I was in London last month, and, prompted by a conversation overheard in a line for the Natural History Museum, made this Facebook post:

“Laughed inside (a sad laugh) when I heard a father say to his son while waiting to enter the meseum this AM:” it’s a great gesture…the city makes the museum free. ” uh yeah… Free as in: people other than those using the museum pay for it.”

While in London I was amazed at how expensive everything was. Everything, that is, except for museums. My guess: the tax imposed on businesses and individuals in order to offer “free” admission to museums is readily passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices at typical/all merchants. Your “free” trip to the museum results in a dinner that costs 50% more than it would in any other big city that you’ll ever visit.

Or maybe the high prices are the result of somebody having to pay for the “free” healthcare provided by the National Health System. This is important to consider because of bu***it like the Obama campaign’s “The Life of Julia“.

Here is the panel (not directly linkable) for Julia at age 31:

“Throughout her pregnancy, she benefits from…free screenings under health care reform.”

“Free” screenings aren’t free. Somebody is paying for them. Somebody that isn’t getting the screenings is paying for them. Or, the person getting the screenings is paying for them in the horribly inefficient manner of being taxed, having those tax dollars slosh through a slew of friction-filled government accounts and agencies, and eventually having those tax dollars being distributed to the doctor that performed the “free” screening and submitted a dozen pieces of paperwork to half a dozen different agencies, each of which requires a different (paid) clerical worker at the hospital.

It’s not free. It’s never free.

I was golfing with a friend who is a member of a private country club. I asked him how much I owed him for the round. He said, “Oh, don’t worry about it, it’s free for members.” Except that it’s not – the cost of the golf is implicit in the cost of the membership. You pay X dollars to be in the club, so whatever the club “gives” you is coming out of that X dollars.

Stop fooling yourself: it’s not free. It’s never free.

-JD Cross