There Is No Free Lunch!

A friend in Hong Kong routinely reminds me there is no such thing as a free lunch. As someone who refers to earthlings as urghhlings, I should very readily agree with him. After all, it is a common practice for businesses to buy their clients lunch. The business pays, it is not free! My friend exclaims exuberantly.

It is not free, the client will feel obliged to attend the lunch. Also, obliged to listen to the sales pitch, or worse, obliged to accept the terms of the deal.

There is no free lunch. If true, what can we say about philanthropy? Does the person who donates to a cause encourage, support, contribute, enable, promote, perhaps even ensure the viability of that venture? Is it out of passion, generosity, care, or even charitable leanings?

Philanthropy is of course not charity. The latter alleviates suffering or loss, it does not address the root cause of the problem, the difference between the proverbial gift of a cooked meal versus teaching them how to farm and cook. But, can philanthropy be actually a selfish act? For a tax deduction to reduce their tax burden? For the opportunity to trumpet one’s generosity and status in their society? To absolve one’s sins?

No, I have consistently argued the point to my friend that although Homo Sapiens are generally awful creatures, the most ruthless in the animal kingdom, there is such a thing as a free lunch. I love freebies, the meal is especially tasty, the occasion is especially happy for me! Often I remind myself of the kind Bangladeshi taxi driver in London who drove me from Heathrow to Grove Park. Upon hearing my son was delayed in Japan, and I had no cash on me, he insisted on stopping by a deli to buy me milk and a loaf of bread, in case I went hungry. He refused my offer to reimburse him with my credit card. There is such a thing as a free meal, without obligation, without debt.


It was free and unconditional. My friend would argue it cannot be free, someone paid for it. Precisely. Mathematically, for him to say someone paid, it must therefore mean the receiver got it for free. Otherwise, he cannot say someone paid. It has to be zero sum equation. If there is no free lunch, then no one paid for it.

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