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Scientists have made a breakthrough! They've discovered a subplane of our reality that consists of what can only be described of as the essence of luck. There's also a reasonably easy way to tap into this plane and use this essence! You can also decide how much luck you want to use with a reasonable degree of precision.

Using this essence makes you lucky — if you were to use enough of it while buying a lottery ticket, for example, you'd certainly hit the jackpot!

However, there is a catch. Luck essence, like matter and energy, is conserved. Unlike matter and energy it doesn't need to be conserved at a specific point in time, so you can draw good luck now and pay it back later. It's best to pay it in advance, though — a luck surplus is quite stable regardless of how large your surplus is and will be available whenever you need it, but luck debt is more and more unstable the larger it is and has a tendency to unexpectedly pay itself back.

This luck also can't be transferred. There's no way to have someone else give you their good luck, or take your bad luck.

Of course, you're probably wondering what happens when you use luck at the same time as someone else. The simplest way to describe it is that using luck makes your situation better than it would have been, while storing or paying back luck makes your situation worse than it would have been. Using the lottery example again, you'll still hit the jackpot when you otherwise would not have, but with 1000 other people doing the same thing your winnings are going to much less. Unfortunately even though your result isn't as good as it would have been had others not used their luck, you use just as much luck either way.

It's possible to have your good luck help someone else too, and it won't even give them a luck debt. This means you can safely use luck as you attempt to cook the best Thanksgiving dinner ever. On the other hand, your bad luck also can't give anyone a luck surplus, so foolishly choosing to pay back luck while driving a car won't be of any benefit to the other people involved in the subsequent wreck.

Also, you can't control exactly what effect the (good or bad) luck will have other than by context of where you are and what you're doing at the time, but your luck will have some effect. Trying to pay back luck while buying a lottery ticket is rather risky because there's a good chance that you wouldn't have won anything anyway, so the payback will likely take another form (like someone accidentally kicking you in the groin on your way out).

A PLAN FOR LUCK:

When they announce their discovery, the scientists also propose a plan (and secretly use some luck to make sure it is well-received). Economies and innovations are not a zero-sum game — if I give you something you value (such as money) for something that I value (food), then we are both better off than before. Innovation is particularly good at this — many of the world's problems could be solved with the help of a discovery of working cold fusion or some other cheap, clean, and efficient energy source.

As such, it is in the interest of governments around the world to try to make as much good luck as possible available to as many people as they can. This would maximize the chance of someone stumbling across the next world-changing invention.

However, the scientists don't know what the best way to give everyone luck is. One way would be to have a cheap lottery with a good chance of winning at least a small amount. You'd be able to afford to buy a large number of tickets, meaning that you'd be all but guaranteed to have some winning tickets if you were not storing up luck. However, with the tickets being cheap and the prizes not being great (otherwise people would just decide they don't need to use luck essence in order to be lucky), you'll only be able to store up a little luck at a time.

So given the resources of Earth's current governments, what would be the best way to help as many people store up as much luck as possible without incurring significant risk as they do so?

Note: When you store luck something will go worse than it would have, with how much worse being proportional to how much luck you're storing. So in order to be effective, in whatever system the government sets up there has to be some way for storing luck to make your personal outcome worse, otherwise you're going to have some other kind of misfortune come your way (for example, if you stored quite a bit more luck than the system could accommodate you could get a heart attack and die).

Also, you have to decide ahead of time how much luck you'll store — in a normal lottery if everyone who played decided to store enough luck to not get the jackpot, any person who would have won the jackpot will simply not win anything, but the people who would not have won the jackpot anyway are in for a bad time (i.e likely gonna die).

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  • $\begingroup$ What happens if no one uses luck? Does life go on as it does now? $\endgroup$ – DonyorM Dec 14 '15 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ What in these rules suggest any answer besides "mine as much luck as you possibly can," since there seems to be no disadvantage to having a luck surplus, so you might as well get as much of it as you can. Also, given that the rules are as wide open as they are, do you expect any answers, or just meta answers such as "use science to experimentally determine the best way to spend luck?" $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Dec 14 '15 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon the question is how do you mine as much luck as possible? $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Dec 15 '15 at 3:14
  • $\begingroup$ So, from the note, we basically have an infinite source of a resource X, from which we can trivially mine as much as we like. X can only be stored "within" a person. X can be spent by the person to create "good fortune," however, the more X you store, the worse your fortune is when you're not actively spending X? $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Dec 15 '15 at 3:43
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    $\begingroup$ Couldn't you create a computer game that involves a game of chance against the AI for no stakes and then incentivise people to play it (free to play, small nominal cash prizes)? Then just feed people playing the game large doses of bad luck when playing the game so they experience terrible results but don't actually lose anything of substance? $\endgroup$ – Ian Dec 16 '15 at 20:04
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How about a system that generates a bad luck feedback when you try to tap into the good luck.

To elaborate: In order to tap into your good luck, you need a government approval (this also works to regulate how and when you can use your good luck, as it can be easily used to "cheat" in any number of fields). However this approval is painful to obtain. You have to fill loads and loads of folder, with a huge bureaucratic procedure behind it. Additionally you randomly get citations, or are asked to deliver new, nigh impossible to find, documents (like your third great aunt family three, notarized).

The process itself must be so painful that it actually generates a bad luck excess, that is in fact proportionally to the good luck you are afterward allowed to use. If you want some luck for an exam, a couple of week of paperwork should do, but if you want a free car, but not suffer the risk, well, be prepared for a world of pain in bureaucracy.

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I think you're essentially asking, "How can the government provide a source of misfortune to its population?". This is something governments are quite good at.

In the US, since we spy on ourselves, the government can provide a unique type of lottery for its citizens.

Public Shaming Lottery

Winning this government sponsored lottery is like winning the draft, not pleasant. The randomly selected winners would have their private conversations, internet browsing history, and medical records exposed publically. The exposure would occur on the local government level; broadcasting on local TV as well as posted to the internet. The added benefit is people with the most to lose from winning would be very public figures, like heads of research departments or professors.

Waiting for that next breakthrough on your research? Keep those browsing habits filthy and your fingers crossed.

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    $\begingroup$ I like the idea, although I suspect that the novelty would soon wear off or that people would adopt outrageous and shameful behaviors just to accumulate luck - and that viewers would still be blasé about it ;) So, bad luck generated from this system would quickly peter out. $\endgroup$ – Stephane Dec 14 '15 at 22:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Stephane It hasn't worn off for the tabloids or reality television. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Dec 14 '15 at 22:36
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    $\begingroup$ The shaming hasn't, but I'm not sure it affects the targets. Also, they come from a very limited pool of famous people. I'm dubious about how popular tabloids would be if you didn't even know about the people mentioned in them. $\endgroup$ – Stephane Dec 14 '15 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Stephane That's why it's targeted locally. The targets in this case are not accustomed to the attention, so they'll take it quite a bit worse than the celebrities. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Dec 14 '15 at 22:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Samuel I added a little bit more about how storing luck works. The biggest thing I had failed to make clear earlier is that you have to choose ahead of time how much luck you're going to store. Also, this is an interesting idea but I agree with Stephane that it wouldn't work for too long. $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Dec 15 '15 at 3:45
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I'm pretty sure a greedy government would go for more extreme and rapid ways of accumulating luck, like with machines randomly delivering a controlled amount of pain (like a "stochastic punching machine"). In times of crisis or great need, they'd step up their game ("stochastic jabbing machine", "stochastic finger chopping machine") and make the people who need luck the most go through the process of accruing large amounts of it.

Or, if your lottery system really works, the state would automate it, assigning each citizen a special well supplied bank account and playing from it constantly (one draw per second). Citizens would be instructed to think about it as often as possible in order to accumulate luck. This would only work if each citizen had the right to withdraw from his account at a given point during his life - say, after they reach the retirement age.

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  • $\begingroup$ I added a note about how you have to decide ahead of time how much luck to store. $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Dec 15 '15 at 3:47
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. I thing it still works with both my proposals (with a small change): you get hurt by the stochastic pain machines if you choose to; if the lottery is a positive one (you almost always win if you don't think about it), you can think about losing a few seconds in a row to mitigate an actual loss. $\endgroup$ – Stephane Dec 15 '15 at 13:00
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Give everyone a through tax audit. That should be bad luck enough for one year.
Then repeat every year.

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  • $\begingroup$ If it’s universal and expected, it is not bad luck when it happens. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jan 6 '17 at 7:48
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz: Hmm... good point. I'll need to modify the idea a bit. $\endgroup$ – nzaman Jan 6 '17 at 14:07
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    $\begingroup$ @nzaman Just give a randomly selected 50% an audit. That should still work. $\endgroup$ – E404 Jan 7 '17 at 19:02

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