' little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said she wanted to be President some day. Both of her parents, are liberal Democrats, were standing there, so I asked her, 'If you were President what would be the first thing you would do?'

She replied, 'I'd give food and houses to all the homeless people.'

Her parents beamed with pride.

'Wow…what a worthy goal.' I told her, 'But you don’t have to wait until you're President to do that! You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and sweep my yard, and I'll pay you $50. Then I'll take you over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out, and you can give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house.'

She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, 'Why doesn’t the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?'

I said, 'Welcome to Conservatism.'

Her parents still aren’t speaking to me.

I place the odds that this happened at around 0%. But true story or not, it teaches us all a valuable lesson: that the guy who wrote this is an unbearable d-bag.

THE WISDOM OF AGE

Posted in Rants on April 25th, 2012 by Ed

By now we are well aware of how much it sucks to be a young adult in 2012 America. Yeah, it sucks to be a lot of ages, but the older generations at least have a few consolation prizes – the tail end of pensions and health benefits from employers, and a high likelihood of getting something out of Social Security and Medicare – even if insufficient. There isn't much else to say about unemployed, college graduate twentysomethings working at Starbucks or living at home.

This editorial from a Harvard Business Review writer raises an excellent, albeit incomplete, point about people currently in the 25-40 range before coming to one of the least satisfying conclusions since my visit to the I-10 Massage Cabana next to the Stuckey's (Exit 297).

The rules keep changing while you are mid-way through the game. The bedrock principles of Boomers' financial plans were: (1) A good education will help you get a good job and (2) Putting money into a home is the best way to build the equity for long-term financial security. Both of these rules have failed Generation X.

This, I think, is an important point. When people in my age-peer group talk about our careers and financial status, one of the things that comes up most often is how Our Parents just do not seem to understand that things have changed. We have conversations with our older friends or relatives who say things like, "There's no health insurance? That can't be right. Let me see the forms next time you visit," or, "Why haven't you bought a house yet? Renting is just throwing money away." They mean no harm; if anything, they mean to help (through nagging). That does not make such advice any less frustrating or impractical. People who graduated from college in the 1960s have a hard time grasping the concept of graduating from college and not being able to find a job. You must not be looking hard enough!

Now the goalposts have moved, and the part of the older generation that does understand the new reality has done what it does best: vote Republican and blame us for being dumb enough to take their advice. Why did we sink so much money into houses we can't afford? Why did we borrow $150,000 to go to law school? This requires complete amnesia of everything that our society encouraged people to do for, oh, 75 years prior to 2008, but that's not a problem. They do amnesia well. The author also neglects the important third pillar of the Boomer Advice: stocks. Stocks! Stocks! Stocks! Mutual Funds and whatnot too. Ameritrade! 401(k)! Jackpot! Yeah, that one didn't work terribly well either. Turns out that we're not all sitting at home, retired at 40 and e-trading all day.

Maybe the real problem is that, having realized that the House-College-Career advice is no longer good, relevant, or useful, they find themselves lacking an alternative. The urge to lecture us remains, but they appear to be running out of plausible platitudes. For those who realize that it's in poor taste and logic to play the blame game, the most popular advice these days appears to be:

More than ever, X'ers are being challenged to invent their own path forward. As it has been before, that path will almost certainly be less guided by conventional rules and less dependent on traditional institutions, than by X'ers' own sense of self-reliance and quest for multiple options. I encourage X'ers to re-imagine the next 30-50 years of your life: most of you won't have the institutionally-funded retirement options that many Traditionalists have enjoyed or the housing-based nest egg that provides many Boomers with the flexibility to blend volunteer and paid work over the years ahead. But you have your own ingenuity and entrepreneurial skills with which to build a unique future…X'ers should avoid even trying to follow the Boomers' path and, instead, have confidence to bring your own pragmatic sensibility both to organizational leadership — and to the design of your own life plan.

This is almost indistinguishable from the advice we might give someone on their way to prison: Figure it out, and good luck. Mom and Dad had pensions and job security, we have our "own sense of self-reliance and quest for multiple options." Neat.

I'LL HANDLE IT!

Posted in Quick Hits on April 24th, 2012 by Ed

Part II from Monday's post will have to wait a day; this is a story I have to pass along.

The Newton County Sheriff’s Office is investigating why a couple was confronted at gunpoint by neighbors and then arrested and forced to spend the night in jail when they tried to move into the home they had just purchased, Channel 2 Action News reported.

Jean Kalonji, an immigrant from the Congo, said that being confronted by armed neighbors brought back painful memories. The Kalonji family had just closed on a foreclosed home and were told by their real estate agent they should go over to the house and change the locks.

But when Jean Kalonji and his wife, Angelica, started working at the home, an armed man and another person who appeared to be the man’s son allegedly confronted them.

"He say to put the hands up and get out from the house, otherwise he would shoot us," the husband told Channel 2.

The neighbors didn’t believe the couple when they told them they had bought the home and called the Newton County Sheriff’s Office. The Kalonjis didn’t have the closing papers with them, so deputies arrested them, charged them with loitering and prowling and took them to jail.

A few things.

First, I'm not surprised they were arrested. Being in a foreclosed (and presumably unoccupied) home without any proof of ownership or residence…I can see why the cops would be suspicious. That is not the issue. I would, however, love to hear an explanation of why it took a full day to verify that they own the home and release them from jail.

Second, "Mark Mitchell, spokesman for the Newton Sheriff’s Office, said authorities are 'looking into it, exactly what occurred, why it occurred.'" That's big of them.

Finally, I'm starting to realize that the NRA is right. Guns don't kill people; people kill people. So I'm not sure why they fight to ensure that every walking personality disorder in this country can get his hands on a bunch of guns. I'm not sure if it's something in the water down here or if this is a predictable response to social and economic problems over the past few years, but there seems to be a spike in suburban commandos embracing their fantasies and playing Cop. Rather than calling the police and reporting, "There are some strange people in a vacant home across the street. Please check it out." these rocket scientists decided that the best course of action was to swing into vigilante mode and start pointing guns at (black, not coincidentally) people.

I'm at a loss to explain why an appreciable portion of the American public seems to view this as rational behavior. Maybe the same way that WebMD has turned everyone into a doctor and the internet has made everyone into an expert on everything, some people believe that having a gun turns them into a cop. I almost wish the homeowners had been burglars – armed ones with hair trigger tempers, so that perhaps the two gun-wielding neighbors would have ended up a cautionary tale to other would-be Rambos making decisions in a cocktail of racism, delusions of grandeur, and fear.

RACE TO THE BOTTOM, PART I: A PARABLE

Posted in Rants on April 23rd, 2012 by Ed

So my friend Bob and I are wooing the same woman. That this is fictional should already be apparent, as no one has used the word "wooing" seriously in about 40 years. Suspend your disbelief for a moment.

I've gone on a few dates with her and she seems nice. Bob has done the same. The time has come to take the relationship to the next level, so she has to choose. We are both decent guys, and not without our respective merits. Bob and I each get one final date to make our pitch. I go first and promise that, despite my gargoyle-like appearance and mouth like a longshoreman, I'm loyal, supportive, and funny. And I do a lot of housework to boot, should we ever move in together. She seems pleased. I like my chances.

After she meets with Bob, he and I convene to talk about our experiences.

I relay that my experience was positive and I think she has an interest in me. Bob agrees; "I felt like you were going to be the choice, so I had to sweeten the deal." What does that mean, I ask? "Well", Bob replies, "I offered to pay her rent. And to buy her a car. And I guaranteed that I'd come over once weekly to clean her house."

"Jesus", say I.

"And do her laundry."

"Oh, Bob. That's…that's pitiful. Have a little dignity."

"Save the sour grapes for another time," Bob says. "I think you're just jealous. And upset that she picked the better man."

This actually worked? "Yes," Bob tells me. "It's official. She and I are now a couple." While I find this surprising and sad, I realize that a woman who would choose a partner based on such criteria must be fickle, shallow, and altogether incapable of long term commitment. I am better off without her, and to Bob I wish nothing but the best in what is likely to be a bad relationship. Unfortunately Bob and I aren't very close anymore, as he seems to derive great pleasure from gloating about his superiority over me and his desirability as a mate as evidenced by his ability to snag this questionable excuse for a woman. "Bob," I say gently, "she picked you because you're basically paying her to be your girlfriend. She might think you're a total loser for all you know." The words fall on deaf ears. He is proud of his "accomplishment." I pity him.

Then self doubt sets in. Should I have done more? Am I undesirable? Will I be alone forever? Is this what it takes to find a partner these days, and I need to get with the program? Rejection is never easy to deal with and all of these negative thoughts are natural responses to it. Ultimately, though, I tell myself that I did the right thing. She was cool but I'm not about to start paying people to date me. That makes absolutely no sense. Then again, I suppose the rationality depends entirely on how desperate one is to be in a relationship.

Neat story, right? And on a totally unrelated note that I will leave here for no particular reason, two counties in Georgia just outbid several other sad sack states (both Carolinas, Mississippi, etc.) for a new Caterpillar factory and 1000 to 1400 jobs. All it cost them was $60-80 million in incentives and the promise of a docile workforce that would be thrilled to get $11/hr.

NPF: CREATIVITY

Posted in No Politics Friday on April 19th, 2012 by Ed

Four overtime playoff games in a single series – with the Blackhawks on the losing end of three of those so far – have made this week a late one and a rough one for me. For those of you expecting something in depth about the now-retired Space Shuttle, don't worry. It's a-comin'. But not today. Today we need something that will make us all feel better, and I nominate this 30 minute lecture by John Cleese on how to be creative. I'm sure a lot of you like to write, or paint, or play instruments, or build collages out of your discarded hair clippings, or whatever, and you understand the frustration of writer's block. Or maybe that isn't an issue but you just want to start improving the quality of your creative output. This should help – or at least entertain you on a long, pointless Friday.

It's fun, and almost as useful as his instructional video on how not to be seen:

Mrs. B.J. Smegma…

THE SOFT TYRANNY OF LOW EXPECTATIONS

Posted in Rants on April 19th, 2012 by Ed

Greg Giraldo, another brilliant dead guy, from his final CC special (and album) "Midlife Vices":

The economy's been terrible, of course. But you know what? There's some good things about the economy being so bad. People are keeping things in perspective for the first time ever. It's unbelievable, people saying things like, "you know what? I hate my job, but in this economy, I'm happy just to have my job. A lot of people don't have their jobs, you know? I didn't get a raise this year, but in this economy, I'm happy just to have what I have. A lot of people don't have that. I have a shit car, But in this economy, I'm happy I still have my car. A lot of people don't even have cars in this economy.

This is the setup for, of all things, a buttsex joke. Giraldo was well above average at the "Let's get serious for a moment…" setup with a completely juvenile punchline. But the reason that the audience bites on this intro is that it is quite true. The Great Recession has prompted a noticeable downshift in the kind of out-of-control materialism that we all love to decry. For the first time in my lifetime, people seem to be unashamed of, you know, buying used things, or making things, or driving small cars, or specifically avoiding all of the usual American "Hey look at how much money I have!" behaviors (that usually signified little more than a high tolerance for borrowing money – but that's another story). Lazy journalists have told the story of "Downshifting" repeatedly since 2008, those endlessly derivative Sunday magazine features about Bonnie and Dale who used to make $250,000 per year, got laid off, and now understand the simple pleasures of used Volvos*, NPR, recycling, knitting sweaters, camping vacations, and planting an organic kale garden.

It's understandable why people think this is a good thing. Certainly the attitudes in our society toward wealth, consumption, and quality of life were (and remain) seriously out of whack in recent years. The kind of values these stock characters exemplify – thrift, simplicity, and so on – also happen to be in line with my own. I should be happy about people "keeping things in perspective for the first time ever." But every time I hear these stories I want to find the responsible six-figure-earning segment producers responsible for it and go on a choking spree. "Keeping things in perspective" is a good idea, except, as is the case in this great experiment in economic insecurity without social upheaval, when it is a more polite way of saying "Lower your expectations" and "Know your place."

It would be great if Americans decided to drive small cars because they realize "Hey, a three person household doesn't need a damn SUV!", but that suggests behaviors changing due to lessons learned. What these tales always imply, though, is that people are merely learning to (insert trite phrase like "make do with less" here). They traded the SUV for a small car because they can't afford the SUV anymore. People aren't "downshifting" because it struck them that working 60 hours per week is a waste of one's life; they're doing it because some guy in Indonesia is now doing their job.

Someone with a sunnier disposition might consider this a net positive regardless. Anything that makes Americans behave less like teen girls let loose in the mall with an unlimited credit card has to be good, right? The problem is that we have all seen the data repeatedly and we know that some Americans – not many, but some – are doing extraordinarily well these days. Far from downshifting their lifestyles, they're doing the exact opposite. If I was a cynic, I might think that all of this Luddite glorification of gardening and handcrafts and home cooked meals and bicycling and thrift was just a way for the people in control to streamline costs. And that's without even getting into the further shift in the employee-employer balance of power implied by lines of reasoning like, "My job sure does suck a lot of ass, but I should be happy just to have it!"

I want to buy used clothes and repair them with a sewing kit because I want to buy used clothes and repair them with a sewing kit – not because I work full time and can't afford a $15 pair of new jeans. There's a big difference between those two scenarios, a difference that journalists and social commentators – lovers of subtlety, one and all – have neglected to appreciate. Shocking, I know.

* This autocorrects to "vulvas." Be careful.

RUNNING THE NUMBERS: THE LOTTERY, PART 2

Posted in Rants on April 17th, 2012 by Ed

OK, so we know that lotteries are machines designed to extract money from the poor and redistribute it to the middle and upper classes in the form of property tax relief, school funds, and merit-based scholarships. This is the point at which one of our friends on the right reliably steps in to remind us that no one points a gun at the poor and forces them to buy lottery tickets. This is indisputable. It also leaves us with the question of why people willingly participate in something that siphons off income they can scarcely afford to spare in exchange for catastrophically lousy odds of striking it rich. Anyone who is poor, has been poor, has close friends or family who are poor, or works in close contact with the poor understands that long term financial planning and rational money management are not traits the poor possess in great quantity. Accordingly many people simply conclude that the poor are not smart enough to behave in their own rational self interest. This is a common way of reaching our preferred conclusion that the poor have only themselves to blame for their predicament. In reality, of course, the poor know very well that state lotteries are screwing them. That doesn't stop them because the experience of being poor in the United States is little more than getting screwed repeatedly ad infinitum until all parties are completely desensitized to the act.

Lotteries are the descendents of older, informal, private-sector prize systems like "policy wheels" (often run by neighborhood merchants as a way of distributing money people would then use to shop) or numbers games (usually run by organized crime). It wasn't until the 1960s – New Hampshire in 1964, to be specific – that states legalized, and then dove headlong into, the lotto business. The key difference for consumers when control shifted from the black market to the public sector was that the odds got a lot worse and the payoffs got much larger. Oh, and the winners got the honor of paying taxes on their prizes. Yes, lotteries actually got more exploitative when the mob stopped running them. The theory behind state control was and is simple: find a way to boost flagging revenues without taxing people who vote, and since gambling and playing the numbers are going to happen anyway (as Pennsylvania Governor Rendell so animatedly pointed out on TV recently) the state might as well get some tribute out of it. That the same logic could be applied to drugs and other illegal vices escapes most of our elected officials.

But I digress. On the original point, poor people play the lottery because they have one all-consuming goal: to be not-poor. It does not matter if the odds are ten to one or a billion to one; if the possibility exists that a given poor person can wake up the next day and instantly not be poor, he or she is going to take that chance. I have known poor and borderline poor people who play $100+ on the lottery every week. I have tried (and failed, of course) to explain that saving the $100 every week would give them over $5000 at the end of just one year. But he and I think differently about these things. The inability to save money or plan for the future are classic stupid habits we develop when we're poor, and it has the added bonus of guaranteeing that you will stay poor as well.

Blowing that $20 every day on scratch-off tickets is just one of the dozens of ways that the poor get reamed on the regular, and it's actually one of the few that offers any upside (even at long odds). They're treated unsympathetically (at best) by the police and courts. They can't afford the food that won't make them fat and sick, and they can't get to the grocery stores that sell it anyway (Not to worry! The neighborhood has a liquor/convenience store on every corner). Their own neighbors rob them and push the most addictive drugs on them. Predatory lenders offer usurious short term loans and, increasingly, credit cards and mortgages. They live among the waste products of the dirtiest, most polluting industries in their area. Politicians and planners use them as experimental subjects, shuffling them through one hare-brained Urban Renewal Plan after another. What few jobs are available are usually backbreaking and low paid – although that never stops The System from regularly reminding them that they work too little and make too much. Most of all, though, they are regularly ripped off by scam artists selling hope – the for-profit education industry, evangelists, politicians, banks, casinos, and, yes, lotteries.

Taking money from people who have little and are powerless against even the slightest chance of escaping poverty is the kind of activity usually associated with the Mafia and street gangs. State governments are more than happy to play the part though, and they've gone far beyond anything organized crime ever did in terms of exploiting the desperation of the poor and selling them false hope with terrible odds. Lotteries that take their money for the explicit purpose of giving it to people who are financially better off is evidence of how completely our governments – particularly here in the South – have abandoned even the pretense of holding the moral high ground. They've identified the victims of an exploitative system and chosen to use that to their advantage. The poor, for their part, are all too willing to play along. Spending $20 on the lotto every day may not appear to make sense until we realize that to the poor, there's no point in saving that $20 – someone or something else is just going to come along and swindle them anyway. Might as well blow that money on what might be, but never is, their literal ticket out of a life of grinding poverty.

WHEN INCOME REDISTRIBUTION IS OK: THE LOTTERY, PART 1

Posted in Rants on April 16th, 2012 by Ed

Here in Georgia, many college students (especially, but not exclusively, at public schools) receive something called the HOPE scholarship. It was created in 1993 by then-Governor and eventual Senator Zell Miller, the Joe Lieberman of the South. The program is uncomplicated, being both entirely merit-based and entirely funded from the Georgia Lottery. High school students qualify by getting a GPA over 3.0 or scoring above the 85th percentile on the SAT or ACT. The program was sold to an enthusiastic voter base as a way to help those unfortunate kids who happen to be academically successful but poor. Predictably, it hasn't quite worked out that way.

We know two things. One is that higher income areas and families are the ones that can afford expensive ACT/SAT prep courses. This coincides with the de facto segregation of the public school system and the tax base. The other is that the Lottery is disproportionately played by the dirt poor, and especially poor blacks (see extensive analysis of the economics and demographics of lotteries here or here). In politics and public relations, the state never fails to trot out some examples of the kind of student the program ostensibly aims to help: poor, and usually black or Hispanic, with appropriately hardscrabble biographies. Hiding behind these anecdotes are the hard data, which reveal that the vast majority of HOPE recipients are students who would be in college anyway.

There are a few red flags here. First, if suburbanites with above-median incomes are big fans of a program aimed at helping minorities and the poor, it's a safe bet that it's not actually helping minorities and the poor. Second, when such programs are limited in geographic scope to Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, and South Carolina, it is a safe bet that a) it's a terrible idea and b) its primary beneficiaries are going to be upper-middle class homeowners and/or businesses.

The reward structure of the HOPE program is misguided enough on its own; funding it with lottery money is downright malicious. Look at where lottery programs advertise, and more importantly how. Georgia uses slogans like "Today Could Be the Day!" to sell hope at liquor stores and gas stations in run-down neighborhoods, and they're not unique in that regard. Michigan has used the slogan "The Rich: Join Them!" just in case its residents don't grasp subtlety. New Yorkers are told, "All You Need is a Dollar and a Dream!" while Chicago advertisements play on the geography of wealth and poverty ("How to get from Washington Blvd. to Easy Street!") and outright deception ("This could be your ticket out.") Several years ago our nation's capital scraped the bottom of the barrel by using a photo of Martin Luther King with the tagline: "His vision lives on. Honor the dream – play DC Lottery."

Even a casual familiarity with the statistics and the marketing of lotteries reveal that they are and always have been a lower class phenomenon. Not content to use the money extracted from the urban poor for "property tax relief", red states are leading the way in simply giving the money to the children of the wealthy and near-wealthy. Income redistribution is a hallmark of creeping socialism – that is, when the poor benefit from it. It turns out that using the government to move money from one person to another is A-OK when the money flows up the socioeconomic ladder.