I want to start by saying I have never studied economics. By that I mean that I have never possessed a textbook with the word “Economics” on the cover. I have studied in the other schools, “Having a job”, “Supporting a family”, and “Raising children”, as well as the specialized courses “Operating a small business” and  “Putting things back together after a disaster”.

The first rule in economics is “There is no such thing as a free lunch”. Milton Friedman managed to pay for several lunches from the money he earned from his 1975 book by that title, the phrase has been credited to Robert Heinlein in his 1966 book “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”, and Fiorello La Guardia, in a speech in 1933, although he actually said “È finita la cuccagna!”. Rudyard Kipling made a reference to the concept in 1891, and of course the first law of thermodynamics is essentially the same thing, energy cannot be created or destroyed. So apparently there are free quote attributions in life.

Despite this eternal wisdom, there are still people who believe that free lunches exist. This takes place at every level, from people asking a doctor for medical advice at a cocktail party, to a nation expecting free healthcare. Some of this comes from a lack of education, the failure to understand the meanings of words such as “price”, “cost”, “value”, “worth” and “taxes”.

The practice is widespread in what is often called the artistic community. I used to think this is because most people don’t appreciate artists, and believe there is no effort in creating a photograph, or design, or song. My second wife stopped singing at weddings as a gift, because her friends didn’t recognize that as a professional, her performance was of some meaningful value. My current wife was asked to design an entire promotional campaign for free, because it was a “charity”. It wasn’t a charity to which she was inclined to donate the thousands of dollars her effort was worth, and the firm they eventually hired didn’t think so either. What’s disturbing is when one artist does it to another, as in authors expecting graphic artists to design covers for free.

Everything on the internet is free, right? Downloading songs, copying artwork, if it’s there, it’s yours. Everyone does it, even me, this illustration by Melanie Gillman doesn’t have a © attached, so I took it.

Artists pay

I once thought it was about jealousy, as in the phrase “they have so much, they can afford to give some to me”. This is no different than Gordon Gekko‘s “Greed is good”. Greed is not good, and both thoughts are about greed. Greed is about wanting more than has been earned. Greed not only devalues the work of others, it devalues the greedy person’s self worth and the object of the greed.

Greed is a learned behavior, and it’s contagious. Within a system, if greed is rewarded, other people will not only learn to be greedy, they will justify their behavior by the actions of their teachers. Let this go on long enough and the entire system becomes corrupted. Look at our government, good people go in, and if they make it far they are no longer good people. The system, regardless of its intentions, becomes destructive.

Presently, the School District of the City of Philadelphia may not open for the academic year on schedule. Blame is flying at everyone involved, but the root is greed, the desire for a free lunch. Labor unions, designed to protect the hard working employees, have become corrupted by the lazy employees. The result has been the neglect of the most important of public institutions, education. A lack of academic results resulted in a lack of funding, and the courageous, dedicated teachers who are worth far more than they are paid are used as examples by the lazy babysitters who receive more than they are worth in salary negotiations. Dumping money into the school system has resulted in glistening high tech offices for the school system, and schools without books. Administrators with high six figure salaries ask families with low five figure total incomes for donations to pay operating costs, as if those families weren’t already paying exorbitant taxes for the privilege of a free education.

The schools in Philadelphia have been in trouble for so long that the “School Reform Commission” is a business in itself, where secretaries have larger offices than many high powered attorneys, and may be paid more as well. Meanwhile teachers watch the clock and bolt out of the building right behind their students. Some because they won’t spend a minute longer than their contract requires (I knew a teacher at a High School in Philly who said to me “You’ll need to be finished by 3:12, that’s when I leave”), and some so they can get to their second job, so they’ll have enough money for school supplies. Awards are given to schools for “Adequate Performance”. Excellence is no longer a goal.


Adequate Progress Award, proudly displayed

They stopped serving free lunches for students at schools before my time. The free lunch school administrators have been receiving is costing Philadelphia a generation of poorly educated students.


One comment on “Economics

  1. This lowering of the ‘bar’ and the subsequent lack of interest/passion/consideration exhibited by admin/educators/students/parents (etc) seems to be a prevalent edu ‘fix’ de jour. I think your argument about the perversive power of ‘greed’, in all it’s forms, in spot on. Should we run for the board?


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