Posted on September 9, 2009TANSTAAFL
It used to be tradition in 19th Century American saloons for barkeepers to give a free lunch to any patron who bought a drink.
But, of course, the lunch wasn’t free because you had to buy a drink to get it. Saloon owners knew that if they could get folks in the door with free food, they could keep them there with expensive booze.
Milton Friedman wrote a whole book called, “There is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch”, where he laid out in economic terms, how expensive free can be.
The acronym TANSTAAFL, was used by Robert Heinlein, the science fiction writer, in his 1966 novel, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress several times to make it easier to make the case that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. One of my favorite books of all time is Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, but I digress.
When the Communist/Socialist/extreme left-wing Vice President Henry Wallace (ok, he may not have been a communist), pushed for a plan for massive government social spending in the aftermath of the Second World War, Paul Mallon, a Washington journalist, responded to Wallace's article with a critical piece, published in several US papers, January 1942: "Mr. Wallace neglects the fact that such a thing as a 'free' lunch never existed. Until man acquires the power of creation, someone will always have to pay for a free lunch.”
Tonight, we will have Mr. Wallace’s natural successor, President Obama making the case for a free lunch.
As a friend put it to me today in an email, the President’s credibility is on the line, and will be shattered if he tries to make his case without outlining the costs. As my friend put it: “Tonight we will learn from the President: The Congress is going to provide insurance to 50 million people who don’t have it today without any impact on the federal deficit; The Congress is going to cut Medicare by 500 billion but no senior will see any change in benefits; The Congress is going to lower the cost of health insurance and rewrite all the rules governing health insurance but nothing will change in anyone's policy except that it will be cheaper; And the Congress is going to raise taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars and fine people who don’t have the proper health insurance but that also won’t affect my constituents. Does anyone seriously believe any of that? - Whatever credibility the President might have had on this issue will be gone after this speech tonight. - The core problem for this White House and the leadership in Congress is the substance, not the presentation. - Americans are just too well-informed and instinctively smart to believe a fundamentally bogus proposition”
Probably one of the smartest bumper stickers out there is the one that says: “If you think health care is expensive now, just wait until it’s free”. People understand that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. The President shouldn’t try to tell people anything different tonight.