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We all know there is no such thing as a free lunch: so how would things be different if everyone in the world was magically provided a 600 Calorie, regionally appropriate, free lunch every day?

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    $\begingroup$ Your profile doesn't mention your location. Were you by chance in the US a few years ago when we all got a "tax rebate" that was supposed to boost the economy? Granted, that was a one-time thing not a daily thing, but the economy swallowed that event like it never happened. $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck Aug 12 '16 at 20:46
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    $\begingroup$ This feels like a very unbounded question. Free from whom? The government? The tooth fairy? Is this functionally equivalent to all humans magically getting 600 calories straight to their stomach? Or being photosynthetic? $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Aug 12 '16 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ 0.6 kcal is very little. A human needs somewhere around 2000 kcal per day; 0.6 kcal would barely make a dent in this. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 12 '16 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ in what timeline is this culture ? 600 kilocalories is what people used to work 12 hours a day for , today 600 kilocalories is roughly 30% of what people eat, only 5% if they are bodybuilders or the average medically obese person. $\endgroup$ – Charon Aug 12 '16 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling 600 Calories usually means 600 kcal, because 'Calorie' has a divergent meaning. In this case we can assume a food, or large calorie, which is in fact 1000 small calories. So 600 Calories would be approximately 30% of the daily intake, which is significant. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Aug 13 '16 at 6:00
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If the food is magically sourced, agriculture will be massively affected as there will be a fourth less demand. There will be less work to go around and people will flock to cities.

However if the food is transported magically from the farms, farmers are going to need to industrialise to keep up with demand.

Economically, people will be better off having to spend less money on food, they can afford luxury goods so that will have a positive impact on merchants initially but then prices will go up (supply/demand/inflation)

In addition, with having to earn less, people will be able to follow their hobbies so expect a bit outpouring of art and maybe even education (see the Renaissance for evidence)

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  • $\begingroup$ I completely disagree. "Lunch" consists of a very small percentage of an average person's income/expense ratio. It would be about the same as your annual raise. Yes, it helps, but not so much that it significantly changes your life overnight. $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck Aug 12 '16 at 20:59
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    $\begingroup$ @cobaltduck This is the perspective of someone living in a rich country. Millions (if not a billion) people have severe nutrition problem (food scarcity) and many other live in precarity. These people will really benefit from this. Also, there are poor people in rich countries that live from paycheck to paycheck and sometimes cuts on basic things like food. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Aug 12 '16 at 21:11
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    $\begingroup$ I should clarify that when answering I assumed a mediaeval level of technology with most people hungry/working for basics such as food - ie serfs and the like $\endgroup$ – Chris J Aug 12 '16 at 21:15
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For the very well off this will probably have little-to-no effect.

A free lunch could be convenient but if you're in a mood for something different that day you'll probably throw it away to buy something you really want to eat. Easy come, easy go.


For the not-so-well off this would be a godsend.

Even in first-world countries, the working-poor may sometimes have food security issues, which these free lunches would greatly alleviate. (Reduced-cost school lunches are often suggested by American educators as one method to help combat performance disparity between children from wealthy households and children from poorer households.)

This is only more pronounced in countries/regions where food scarcity is a significant problem. Countries facing drought or famine are magically finding some level of relief. Places living hand-to-mouth by subsistence farming are suddenly able to spend 1/3 of their time on other activities (education, leisure, etc.) or are finally able to save and invest with the 1/3 of their harvest that would otherwise need to be eaten for survival.

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The general understanding of the phrase "There's no such thing as a free lunch" is that when the costs are not transparent or hidden from the consumer, then undesirable consequences arise.

The first and most commonly cited is the moral hazard argument. People who are relying on "Free Lunch" at someone else expense will be less inclined to work. This is demonstrated in multiple settings, when jurisdictions relax the requirements for welfare or similar payment mechanisms, the number of people who receive welfare tend to grow, while when requirements are tightened up, the number of recipients shrink. This was demonstrated in Ontario, Canada back in the 1990's when the Harris government tightened welfare, the number of cases dropped dramatically as people denied free lunch returned to the workforce. This also happened in the 1990's under the Clinton Administration's welfare reforms as well, so this isn't a partisan argument. And of course various US States have also reduced welfare cases by instituting work requirements

The second consequence might be called the "all you can eat buffet" effect. In the United States, this is best demonstrated by Medicare/Medicaide. Since people have no idea of the costs of medical procedures now, they tend to demand more procedures and more visits to the doctor. In Canada, under a single payer system, the government attempts to solve this by rationing healthcare, yet the costs continues to escalate since demand outstrips supply by a large margin.

The third consequence of free lunch is people try to game the system. Once again the best known example is the Food Stamp program, where people will buy items and then resell them for cash, in order to purchase things that are not covered. More examples are here

And of course the free lunch has to be paid for somehow. Since the OP never specified how this was to be done, we can go from truly horrific scenarios (people are enslaved to grow the food and prepare the free lunches) to improbable tweaks to the laws of thermodynamics (free lunches magically appear, but an equivalent amount of energy is removed from the Universe as a whole). Regardless, the lunch still is being paid for, just offstage somewhere.

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