TANSTAAFL

Robert Heinlein was a truly brilliant writer and social commentator. One of his best observations was the TANSTAAFAL Principle — “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” Heinlein noted that NOTHING is free, that everything has its cost — the only question is who pays for it, and what it costs. It’s a social application of the First Law of Thermodynamics — energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can only change form.

It’s a widely-accepted principle of our justice system that every defendant is entitled to a lawyer, even if they can’t afford one. But these are not “free” lawyers — the state pays them. And since the state has no money of its own, but only that which it collects from the people, it means we all pay for those lawyers.

And what happens if the state decides to not pay those lawyers as much as they believe their time is worth? Fewer lawyers sign up with the program, and the state ends up with a huge backlog of cases because the accused have no legal representation. In some cases, the charges might even have to be dismissed because of the lack of lawyers.

Which is precisely what is happening in Massachusetts right now.

I don’t have a solution to offer for this problem, but I certainly think it’s a warning to other states — and something that ought to be looked into before any other counties reach the crisis point.

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  1. SilverBubble July 6, 2005
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