THE other day I saw a headline indicating that Illinois was about to get out of the lottery business. At first I was cheered; it seemed that Illinois and I had something in common. Having made my living for the past decade exploiting lottery winners -- and recently having repented my ways -- I hoped the state had simply grown tired of profiting from its citizens' weaknesses.
But as I read the article, it turned out that Illinois isn't acting on moral principle, but in fact succumbing to the lure of easy money that has brought so many lottery winners to ruin.
The state's plan is to turn over the running of the lottery for the next 75 years to private investors in exchange for a huge sum up front -- perhaps $10 billion...
...I worked for a company that searched out winners who didn't have the option to receive their winnings in a lump sum or had chosen not to, and who then had spent themselves into short-term debt and needed money before the next annual payment. We were happy to buy their future payments in exchange for quick cash, at a handsome profit to ourselves.
Believe me, these financially lost winners were the rule, not the exception. There are databases overflowing with the identities of winner after winner who won seemingly huge amounts of money only to find themselves destitute (and sometimes dead).
At the core, all these people acted as if they had received the money up front rather than over time...
...And now the Illinois officials are acting just like any spendthrift winner who's being paid over time. Like many of my former clients, Illinois is selling its future in order to fortify its present...
Boy, oh boy, if I won the lottery.
Lottery winners, apparently, get themselves in big trouble. According to the author of this article, they end up lots of time worse off than they were before. Now the State of Illinois wants to mimic the people whose lives it may have destroyed. It wants to kill the goose that laid its golden egg. It wants the money now..
That's not what you would do if you won the lottery. You'd help out your family, maybe buy a new car and a nicer house, maybe travel a bit, maybe have a little party, just one, for your friends and otherwise be totally responsible...
My task here is to write about energy, mostly nuclear energy.
Energy is what's mostly on my mind. It's practically the only thing I think about in my spare time. This is because I'm frightened. I have two young children and when I look in their happy eyes, I am afraid of what they will face. I am not leaving them a world better than the one I found. Their dad, me, was of a generation that won the lottery. We partied hard. We even went to the moon. We knew that we should have put something away for the future, but somehow we never really got around to it.
Collectively as a species, we used to live simple, if harder, lives. The majority of the people on the planet once used to march behind a cow or an ox or a horse, calloused hands attached to a plows. For the winter we chopped wood. We filled horse drawn carts with grain we threshed with our own hands. Mostly we lived short lives, but our lives were notable in that what we spent was what we earned. We made sunlight into substance and when the sun rose and it fell, it marked the rhythm and the balance of our lives.
Say what you will about our hard times. Say what you will about our suffering. Most of us lived in balance.
A few people, of course, very few people, lived better lives, lives not of the plow, but lives of the mind. One day, improbably maybe, a few of those people living lives of the mind, contemplating the nature and properties of steam, realized that steam could make wealth. They told everyone. In this way the human race just found out that family members had won the lottery. Here are the winning numbers: We found that if could employ steam in a certain way, we could drive bellows, and if we could drive bellows, we could dig deep within the earth, pulling out stuff, coal, that could take us away from the callouses and the plow. We could get new clothes, new houses, new cars ultimately...
Of course, being lottery winners, we helped our families. We were used to fucking like bunnies and generally had lots of children, but most often they died almost as fast as we could have them. It was a great source of grief and pain. Now, with our lottery winnings, we changed things. Our children no longer died in infancy, or died in childhood. They were healthy. They lived to adulthood, all of them or almost all of them. We intended that they should all inherit our wealth, that they should all live better lives than we lived before we won the lottery and had to labor in the sun and in the wind and in the rain, our calloused hands on the plow. We meant to put something away for the children, we meant to, we swear it...
I hear all sorts of things when I write about nuclear energy which is what I do a for a vast percentage of the time that I write at Daily Kos. I cannot believe that the issue of nuclear energy - which is mostly about science, technology, and engineering - evokes so many strange seemingly unrelated subjects, almost all of them objections, for those who engage me in discussing it.
For instance, one reason that people object to nuclear energy, apparently, is all about their objection to capitalism. I don't know if it's sour grapes related to the fact that the worst failure of nuclear energy - Chernobyl of course - did not happen in a capitalist country. The Chernobyl reactor in a technical sense was not ideally designed just for the task of making just money like say, a reactor owned by Entergy or Duke Energy or one of those big, mean, nasty corporations (spit.) No the Chernobyl reactor was designed for dual use. It made energy for the glorious people's state of the socialist anti-imperialist struggle, but it also was suitable for making weapons to defend the people from the hegemonistic, capitalist, imperialist, war mongering west.
A problem resulted.
Like all of my diaries, this one meanders and is poorly written, but here is my point, if I am to be forced to make a point: Discovering fossil fuels made the human race instantly - and lets be clear that the last two centuries are in fact, an instant - wealthy. Ever since we've been partying like drunken sailors and we're getting worse, not better. The fact that we have placed a archetypical drunken sailor in our White House - in spite of all our efforts to embrace sobriety and good sense - should be a warning to us. We don't need another barfight about our money and our good fortune. We need to take what is left, what we have not yet squandered, and we need invest. Then we need to live off our investments.
Nuclear energy is not perfect. It is not easy to master. It's not a sure thing. It will be expensive and difficult to make it work to its full potential. It will take hard work and effort and money to make nuclear energy reward us and the returns on what we invest will not be immediate.
I'm not a big fan of privatization, but I'm not a socialist either. I believe in a mixed economy, a highly regulated and orderly system in which people have the opportunity to better themselves independently, where people can make business associations including corporations but where people, from the smallest to the most powerful, are also protected against unreasonable depradations. All these feelings on my part are ideals however.
One doesn't worry about one's ideals when one is falling off a cliff, or being stabbed, or suffering a life threatening accident, however. There is a situation of physics and biology and economics that requires our immediate attention and our immediate action. That situation is climate change.
I do not claim to have any idea about the best approach to maximizing the benefit to humanity as a whole from the further adoption of nuclear energy, but I do know that humanity is at grave risk unless the nuclear resource is fully exploited. I hope that nuclear energy's full potential - and we're not there yet - will not like be "exploited" the last winning lottery ticket, fossil fuels. On the contrary, I hope that with whatever wisdom we may have realized from the expenditure of our last winning ticket, and the orgy that ensued, will be avoided the next time out.
If the answer is to nationalize nuclear energy or, better yet, to internationalize it, so be it. If the governments of the world must own all of the world's nuclear plants after funding them, well what would be wrong with governments profiting as the stockholders of Duke Energy might? Among the nuclear pioneers was the Tennessee Valley Authority, a state owned organization. I'm for it. The TVA worked. In my view, we need about ten trillion dollars worth of nuclear plants, and if we build them, we can live off the investment for a long time, and so can our children, and our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren. If the answer is well regulated capitalism, so be that too. I don't care if the stockholders at Duke Energy get rich from nuclear power plants, so long as the plants are built.
I swear, I meant to put something away for the future. Just let me win one more time, I promise I'll do it right...