"Gospodin," he said presently, "you used an odd word earlier--odd to me, I mean..."
"Oh, 'tanstaafl.' [It] Means ~'There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.' And [there] isn't," I added, pointing to a FREE LUNCH sign across [the] room, "or these drinks would cost half as much. [I] Was reminding her that anything free costs twice as much in [the] long run or turns out worthless."
"An interesting philosophy."
"Not philosophy, fact. One way or [the] other, what you get, you pay for."
Tanstaafl. What a beautiful word. 'Sounds like a dergatory expletive, akin to "bullscat!" TANSTAAFL!
Heinlein invented the word to illustrate a basic law of nature, which is commonly known as the First Law of Thermodynamics: "You have to put into a system at least as much as you get out" – a fact recognized in everyday vernacular as "You can't get something for nothing."
But, like all natural laws, the First Law is universally applicable. It must be obeyed not only by physics, but by every other humanly circumscribed discipline as well – including Economics. In 1975, my favorite Economist, Milton Friedman, published a book titled There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch., in which he pointed out the fallacy and the deleterious results of violating the First Law of Thermodynamics in public policy. I should like to nominate Professor Friedman's exposition of a basic economic truth as the First Law of Economics: " You can't give someone something for nothing."
If I choose to give my son a hundred dollars for his birthday, I must realize that that is not a "free" gift. The "gift" will require that I have a hundred dollars less to spend on clothing or whiskey or taking my wife out to dinner. Even though I may be inclined to ignore this basic fact in the enthusiasm of giving, I would never deny its veracity.
Yet many of us seem to think (or seem to want to believe) that the federal government is an exception. We tend to – indeed, we are encouraged to – regard the government as a magic cornucopia, awash in goodies that come from nowhere and cost us nothing.
The rock bottom truth is that the government can give you nothing! Because the government has nothing to give. The government does not and can not create wealth. it has no factories or farms or any other means of producing wealth. In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, "Everything [the government] has it has stolen." The government is nothing more than a mammoth bucket brigade, taking water from the deep end of the pool to the shallow end in an attempt to raise the level of the pool – and spilling half the water in the process. So the next time your Senator or Representative or any other politician tells you he's going to "give" you something, just tell them
The President of the United States recently stood up before the Congress of the United States and told the nation that he's going to "give" everyone a "free" junior college education.
He further promised to "give" us all "free" sick leave.
Then he told us he's going to "give" us "free" child care.