TANSTAAFL - There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

"There is no such thing as a free lunch" (alternatively, "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" or other variants) is a popular adage communicating the idea that it is impossible to get something for nothing. The acronyms TANSTAAFL, TINSTAAFL, and TNSTAAFL are also used. The phrase was in use by the 1930s, 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, which helped popularize it. The free-market economist Milton Friedman also popularized the phrase by using it as the title of a 1975 book, and it is used in economics literature to describe opportunity cost.


TANSTAAFL, Jargon File


An Unstimulating Idea, by Sheldon Richman, 25 Jan 2008
Examines the economic "stimulus" proposals being made by candidates and incumbent politicians
"If the government uses fiscal means to goose the economy, the money has to come from somewhere. There is no free lunch. The president and the top-tier candidates do not propose to cut spending -- quite the contrary. So, since the budget is already in deficit, any tax 'rebates' and new government spending will have to come from borrowing."
Related Topics: Free Market, Government
Economics 101, by Walter E. Williams, 7 Jun 2000
Robert A. Heinlein's Soaring Spirit of Liberty, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Jul 1997
Biographical essay, including multiple quotes from fellow authors and significant excerpts from Heinlein's novels and stories
"The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress sounds one of Heinlein's favorite philosophical themes: '"tanstaafl." Means "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" ... anything free costs twice as much in long run or turns out worthless. ... One way or other, what you get, you pay for.'"
TANSTAAFL, There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch, by David R. Henderson, 3 Mar 2014
Explains the two meanings of TANSTAAFL: the scarcity of economic resources (and the need for tradeoffs) and the expectation of some kind of reciprocity when something is offered for "free"
"There are two meanings of the expression. One is always true, while the other is usually true. First, let's consider the meaning that's always true: Economic resources are scarce, and, therefore, if we get more of one, there has to be less of another. ... The fact that the vast majority of goods are scarce, not free, leads directly to tradeoffs. If we want more of something, we have to give up some of something else. ... Now to the second meaning of TANSTAAFL. ... When someone offers you something for free, he or she usually expects something in return."
The Drug War as a Socialist Enterprise, by Milton Friedman, 16 Nov 1991
From keynote address at Fifth International Conference on Drug Policy Reform; examines why, 20 years after Friedman's admonition against Nixon's drug war, the government continues its attempts at enforcement, in spite of the observable, predicted results
"First: 'Instead of merely decriminalizing drugs, let's have the government make available drugs free to every user.' That would obviously take the profit out of the business. The idea is that somehow or other we ought to treat drugs as a free good. But there are no free goods; there's no free lunch. It's not free; somebody would have to pay for it. So, we ought to tax the taxpayer to subsidize people who use drugs! More important, it seems obvious that if those 'free' drugs were really available, they would be distributed in Europe and elsewhere where there's a paying market."
There's No Free Lunch, by Walter E. Williams, 3 Oct 2001

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" as of 20 Nov 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.