Food For Thought

Nothing is Free

by Dr. John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John Bonfadini

We claim to live in a free society, but nothing is really free. All things come with a cost. You have the right to freedom of speech, but also the responsibility to protect that right. Without the willingness to protect the right, the freedom would soon be lost.

This concept carries to all things we say are free. Like a good marriage, freedom and responsibility are merged into one relationship.

Todayís society has lost contact with the responsibility part of the marriage. We want everything free. The past few generations have been taught that is better to get something free than to obtain it through hard work. In my opinion this concept is not what our founding fathers had in mind when they developed the framework for the ďLand of The Free.Ē

Iíve searched my mind in an attempt to find out how we as a nation have come to worship getting things free. The morning paper gave me a clue. The weekly ads had several offers to buy one item and get a second one free. The cost of the item was $10, so you were getting the items for $5 each ó  nothing was free except the perception.

The questions a purchaser should ask are (1) Do I need the item? (2) Is it a reasonable price? (3) Can I pay for it in a reasonable time? A large number of ads emphasize the sale of items for less than their full value. The media bombards us with the notion that getting something free is a part of daily life. Nothing should be purchased because someone says itís free. If responsible-purchasing messages took up as much print space as the get-something-free ads, we might be headed in the right direction.

Our government operates on the same principle, trying to get the populace to think that services provided are free. Iím now a Social Security recipient. I retired after 43 years of teaching and qualified for Social Security benefits. I paid into the program all my life so what I get, I donít think is totally free, but I also realize that we canít maintain the system for future retirees the way itís set up now.

Weíve developed the perception that you should have sufficient money when you retire to travel the world, buy a second vacation home, and live like a king just by investing your money with company X. You donít have to do a thing. You wonít have to build a product, provide a service, or do a common labor job. Just sit back and watch your money grow. By the age of 55 you should be sitting pretty, free to do what you want. We can no longer provide for retirement at the age of 55 (I donít care what the profession) when most will live to the age of 80. It just doesnít work that way and weíd better start teaching our children these facts. Their future is their responsibility, and itís not free. 

Many kids play organized sports with the hope of getting a free education. Study and make good grades so you can get a free ride to school. That ride isnít free, someone is paying for it. I can remember the local battle over ďFree Textbooks.Ē It wasnít a matter of the textbooks being free; it was how to pay for them. Many people look for a quick way to financial freedom by purchasing lottery tickets. We say the money is also going to help schools or older people. Again, in my view itís just another way to have the public believe that you can get something for nothing. Even those who win financial freedom must realize they have a newfound responsibility to use the money wisely.

Public or private education isnít free education. At the end of 12 years students should have learned that they owe a debt to society that must be responsibly paid back. Understanding this concept is far more important than an additional class in algebra or a foreign language.

Every year we fight battles in Congress in an attempt to determine the direction of this country. The word free is used in almost every speech. After this yearís budget battles I often wonder if the members of Congress ever read Lincolnís Gettysburg Address, especially the ending phrase, ď Ö we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain ó that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom ó and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.Ē

A new symposium on the word free is exactly what we need today. We need to put things in proper perspective. Things arenít free and we must pay our bills. Two ways to achieve this goal is a balanced approach to spending and revenue. Ideological battles prove nothing. If we are to maintain the greatest measure of freedom we must provide for ourselves as much as possible.

We have all benefited from the good times of the past; now it is time to give something back and expect a little less in the future until we FREE ourselves from the chains of unreasonable debt. The future is not free ... it must be earned. 

Want to make a quick response? Tweet me at

Whats Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.




Home ] Up ] Caught in the Web ] Cover Story ] Dining with Dan ] Down Home ] Editorial ] [ Food For Thought ] Happenings ] Reader Recipes ] Rural Living ] Say Cheese ]