Lemonade Day – a lesson in government regulation
Once upon a time a kid could set up a lemonade stand virtually anywhere and make a few bucks. Sadly those days are over as you are now subject to government harassment and even prosecution should you try it now. In many areas you need a business license and Health Department inspection to set up a simple lemonade stand. But wait, there’s hope. You can do this one day a year on Lemonade Day. That’s right, one day a year many cities will allow this so that kids can “learn and appreciate” entrepreneurship. Actually, it’s a lesson in government regulation (story here from the LA Times).
My 8-year-old recently got the lemonade stand itch. So we started laying plans to enrich her college fund by enticing passers-by with white chocolate-pistachio cookies and juice from organic lemons. Fortunately, our property backs onto one of the busiest paved urban trails in America, bustling on weekends with cyclists, rollerbladers and pedestrians. Visions of dollars danced in our heads.
Googling for the perfect lemonade recipe, we soon found a site promoting a May 1 “national” event called Lemonade Day. This event, organizers say, is an “initiative designed to teach kids how to start, own and operate their own business — a lemonade stand.” What better day to begin building our lemonade empire?
After shopping for her raw materials, I gave my kid a bedtime primer about starting a business. How much profit do you make after expenses? How should you promote your business? Give the customer a great product. She soaked it up and went to sleep all inspiration and smiles. Then I got to thinking about something I hadn’t discussed with her: government regulations.
The author relates a three day odyssey of contacting various government agencies about setting up a simple lemonade stand. The bottom line was that under normal circumstances, a simple child’s lemonade stand was out of the question. They would allow it, however, for Lemonade Day.
What the Lemonade Day organizers should teach the children, said the health official, is about the importance of learning and obeying the government regulations that prohibit lemonade stands.
If we had made it past the health and parks departments, my kid would have been stymied by zoning laws that prohibit lemonade stands in residential neighborhoods. Overcoming that barrier, we would have hung our heads at the daunting costs of business and vending licenses, not to mention taxes.
Lemonade Day is promoted as a way to “inspire a budding entrepreneur!” But it is actually a dispiriting lesson about how hard it now is to become an entrepreneur, whether you’re an adult or a child. It is about how even the most harmless enterprise, the humble lemonade stand, has been sacrificed on the altar of government regulation.
“Obeying the government” – that’s the real lesson here. The author handles it well.
Learning to be an entrepreneur “starts with a lemonade stand,” say the organizers of Lemonade Day. But they don’t want to talk about the regulations that make it impossible for my kid to become a lemonade stand entrepreneur. They tell me it is “silly” and “beside the point” to focus on the regulations. I am told that Lemonade Day is about kids learning to “give back to their communities,” “do better in school” and “open bank accounts.” It is not about something so self-serving as making a profit by selling a good product. That is the old American way, but the new way is living with rules that banish the lemonade stand to one government-approved day a year.
What are my kid and I going to do on Lemonade Day? We are going to set up a stand in one of the permitted locations — in a park or at one of the approved sponsors — with hundreds of other kids doing the same thing. But our “secret ingredient” is that we will hand out leaflets explaining why operating a lemonade stand makes my kid and yours not just a hopeful entrepreneur, but an actual lawbreaker.
Next year they should rename it Regulation Day.
It makes you wonder if America can survive this assholery…