Lemonade Stands: Instead Of Teaching A Kid About Running A Business, She Got A Lesson In Government Regulation [UPDATED]

The following is, on a micro level, a perfect compendiation of free-trade versus government regulation, all in the name of the so-called common good.

It was written by a bureaucrat (no less) fellow free-marketeer named Nicolas Martin, who’s the executive director of the Consumer Health Education Council in Indianapolis — and whom I incorrectly branded a bureaucrat until he gently corrected me — and it provides us with an excellent illustration of the axiom that once allowed in, bureaucracy becomes unstoppable.

From the May 1, 2011, Los Angeles 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 next morning I began a three-day phone trek through the maze of government agencies that regulate businesses and food sales, and I watched my child’s All-American plan crumble like fresh-baked cookies.

My first call was to the parks department, which maintains the trail. That agency is a sponsor of the local Lemonade Day, but, alas, does not permit lemonade stands on its properties any other day of the year. It especially doesn’t allow them alongside the trail. Why? They would be “dangerous”; accidents would happen. Do they expect any accidents on Lemonade Day, I asked? “No, we are confident nothing bad will happen that day.” Poof! Our best option for a profitable lemonade stand was gone.

My next calls were to the health department, where I eventually found an official who cheerfully told me that, except on Lemonade Day, no child can legally operate a lemonade stand in our city. Nowhere. No time. As far as she is concerned, Lemonade Day itself is just food poisoning waiting to happen.

A practical woman as well as a killjoy, she said that near her home, she wouldn’t prevent a kid from operating a stand: “The neighbors would hate me.” But if her department got a complaint about a kid in another neighborhood, the enforcement team would be dispatched. The kid would be instructed to shut down his stand. If he refused to obey, the police would be called to cite the child for violating the health code, which applies to children no less than to adults.

Most likely, no official would brave public ridicule for lowering the boom on a kid with a lemonade stand. But a parent might be a less controversial target for enforcement penalties, which could include fines and even jail time.

Don’t scoff. From time to time, zealous officials do force kids to shut down their lemonade stands. Even Girl Scouts have gotten into trouble for selling cookies in front of homes and businesses.

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.

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.



  • Nick

    May 1, 2011

    But remember, when you bitch about government you’re bitching about the American people.

    Suppose some lazy bastard sleeps until 3:00pm and wakes up hankering for some lemonade. He sees a stand across the street and heads over for a drink.

    But the industrious neighborhood kid has been selling lemonade since 8:00am, and his supply has now been sitting out in the sun for seven hours. It’s tainted.

    The lazy bastard drinks some tainted lemonade and gets sick.

    Can you honestly tell me you don’t think the lazy bastard is going to sue the shit out of the kid’s parents? Of course not.

    So he sues, then lots of stupid legislation gets introduced as a result.

    I’d wager that 90% of federal legislation is a result of Americans being a bunch of pussies.

    On a related note, when I lived in NYC, there was a kid selling lemonade in Central Park who got thrown out by the cops because he didn’t have a license. The kid set his stand up about 30 feet from a licensed vendor who complained.

  • Dale

    May 1, 2011

    And then?

  • Dale

    May 1, 2011

    Thanks for bringing us that story Ray.

    I remember being excited about building new things, startup businesses, growth and expansion, choice of options. The Saturday business block shows were business people talking about business, which one’s up, down, or sure to soar.

    Now I’m grateful my job is steady, confronted with massive outsource and displacement. The Saturday business block shows all include Democrat strategists explaining to business people the wrong of profit, need for government dominance, judgment, taxation, spending control, then the poor bastards try to guess which businesses might not get creamed by the government this year.

    Maybe I should declare myself an idiot, move to South America, and raise lizards.

  • Nick

    May 1, 2011

    You’re a third of the way there. Now just buy a plane ticket and some lizard food!

  • Dale

    May 2, 2011

    Please clarify “the common good”. From what I can tell, it means politicians pick winners and losers on phony moral grounds, then use government force to discriminate.

    Liberalism’s Descartes moment: “Don’t think, just do as I say.”

  • Greg

    May 2, 2011

    Damn Regulation Day. What a shame. Kids are learning that starting a business is hard but not in the way that they think.

  • Ray

    May 4, 2011

    Nicolas Martin, the author of the original article, has brought to my attention the following left-wing reply:


    Also well worth reading is Mr. Martin’s response in the comments section of the above link.

  • micky

    June 4, 2011

    Probably would of been subjected to less regulations if she were selling nickel bags og weed.
    Locally grown of course

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