Columns

A Free Lesson on TANSTAAFL to the Candidates Running on a Platform of 'I'll Give You Free Stuff'

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

 

I was fourteen years old and a European when I first read Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and came across the concept of There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

It will amaze you – or maybe not – how much of an alien and strange concept this was to me. Why? Well, because it is in many ways an alien concept to Europe. It, and various other ideas—like the idea that people might object to paying taxes or that they might have rights that their governments couldn’t violate—were concepts as alien to the mindset I lived submerged in as the other side of the moon.

As was, by the way, the concept of a “free lunch.” Since Portugal didn’t have laws limiting the sale of alcohol—no, really. At the time I think it was “if he can toddle to the counter and slap money on it, sell the kid a pint.” It’s different now—and even the rolls they brought to the table before a restaurant meal showed up on your bill (to the horror of tourists) the concept of “free lunch” was completely alien.

However, knowing people who ran restaurants, I could see how it would work. I knew the margin was very tight (apparently our governors who limit restaurant capacity at random don’t) and if they were ordered to provide, say, free rolls by legal fiat, they’d need to find the money somewhere. Now, at the time, bread in Portugal was dirt-cheap, so adding rolls for free might only translate into a few cents extra per meal. Then again, because it was “hidden” it might amount to a full “escudo”—the national currency at the time—per meal. (At the time, if I remember correctly, it was 200 of those to the dollar per meal.) But the restaurant would have to find that money somewhere or go under. There was no escape.

Which is why, by the way, when Portugal adopted the VAT I was against it. Vehemently against it, for all the good it did me. The Value Added Tax is a fine Marxist invention (working on the idea that every step in the chain “adds value,” even if it amounts to polishing a dog turd) that taxes each step along the way to bring products to you: raw materials are taxed; transport is taxed; transformation of raw materials is taxed; transport of the finished product is taxed; and, finally, sales to the public are taxed. I felt much as I’ve felt in 2020, trying to explain to people what this would do. And like in 2020, I was shouting into a hurricane. The VAT was adopted and overnight the prices of goods I cared about (I think I was in college then) from books to writing materials doubled. And people got upset at the profiteers removing the money from their pockets. Because, except for that final sale, they had no idea that the government was stealing from everyone—every step of the way.

I feel rather the same way about the entire Democrat – oh, let’s call it what it is: socialist/communist – program this year.

Let’s start with the riots, which the left assured us wouldn’t cost anyone anything. Why? Well, because, of course, stores and restaurants were “insured.” So everything they burned and looted was a free lunch, right? No harm to anyone?

Ah! This tells you what a great job our schools and society in general are doing teaching the kids that things have a cost and a value, neither of which is up for a vote but is nevertheless inherent in things.

First, as someone right now in the midst of a “hail destroyed our roof” claim, I can assure you there’s this thing called a “deductible” and that even though the claim has the same cause (hail), they want to divide the damage into as many claims as possible, so we have to pay the deductible multiple times, which I assure you does pile up. I can’t imagine that restaurants and shops have easier insurance policies.

Second, insurance policies often fail to cover riots. Or, as they’re known, “criminal acts.”

Third, even supposing the business owner gets very, very lucky and everything is reimbursed (I’d judge the chances of that to be on a par with winning the lottery, frankly) the insurance company will have lost money. This is because insurance companies are not magical fairy machines, but businesses. They, so to put it, bet against the chances of riots – or hail damage – destroying your business or house and you bet it will. Most of the time you’ll lose the bet, pay in every month, and never see a cent back. However, should your basement flood, your roof get shattered, or your local idiots burn your business and present you with a bill you could not otherwise pay, the insurance pays up.
Now, if the incidence of hail, or say idiots burning businesses, goes way up for some reason, that bet is much riskier for the insurance company, and that much more necessary for you. So one of two things will happen: either the company will demand a lot more money from you every month (or refuse to insure you, which happens apparently and stops people from being able to buy houses) or they will go out of business.

So, There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

But more importantly, all those cities now burned and looted—or, in the case of my beloved Denver, which is dying before my eyes, filled with the tents of dangerous/unstable homeless on public sidewalks and parks—are less desirable as places of residence. This means the areas where antifa gamboled like bucks in the spring are now worthless as real estate. Which in turn means that everyone who owns real estate there just had an invisible hand reach into their pocket and take money. That invisible hand belongs to the forces of chaos and the governments who wouldn’t stop them. 

Because There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

Property aside, there’s the people element. I saw something on Facebook – and confess I’m not sure if it’s photoshopped, but if it is, it’s a “fake but accurate” type of moment – with Gov. Gavin Newsom begging people not to leave California.

If it’s not photoshopped, it means that at least he has a little more awareness of economics than Bill de Blasio. Billy boy said that if all the New Yorkers left it would be okay because he could fill the city with “immigrants” (which for de Blasio means, of course, Illegals) who would make the city flourish.

Will “immigrants” and the “underprivileged” (a term I hate, because being poor most of the time has to do with individual effort or lack thereof, and not privilege) flock to NYC and California?

Sure, particularly if both places hang the “free lunch” sign, as they’ve been doing, by refusing to enforce the law on the “underprivileged” and also offering all sorts of free services and goods, from health care to food.

But will the city flourish with that population?

Well, no. This is known as the communist fallacy: the idea that humans are widgets and interchangeable.

Sure, you can replace warm bodies with warm bodies. But it matters if the warm bodies are opening shops and restaurants that attract tourists and visitors from all over the world, or are squatting on the sidewalk, toking and waiting for their next free meal. (Why, yes, I’ve been to downtown Denver recently.)

Because people aren’t widgets and make their own benefit-cost calculation.

Once your city or state becomes a place where not only are you not safe from being burned and looted, but an ever-increasing portion of your income goes to feed the insatiable maw of the “needy” attracted by the free lunch, high-earners and high-producers are going to avoid it like the plague.

There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

It is the same when it comes to the left’s mad passion for open borders. You see, all warm bodies are the same, and bringing warm bodies in brings in workers and consumers, right?

Well, no. Not really.

Sure a lot of people come to the U.S. with nothing, not speaking the language and having no education whatsoever, and end up doing very well indeed.

Of course, that was more likely in the Industrial era, where you didn’t need to know English that well to work the assembly line. But it’s still possible in the tech era. Some people are so smart, so driven, so motivated that they will come in and learn and outwork the locals. They are very, very rare. If you’re not filtering the people at the entrance for a minimum of ability (and how do you test IQ without being accused of racism or worse?) or health or knowing how to live in a first-world country, your chances of getting one of those is maybe one in a million.

Trust me on this. I came to the U.S. with what could in fact be termed “privileges”—i.e. I came in with a graduate degree whose primary concentration was English. I had lived, if not in a first-world country (most people in Europe at the time considered Portugal backward) at least a country that had been through the Industrial Revolution. I knew about things like the germ theory of disease, piped water, etc. More importantly, I came in not as part of a group that shielded me from American life, but as the wife of an American who was completely isolated from other Portuguese and had to FIFO (Fit In or …. Er… Flit Off.)

It still took me a good five years to acculturate and, in comparison to the average would-be writer, I took over four times longer to break into paid publishing. (The average time is three years and it took me thirteen. Yes, there were other things in the way, but mostly it was just my mind becoming American.)

Right now our own would-be assembly-line workers are largely unemployed, and therefore importing people who have no capacity to do anything but basic manual labor is ill-advised. And judging from that “scandal” that Alexandria of the Occasional Cortex came up with, about the woman locked in a cell who drank from the toilet, we have our work cut out for us. You see, the woman had a toilet-sink “unit,” the sink being on top of the toilet tank. It’s just that the incoming border-jumper had never seen a faucet. So she drank from the place where she saw water.

Think about it. I don’t know what proportion of people coming in are that unacquainted with the basics of civilization. But there are a lot of them. 

Something Americans usually forget – even I – is how well off even our poorest of the poor are in relation to even the well off in much of the world.

So, say we take our borders down and announce we have free health care for all and free feeding programs, and you can camp wherever….

If you can’t picture the scene, I can. Let’s say even those who come in wanting to work won’t get a chance to.

Because there simply won’t be enough “free” to go around.

I know, because I have friends in both fields, that our medical and educational systems are already breaking at the seams trying to cope with the influx of people who come in completely illiterate (often in all languages) and carrying medieval diseases.

And if you just let everyone in?

Well, regardless of how much Kamala and Biden say that education and health care should be free, how can they be? Both teachers and doctors have to be paid, or they’ll starve. They’re not doing this for fun. It’s a job.

So, in the end, trying to give health care, education, lodging, and food to the world means that there won’t be any for any of us.

Because There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

And that’s why I laughed out loud at Biden’s gaffe of promising to make the minimum wage $15 million.

Not because it was so ridiculous, but because it’s precisely as ridiculous as making the minimum wage $15 or, really, any amount at all.

Look, it’s crazy enough to set a state minimum wage. Yes, I know it’s part of our age. But it’s crazy, as all price and wage controls are crazy. Take Colorado, for instance. It’s not the same if you’re trying to rent a place in Boulder or in Pueblo. Much less if you’re trying to rent a place in Boulder or some tiny town in the middle of nowhere. So if you’re making $15 an hour in Boulder you might be barely scraping by, while in a tiny town it will make you “rich” with plenty left over at the end of the month.

Now try that federally. I don’t think anyone can live on $15 an hour in NYC. I know my friends there make money that would make them very well off indeed in Denver. (Which is why so many of them are leaving.) But $15 an hour in Nowhereville, North Dakota, would probably be a very respectable income.

So, sure, you can set $15 as a minimum wage. First, you’re going to get a ton of unemployment, which I suspect, for the party of “what we declare to be free will just show up,” makes no difference, since they think you can just go on welfare forever. But more importantly, over time things are going to adjust.

Things are going to adjust because you can’t influence economics any more than you can influence the weather. It’s a science, after all. It would be like if you seeded the clouds and made it rain here—it would adjust so it doesn’t rain somewhere else. If you raise the minimum wage, the market will flow around it.

First, those who aren’t worth that will be unemployed and a drain on the public purse. Second, a lot of people will be employed illegally (whether they themselves are here illegally or not) and often in horrible conditions. Third… inflation. Everything goes up, so that $15 is now worth whatever the lowest minimum wage was.

So, why not raise it to $15 million an hour? Makes as much sense. And all of the economy will just inflate to that degree so $15 million is now worth what the lowest national minimum wage was worth.

$5 million burgers and $4 million coffees. Our currency not accepted anywhere… and oh, yeah, the savings of those of us who have been trying to sock away money for when we can no longer work, gone.

$15 million just makes all of that faster and more obvious. Fifteen dollars is bad enough.

Because There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

I would like to propose a humble initiative that says everyone who declares himself a socialist/communist and everyone who runs on a platform of “I’ll give you free things” needs to have TANSTAAFL tattooed on their forehead.

Backwards, so they read it in the mirror every morning.