At Work & Economics 101

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch, Not Even at Chipotle

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You may have noticed a slight change in the bag design since Chipotle unveiled the Cultivating Thought: Author Series in May of this year.

After a frustrating, entertainment-less meal, author Jonathan Safran Foer was inspired to provide brief, thought-provoking vignettes to fast food patrons who might have forgotten to bring a book.

He pitched the idea to Chipotle CEO Steve Ells, and, having gained approval, solicited contributions from ten notable authors and comedians. The results can be seen on paper bags and cups in a Chipotle restaurant near you.

Setting aside the controversies arising due to Foer’s advocacy of vegetarianism and the notable lack of representation of Mexican-American authors in the project, the campaign has succeeded in making people think. I rather like having a bit of reading to accompany my Barbacoa rice bowl with guacamole and pico de gallo.

But, my enjoyment came to an abrupt halt when a coworker pointed out one bag with this George Saunders quote on it:

Hope that, in future, all is well, everyone eats free, no one must work, all just sit around feeling love for one another.

I can see the appeal of a world without toil, where you can count on grace and love from everyone around you. But a world without work? And free lunches?

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

If you look up the term “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” you’ll learn that though Milton Friedman wrote a book with that title, the phrase has been in use for years. It originally referenced  the food American saloon keepers would offer to lure patrons to buy drinks, and has since come to symbolize the impossibility of a handout without strings attached.

Because we live in a world defined by scarcity, every exchange must be paid for somehow, either by you or someone else.

Welfare programs must be paid through taxes; “free” continental breakfasts are covered in the price of the hotel room; and that cool tech t-shirt that came in your marathon packet was included in the registration fee. (Feel free to suggest exceptions to this rule in the comment section below).

Ultimately, the only exception to the rule of scarcity is the ultimate gift of salvation in Christ. There was nothing we could have done and nothing we can do now to merit the gift of relationship in Christ. His sacrifice reverses the effects of sin, and through sanctification we are brought back, slowly, to the original calling for which we were created: to glorify God and to subdue and have dominion over God’s creation through our work.

A Work-Free World?

Saunders also hopes for a future where “no one must work.” Yet, as we often reference at IFWE, we were created for work.

The cultural mandate in Genesis 1:26 comes before the Fall. God didn’t impose work as a punishment. Rather, the punishment that attended the Fall manifests itself in our sinful natures and the brokenness of the world around us. Work was not originally as painful and frustrating as it is now.

Concurrently, in a broken world, we are not at liberty to simply sit around and experience loving emotions. Love, like work, is complex and made more difficult through sin.

It’s natural for us to chafe at the discomfort that comes in our work, and it makes sense for George Saunders to include it in his ideal future world.

But, instead of desiring freedom from work, we should desire freedom from the sin that entangles us. A perfect world, in line with the one God created for us in the beginning, includes work.

Chipotle and George Saunders, you can keep your work-free world. I’ll take the burrito.

What are your thoughts on Saunders’s quote? Leave your comments here

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  • Chris Jordan

    Great blog. Although free to “us” our salvation was most costly to Jesus’ Father and to Jesus. Our salvation came at an unimaginable price. No such thing as cheap or free Grace.

  • Jason

    Great article. In one sense, since we were created to work from the very beginning and since we are freed up by the completed work of Jesus to work out of our unique giftedness (Ephesians 2:8-10), all of our lunches that we work for can be a very “free” experience. Work is hard, but it is good, and it it is the natural expression of the unique gifts we have been given. All of our talents have been given to us. How we were created and designed was not of our doing. Living out our uniqueness flows incredible wealth that we were given from our Creator. In essence, we have each been given a lifetime of free lunches and we have the amazing opportunity to “trade lunches” (our creative gifts put to work in exchange for the creative gifts of others put to work) everyday.

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