Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Should Gambling Remain Illegal?

No, because most gambling is perfectly legal right now -- and it's a good thing that it is. That is, gambling is the basis of the entire economy; investors gamble with capital so that they will be able to make a profit. To run a business, people gamble that they will be able to recover their upfront costs.

For that matter, all financial markets are pure gambles; "Wall Street" is a giant casino where gamblers bet on stocks instead of on roulette wheels or playing cards. Again, it's a good thing that they do, or companies would have difficulty raising money.

Even when you buy "safe" municipal bonds at a fixed rate of return, you are gambling that interest rates stay low; if they rise, then the value of your bonds will fall. Or, on a smaller scale, when you buy the extra-large Costco megapack of toilet tissue, you are betting that the price of toilet tissue will not go down. For that matter, when you plan your next vacation, you are betting your chances of getting killed in an auto accident that you will instead enjoy yourself.

Placing bets on stocks, or anything else, conveys information. Any blowhard can express an ignorant opinion, but when it's time to "put up or shut up", their opinions tend to be more educated and carefully selected. Which is why "terrorism betting markets" were proposed by The Pentagon after 9/11, though they were immediately rejected by senators posturing as defenders of morality -- even though the same politicians are silent on similar betting markets that convey no useful information, like state-operated horse-race gambling and state lotteries. In fact, as one of the more strident voices against allowing freedom in futures markets, Senator Hillary Clinton ought know a thing or two about that topic.

(There's another hypocrisy analogy here when governments ban or partially-ban drugs like marijuana and codeine, although they peddle all-you-can-drink alcohol at municipally owned/financed stadiums. And for the ultimate in government hypocrisy, bear in mind that taxation is almost identical to gambling -- except that you are guaranteed to lose every time.)

Of course, the ostensible reason for opposition to gambling (notwithstanding the above financial-markets examples) is the patronizing view that people are too stupid to gamble prudently, so they must be stopped entirely. Except when the proceeds go to people who define themselves as "Native Americans"; then it's apparently OK for stupid people to gamble away their money, for some reason.

For now, you can gamble all you like with play-money at Inkling Markets; they'll even start you off with five-thousand "dollars". Or, if you wish to wager real money on predicting events, then you can try the Iowa Electronic Markets, which, for some reason has not been shut down. Yet.

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