There is No Free Lunch—or Free Red Tape
Acton Institute Powerblog

There is No Free Lunch—or Free Red Tape

red tape paintIt was once a common practice of saloons in America to provide a “free lunch” to patrons who had purchased at least one drink. Many foods on offer were high in salt (ham, cheese, salted crackers, etc.), so those who ate them naturally ended up buying a lot of beer.

In his 1966 sci-fi novel, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Robert Heinlein used this practice in a saloon on the moon to highlight an economic principle:

“It was when you insisted that the, uh, young lady, Tish—that Tish must pay, too. ‘Tone-stopple,’ or something like it.”

“Oh, ‘tanstaafl.’ Means ‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.’ And isn’t,” I added, pointing to a FREE LUNCH sign across room, “or these drinks would cost half as much. Was reminding her that anything free costs twice as much in long run or turns out worthless.”

“An interesting philosophy.”

“Not philosophy, fact. One way or other, what you get, you pay for.”

While the phrase “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” didn’t originate with Heinlein, he did help to popularize the concept. It’s an important economic concept that is often overlooked, particularly when it comes to policy issues. A couple of years ago, in regards to, when Obamacare, economist Thomas Sowell asked, “do you seriously believe that millions more people can be given medical care and vast new bureaucracies created to administer payment for it, with no additional costs?”

Just as there is no free lunch, there is no free red tape. Bureaucrats have to eat, just like everyone else, and they need a place to live and some other amenities. How do you suppose the price of medical care can go down when the costs of new government bureaucracies are added to the costs of the medical treatment itself?

By the way, where are the extra doctors going to come from, to treat the millions of additional patients? Training more people to become doctors is not free. Politicians may ignore costs but ignoring those costs will not make them go away.

With bureaucratically controlled medical care, you are going to need more doctors, just to treat a given number of patients, because time that is spent filling out government forms is time that is not spent treating patients. And doctors have the same 24 hours in the day as everybody else.

When you add more patients to more paperwork per patient, you are talking about still more costs. How can that lower medical costs? But although that may be impossible, politics is the art of the impossible. All it takes is rhetoric and a public that does not think beyond the rhetoric they hear.

Read more . . .

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).