The lottery is a game of chance where people buy tickets for a chance to win a prize. It has a long history in many countries and is often considered as a painless form of taxation. The word lottery probably derives from the Dutch noun lot, meaning “fate” or “fate’s choice.” Lotteries are played for a variety of purposes including public usages, education, and other social services. In colonial era America, lotteries raised money for public works projects such as paving streets and building wharves. Benjamin Franklin even sponsored a lottery to raise money for cannons to defend Philadelphia during the American Revolution.
Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery takes place in a rural American town where traditions and rituals dominate the lives of its citizens. The villagers believe that their participation in the lottery will bring rain for a good harvest. They also believe that the act of buying a ticket and praying for success is a morally acceptable action because they are following an established tradition. This belief is consistent with utilitarianism, the view that one should choose an action or policy that maximizes the amount of good done for others.
Lottery proceeds are often cited as a way for state governments to expand their programs without raising taxes on the working class and middle classes. This was an argument that worked especially well in the immediate post-World War II period, when states were trying to provide a wide range of new benefits to their populations while keeping taxes low or even eliminating them altogether. But recent studies have shown that the popularity of lotteries is not related to the objective fiscal condition of a state.