### Threshholds

slacktivist: Threshholds:

Because the odds against picking the winning numbers in Powerball are 121 million-to-1, I’ve argued that the game is for suckers. It’s not a fair bet, which is to say the odds against winning are greater than the payout. It would be a fair bet to wager $1 for a $10 million jackpot if the odds of winning were 10 million-to-1, but not if the odds are 121 million-to-1. Thus, I argued, playing Powerball is irrational unless the actual jackpot equals or exceeds $121 million.

This argument makes mathematical sense, but it is nonetheless wrong. The idea of a fair bet, it turns out, only makes sense at a certain scale, up until a certain threshhold.

The Powerball jackpot, even at its lowest, would be for most people a life-changing sum. And conventional arithmetic does not apply to life-changing sums. A $10 million jackpot would radically alter the winner’s life in a way that any additional tens of millions of dollars would not. For most people, therefore, the difference between a $10 million jackpot and a $121 million jackpot is inconsequential compared to the difference that initial $10 million would make in their lives.

He's not really musing about the jackpot, he's talking about torture, and whether our torture is as bad as other torture. I think he's got a point.

The ["Not As Bad As"] defense correctly insists that Guantanamo is different in degree from Stalin’s gulag. It is different in degree, but not in kind. And that difference of kind is the only difference that matters. America has entered the wrong category. We have crossed a threshhold.

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