A search for "such thing as a free lunch" pulled up an article in the El Paso Herald-Post, June 27, 1938, entitled "Economics in Eight Words." This is a fable in which a king asks his advisers to summarize economics in a "short and simple text." They respond with 87 volumes of 600 pages each, drawing the king's wrath and accompanying executions. Further demands and more executions force ever-briefer summations, until, finally, the last economist, "a man of profound wisdom," speaks: "Sire, in eight words I will reveal to you all the wisdom that I have distilled through all these years from all the writings of all the economists who once practiced their science in your kingdom. Here is my text: 'There ain't no such thing as free lunch.'"
--Fred R. Shapiro, Yale Alumni Magazine, on who Milton Friedman cribbed the phrase from