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TANSTAAFL is an acronym for the adage "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch," popularized by science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein in his 1966 novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress,[1][2] which discusses the problems caused by not considering the eventual outcome of an unbalanced economy. This phrase and book are popular with libertarians and the phrase is often seen in economics textbooks. In order to avoid a double negative, the acronym "TINSTAAFL" is sometimes used instead, meaning "There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch". Many computational problems are solved by searching for good solutions in a space of candidates. ... This article is about the group. ... Science fiction is a form of speculative fiction principally dealing with the impact of imagined science and technology, or both, upon society and persons as individuals. ... A writer is anyone who creates a written work, although the word more usually designates those who write creatively or professionally, or those who have written in many different forms. ... Robert Anson Heinlein (July 7, 1907 – May 8, 1988) was one of the most popular, influential, and controversial authors of hard science fiction. ... The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress is a 1966 science fiction novel by American writer Robert A. Heinlein, about a lunar colonys revolt against rule from Earth. ... See also Libertarianism and Libertarian Party Libertarian,is a term for person who has made a conscious and principled commitment, evidenced by a statement or Pledge, to forswear violating others rights and usually living in voluntary communities: thus in law no longer subject to government supervision. ... Face-to-face trading interactions on the New York Stock Exchange trading floor. ...

It demonstrates opportunity cost. Greg Mankiw described the concept as: "To get one thing that we like, we usually have to give up another thing that we like. Making decisions requires trading off one goal against another."[3] Opportunity cost is a central concept of microeconomics. ... It has been suggested that Pigou Club be merged into this article or section. ...


History and usage

The phrase refers to the once-common tradition of saloons in the United States providing a "free" lunch to patrons, who were required to buy at least one drink. Rudyard Kipling, writing in 1891, noted how he TANSTAAFL is an acronym for the adage There Aint No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, popularized by science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein and promulgated in his 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a libertarian utopia. ... This article is about the British author. ...

came upon a barroom full of bad Salon pictures in which men with hats on the backs of their heads were wolfing food from a counter. It was the institution of the "free lunch" I had struck. You paid for a drink and got as much as you wanted to eat. For something less than a rupee a day a man can feed himself sumptuously in San Francisco, even though he be a bankrupt. Remember this if ever you are stranded in these parts.[4]

TANSTAAFL means that a person or a society cannot get something for nothing. Even if something appears to be free, there is always a cost to the person or to society as a whole even though that cost may be hidden or distributed. [5] For example, you may get complimentary food at a bar during "happy hour," but the bar owner bears the expense of your meal and will attempt to recover that expense somehow. Some goods may be nearly free, such as fruit picked in the wilderness, but usually some cost such as labor or the loss of food for local wildlife is incurred. Happy hour is a period of time, which is usually an hour or two in the late afternoons Monday through Thursday, and sometimes Friday (usually taking place between 4 pm and 7 pm) during which some restaurants and bars give discounts for drinks, especially alcoholic drinks. ...

The idea that there is no free lunch at the societal level applies only when all resources are being used completely and appropriately, i.e., when economic efficiency prevails. If not, a 'free lunch' can be had through a more efficient utilisation of resources. If one individual or group gets something at no cost, somebody else ends up paying for it. If there appears to be no direct cost to any single individual, there is a social cost. Similarly, someone can benefit for "free" from an externality or from a public good, but someone has to pay the cost of producing these benefits. There are several measures of economic efficiency: Pareto efficiency Kaldor-Hicks efficiency X-efficiency Allocative efficiency For applications of these principles see: Efficient market hypothesis Welfare economics Production theory basics See also Business efficiency Inefficiency ... Social cost, in economics, is the total of all the costs associated with an economic activity. ... In economics, an externality is an impact (positive or negative) on anyone not party to a given economic transaction. ... In economics, a public good is a good that is non-rival and non-excludable. ...

To a scientist, TANSTAAFL means that the system is ultimately closed — there is no magic source of matter, energy, light, or indeed lunch, that will not be eventually exhausted. Therefore the TANSTAAFL argument may also be applied to natural physical processes. (See Second law of thermodynamics.) The second law of thermodynamics is an expression of the universal law of increasing entropy. ...

In mathematical finance, the term is also used as an informal synonym for the principle of no-arbitrage. This principle states that a combination of securities that has the same cash flows as another security must have the same net price. Mathematical finance is the branch of applied mathematics concerned with the financial markets. ... In economics and finance, arbitrage is the practice of taking advantage of a price differential between two or more markets: a combination of matching deals are struck that capitalize upon the imbalance, the profit being the difference between the market prices. ...

TANSTAAFL is sometimes used as a response to claims of the virtues of free software. Supporters of free software often counter that the use of the term "free" in this context is primarily a reference to a lack of constraint ("libre") rather than a lack of cost ("gratis"). Richard Stallman has described it as "free as in speech not as in beer". Free software is software that can be used, studied, and modified without restriction, and which can be copied and redistributed in modified or unmodified form either without restriction, or with minimal restrictions only to ensure that further recipients can also do these things. ... Richard Matthew Stallman (born March 16, 1953), often abbreviated rms,[2] is an American software freedom activist, hacker,[3] and software developer. ...

TANSTAAFL was a favorite rejoinder of Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize–winning former University of Chicago professor.[6] Milton Friedman (July 31, 1912 – November 16, 2006) was an American Nobel Laureate economist and public intellectual. ...

The prefix "TANSTAA-" is used in numerous other contexts as well to denote some immutable property of the system being discussed. For example, "TANSTAANFS" is used by Electrical Engineering professors to stand for "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Noise Free System". Electrical Engineers design power systems. ...


  • In 1950, a New York Times columnist ascribed the phrase to economist (and Army General) Leonard P. Ayres of the Cleveland Trust Company. "It seems that shortly before the General's death [in 1946]... a group of reporters approached the general with the request that perhaps he might give them one of several immutable economic truisms which he had gathered from his long years of economic study... 'It is an immutable economic fact,' said the general, 'that there is no such thing as a free lunch.'"[7]
  • The book TANSTAAFL, the economic strategy for environmental crisis, by Edwin G. Dolan (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, ISBN 0-03-086315-5) may be the first published use of the term in the economics literature.
  • Spider Robinson's 2001 book 'The Free Lunch' draws its name from the TANSTAAFL concept.
  • The cafe at IIM Ahmedabad is named Cafe TANSTAAFL.

Leonard Porter Ayres (1879 - 1946) was a U.S. statistician. ... Spider Robinson (born November 24, 1948 in New York City) is a Canadian science fiction writer. ... IIM Ahmedabad // Overview IIM Ahmedabad, also known as IIMA, was the first of the string of IIMs to be established in India. ...

See also

TANSTAAFL is an acronym for the adage There Aint No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, popularized by science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein and promulgated in his 1966 novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, a libertarian utopia. ... Many computational problems are solved by searching for good solutions in a space of candidates. ... In financial mathematics, No-arbitrage bounds are mathematical relationships specifying simple limits on derivative prices. ... Not to be confused with the unrelated book Fixing Broken Windows. ... Tanstagi, an acronym standing for There Aint No Such Thing As Government Interference, is the motto of the Invisible Hand Society, an originally fictional organization invented by Robert Anton Wilson that believes that the invisible hand of the free market applies to government as well. ... The Schrödingers Cat trilogy is a trilogy of novels by Robert Anton Wilson, chronicling events and characters in several parallel universes. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Reuse. ... The Tragedy of the Commons is a type of social trap, often economic, that involves a conflict over resources between individual interests and the common good. ...


  1. ^ Safire, William On Language; Words Left Out in the Cold" New York Times, 2-14-1993 [1]
  2. ^ Heinlein, Robert A. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966). 1st Orb edition, 1997, 382 pp. New York: Tom Doherty Associates. ISBN 0-312-86355-1.
  3. ^ Principles of Economics (4th edition), p. 4.
  4. ^ Kipling, Rudyard (1930). American Notes. Standard Book Company.  (published in book form in 1930, based on essays which appeared in periodicals in 1891)
    American Notes by Rudyard Kipling, available at Project Gutenberg.
  5. ^ Dr. Friedman was wrong - "Free Lunches" are as Common as Beer Guts and Bad Hairdos at a Highschool Reunion
  6. ^ Friedman, Milton, There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch, Open Court Pub Co (August 1975), 318 pages, ISBN 0-87548-310-0
  7. ^ Fetridge, Robert H, "Along the Highways and Byways of Finance," The New York Times, Nov 12, 1950, p. 135
Project Gutenberg, abbreviated as PG, is a volunteer effort to digitize, archive and distribute cultural works. ...

  Results from FactBites:
TANSTAAFL Times R.I.P. | Samizdata.net (836 words)
After all if Samizdata offered to pay $50 for a 500 word article or a cartoon, I'm sure our editors would be at risk of being crushed in the stampede of eager wannabe contributors.
So I've decided to write this blog and acknowledge that Samizdata.net is achieving what I had hoped for, and that I'm better off, at least for the time being, as a regular contributor to this blog, than ruling my own dilapidated kingdom.
I like to think that TANSTAAFL Times was ahead of its time: offering a libertarian slant on current affairs.
TANSTAAFL Series: Coding the Transparent Society (1597 words)
TANSTAAFL DesignShop events are forward-looking events designed to address strategic, policy, cultural, and philosophical aspects of a particular issue or group of issues.
They bring together individuals, teams, and organizations who are "stakeholders" within the context of the subject matter and are meant to be catalyzing events that substantially augment, leverage, redesign and create new intellectual tools and processes that narrow the gap between Vision and Current Reality.
You are invited to participate in the MG Taylor TANSTAAFL DesignShop event, where these and many, many other critical issues concerning the future of society and of the global information infrastructure will be discussed, solutions explored and next steps designed.
  More results at FactBites »



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