Imagine the wealthiest, global-democracy-promoting and relief-oriented NGO (non-governmental organization) on earth, so rich that it could immediately finance major support and relief efforts for such global crises as the genocidal assault on those refugees that were stranded on the mountain in Iraq, those displaced civilians in war-torn Gaza, Syrian refugees, victims of the Japanese tsunami or Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy right when those crises occurred, for example, as well as paying for a social safety net for the average citizen, while simultaneously making its initial investors a lot of money, and periodically making individual poor folks mega-rich? With the speed at which world-wide-web phenomena like Facebook take off, this can happen in a relatively short period. It could also support the global democratic revolution of the 99% of the world’s victimized peoples, the 99% of exploited humanity, against those 1% so-called oppressors and exploiters, in a peaceful version of the so-called revolution that will not be televised.
My idea is of a National Lottery for each country willing to create one, but more importantly for a Global Lottery. Nations can adjust these ideas for their national lotteries, but I'm focusing on the biggest version of the idea, as that could have the greatest impact.
In the same way that the New York Lottery (Lotto) has a purse of winnings in the low millions, but multi-state lotteries like Mega Millions and Powerball have purses in the hundreds of millions, because they span several states and thus have much larger numbers of ticket purchases, so too a Global Lottery, spread through as many countries on earth as would allow it, through the world wide web and all its resources (like Google, Twitter, and Facebook), could have weekly purses in the billions, if not the trillions. That kind of money equals immense political power, the sort of power that could really change the nature of the game – really change the balance of power in the world, redistributing wealth in a way that violates nobody's rights, generates wealth, and turns profits, in which case no capitalist or libertarian can object to it without betraying a desire for wealth inequality for its own sake.
I envision four stages to the implementation of this idea. The first stage would require an initial investment in order to fund the formation of the initial business organization that would develop this project. The second stage would involve the formation of a team of lawyers and business consultants to research the legal and other dimensions of this project, and to formulate an attractive, professional business prospectus that would be used to attract individual and organizational investors. Stage three would involve using that prospectus to approach other investors, like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and other web giants (who would be in competition to be the one to create, advertise, and manage/sustain online links to billions of lottery ticket purchasers), and also international relief and other humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as the World Health Organization and the Red Cross, as well as global political and economic institutions of interest, such as the UN, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, etc., all of whom would have an interest in promoting and participating in this project. The fourth stage would involve the actual creation and implementation of the online Global Lottery, and at this stage individual nations and other existing lotteries (such as Lotto) can be approached for investment and participation in the Global Lottery. After that, many good things could, and would, begin to happen on earth.
The economic justifications are a no-brainer, but so are the moral justifications, which are in fact better than those used by NY State for making Lotto legal (to fund education, etc.). For the justifications for Global Lottery would be a Global Relief Fund devoted to supporting relief for a variety of pressing global crises and ills, as well as a global social safety net. Nothing tops these justifications. While gambling, per se, is considered morally questionable, if not objectionable, by some, the ends in this case clearly justify the means, as the entire process is voluntary and violates nobody's rights, property, or autonomy, and harms nobody. These ends also provide the consumer of lottery tickets with a powerful moral, economic, and psychological motive for choosing to buy a Global Lottery ticket (or national ones) instead of any other such ticket, for doing so would not only promise a far greater financial reward to the consumer than may be expected from competing lotteries, should that ticket win, but whether or not that ticket wins the purchaser has the moral and psychological gratification of knowing that their ticket purchase will undoubtedly help people in need around the globe. Egoism and altruism coalesce. The potential for advertising ideas that capitalize on these motives is intuitively promising: Spend a buck, save the world!
The only reasons I have heard against this idea are, on my analysis, a function of limited thinking. For example, those who have not thought the idea was feasible have appealed to existing laws against gambling, international legal restrictions, the absence of a global institution with the authority to properly manage such a lottery, and similar considerations. There was a time when gambling was illegal in NY and other parts of the US, but alas, Lotto, Mega Millions, and Powerball are legal. Where there is a will, logistics come into focus, as seen in the easy availability of Lotto in corner grocery stores. An analogy, to my lights, that ought to put to rest these legalistic nay-saying arguments is this: multinational corporations manage to function virtually independently even of the laws governing the countries in which they originated, despite how their nation-independent functioning is designed precisely to avoid tax and other legal restrictions of the very countries that made their success possible. If the corporate 1% can manage to basically screw the mother countries that made them so wealthy that they can float above the laws of their mother countries, then an enterprise designed precisely to help humanity ought to be able to do so.
The Global Lottery prospectus can offer the (above-mentioned and other) potential initial investors a certain percentage of the profits in various ways, depending on the nature of the investor. For example, governments of developing countries can be offered a dedicated or banked percentage of the Relief Fund in exchange for an upfront investment in the idea, or a country that invests a certain amount can receive a certain percentage of the windfall whenever a citizen of that country hits the lottery, and so on. Countries that even simply allow the lottery to function in their jurisdictions can be promised a benefit, just as grocery stores that house Lotto machines turn a percentage of the profits. These are mere logistics issues for actuaries, economists, and financial wizards to work out. Ideas like these can be brainstormed by the initial project development group. Once any renowned individual investor or organization buys in, their commitment can be used to attract others, as everyone wants to be part of a good thing.
Finally, with trillions of dollars, if the UN is a significant part of this project, for example, it can share a significant part of the windfall, and then it can have the economic wherewithal to exert real political influence. So, too, for any other organization that is a part of this project. Ideally, the project can ultimately be governed by a body of representatives that functions democratically to vote on where to spend the global relief monies. This body would be controlled in a representative way by those who make the initial investments, those who buy into the lottery, and the measured stakes of the ticket purchasers. By having trillions of dollars to devote not only to global relief efforts and a social safety net, but also, more long-term, to global democratic initiatives, this project promises to put real economic and political muscle toward truly making the world a better place.
In the same way, for example, that there are minor lotteries with smaller winnings, such as scratch-off tickets that afford winners $1,000 a week for life, so too there could be smaller-scale Global Lottery options devoted to specific globalissues. For example, there could be specific global environmental lotteries, world hunger lotteries, and so on. People inclined only to dedicate support to these specific initiatives, as opposed to nonspecific global issues, would be willing and thus able to purchase lottery tickets the proceeds from which would be dedicated to those specific agendas. Libertarians complain that taxes don't distribute their good will in ways they prefer, but having a menu of such lottery-proceeds-beneficiaries associated with this or that ticket type would enable ticket purchasers to support the form of good will of their choice.
Please SHARE this possibly world-changing idea. I encourage everyone and anyone to try to bring this about. I would love to help you try, in any way I can. If anyone brings it about without my help, I would simply like to be on the board of advisors, and to receive a very small but reasonable token percentage of the profits for having thought of it.
Riccardo Repetti, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
City University of New York