Americans seem to fall into that can’t-count category, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
And this, according to a recent Gallup poll cited by The New York Times, is the percentage of Americans “worried that they or someone in their family would be a victim of terrorism”: 51.
So that’s 51 percent of Americans who think a terrorist attack against themselves is sufficiently likely to warrant their personal concern, versus a 0.00003 percent chance it might actually happen. If you’ll forgive my amateur number crunching, that means Americans are overestimating their personal exposure to terrorism by a factor of approximately 1.7 million.
It’s no wonder people play the lottery.
Powerball is like normal lottery with a twist. You pick five numbers—ranging from one through 69—which pop up as white balls in the eventual drawing. A final, yellow Powerball only ranges from one to 26, but always comes last.
The one-in-292-million odds come from all the different combinations you can win by picking the right five white balls—in any order—out of a drum of 69. “Multiplied by 26, because for every five-ball combination you’ve got 26 different associated Powerballs,” says University of Buffalo statistician Jeffrey Miecznikowski. And for the jackpot, those odds never change. Your odds of winning tomorrow’s $1.4 billion (and counting) jackpot are exactly the same as they were of winning in November, when the pot was a mere $40 million.
If you buy one Powerball ticket, giving you a one in 292 million chance of winning $1.4 billion, your expected return is almost $5 on that $2 ticket—a great investment. But wait: Powerball’s expected return is actually way, way lower than that.
How low? First off, you only get $1.4 billion if you accept the payout over 30 years. If you want it all at once, your bounty drops to $868 million. Then you gotta pay taxes.
If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere without state taxes, you take home around $524 million. Otherwise, your pot could be as “little” as $394 million—but multiplied by 1/292,000,000, your expected return on a $2 ticket is about $1.79 at the high end, and $1.35 at the low. That’s all back-of-the-napkin math, but the answer tells you what you need to know: If your expected return is less than your investment, put your money towards something else.
Rather, Americans might consider changing many elements of their everyday lives. They might alter their diets to reduce heart attacks, tackle their addictions to pharmaceuticals, remove their televisions from their homes, and, er, avoid the dangerous bovine masses they have come to resemble so closely.