free lunch

Despite the claims of rabid science fiction fans, the phrase there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch began its life as a joke that was commonly told by economists in the first half of the 20th century.

The joke goes that one day a king assembled his advisors and asked them to summarize the essence of economics wisdom. One by one, the advisors delivered lengthy treatises on the subject. Angry that they weren’t doing what he had asked, the king had them executed. When it came to his turn one wise advisor, realizing what was happening, summed up all of economics wisdom in there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, pleasing the king and sparing his life.

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