Archive for October 23rd, 2014

October 23, 2014

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch


‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch’ (TANSTAAFL) is a popular adage communicating the idea that it is impossible to get something for nothing. The phrase dates to the 1930s and 1940s, but its first appearance is unknown. The ‘free lunch’ in the saying refers to the nineteenth-century practice in American bars of offering a ‘free lunch’ in order to entice drinking customers.

The phrase and the acronym are central to Robert Heinlein’s 1966 science-fiction novel ‘The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,’ about the revolt of a lunar colony and the installation of a libertarian regime. Free-market economist Milton Friedman used it as the title of a 1975 book, and it is often mentioned in economics literature to describe opportunity cost (the value of the next best thing you give up whenever you make a decision). Macroeconomist Campbell McConnell writes that the idea is ‘at the core of economics.’

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