Some time back I published in this journal a little paper on the Californian madness–for madness I presumed it to be, and upon two grounds. First, in so far as men were tempted into a lottery under the belief that it was not a lottery; or, if it really were such, that it was a lottery without blanks. Secondly, in so far as men were tempted into a transitory speculation under the delusion that it was not transitory, but rested on some principle of permanence. We have since seen the Californian case repeated, upon a scale even of exaggerated violence, in Australia. There also, if great prizes seemed to be won in a short time, it was rashly presumed that something like an equitable distribution of these prizes took place. Supposing ten persons to have obtained L300 in a fortnight, people failed to observe that, if divided amongst the entire party of which these ten persons formed a section, the L300 would barely have yielded average wages. In one instance a very broad illustration of this occurred in the early experience of Victoria. A band of seven thousand people had worked together; whether simply in the sense of working as neighbours in the same local district, or in the commercial sense of working as partners, I do not know, nor is it material to know. The result sounded enormous, when stated in a fragmentary way with reference to particular days, and possibly in reference also to particular persons, distinguished for luck, but on taking the trouble to sum up the whole amount of labourers, of days, and of golden ounces extracted, it did not appear that the wages to each individual could have averaged quite so much as twenty shillings a week, supposing the total product to have been on that principle of participation. Very possibly it was not; and in that case the gains of some individuals may have been enormous. But a prudent man, if he quits a certainty or migrates from a distance, will compute his prospects upon this scale of averages, and assuredly not upon the accidents of exceptional luck. The instant objection will be, that such luck is not exceptional, but represents the ordinary case. Let us consider. The reports are probably much exaggerated; and something of the same machinery for systematic exaggeration is already forming itself as operated so beneficially for California. As yet, however, it is not absolutely certain that the reports themselves, taken literally, would exactly countenance the romantic impressions drawn from those reports by the public.
Until the reader has checked the accounts, or, indeed, has been enabled to check them, by balancing the amount of gain against the amount of labour applied, he cannot know but that the reports themselves would show on examination a series of unusual successes set against a series of entire failures, so as to leave a facit, after all corrections and allowances, of moderately good wages upon an equal distribution of the whole. I would remind him to propose this question: has it been asserted, even by these wild reports, with respect to any thousand men (taken as an aggregate), I do not mean to say that all have succeeded, or even that a majority have not failed decisively–that is more than I demand–but has it been asserted that they have realized so much in any week or any month as would, if divided equally amongst losers and winners, have allowed to each man anything conspicuously above the rate of ordinary wages? Of lotteries in general it has been often remarked, that if you buy a single ticket you have but a poor chance of winning, if you buy twenty tickets your chance is very much worse, and if you buy all the tickets your chance is none at all, but is exchanged for a certainty of loss. So as to the gold lottery of Australia, I suspect (and, observe, not assuming the current reports to be false, but, on the contrary, to be strictly correct for each separate case, only needing to be combined and collated as a whole) that if each separate century of men emigrating to the goldfield of Mount Alexander were to make a faithful return of their aggregate winnings, that return would not prove seductive at all to our people at home, supposing these winnings to be distributed equally as amongst an incorporation of adventurers; though it has proved seductive in the case of the extraordinary success being kept apart so as to fix and fascinate the gaze into an oblivion of the counterbalancing failures.