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There is never a free lunch

September 15, 2012
Daily Press


TINSTAAFL (There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch)

This nine letter acronym is a complete economics course and offers lessons for us in 2012.

Historically a "free lunch" was offered by nineteenth century saloons. For a nickel beer or a 10 cent whisky a patron got some free salty food, later to stagger home with a lot less money.

TINSTAAFL got national attention in a 1942 article written by Paul Mallon, a Washington journalist, when he responded to Henry Wallace, the U.S. vice president between 1941 and 1945. Wallace, an extreme left-winger, had close ties to Russia, "fellow-travelers" and NKVD agents. He wanted massive social spending in the U.S. and for a new world order. Mallon replied to the plans of Wallace with, "Mr. Wallace neglects the fact that such a thing as a "free lunch" never existed." Because of Wallace's communistic ties and political position FDR dumped him from his ticket in 1945 and took Harry Truman as VP. The USA escaped having a communist president by 83 days when FDR died in April of '45.

Harry Truman can teach us a lot. He made no excuses when the presidency was suddenly passed to him. He had a war to finish, a world in turmoil and ruin and a federal debt to GDP (gross domestic product) of 117 percent. He also had a sign on his desk - "The Buck Stops Here." The Buck wasn't money, it referred to a "buck-slip" - a sign-off sheet commonly used to shift or share responsibility for a project. Accepting ultimate responsibility, he rolled up his shirt sleeves, worked with Congress, balanced the books, paid the bills and watched the GDP grow at a rate of 5.6 percent.

We are now at 100 percent of debt to GDP, with a GDP growth at 2 percent. Our President and Congress don't cooperate. We can't pay down the debt and run the government with the taxes we collect. Yet many people strongly feel government spending money it borrows somehow will make everything fine again.

Borrowed money isn't free either - we need to pay it backprincipal and interest, but to whom? Only 8 percent is going to China, most of the rest has been "borrowed" from our own Social Security Trust Fund and various government pension plans.

If the Fed prints money to mitigate the debt, it increases inflation, causing higher prices and eroding the value of hard earned savings.

We need to embrace TINSTAAFL. The economist Milton Friedman wrote a book with that title in 1975. "No free lunch," means if one individual or group gets something at no cost, someone else ends up paying for it. We need to understand these truths: there isn't free insurance, free healthcare, free education, free welfare, free retirement, rent or childcare. The economics of all public "doles" are a net zero equation, every dollar given is a dollar taken from someone, therefore - TINSTAAFL

A "free lunch" shouldn't be able to buy the vote of a responsible citizen.

We are a great country; we can be responsible for our poor and unfortunate citizens. Government workers as well as aid recipients must understand that pay or help comes from the efforts of citizens - not government. Let's learn from the dole of ancient Rome and the financial crash of modern Greece. We must make sound and sometimes hard economic decisions to avoid our fast approaching national bankruptcy.

John Hager




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