Lemonade Wars: The State Battles Entrepreneurialism
The United States is a nation of cultural icons. Some places, symbols, and activities shout "America" with the voice of three hundred million citizens: the Statue of Liberty, Yankee Stadium, an Independence Day cookout. High on the list of those iconic symbols is the front yard lemonade stand. It represents the essence of budding entrepreneurialism and self-reliance.
Only the heartless can deny the joy of buying a lukewarm glass of "ice-cold" lemonade from an enterprising youth. The lemonade stand, and similar entrepreneurial adolescent pursuits, is the stuff of Americana, pure Norman Rockwell. Not only are the young shopkeepers cute, but they're participating in an activity as old as mankind. The lemonade stand proprietor has entered the world of capitalism, where merchant and customer voluntarily exchange items of value. Tragically, the child's lemonade stand, like capitalism, finds itself increasingly in the State's regulatory crosshairs.
Governments are targeting neighborhood lemonade stands throughout the land of the free. The reasons behind these "lemonade raids" are similar no matter their location. Young businessmen and businesswomen, like their mature counterparts, are running afoul of local codes and health ordinances, lacking required permits and licenses, or tripping over bureaucratic red tape. When even the childhood entrepreneur can't escape the overbearing and burdensome tentacles of government's regulatory octopus, what chance has the adult?
The Massachusetts State Police closed a 12-year-old boy's green tea stand because he didn't secure the requisite permits. Coralville, Iowa conducted a veritable raid on unsanctioned lemonade stands. Police in Midway, Georgia closed a lemonade stand because the three girls who operated it failed to obtain licenses and permits that cost $50 a day. A similar instance occurred in Appleton, Wisconsin. Villa Rica, Georgia police sent a Girl Scout troop home because the Scouts didn't have a peddler's permit to hawk their cookies. In New York, a city councilman summoned police to an unauthorized cupcake shop.
As would be expected, the various government agencies responsible for protecting the public from these snack food speakeasies defended their decisions, as well as the regulations that preceded them. The New York councilman, Michael Wolfensohn, said all vendors must conform to local ordinance, even if the "vendors" are two kids with a pan of brownies. Wolfensohn called police because they're "trained to deal with these sorts of issues."
And all this time you and I thought police were trained to deal with suspected criminals, not with people trying to make an honest dollar. Unless selling brownies for profit is a crime, or the teenage dealers were pushing hashish brownies, there's no reason for the police to be involved, save to investigate Councilman Wolfensohn for impersonating an intelligent human being.
A spokesman for Villa Rica defended the town's ordinance as a safety issue, enacted after a previous incident where a child seeking charitable donations ran into traffic. While no one wants a youngster to become a traffic statistic, the official explanation defies logic. Are we to assume a peddler's license would prevent an exuberant child from rushing into the street? Children chase balls, pets, and other objects into traffic every day. The presence of a permit will do nothing to curb potential harm to children. Parental supervision and oversight will further safety far more than will a peddler's permit, and parents were present when the Girl Scout cookie sale was shuttered.
One side-effect of the crusade against lemonade stands is the fear of police each incident instills in children. Subjecting children to police questioning over trivial incidents, like unlicensed lemonade stands, compromises the trust for police officers we attempt to teach our children. In defense of the officers themselves, most weren't enthused with confronting the treat-bearing scofflaws. In both the Villa Rica and Appleton cases, the responsible police departments issued apologies and made amends.
If the examples offered were isolated events, we might let them pass. But they're not isolated. There must be an explanation for government's hostility toward adolescent entrepreneurs. Liberty certainly isn't served when police departments are transformed into lemonade-stand task forces. But is there benefit to the State? It would appear so. Over time, children will become accustomed to such bureaucratic meddling, and police presence, in their daily business. The cause of liberty is curtailed while the power of the State intensifies.
Children aren't becoming wealthy selling lemonade by the drink. Nor are their lemonade stands a threat to established businesses, which shouldn't expect protectionist policies in a competitive market anyway. But children gain valuable lessons in capitalism and self-reliance when they operate a lemonade stand, or any similar part-time business. There lies the problem for the State. Self-reliance is the antithesis of collectivism, as collectivism relies on an ascending State.
Doubtful there's a widespread government conspiracy to socialize the under-16 lemonade market. The lemonade stand per se isn't a threat to government power. However, genuine independence -- learned in youth -- is a danger to the State's authority. The State's natural bent is to restrain self-reliance, and the easiest way to accomplish that goal is to stifle individualism before it starts.
The State has examined the neighborhood lemonade stand and, through necessity rather than conspiracy, deemed it a menace. In fact, the State has examined entrepreneurialism and found it dangerous, except for those entrepreneurs who are willing to play ball with the State. The message is clear. Anyone desiring to enter the business world must do so with the State as a not-so-silent partner. Otherwise, their enterprise will be fined, regulated, egregiously taxed, or closed outright. The decision rests less on the rule of law than on the State's arbitrary and heavy-handed decisions.
What better way to prepare tomorrow's entrepreneurs for the collectivist marketplace than to deny them the ability to operate the simplest of businesses today? Certainly boys and girls can't afford the permits, licenses, insurance policies, and health code upgrades that would put them in compliance with government regulations. However, introducing youth to the bureaucratic swamp is a lesson that serves the State long-term. Children become indoctrinated to the concept of the State meddling in all affairs, personal and private. It's a highly effective tactic, for the State.
Some youth will realize that the road to business success in America's increasingly socialist economy is to grease the palms and oil the skids of various government councils, boards, and commissions. These few learn to grant deference to the State in earning their individual livelihoods. Others will become discouraged with entrepreneurial pursuits. They will see bureaucracy for the monolithic obstacle to economic advancement it has become, and consider the regulatory burden too heavy to bear.
The State wins in either circumstance. Those willing to conform to the State's mandates acknowledge the State's authority over the individual's ability to exercise life's most basic liberty: the right to earn a living. The nonconformist entrepreneur, who rejects both the idea of begging a bureaucrat for the right to earn a living and that of being subject to the State's burdensome regulatory oversight, withdraws from the proprietor sector of the marketplace, becoming a wage-earner.
Both the willing conformist and the resigned nonconformist are easier to influence, regulate, and control than the self-reliant entrepreneur. Properly indoctrinated, people view the State as the ultimate arbiter of the ability to earn a living. Whether that authority is considered just or amoral is inconsequential, as long as the State's authority is acknowledged. And it all starts at the lemonade stand.