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    Lottery: The hope for upward mobility

    “The poor play the lottery, the rich play the stock market.” This comical statement seems to hide both hope and the bitter truth. An economics professor at Chulalongkorn University invites us to understand why many Thais put their hopes into lotteries and analyzes how their popularity relates to social inequality, upward mobility and corruption.

    The 1st and the 16th of every month seem to be the day of hope for millions of Thai people, especially in low and middle-income groups. Even though the chances of winning a big prize such as the 1st prize are only 1 in a million or 0.0001 percent, and the probability of winning a particular prize is only 1.41%, many Thais continue to buy lottery tickets no matter what the economic situation is like.  With the hope that “this time, luck may be on our side” and “I will get to move up the ladder and become a millionaire myself like all the others.”

    Many people may view such beliefs as false hopes of risk-takers who do not rely on their abilities and efforts. But if we look at this with understanding, Assistant Professor Dr. Thanee Chaiwat, Director of the Chulalongkorn Experimental Economics Center (CEEC), says that we will find a complex and bitter truth — the failure to address the income and economic disparities of the country that cause the majority of the country’s population to approach lotteries, Ponzi schemes, and other gray businesses to have a chance to advance socially, have a better social status and quality of life.

    Lottery, hope, and social inequality

    Lotteries are available in all countries, but people’s expectations from the lottery in each country may vary, said Asst. Prof. Dr. Thanee observes.

    In many countries, lottery buyers may only hope for some fun in winning, more than getting rich. But in Thailand, gambling with numbers is serious. It can be seen from the live broadcast of every lottery draw, the news coverage of the lucky lottery winners or the lottery, and many other news media that hints at potential winning numbers that could make some people rich.

    Does this lottery popularity picture reflect a hopeful or hopeless society? Why do so many Thais love to buy lottery tickets despite the fact that there is only a small glimmer of hope?

    “We often hear people say that buying a lottery ticket is buying hope, but more deeply, most people hope to win a lottery ticket because they have almost no hope in their lives to become wealthy. We live in a society where the chance of social mobility for the poor is practically nil.”

    The lower their socioeconomic status, the more difficult it is to move up to the middle class and even more so to become rich.  So, placing high hopes in winning a lottery is a clear reflection of social inequality.

    “If I work hard and can get rich in this country, I may be less interested in the lottery.  But we will see that more poor people who work harder and are more exhausted than I am, but there is almost no hope of a better position in life,” said Asst. Prof. Dr. Thanee.

    Lotteries are therefore “the Hope” that many see as a risk worth risking!

    Economic Monopoly in the Modern World

    Economic monopolies in the modern world have an ingenious form and often leave most people feeling satisfied even though they may be exploited or their wages oppressed. Asst. Prof. Dr. Thanee explains.

    “Let’s say I monopolize the ownership of convenience stores that are abundant in the country, i.e., 90 percent. I tend to monopolize the market, meaning I don’t have to keep the wages low. I can pay at a normal rate or quite well, but I make higher profits from selling products at a higher price.  Since there is no competition, I can sell products that are my house brand directly with more profit, and get richer.”

    Asst. Prof. Dr. Thanee continues “To whom do these convenience stores sell little tubes of toothpaste, cream sachets, and various retail items? They are sold to low-income workers because these people cannot afford to stock up. It is a complex exploitation compared to the exploitation of old that normally took the form of wage oppression.  This new form of exploitation comes with convenience and consumer satisfaction. It is unconscious extortion that yields higher profits without competition. This is a difficulty in the modern business world. Therefore, there must be regulations with the competition law, which Thailand has not yet mastered.”

    Two policies that drive “hope” in society

    To address economic inequality, Asst. Prof. Dr. Thanee proposes that the government set two main policies: one, earnestly create measures that promote trade competition; and two, enact policies that promote opportunities for ordinary people to become prosperous entrepreneurs. For example, access to loans that enable small businesses to grow, industries promotion that is tailored to the ability of individuals, fund and opportunity distribution for artisan work, design, crafts, etc.

    If the ties between capital groups and the government can be properly reduced, the lower classes of society will have access to capital and opportunities to compete more fairly, so that they can enjoy “the hope of a good life and a fair chance of social mobility”.  Only then that we may see fewer people paying for false hopes by buying lottery tickets, or placing their future on high-risk investments.

    This article is abridged.

    For the full release and more images, please visit: https://www.chula.ac.th/en/highlight/106356/