by Jinryu

Contrast the concept of “free” in French, which is separated into “libre” and “gratuit.”  Libre means free in a “liberty” sort of way– gratuit means free as in “at no cost.”  Free as in not a slave, versus free as in free beer.


The word free I think is one of those big weasel words nowadays… it’s especially insidious because most people would probably argue with you if you said something wasn’t free.

Take for example… Xanga.  Is Xanga free?

What about Gmail, or Hotmail, or whatever?


 People make the common mistake of equating “free” with “I don’t have to pay money.”  But money isn’t the only currency in the world.  The fact is, a lot of stuff that we use for “free” on the internet is ad-supported– that is to say, in exchange for the service, we’re forced to look at ads.  That’s the deal.  Not too bad, I suppose?

 On a side note, how expensive something is basically translates to how “free” something is.  Something that’s more expensive is “less free” while something that’s cheaper is “more free.”

We’re always so concerned about getting things free and saving money though that we don’t see that we don’t always see how in reality, we’re paying in other ways.  So, what are the hidden, long term costs of buying a major grocery chain’s branded carton of milk for cheaper (more free) than a more expensive carton of milk from a local dairy farmer?


What is the real cost of paying  a few cents less for gasoline?

 I’ve been toying with this idea of ‘externalization’ as a psychological thing.  You hear about corporations externalizing costs– for example, CO2 emissions are often given off by manufacturing processes, but that’s okay for them– even though CO2 emissions have a toll on all humans, this area isn’t all that regulated.    The abstraction of the affected group allows for the externalization of the detriment– we can’t see the partiucular victim of CO2 emissions from one factory to one victim, so somehow, it’s all right beacuse of the invisibility (or the ignorance).  Externalization refers to how the person who pays the costs is actually external to the process itself– manufacturing company makes something, and gets paid for it, but who foots the bill for the emissions?  People in the contract, but also, people who didn’t sign up for the contract.  That means that even when someone pays a manufacturer to do something, the random somebody, that is to say, you, are sucking in a bit of extra CO2.  They’re dipping in your pie.  They’ve externalized one of the costs of manufacturing onto us, because we don’t pay attention to things flying around if it’s not money.

Externalisation as a psychological thing– I mean this on an indvidual scale. Sure, we can point at corporations… hating on corporations is all the rage nowadays.  But what about holding ourselves responsible?  What about making sure that we don’t use the same practices, of trying hide or offload the costs on someone else?


It’s the same thing with everyday things.  You drive a car to work– you think you’re paying for gas, so perhaps you have a right to drive.  But is the cost you pay for that gas really entitling you to everything that comes out of that purchase?   Does the cost of your gas go into cleaning the air that everyone breathes?  Does it pay back dead soldiers and civilians in countries you’ve never even seen, who basically die over oil-driven wars?  

Or, are you content that these pennies per litre are a fair price?


“Free,” as well as derivative degrees of freeness, really has to do with the proportion of indirect monetary costs, or the externalization of costs.


Chances are, there is no such thing as a free lunch.