The State of Maryland conducts a lottery and advertises for customers with the slogan, "You Gotta Play To Win."
The state issued a report recently on how the lottery has fared financially.
The figures show that players bought $805 million worth of tickets and got back $400 million worth of prizes. In other words, over a period of time a player loses more than half of every dollar he risks.
I don't know the odds against one who is foolhardy enough to shoot craps with somebody else's crooked dice, but in lotteries as in crap games, the sucker would do well to remember that you gotta play to lose. The person who isn't deluded into thinking that he's going to win at the other fellow's game is the real winner. THEN AND NOW
The 50th anniversary of the stock market's historic swoon of Oct. 29, 1929, led many financial analysts to make "Then And Now" comparisons. Various viewpoints were expressed.
Untroubled by any pretensions of being a financial expert. I can tell you how things looked to this layman.
Between 1924 and 1928 I attended high school. I worked after school and on Saturdays. I never made as much as $10 a week, but spent almost nothing on myself. All my savings went into investments that were considered "good, sound securities."
In those days, stock sold for 20, 30 and 40 times their annual earnings. In some cases, it was impossible to calculate the multiple because there were no earnings. Manipulators who had a flair for "creative bookkeeping." put out fraudulent earnings reports, and the public clamored to get into their crooked crap game. By 1930, my investments were worthless.
The tuition was high, but I got an education. I learned to be wary of crooked dice. I learned to read the small print in the footnotes to annual reports. I learned that very often pertinent information is carefully hidden in published balance sheets.
I saw the Securities and Exchange Commission born and watched it battle for truth and full disclosure. I lived to see the dawn of a new era for investors, an era in which fraud became rare and punishment predictable. Cheators were publicly disgraced, forced to give back illegal "insider" profits, and sometimes sent to jail.
Today I see shares in the nation's best-managed companies available at six or seven times annual earnings. In many cases, the dividend yield is between 7 and 9 percent.
A small investor who wants the safety of a bank account insured by an agency of the United States government can get 5 1/2 percent. One who is willing to risk his money in a public utility can put $1,200 into 100 shares of Pepco and get a return of $140 a year, which figures out to about 11.67 percent. Other utility stocks offer comparable investment opportunities. One who buys a share of AT&T at $53 gets back $5 a year in dividends, a return of 9.43 percent.
Those who are impatient to get rich faster can buy shares in riskier ventures. Their investments may depreciate in value, especially when the nearterm course of the entire stock market appears to be down.
Even in good times, the individual company you pick may not do well.
During a recession it is even more likely to be a loser.
There are the risks an investor takes. Nothing is sure. But we do know this: Today there are watchdogs on the prowl looking for crooked dice. The investor who puts his money into stocks that go down is more likely to be a victim of bad judgement than fraud.
One other difference between 1929 and 1979 has vast importance but is seldom stressed. When we hit the skids in 1929, millions of Americans were almost totally bereft of purchasing power. The elderly were particularly hard-hit. Many lost their homes and had to move in with their children or relatives. And as they stopped spending, more people were laid off. The Depression deepened.
Today the elderly have Social Security, and many receive pensions. People of all ages can fall back on unemployment compensation, welfare checks and other benefits, Their incomes do not evaporate completely. They spend less during hard times, but they spend.There is still some juice in the economy even when unemployment is above average.
So to this seat-of-the-pants economist there is little validity in a comparison between 1929 and 1979. Today we have cured many of the economic ills that brought on the Great Depression, but we have not yet figured out how to cope with a new set of dangers -- not the least of them the energy crisis and the layers of federal, state, county and city governments that are intent on improving our lives.
We like having our lives improved. We just aren't sure we can afford to pay for the improvements.