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Posted by Smokey Stover on March 30, 2006

In Reply to: TANSTAAFL posted by RRC on March 30, 2006

: : : : : : There was a professor of finance at Chigago University that used to say that "there is not such a thing as free lunch" in his lectures of derivatives. Anybody now who is him?
: : : : : : Thanks a lot,
: : : : : : Alex Kirzner - Brazil

: : : : : Probably Milton Friedman

: : : : Almost certainly Milt Friedman while he was at Chicago, but this truism is so fundamental to economics that any economist(or student of economics) is likely to echo the sentiment.

: : : During the Great Depression in the U.S.A. (1930-1942) one would sometimes see, in bars, taverns and beer joints, following the end of Prohibition (in December 1933), placards advertising FREE LUNCH. It was probably in consequence of this idea of "free lunch" that smart economists (along with a lot of other people) thought they had to point out that there's no free lunch. Truism it may be, but the great mass of voters in the U.S., and perhaps elsewhere, believe with religious fervor that there is, indeed, a free lunch, as so many politicians promise. Or pie in the sky, which is another catch-phrase from Depression days, meaning about the same thing. .SS.

: : Didn't Robert Heinlein (science fiction writer) have something to do with popularizing TANSTAAFL?

: Read all about it in the link I posted in my first reply. (^_^)

In the Wikipedia discussion I was particularly struck by this citation: "New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia spoke it [that is, there ain't no free lunch] in Latin in 1934."

The "pie in the sky" phrase is much older than the Depression, although it's certainly relevant in a general way. It was part of a song by the Wobbly, Joe Hill, from 1911, parodying the promises of the Salvation Army. The Wobblies are trying to provide food and shelter here on earth, while the salvationist preachers promise "pie in the sky."

Another aspect of the No Free Lunch thesis is expounded in Edward Tenner's 1996 book, WHY THINGS BITE BACK: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences (Knopf). He doesn't address the free lunch idea directly, but points out in many examples that when we get things that "improve our lives," we are likely to get some things as well that we didn't bargain for. His ideas and examples are interesting and relevant. Anyone interested in the free lunch idea and its many ramifications should read the book, or at least the reviews which you can see thanks to Google. .SS.

See also - the origin of the term 'There's no such thing as a free lunch'.