Sat, Mar 16, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Stop the new lottery before it's too late

By Paul Shan 單國璽

When I left on an overseas trip earlier this year, the entire nation was consumed with lottery madness. I presumed that the excitement would gradually abate, but, returning to Taiwan a few days ago, I learned that that has not been the case. This hysteria risks accelerating the degeneration of Taiwan's society, economy and security.

Taiwan's was a hard-working and thrifty society. Following industrialization and urbaniza-tion, however, opportunism and the idea that one can reap without sowing gradually become the prevalent view. As a result, piracy and counterfeiting became rampant, only abating after numerous counterfeiters had suffered repeated punishment at the hands of the US and the international community.

Taiwan has abundant re-sources for tourism. The number of visitors used to be high and the nation made a lot of money. But greedy tour operators, hotels, restaurants and vendors started charging exorbitant prices. They all tried to squeeze tourists for every penny they could get, "killing the chicken to obtain its eggs" (殺雞取卵), as the old Chinese saying puts it. As a result, Taiwan acquired the image of an "island of greed."

Moreover, the people of Taiwan pay little attention to environmental protection, with the result that many potential tourist spots have been neglected. Consequently, the number of visitors has been steadily declining in recent years.

The government's decision to launch the computerized lottery is undoubtedly pouring oil on the fire; it will simply encourage such unhealthy trends.

Many people have been dreaming about becoming rich overnight since the lottery was launched. Some even went so far as to invest all their assets in the lottery, only to end up committing suicide after losing everything. Others have been moved to crime, committing theft and robbery to obtain money to buy lottery tickets. The whole society is in a state of chaos.

The lottery is government-sponsored gambling. Apart from temporarily anesthetizing the public by creating the fantasy of getting rich overnight, the lottery does absolutely nothing to improve the nation's economy. It enriches the government while impoverishing the poor. The government is the biggest beneficiary, in addition to a few lucky winners.

The government has used the lottery as an attractive self-squeezing mechanism, whereby the public are enticed into squeezing every penny they have out of themselves and giving it all to the government. Will the lottery profits be sufficient to defray the costs of the increased social problems if those who have lost everything choose in desperation to resort to crime? I fear that the lottery may end up becoming a net financial loser.

To reverse the sluggish economy, growing unemployment and social disintegration, the government should pull back before it is too late and seek appropriate and effective solutions to the above problems. But first the government should take steps to provide for the handicapped vendors who sell lottery tickets for a living. Jobs in the public and private sectors should be arranged, so that they and their families retain their livelihoods and dignity under the government's protection.

The lottery cannot solve Tai-wan's economic crisis or unemployment. It makes the poor poorer while leading society to chaos -- just like "adding frost on top of snow" (雪上加霜), as another Chinese proverb says.

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