How free coffee connects to freedom

By Julian Hassan

A free society flourishes by spreading around knowledge. This sounds complicated, but it isn’t. It’s a natural, human thing we do when shackling barriers to social cooperation are eliminated.

Prices convey knowledge. They represent countless bits of information, such as whether a typhoon in Asia that interrupted crops is behind a price rise for toothpaste in Milwaukee. The Foundation for Economic Education teaches this message by providing students with free copies of the libertarian primer I, Pencil:

Leonard Read’s delightful story, “I, Pencil,” has become a classic, and deservedly so. I know of no other piece of literature that so succinctly, persuasively, and effectively illustrates the meaning of both Adam Smith’s invisible hand—the possibility of cooperation without coercion—and Friedrich Hayek’s emphasis on the importance of dispersed knowledge and the role of the price system in communicating information that “will make the individuals do the desirable things without anyone having to tell them what to do.”

So whether or not you’re a coffee drinker, we have some exciting news to share in the spirit of liberty. This morning, McDonald’s started giving away free coffee with breakfast, which you can ask for every morning through September 29th.

Free things can also convey knowledge! Namely, McDonald’s didn’t have great breakfast sales in August. reports:

The move comes at a time when the world’s fast food giants are embroiled in a battle for consumers’ breakfast dollars, when on-the-go Americans are less likely to be eating cereal or anything else at home—and are more prone to swing by a chain restaurant for a quick fix of calories and caffeine. After Taco Bell launched a breakfast menu earlier this year (and also launched some funny ads poking fun of Ronald McDonald to generate attention), McDonald’s responded by giving away coffee for a 14-day period starting in late March.

Who would have thought? But we don’t have to wait for commentators to tell us what’s happening next time we see a price drop or a promotion. Let’s exercise our skills as economic detectives in the spirit of I, Pencil and consideration of the role of knowledge in society.