Something for Nothing

Tuesday, August 31, 2010
By Paul Martin

by Walter E. Williams
LewRockwell.com

Perhaps the most difficult economic lesson is that we live in a world of scarcity and everything has a cost. Scarcity exists whenever human wants exceed the means to satisfy those wants. For example, Rolls-Royce produces less than 4,000 cars a year but it’s a safe bet that more than 4,000 of the Earth’s 6.5 billion people want a Rolls-Royce. That means Rolls-Royces are scarce. But it’s not just Rolls-Royces that are scarce. It’s clothing, food, land and most anything a human would want. There’s not enough to meet every single want.

Scarcity means there’s no free lunch. Having more of one thing requires having less of another. You might say, “Williams, that’s where you’re wrong. Someone gave me this newspaper and I’m reading your column for free!” Not true. If you weren’t spending time reading my column, you might have spent the time reading something else, chatting with your wife or children, or going out for a jog. You’re reading my column for a zero price but you’re not doing so at zero cost. You have to sacrifice something. There are zero-price services such as “free libraries,” “free public schools,” “free transportation” and free whatever. It doesn’t mean that costs are not being borne by somebody.

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