Saturday, 16 July 2011

With great wealth comes great responsibilty

I was struck last night by the incongruity of two main news stories last night (ignoring the hacking scandal) - one was that the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) had taken donations of around £15 million this week to help with the terrible drought that has hit Somalia. The other was a couple in Ayrshire winning £161 million on a Euromillions lottery (the huge figure was due to several rollovers).

It's hard to compare those to things and not think there's something wrong about it. In the interview with the lucky couple, they mentioned the usual lottery-winner tropes - taking care of family, doing a bit of travelling and maybe(!) a new car. In normal circumstances I wouldn't give that a second thought but this time it did make me wonder if they really had any clue what they now have. But then the husband said something else: "The next steps are going to be the most difficult... with great wealth comes great responsibility".

I have nothing against them by the way. I'm jealous of course - who wouldn't be? They never have to worry about not having money again, I'd love to be in that situation. Good luck to them. And I obviously have no idea what they are going to do with their colossal wealth. But they could, at a stroke, donate four times what the rest of the country has donated to help saves lives in Somalia and still have £100 million left over. I noticed this morning that the government is pledging £52 million to the disaster. This couple could match that themselves and not even notice.

If I had won that money, being aware of the situation in Somalia, I can't see how I wouldn't donate a figure like that immediately. It'd feel morally wrong somehow not to. I'd be one the phone to the DEC asking how much they needed. When you win a figure like that, out of the blue, what difference would it make to me if it had been £61 million rather than £161 million? I'd never spend the lower figure in my lifetime, so why not give £100 million to somewhere that needs it?

But this got me wondering about the lottery itself and how it works. For the National Lottery, a Saturday jackpot is (I think) something like £8-£10 million and a Wednesday one a few million. That's enough, isn't it? Would anyone winning a jackpot like that think "well, it's not £100 million is it?". So why do we have rollovers?

Here's what I think should happen. Ban rollovers. If no-one wins the jackpot for a particular draw, that money goes to the DEC. And next week the jackpot is the usual figure. However, according to Wikipedia: "Rollover draws are a common occurrence, happening once every few draws, although a "treble rollover" is much less common, having happened only rarely. A new rule, introduced on 10 February 2011, now allows rollovers to accumulate to four consecutive draws, which means that quadruple rollover jackpots may occur in future." So maybe the money going to the DEC should only happen for double-rollovers. I don't know. The point is, I don't see why anyone needs to win the kind of obscene figures that can arise with rollovers, double-rollovers, etc. There's probably some obscure legal reason why this can't be done, but if not - why not? Would anyone seriously complain if a rolled-over weekly jackpot was donated to the DEC instead of piled onto the next week's jackpot?

There always seems to be a natural disaster occurring somewhere in the world that needs organisations like the DEC to find money for. Would it not be great if every now and then they got a few million quid without having to do anything? It wouldn't have to go to them of course, I'm just using them as a current example. And banning rollovers is just one option - maybe rollovers are allowed but a cap is put on the maximum jackpot before the excess gets donated. £15-£20 million maybe?

The more I think about it, the more pointless it seems to me to allow lottery prizes to reach such ludicrous amounts. If great responsibility does indeed come with great wealth, I'd rather that responsibility was passed to organisations that know how to deal with it rather than being randomly dumped onto a person or persons who probably don't.

Donate to the DEC here.