Unfavorable odds…

Every time one of the big multi-state lottery jackpots gets up towards record territory, there’s a flurry of reports decrying the whole concept of state sanctioned gambling. I can tick most of the main arguments off by heart: They’re a tax on the poor; They’re a tax on those who don’t understand math; They divert funds that people should use for long term investment; They destroy the lives of the people who win. The list goes on and on and on and on… but you get the gist. 

Like most other activities in life, there’s no end to people who want to tell you why you shouldn’t do something and why you’re an idiot if you do. I tend to fall more in line with the “let people enjoy the things they enjoy” school of thought. Deciding to buy a $2 Mega Millions ticket, even if it’s your last $2, literally doesn’t hurt anyone else. You buying a ticket doesn’t impact me in any way. In this country we’re all free to bankrupt ourselves in any way we’d like. 

With no hand wringing at all, I’m happy to throw a few dollars every week at various games sponsored by the Maryland lottery. I’m putting plenty back to care for myself in old age, it’s not taking food out of anyone’s mouth, or a roof from over anyone’s head, so why the hell shouldn’t I take a flyer on fabulous wealth? It’s a happy dream that costs next to nothing.

Now if anyone needs me between now and Friday night, I’ll be over at Country Life getting a read on what English country homes are heading to market in the near future. A billion dollars probably won’t buy me a peerage, but it’s more than enough to live like it did.

Bon temps…

Not long ago, I was thoroughly impressed with myself because I thought I was actually going to get the go ahead to execute a contract with an estimated value of $1M. Today, I spent a good part of the morning discussing a couple of projects that had several single budget lines of in excess of $100B. Thinking in terms of numbers that large takes a different kind of skill set. It’s definitely not balancing your average checkbook.

As fun as it is to play master of the universe with this kind of money, it occurred to me that this is exactly the kind of spending that managed to get us into a $14T national debt. Sure, it’s going for neat stuff, but I think in the back of everyone’s mind they question when the high times are going to stop. Sooner or later we all know that music is going to stop and everyone’s going to be looking for a chair when it does. In the meantime, let the good times roll.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.

I’ll take “Conversations I never thought I’d be a part of for $1000, Alex”…

As they get older, some people develop this Normal Rockwell idealized version of childhood where they think of themselves as “growing up poor” and spinning endless yarns about how tough they had it. I’m not one of those people. Though a far cry from wealthy, we were comfortable. Despite this, I managed to learn a healthy respect for money, which I even try to remember from time to time now that I’m in charge of my own.

One of the things that anyone who has every worked a big emergency event will tell you is that the day tends to stretch on in an unending series of telephone conferences and meetings where people say mostly the same thing again and again. Occasionally, though, you’ll hear something that either makes you shake your head in disbelief or shoot lukewarm coffee out your nose at something approaching the speed of sound.

This afternoon, I was lounging in my standard government issue office chair, leaning perilously back and swilling cup after cup of what passes for “official” coffee. The meeting I was part of was dealing with an impending budget request and since it wasn’t my budget, I’ll admit that my attention was wandering. The question that caught me not only by surprise, but completely unaware in this case was a simply worded affair: Do you think we should request the full $…illion? Now remember, a couple of million is no big deal between agencies, so I didn’t think much of the words that ending in “…illion,” until, of course, the answer came back, “no, I think we can get by on the $950 million for this one.”

That’s right, you just found the point in the day where the institutional coffee I had been drinking filled my sinus cavity. This room full of mid-level bureaucrats was tossing around a billion dollar budget request like people toss a $5 bill on the counter to pay for their daily Starbucks fix. Now that I’ve had the chance to think about it, in the grand scheme of the federal budget, a billion isn’t really that big a chuck of change to request… and that realization really got me thinking.

Growing up in Nowhere, Maryland, I never once would have imagined the places I’ve been, the things I’ve done, and the opportunities I have had. But today, there I was, the youngest person in the room easily by a decade, when we decided that we could “get by” on $995 million next year. There’s enough Western Maryland left in me to still think of that as real money, Everett Dirksen to the contrary.