Saturday, November 18, 2006
Free Lunch
Posted by David Smith at 11:15 AM
Category: Thoughts and responses


The BBC's Today programme had a short discussion this morning on the origins of the phrase, "There's no such thing as a free lunch", popularised by the late Milton Friedman. Some date it to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a 1966 novel by the science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein. A lady from the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations said the first use it had found was in the New York Times in 1950.

As I record in my book Free Lunch, however: "It is likely that the phrase was
in use much earlier than this. The San Francisco News used it in a 1949 editorial, itself reputed to be a reprint of one written in 1938, while the legendary New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia said it in 1934, albeit in Latin. As for the origin of the idea, bars in the west of America during the Gold Rush of the 19th century commonly offered free lunch to patrons buying a certain amount of alcohol. Those who stayed sober soon worked out that they were paying for their lunch with what they were being charged for beer or whisky."