The Moon is a Harsh Mistress popularized the concept of There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch, or TANSTAAFL. (Actually, the phrase may have its roots in the writings of ethicist Alvin Hansen in 1952, only he used the phrase “there is no such thing as a free lunch” or TINSTAAFL.)
In Heinlein’s novel, citizens of the moon expected to pay for what they received, even the air they breathed. These hearty, self-reliant people cast off their repressive masters on Earth and established a a free society. This book is beloved by libertarians.
The point of the phrase is that people must be responsible for their own welfare, not the state. Heinlein literature abounds with comments and situations in which a lack of self-reliance has a degrading effect on the human condition. This is where the “no free lunch” comes into play.
Heinlein was deeply suspicious of state-sponsored altruism to help the poor. He believed it robbed them of their independence. In I Will Fear No Evil, Heinlein introduces Joe Branca, the wife of the novel’s heroine. Joe is the illiterate product of an alcoholic welfare mother. Branca is deeply embittered over the government’s continued subsiding of his mother’s alcoholism. The book’s is set in a future society wracked by lawlessness caused in part by a paternalistic government ruling over an increasingly illiterate population.
In TAKE BACK YOUR GOVERNMENT: A Practical Handbook For the Private Citizen Who Wants Democracy To Work, Heinlein’s observed: ” Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ I was surprised to find an amazing and almost unanimous similarity in viewpoint on the part of the elderly rich and elderly poor. Mellowed and altruistic interests in the welfare and future of the whole community? Far from it! The elderly poor wanted $200 every month, or some other pension which would pay them more income than they ever earned while working, and they didn’t give a hoot what it did to the country! The elderly rich wanted the highest possible return from mortgages, rents, dividends, or other investment incomes, and they didn’t give a hoot what it did to the country.”
Another phrase that pops up throughout Heinlein’s fiction and nonfiction is “Bread and Circuses.” It refers to how theancient Roman emperors appeased the masses by distributing food and spending money on entertainment. Of course, this caused high taxes and diverted resources away from more valid state functions.
“Bread and Circuses” is the result when voters don’t head the warning of TANSTAAFL. By prmosing to hand out more goddies than their opponent, oliticians use voters’ desire for a “free lunch” to retain power. But the voters end up paying for it anyway, with higher taxes and a population unwilling to take care of themselves.
“What is supposed to happen in a democracy is that each sovereign citizen will always vote in the public interest for the safety and welfare of all. But what does happen is that he votes his own self-interest as he sees it … which for the majority translates as ‘Bread and Circuses’,” said Jubal Harshaw in Stranger in a Strange Land).
Maureen Johnson uses the phrase in To Sail Beyond the Sunset (1987) when listing the reasons for the decline of American civilization before it became a religious dictatorship under the Prophet, Nehemiah Scudder.
‘Bread and Circuses’;
The abolition of the pauper’s oath in Franklin Roosevelt’s first term;’
Peer group’ promotion in public school.
These three conditions heterodyne each other. The abolition of the pauper’s oath as a condition for public charity insured that habitual failures, incompetents of every sort, people who can’t support themselves and people who won’t, each of these would have the same voice in ruling the country, in assessing taxes and spending them, as (for example) Thomas Edison or Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Carnegie or Andrew Jackson. Peer group promotion insured that the franchise would be exercised by ignorant incompetents. And ‘Bread and Circuses’ is invariably what happens in a democracy that goes this route” unlimited spending on ‘social’ programs ends in national bankruptcy, which historically is always followed by dictatorship.”