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Powerball? America Already Hit The Jackpot

May 22, 2013

Finally today, I'm still thinking about that massive Powerball jackpot last weekend. That caused me to think about what's wrong with Powerball — the most important thing, of course, being the fact that I didn't win. You know you feel the same way. I'm sure I would have been a good winner. Like Oprah, I would use my powers for good and not evil. Like, I might buy a Bentley out of the showroom window, just to prove to myself that I could. But then I'd settle down and endow scholarships, and fix up blighted storefronts, and invest in local businesses. Seriously, I'd find all kinds of other good things to do.

Actually, I don't know about the Bentley. I don't even know where they sell Bentleys. Do they even have a showroom? Maybe you have to order them online, or do they bring them to your house? Whatever. Look, what I'm saying is, I would get the crazy out of my system before I settled down to do the right thing.

Which is why I am thinking about Powerball and why I think it tells you many things about where we are as a country. Think about it; it turns out that the biggest jackpot in history, more than half a billion dollars, had one winning ticket. The purchaser of which has wisely waited to come forward, presumably until he or she has figured out how to handle the parade of supplicants that is sure to come. And doesn't this precisely dovetail with the anxiety that many people have about the concentration of more and more wealth in fewer and fewer hands?

Just over the past two weeks we've reported on the fact that the Dow Jones Industrial Average has hit a historic high. At the same time, there are fewer Americans in the stock market than at any time since Gallup started asking the question 15 years ago. We've also reported on the fact that more and more investors are buying up all those foreclosed homes. In many cases, beating out individual homeowners who cannot pay cash or don't have the pristine credit needed to get a mortgage under today's very high standards.

We won't know for some time whether these changes will be, in the long run, better or worse for the economy to raise the bar for participation in today's economy; to demand more and more education, to make it harder to buy a home, rather than rent, for example. But we do know that many people feel left out — and are left out right now. And we do know that many people feel the country just isn't working for them — that somebody's got the winning ticket, but they don't know who, and they know it isn't them.

But here's where the Powerball shows us what's right; Americans still dream. it must have been a local news staple - it sure was where I live - to show the people lining up for their tickets, smiling as they bought them, and telling the local reporters what they would do with the money if they won. And an awful lot of people said they would pay off bills, help out family, give to charity, do something good.

And here's the funny thing, Americans are doing that anyway - without Powerball. Did you know that the One Fund, created to help out victims and their families after the Boston Marathon bombing, has already raised more than $31 million. The first millions were raised in a matter of days. Remember the school bus monitor who got picked on by her middle school charges? More than $700,00 was raised for her in a matter of days. And let's not forget the millions for earthquake relief after Haiti. And the money people give on sites like Kickstarter and DonorsChoose, to make demos, finish TV pilots and other art projects, and to fund projects in classrooms around the country.

The point is that Americans still dream big and are willing to do big things and small things to help each other out. So it makes you wonder, why, as a country, are we so stuck on so many things that we all know need fixing? One of my guests recently reminded me of Winston Churchill's famous quote, I'm paraphrasing, Americans will always do the right thing once they've tried everything else. Maybe that's another way of saying we have to get the crazy out of our system before we settle down. So who's going to buy the country a Bentley? Hey, Powerball winner, want to volunteer?

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Finally today, I'm still thinking about that massive Powerball jackpot last weekend that caused me to think about what's wrong with Powerball - the most important thing, of course, being the fact that I didn't win. You know you feel the same way. I'm sure I would have been a good winner. Like Oprah, I would use my powers for good and not evil. Like say, I might buy a Bentley out of the showroom window just to prove to myself that I could. But then I'd settle down and endow scholarships and fix up blighted storefronts and invest in local businesses. Seriously, I'd find all kinds of other good things to do.

Actually, I don't know about the Bentley. I don't even know where they sell Bentleys. Do they even have a showroom? Maybe you have to order them online, or do they bring them to your house?

Whatever. Look, what I'm saying is I would get the crazy out of my system before I settle down to do the right thing - which is why I'm thinking about Powerball and why I think it tells you many things about where we are as a country.

Think about it, it turns out that the biggest jackpot in history - more than half $1 billion - had one winning ticket. The purchaser, of which, has wisely waited to come forward, presumably until he or she has figured out how to handle the parade of supplicants that is sure to come. And doesn't this precisely dovetail with the anxiety that many people have about the concentration of more and more wealth in fewer and fewer hands?

Just over the past two weeks, we've reported on the fact that the Dow Jones Industrial Average has hit an historic high. At the same time, there are fewer Americans in the stock market that at any time since Gallup started asking the question 15 years ago.

We've also reported on the fact that more and more investors are buying up all those foreclosed homes, in many cases beating out individual homeowners who cannot pay cash or don't have the pristine credit needed to get a mortgage under today's very high standards.

We won't know for some time whether these changes will be in the long run better or worse to raise the bar for participation in today's economy, to demand more and more education, to make it harder to buy a home rather than rent, for example. But we do know that many people feel left out and are left out right now. And we do know that many people feel the country just isn't working for them, that somebody's got the winning ticket but they don't know who, and they know it isn't them.

But here's where Powerball shows us what's right: Americans still dream. It must have been a local new staple - it sure was where I live - to show the people lining up for their tickets, smiling as they bought them and telling the reporters what they would do with the money if they won. And an awful lot of people said they would pay off bills, help out family, give to charity, do something good.

Here's a funny thing, Americans are doing that anyway without Powerball. Did you know that the one fund created to help the victims and their families after the Boston Marathon bombing has already raised more than $31 million? The first millions were raised in a matter of days. Remember the school bus monitor who got picked on at her middle school charges? More than $700,000 was raised for her in a matter of days. And let's not forget the millions for earthquake relief after Haiti, and the money people give on sites like Kickstarter and DonorsChoose to make demos, finish TV pilots and other art projects and to fund projects in classrooms around the country.

The point is that Americans still dream big and are willing to do big things and small things to help each other out. So it makes you wonder why as a country are we sol stuck on so many things that we all know needs fixing. One of my guests recently reminded me of Winston Churchill's famous quote - I'm paraphrasing - Americans will always do the right thing once they've tried everything else. Maybe that's another way of saying we have to get the crazy out of our system before we settle down.

So who is going to buy the country a Bentley? Hey, Powerball winner, want to volunteer?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.