Government is trying to save you from lemonade stands

The summer of 2018 may go down as the year the nanny state tried to kill the lemonade stand.

For generations, a summer tradition for boys and girls has been to make lemonade, set up a stand in front of their house or near a busy road, and earn money for that special toy they have been wanting, or maybe just to save for a future purchase. For a moment in time, children turn into entrepreneurs, even though they probably couldn’t tell you what the word means.

But lemonade stand entrepreneurs have met a force that strikes fear in the hearts of even the most seasoned professionals: the government regulator.

By now you have probably heard the stories, but they bear repeating because of the sheer lunacy of feeling the need to shut down a lemonade stand, and because they highlight the overcriminalization of our society thanks to laws we have adopted to fix every supposed issue or problem.

In California, the family a five-year-old girl received a letter from their city’s Finance Department saying that she needed a business license for her lemonade stand after a neighbor complained to the city. The girl received the letter four months after the sale, after she had already purchased a new bike with her lemonade stand money. The young girl wanted the bike to ride around her new neighborhood as her family had just moved.

In Colorado, three young boys, ages two to six, had their lemonade stand shut down by Denver police for operating without a proper permit. The boys were selling lemonade in hopes of raising money for Compassion International, an international child-advocacy ministry. But local vendors at a nearby festival didn’t like the competition and called the police to complain. When word of this interaction made news, the local Chick-Fil-A stepped up as you would expect from Chick-Fil-A. They allowed the boys to sell lemonade inside their restaurant, plus they donated 10 percent of their own lemonade profits that day to Compassion International.

In New York, the state Health Department shut down a lemonade stand run by a seven-year-old after vendors from a nearby county fair complained. Once again, they were threatened by a little boy undercutting their profits. A state senator in New York has since filed legislation to legalize lemonade stands. That is correct, we need new laws to clarify that a seven-year-old can run a lemonade stand with the government’s blessing.

For those who may read this and believe the world has gone crazy, we do have a story in Missouri that ended on a good note – though there is plenty of crazy in this story. An eight-year-old boy was being heckled by neighbors inquiring about his permit. If those potential customers got sick, they wanted to know “who we should go to.” The neighbors then proceeded to yell at the boy’s mom after the boy went inside. Fortunately for the boy, the local police department heard about the incident and came by the boy’s lemonade stand to show their support, and to provide their stamp of approval.

As parents and as a society, we should be encouraging entrepreneurship. We should celebrate young boys and girls who want to make money, whether it’s for a new bike or to give to a ministry. When children have the right heart and the right ideas and are willing to take actions, we shouldn’t discourage it. The lessons are valuable. They learn that money comes from work, that you have to plan, and then produce a stand, signs, and lemonade. Introducing kids to the concepts of marketing, costs, customer service, and the profit motive is a good thing.

And why it has always been celebrated in our society for a long time.

Until, at least in a few places, 2018. But I suppose these interactions also provide these young children with another valuable but unfortunate lesson: beware of government and crony capitalism. Vendors who don’t like competition use the law to eliminate competition. And government, however good the intentions may have been, created the laws that actually   work against the development of entrepreneurial values by regulating lemonade stands.

As often happens when government steps in to solve a problem, there are unintended consequences few are willing to acknowledge.

Hopefully, the absurdity of these stories has raised more than a few eyebrows. Perhaps they will cause people to recognize the downside of our regulatory burden and maybe even cause legislators to review more than a few of the laws, rules, and licensing regimes that are stifling growth, innovation, and capitalism. If we want a thriving and growing economy, we’ve got to have more entrepreneurs – including those future ones who sell lemonade in their neighborhoods today.

This column appeared in the Northside Sun on August 9, 2018. 

Brett Kittredge

Brett Kittredge is the Director of Marketing and Communications for Mississippi Center for Public Policy.