You've probably heard that saying, 'if your only tool is a hammer you tend to see every problem as a nail.'
So it goes with culture too. People who have an agenda jump on every opportunity to advance it in every exploitative way - they are culture vultures. Obviously it's easy to be jaded because I live in California and California is home to cultural fundamentalists in a way that people in actual religious areas of the US can only dream about - because they aren't pushed off to the fringes, they have center stage.
John W. Kindt is a University of Illinois professor in Business Administration and a fundamentalist about gambling
in a way that would work well in California. I don't gamble, I am too good at math to think I am going to win when casinos hire people a lot better at it than me to make sure I don't, but I don't tell people they are too stupid to be good at it. Why? Because I don't have the fundamentalist mentality it takes to think everyone is too stupid to think for themselves.
Naturally, economic woes are the perfect reason to go to the pulpit and say hundreds of billions - yes, billions - would be saved if the government would simply ban gambling.
Cultural mullahs haven't been this convinced they are correct and will save society from itself since 1920(1) but I remain skeptical.
Obviously some people do disastrous harm to themselves and their families gambling - the problem is the same can be said for McDonald's, alcohol, cigarettes and most everything else. As a society, we try to draw reasonable lines between harm versus benefit. 100,000 people die per year from medical mistakes, for example, but we don't ban doctors. We don't lower the speed limit to 5 MPH because people die in car accidents. The benefits do not outweigh the harm.
But to a fundamentalist, that's all on the table. With gambling, for example, Kindt feels that simply banning gambling would halt bankruptcies and crime. Except no actual scientific study has been able to correlate banckruptcy rates and greater access to casinos(2). The numbers don't really matter if you are saving society - I can find an Exxon scientist to tell me global warming doesn't exist and a professor who hates gambling can make a computer model saying $300 billion would be generated by banning gambling. An essential component of truthiness
is being as outrageous as possible with a straight face.
Why is the math flawed? For two reasons; people like to gamble and money does not evaporate. Banning gambling does not mean that people who enjoy it would suddenly buy Cadillacs instead, they would go elsewhere and gamble.
Kindt said Russia re-criminalized 2,230 casinos and slot machine facilities in 2007. "What do the Russians know that the U.S. hasn't figured out?" he said.
Oh my gosh, it's rare today to see someone saying we should be more like Russia.
Russians have also arrested every business leader who disagrees with the government, nationalized strategic resources and let Mafia-related crime go through the roof.
Kindt favors banning gambling - which means more money spent on enforcement and monitoring, a la Prohibition, and then government jobs programs like the New Deal, which means more government employees. Now it's easy to see why he uses the Russia analogy. It's Stalin's 5-year plan.
"If people really want to take risks, they should take educated risks as entrepreneurs or with the stock market," Kindt said. "They also should ask if slot machines are 'fair.' "
But stock market fundamentalists say the stock market is unfair - and the collapse of insurance companies and brokerage houses proves their point. Clearly companies are 'gambling' and the odds are much worse than in any casino.
Why are people intellectually able to take educated risks on stocks (no one posts the odds of winning on a stock purchase) but not on gambling? Health fundamentalists say banning cigarettes would save those same billions Kindt thinks will be saved by banning gambling. He mentions entrepreneurship (because in his closed system, gamblers would instead spend 100% of that money on things like building businesses and buying stocks that always go up) but here in California, being an entrepreneur is inherently unfair compared to other states. Pay taxes, fees and workman's comp insurance and you'll see.
In other words, just like with political arguments, if your prism is that something is inherently wrong, you can find a way where banning it solves a lot of things. But in the real world, banning a grandmother from spending $20 on slot machines is not going to save the economy and the billions spent on lawsuits protesting a sweeping 'nanny government' ban on Indian tribe gambling certainly would hurt the economy even more.
(1) The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution banning alcohol went into effect on January 17th, 1920. It was repealed just over 13 years later but not before making most of America casual criminals and the Mafia a national powerhouse.
(2) Lynda de la Viña, David Bernstein, The impact of gambling on personal bankruptcy rates, Journal of Socio-Economics
Volume 31, Issue 5, 2002, Pages 503-509,