Another Bit about Freedom: Lottery Version

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I was in the library when I heard the young man talking on the phone:


“I got our one-billion-dollar lottery ticket, so I feel like we have to be prepared. ‘What would you do?’ my wife asked me, but to be honest I’ve been a little lost.

“It sounds flippant, but I think really I’d just sit down. That much money becomes a full-time job: the burden of 400 million after taxes. But if you don’t do anything with it, you lose millions each year due to inflation. You can’t trust investors, so you have to be involved, get yourself an education on what rich people do with their money. The burden is huge.

“What would I actually, actually do? Not ‘buy a house in France’ stuff. Funny, after it’s boiled down it’s simple: first thing I would do is get a maid. I have allergies.

“I’m thinking of buying a house anyway, but even that is staggeringly complex, so I keep defaulting to changing nothing for a while if I win, because the burden of doing something is so huge. You buy a bigger house, but where? You might waste money if you jump into it. So I’d have to educate myself on a responsible purchase. My first impetus is a slightly bigger house, but do I rent and move my stuff into it, to buy myself two years to think about it more? I mean, when you really sit down and think about the details…. What do I do with my business, just stop? That seems irresponsible. Hire somebody to run it?

“You know: what do you do with it? Do you buy her a house, your kids a house, me a house? Buy your kid into a bigger college? Do you even care about that? Do you not give them money right away, because they might become spoiled brats?

“It is, it’s weird, it became this. Maybe that’s the difference between us and those who’d blow it and say, ‘I can’t afford this house now.’ I’m thinking 400 mil because of Powerball, but if you won just one million…. A house in my neighborhood is 1.4, so you’d be screwed, you’d have no money and a mortgage.

“You’ve got 400 million dollars, do you get a bodyguard? It is 400 million dollars. Can I not just buy a house in the neighborhood I want? But I don’t want to buy a 10 million dollar house. I might be paralyzed into doing nothing. Talk about choice paralysis.

“I would give equal money to my relatives, but more secret money that they could never find out about to special friends. Would it be cash, or do I buy them a house? That doesn’t even touch charitable giving, which I’ve always understood, like when Bezos’ ex gave away billions, could be a full-time job. You don’t want to give to corrupt causes.

“Would my wife finish her PhD? Or could she finish her research without the school?

“So I’m filled with anxiety about winning the lottery!

“Because I’m not obsessed by the lottery, I forget sometimes I’ve bought tickets and have forgotten about them.”


John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.