Lotteries and Politics—Bad Reasoning and Bad Reasons

From The Patch–a Primer in Bad Reasoning

“You have a better chance of hitting the jackpot if you let the computer pick your numbers, according to the Multi-State Lottery Association, which operates the Powerball game and reports that about 75 percent of winning tickets have numbers chosen by a computer.” See The Patch.

This is a classic of bad statistical reasoning. Since the winning number is selected at random, and the distribution of chosen numbers is randomly distributed, the process by which a customer chooses a number selection is irrelevant. There are two possible exceptions. First the outcome is rigged so that the number chooser already knows the winning number. Second, the tens of millions of numbers chosen over time by various individuals are not randomly distributed; they have a non-Gaussian  distribution that makes them more likely to be selected. That possibility is highly unlikely, to say the least.  

Moreover it leaves out a piece of obviously important information: the percentage of tickets purchased where the number was generated by computer. Published estimates suggest it is between 70% and 80%, so naturally enough, the percentage of winners is about 75%, which is what a random distribution would suggest. 

This analysis leaves out the definition of win, which ranges the gamut from a few thousand dollars to hundreds of millions. From a probability standpoint the important question concerns the likelihood of purchasing a winning ticket, the expected earnings of a winning number, which includes splitting the winnings with other people with the same number, and the cost of purchasing a ticket. 

Enough. Now for the News.

CNN Reports

“…the latest ideas emerging in the 2020 campaign target the underpinnings of the US federal system of government itself.” See CNN Reports.

A Republic, Not a Democracy

For some reason or other the proponents of these changes seem to be congenitally unable to understand that we do not, and never have, lived in an unmediated democracy—and for good reason. An unmediated democracy is tantamount to mob rule that would quickly extinguish minority rights. Rights which the U.S. Constitution was designed to protect. 

In fact, the entire structure of the U.S. Constitution is designed to resist the passionate demands of the majority in favor of protecting individual rights.

CNN lists four changes to the structure of American governance proposed by leading Democrats, all of which would grievously undermine the protection of minority rights. (As an aside, proponents of majoritarianism should ask themselves how minorities fared under Jim Crow or the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII and German Americans during WWI.) 

Leaving that aside, the common thread that runs through the proposals is rank partisanship. All of them would have the effect of bestowing more political power on today’s Democratic constituencies. And all of them would undermine liberty.

Here is a list of proposed structural changes. 

Abandon the Electoral College

This perennial is being touted by Elizabeth Warren. While in Mississippi she said that doing so would “make every vote count”. Actually, eliminating the Electoral College would diminish voting power in places like Mississippi and enhance it in places like New York City, LA, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and so on. 

Which is to say that the new—actually actually very old—proposals seek to make the system more “democratic”.  

Presidential elections would be decided by densely populated urban areas, which surprisingly enough, represent the core constituencies of the national Democratic Party. 

There are good reasons why we have an Electoral College. Rather than repeat them I refer to an excellent article written by Kevin Williamson of National Review on the larger subject of the Progressive attack on our governing institutional arrangements. One of those institutions is the Electoral College. Here is a link to the article.  

Expand the Supreme Court.

This is becoming more and more popular among progressives as a way to perhaps re-create a progressive majority on the Court, and to at least intimidate the current conservative Justices the way FDR did in the 1930s. 

Create a New State by shrinking DC to encompass the National Mall and using the remaining area to form a New state. Coincidentally, this would create a solidly Democratic State. 

Lower the Voting Age to 16

Just in case you thought that politics couldn’t get even more juvenile than it is today. 

So there you have it. The crowd that professes to be aghast at Donald Trump’s routine trampling of political norms is one upping him by trying to alter the structure of our institutions that are meant to constrain people like—Donald Trump. Perhaps because they anticipate being able to wield executive power in the near future.


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