The concept of TANSTAAFL is ubiquitous in economics–“there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” If something is advertised as free, there are probably strings attached. Solid advice.
My favorite class in college was an advanced Economics course taught by Israel Kirzner on Austrian Economics. I’ll never forget the time he stood in front of us all and smiled, as if he were a benevolent magician anticipating our delight as he imparted to us with a stage whisper–“There are free lunches everywhere!”
My Christmas gift to my parents never arrived. Weeks later, it turned out the matching set of Grandma and Grandpa scented candles in apothecary jars was not only sold out permanently, but mine had been declared lost by the international courier. The US company was very sorry and offered to replace the candles I had purchased with two other candles that retailed for over twice as much as I had paid. I was disappointed, but accepted their replacement and they guaranteed it would ship out that day. (And I have to admit, the idea of owning an $85 candle was pretty seductive. How can $85 of value be squeezed into one small cylinder of wax?)
That very same afternoon, however, the lost packages arrived on my doorstep. Wrapped adorably, even!
I wasn’t sure what would happen–would the company find out it had been found and stop the replacement order? I couldn’t very well ask them about it, so when nothing came for a few days I began to lose heart. I wanted my free super-expensive replacement candles. My instinct was, markets are NOT that efficient, and to just be patient.
I was right. The following Saturday, this arrived on my front door:
Oh well, I thought. I guess they only shipped one. At least it was the more expensive one.
But then, I checked the back door:
I guess they just sent two of the more expensive ones instead of that inferior, ugly-sister $65 candle!
So, I had thought the matter already settled in my favor and long since laid to rest, when this past week, I got one more package from them:
Ugly-sister candle! You are so much more beautiful than I remembered.
I had stumbled upon the Perfect Storm of market inefficiencies–about four or five fuck-ups all had to go my way in a row for this outcome. I won the candle lottery! And since I figure the markup on an $85 candle is probably about $83, I can’t even feel too guilty about it.