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Tanstaafl
by michael e. evans
05/14/04
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When I got divorced, a few years ago, health problems and our collective economic dysfunction forced my ex-wife to seek public assistance. I never really thought of it as welfare. Sure, we were having a tough time, but we had paid into the system, now it was time to take some out. Or as Jerry told Marcel Ledbetter; “That’s your money. Put on your best and sign up.”

Much later, I was having lunch with my daughter and drinking my first carton of milk in a decade when my wife and I began reminiscing about the cost of things in days gone by. “Was milk a quarter or a nickle? No, lunch was a quarter and milk was a nickle.” Suddenly Gabrielle chimed in with a measure of boastfulness; “Well the cartons of milk at my school are bigger than this and my lunch is FREE.”

Horror of horrors. My daughter is on welfare. Here I sit, well educated, hard working, loving, giving and extremely intelligent. And my daughter is on welfare. And what’s worse, is that she doesn’t seem to realize or appreciate the fact that someone else is buying her lunch.

I quickly interjected; “No! Your lunch is not free.” After a brief exchange, I think I impressed upon her that someone was, in fact, paying for her lunch every day. But in the process, I realized that such simple misnomers are doing some heavy civic damage. We live in a world where some citizens have a very bad attitude and express little or no gratitude. Meanwhile, back at the ranch (corporate office, cul de sac, condo), others are growing very weary in well doing.

I remember watching a Naughty By Nature video, years ago, and experiencing similar feelings when Treach made the arrogant declaration: “If you weren’t born in the ghetto, then you don’t understand the ghetto....so stay the f___ out of the ghetto!” I thought to myself: Doesn’t he realize that the ghetto is public housing and the people he is addressing actually own the ghetto and can kick his obstinate behind out of the ghetto? But maybe he grew up under the misconception that what he was receiving was free or maybe even owed.

Don’t misunderstand me -- people need help. And those who don’t need help really need to help those who need help. Or as Marvin Gaye put it, in a very different era; “Some of us are aware that it is good for us to care.” But we need to fix the nomenclature and make better use of the system’s paraphrenalia lest the givers start snatching the privileges because the takers never think to say thanks. Here’s one suggestion.

We now use milk cartons as billboards to keep the plight of missing persons before the public. How about using them to clarify the cost of benevolence? Example:

Today, your lunch was bought by John Q. Public. Mr. P, as he is affectionately called by his friends and family, is a third generation carpenter. He graduated from PS 131 in NYC and has an associate’s degree from City College. He learned carpentry from his high school shop teacher and got his first job as a carpenter’s apprentice at the age of 16. He is proud to be a hard worker and a tax payer and he is glad to be able to help others who are less fortunate. Be sure to say thanks when you see him or others in his profession on your way to and from school. Because, as two Lebanese retaurateurs used to clearly display in their Raleigh, NC deli: TANSTAAFL: There ain't no such thing as a FREE lunch.




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Corinne Smelker  19 May 2004
Interesting, thought provoking article. I liked the references you used, perhaps (if this were for a Christian audience) you would consider bringing in a scripture reference too. The title certainly was interesting, and was what drew me into the story in the first place. Have you tried getting this published?




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