The rupee a day a man can feed

The “free lunch” refers to the once-common tradition of saloons in the United States providing a “free” lunch to patrons who had purchased at least one drink. Many foods on offer were high in salt (e.g., ham, cheese, and salted crackers), so those who ate them ended up buying a lot of beer. Rudyard Kipling, writing in 1891, noted how he

…came upon a bar-room 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.7

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TANSTAAFL, on the other hand, indicates an acknowledgement that in reality 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, although that may be a hidden cost or an externality. For example, as Heinlein has one of his characters point out, a bar offering a free lunch will likely charge more for its drinks.8

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