The infamous free lunch

The infamous free lunch

September 13, 2020 2 By Rick

I’m writing this on Friday, September 11, 2020 19 years after the terrorist attacks on the US. I’ll tie this into the rest of this piece later on in the story. If there’s one thing I’ve learned while chasing life, it’s that you’re not going to get a free lunch. Somebody, somewhere, some time has already paid for it, is paying for it or will pay for it. On that, you can rely. Milton Friedman was an American economist who received the 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his research on consumption analysis, monetary history and theory and the complexity of stabilization policy. I attended his lecture at the Stockholm School of Economics after he won the prize. Friedman was a colorful and sometimes controversial character full of quotes.

While lecturing at the Stockholm School of Economics, I participated in many “interesting” and sometimes “heated” discussions with my students. I would throw out the “no such thing as a free lunch” quote and encourage my students to discuss this. The classic example offered by most students was the education they were receiving. Nearly all of them claimed it was free (I was teaching in Sweden). Urging them to think harder, I told them I disagreed. When I said I was paying for their education (with my taxes), many laughed and jokingly said, “Thank you, Mr. La Roche.” But the laughter died when I said, “No, please let me thank you instead,” which confused them.

My children
I explained that my children and grandchildren would be studying at university one day and that my current students would be paying for their education with their taxes. Suddenly, it was if a lightbulb switched on and they grasped the concept. So, what’s it all about? “There is no such thing as a free lunch,” describes the cost of decision-making and consumption and suggests that things that appear to be free will always have some hidden or implicit cost to someone, even if it is not the individual receiving the benefit. It boils down to this “Whatever goods and services are provided, they must be paid for by someone – that is, you don’t get something for nothing. The phrase is also known by the acronym of ‘there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch’ – TANSTAAFL.”    

It’s hard to believe that this horrible event took place 19 years ago. It’s even harder to think that children born on that day could now be fighting in the same war that event spawned. It’s been that long. So, how does this relate to the infamous “free lunch,” you may be asking? That’s a good question. I’ll do my best to make the relationship clear, but it will require extending the concept of a free lunch to a free pass. Please bear with me. The decision to join the military, the police, the fire brigade, security contracting companies or organizations like Doctors Without Borders is not easy to make for most people. For some, it comes easy, but others struggle with it, weighing the pros and cons. It’s a personal decision, and I respect whatever decision an individual makes. But we should all remember that many people have given their lives, so each individual can make that choice. 

No one forced me to go to Iraq as a diplomat. I volunteered, and I did so hoping to make the world a better place or perhaps for the “greater good.” I’m not sure I succeeded, however, but that’s another story. Of all the incredible things that happened over there, there is one thing I’ll never forget. And that is how perfect strangers (at least in the beginning) were willing to put their lives on the line to keep my sorry ass alive. I’m talking about the professionals in my Blackwater PSD (personal security detail) team. They were tasked with protecting me from harm, especially the so-called “duty bullet sponge.” Once the shit came down, his job was to throw me (literally like a sack of potatoes) into the vehicle and lie down on top me to protect me from any rounds that might enter the vehicle. 

My free lunch or pass
Some might call that my free lunch or free pass, but there was nothing free about it for my PSD team. Names and faces may have become blurred after all these years, but I will never forget them. I am proud to have served with them and would do so again anytime, anywhere. I don’t know how to repay them for my “free lunch or pass” except to praise them for their professionalism. If this reaches any of you guys, please pass it on to all the others. I’ve covered a lot, from Milton Friedman and economics to freedom, duty and the right to choose. Remember that there is no such thing as a free lunch. You may be enjoying it now, but someone somewhere is paying for it or has already paid for it.