The terrible cost of free doughnuts

During the Second World War, the Red Cross provided free doughnuts to US troops fighting in Europe. Then they started charging 2¢ for a doughnut and coffee. 70 years later, veterans still haven’t gotten over that betrayal. NPR Planet Money explain why: basically, it comes down to the special nature of “free”, and the fact that the change altered the perceived relationship between the Red Cross and the veterans, from “friendly charity” to “money-making business”.

It seems to me that this issue of categorical change vs price change is part of the reason why I am so vehemently against the TSA’s policy of charging for security screening that hasn’t been deliberately slowed down. Getting security screened as fast as possible was a free service, and it’s not part of what I’m paying for when I book a plane flight. Being charged extra to not get deliberately and unnecessarily delayed at the airport is a categorical change, right? Meanwhile, while I don’t like baggage check charges, they don’t fill me with the kind of furious rage that the TSA does.

There’s a lesson for Internet companies too. Facebook’s attempt to charge for sending a message to someone you don’t know? Their attempt to charge for having your update be seen by all your friends? Categorical changes, very unpopular.