The Psychological Value of a Free Lunch


Is the saying “there is no free lunch” really true?




The saying that “there is no free lunch” suggests that there are often mixed consequences for getting something for free. What seems free will always have hidden or implicit costs for someone.

Of course, literally speaking, free lunches have existed for a long time. The phrase may have originated in 19th century America saloons where free lunches were included as long as a drink was bought. Free lunches have been provided for basic nourishment in some schools with children from poor families.

As discussed in TIME’s article, “Inside the Nation's Largest Guaranteed Income Experiment,” there is a growing development in the country that can be used for a free lunch.1 Some variety of guaranteed income was a prominent feature of Andrew Yang’s presidential nomination run.

TIME started their story with the example of a poor family that had not experienced a sit-down meal at a restaurant in months. “It made me very happy,” said the mechanic recipient of a groundbreaking economic experiment called the Compton Pledge. He will receive $900 every 3 months for now.

A cynic could say that the restaurant meal was a frivolous way to spend some of that money, and if this is common, it will be a failed experiment. Psychologically speaking, it may have made the recipient and his family seem more valued. If so, that may be as valuable as the money itself.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.


1. Vesoulis A, Abrams A. Inside the nation’s largest guaranteed income experiment. TIME. September 16, 2021. Accessed October 14, 2021.

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