Free Lunch


(Heinlein was a computer geek born too early for the revolution.)

According to Wikipedia, the origins of the meme trace to a practice, in bars and saloons and such, of providing free lunch to customers purchasing drinks. And the concept became a popular one to talk about zero-sum effects in economic systems.

Mormons and science fiction have an interesting relationship. Science fiction's purpose, according to Heinlein and Bradbury and others of their group, is to get people to think deeper about their realities. And it's a principal principle underlying Mormon philosophy.

Hugh Nibley wrote an essay called "Work We Must, but the Lunch Is Free". In his essay, he attacked the concept of using closed system (pseudo-Malthusian) economics as a justification for ignoring the needs of the people who have needs -- the idea that if there ain't enough to go around, then somebody has to suffer, so it might as well be someone else.

It's a popular theory, especially because it provides the basis for all sorts of theories that a self-appointed exponent or other political agitator will use to justify setting him or herself up in power.

But the premise is false. Without human intervention, there is enough to go around. Enough, and to spare, as the scripture says. Cast your bread on the waters.

Brother Nibley raised several points. First in my mind is that none of us deserve the lunch we get, free or otherwise.

You may not believe in God, but you have to recognize that it was not you who set the sun on fire.

Second in my mind is basically a restatement of the first, everyone is eating a free lunch. Setting aside discussion of human-induced climate change (because the inducement is precisely the question all-too-often left begging), the food chain existed before we were born, and everyone living as I write this will die well before the food chain is entirely disrupted.

Third, and most important to economists in general is that there is something within human nature that drives us to do stuff we call work.

We must work because we are built that way.

Not because the lunch isn't or shouldn't be free. Not because of any political or social reason. We work because we are human, and if we don't work, we don't work. That is, we begin to lose our humanity.

All other things being equal, people prefer to work over doing nothing. The only argument that remains is this:

Who gets to do what job?


Who decides what jobs get done?

That is now and has always been the primary issue of all human conflicts. We now think we know how religion has been used as a weapon. There are still some who think wars have always been over land, particularly arable land. But the land itself is also a side issue turned into a weapon. Food supply and the market in general, when they have been reasons for war, have always been manipulated. All these things are contributing factors.

No, it's always about some guy who wants to set himself up as the prime motivator, the guy who does (by proxy, of course), all the important jobs, all the important work.

The guy or the small group on the top of it all

And his/their job is managing it all.

Why do people think they can do a better job at being God than God Himself does?

Or, for the atheist and agnostic who might read this, why do we tend to think we can do a better job of natural selection than nature herself? (Natural selection being, as we think, the primary managing element of nature.)

And then someone comes along and says, "Free lunch? Well if there's going to be a free lunch, then there must be a free lunch program. Let me manage it for you." Trying to do God's work instead of their own.

Woops. I let the answer slip. Back up. Erase that last paragraph. You didn't see it. We can't have you understanding that the reason you want to meddle with other people's affairs is that it gives you an excuse not to try to solve your own problems, now can we?

TANSTAAFL. All things have costs.

But they also have benefits. The lunch is free, but we still work, we still do the jobs that are allowed us, if there aren't too many people trying to stop us.

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