This is a post in The Wisdom Journal’s series: Practical Economics. In this series, we will examine the way economic principles work in the real world.
In the real world, you and I both know that we live on a planet of scarce resources, that our desire for unlimited goods and services flies in the face of the dwindling availability of our planet to meet those desires. We would all love to have everything we want at our beck and call, but it isn’t going to happen. Even if we could have everything we wanted, we wouldn’t have enough time to enjoy it.
So since we can’t have everything, we’re forced to choose between the alternatives we can afford and sometimes choosing to use one resource (time, money, talent), forever reduces that resource’s availability in the future. This is why non-politically motivated economists say, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” also known by the acronym TANSTAAFL.
Certainly, goods and services can be provided to one group or another free of charge (“free” health insurance, “free” education, “free” housing, “free” transportation), but those goods and services are NOT free. Someone has to pay for them and using such terminology is disingenuous at best, a flat out lie at its worst.
Nothing is free
We may be able to shift costs, but ultimately, anything touted as “free,” cost someone something. On a deeper level, the idea of “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” keeps us from escaping reality. You can’t just will (or wish) yourself that “free lunch” or pull it out of your ear. Remember that the next time you hear someone declare their right to a job, a house, a car, medical care or an education. Each of those items costs money, time, and talent. Jobs, homes, cars, doctors, and diplomas don’t grow on trees (well, diplomas might). When someone decides they have the right to one of these things, think about WHO is going to provide it for them because there’s no such thing as a free lunch.