March 31st, 2012
09:02 AM ET

Letters to the President #1167: 'Money is the root...'

Reporter's Note: President Obama gets a letter from me each day. I could write to anyone; so in a way, he’s a type of lottery winner.

Dear Mr. President,

I’ve been giving a good bit more thought since yesterday to all this excitement over that massive lotto prize that has everyone in such a lather. I have to admit, it is one whopping amount of cash.

Yet, if the past is any teacher, I also have to remind myself that collecting such a huge amount of money…despite all of the expectations that people have about such things…often ends very badly for the winners. I can’t tell you how many stories I have read about lottery winners who wind up living absolutely dreadful lives in the wake of their big moment.

Usually, their course of misery takes one of several paths.

1) They spend all the money and wind up broke. This is not nearly as hard as it may sound. For starters, taxes eat up as massive part of the initial earnings. As one woman said after she’d won something like $20 million, and I’m paraphrasing here, “You buy a couple of houses. Pay off your whole family’s debts. Go around the world, make a few bad investments, and you’re right back where you started.”
2) They use their new found wealth to indulge all their worst habits: they spend too much, or drink too much, or cat around too much, or take too many wild chances trying to get even richer…and find that even if they don’t go bust, they are miserable.
3) They are overwhelmed by requests to share. Sounds like a nice problem in a way, but I am assured it is a unique type of hell. Suddenly the phone won’t stop ringing with people begging for mercy; money to save their homes, their families, their businesses…they may all be worthy causes…they may all be scams..the unfortunate winner has no idea and becomes consumed with guilt over every decision. For some people that can be a type of torture they just can’t endure.
4) They wind up in a fight; with co-workers, family members, exes, children…anybody and everybody who might think they deserve a share.

Maybe with a pot of money as huge as we are talking about these days, those effects are different. Maybe winning will be nothing but a blessing. But I wouldn’t bet on it. Money is useful. Money is good. I have no complaint against those who have it. But money, especially in massive amounts that are won instead of earned, can literally be very hard to take.

Hope all is well. Call if you can.