Gambling with the lives of Hoosiers

<p>“Watch out!” Sorethroat said. “They’re coming back and, if the past is prologue to the future, we’re in danger.”</p>
<p>He and I were in the parking garage opposite the Statehouse. As usual, this long-time state employee was smoking. In addition, he was fuming.</p>
<p>“The Indiana General Assembly,” he continued, “will gather for Organization Day on November 19. Ha, it’s more like disembowelment day.”</p>
<p>“Why do you say that?” I asked.</p>
<p>“It’s when they remove whatever guts a Senator or Representative may have,” he answered. “You know, most of them are really good people who want to do what’s best for Hoosiers. But the leadership wants them to be gutless followers of the party line.</p>
<p>“Surplus over Service, that’s the mantra they have to chant,” he declared.</p>
<p>“They raise taxes by allowing Hoosiers to engage in activities previously banned,” he continued. “Cell-phone gambling on college sports! Recreational marijuana use is only months away. All in the name of personal freedom to be irresponsible, thereby generating more tax revenues.”</p>
<p>“Yes,” I agreed. “Bettors, with reduced inhibitions, losing their hard-won dollars for the transitory thrill of hope. Now, people too embarrassed to visit a casino will squander money in private to satisfy the greed of legalized thievery and political mischief-making.”</p>
<p>Sorethroat gave me a quizzical look. “I didn’t think you’d be against gambling and marijuana use,” he said.</p>
<p>“Like many things in life, one may support them in principle and oppose them in practice,” I replied.</p>
<p>“Gambling matches the opinions of one group against those of another group, just like the stock market,” I went on. “It may be based on hunches, partisanship, or on seemingly reliable information.</p>
<p>“It’s OK as long as the cost of matching ‘buyers and sellers,’ persons or organizations of opposing opinions, is low (as in the stock market) and no one has special advantage.”</p>
<p>“And that’s the danger,” Sorethroat said. “Government that stands to gain from gambling isn’t going to regulate it very much. And the more people gambling, the higher the costs of regulation, government has less incentive to check for honesty.”</p>
<p>“As for marijuana,” I said, “I have no experience with it. But any product or process that loosens inhibitions offers increased opportunities for recklessness and potential danger to third parties.”</p>
<p>“It’s like alcohol and tobacco,” my friend said. “The government taxes them at high rates to discourage their use simultaneously takes advantage of their addictive powers. They don’t tax the use of sugar in the same way and that too can be addictive.”</p>
<p>“And you’re still smoking, still coughing every few minutes, still sneaking time for a smoke break,” I said.</p>
<p>“Sure,” he said. “I know better, but that’s how I support my government.”</p>
<p><em>Morton Marcus is an economist, formerly with the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Send comments to <a href="mailto:[email protected]">[email protected]</a>.</em></p>