When I was little, I remember having a book on my bookshelf called, "Better Than a Lemonade Stand." The book, by Daryl Bernstein, was full of business ideas for young people who wanted to make a little cash. Mowing lawns, raking leaves, picking up after dogs, walking dogs, dry cleaning pickup, and photography were all ideas found in it. I remember a variety of little business ventures I had as a young person, including some out of that book. One winter break, my grandmother and I made a bazillion beautiful bookmarks that I then proceeded to sell out of my garage. I had lemonade stands, mowed lawns, and even handed out magazines at the Travis Air Force Base Commissary.
Looking back now, the contents of that book, and the various ventures that I had, are all illegal or impractical in today's California.
Just a few months ago, a little girl in Texas became the latest victim in a long string of lemonade stand shutdowns often including health department officials and armed police officers. Despite the large number of young kids in my neighborhood, not one is mowing and edging the neighborhood yards.
It's a combination of things, really, that has led to this sorry state of childhood. While many would blame solely the overzealous regulation of every aspect of human life that has come to exist, lawsuit mania also plays a small part.
Many people, especially in California, don't want a young person mowing their lawn to begin with. Why? It's not because they do a bad job, or that they for some reason hate children, but rather that they don't want to risk getting sued, and can you blame them? We live in a new world where nothing is sacred.
Someone's word is practically worthless when anyone and everyone will lie to get a few bucks in court. Even a waiver isn't enough when people are suing skydiving companies for injuries they sustained because they didn't pay enough attention during orientation. To be fair, most frivolous lawsuits are not won when taken to court, but the legal costs of being taken to court are more than enough to scare anyone into a cash settlement.
How is that any different from extortion? I have yet to figure that out.
And then you have the ever-expanding list of regulations that chokes out plenty of regular businesses. To go back to that earlier statement about nothing being sacred, regulators and bureaucrats are not meant to be the arbitrators of who gets regulated and who doesn't. We can't ask county Health Department workers to give 8-year-olds special treatment, because we can't ask them to give anyone special treatment.
That's simply the nature of government; a one-size fits all choker leash.
But maybe, if we had just a little faith in our fellow human beings, we would recognize that nobody intentionally sells dangerous food. Even if someone did, they wouldn't for long because the free market would dry up their business and result in a few merited lawsuits that would instantly put the place out of business.
So, regulators, put your health department-assigned phone down and don't call the armed police. No one is going to get sick from a little kid putting country time powder in a pitcher of water and selling it for 50 cents a cup, or for that matter baking a box of Krusteaz brownies. Are you that concerned about losing the potential tax revenue on a couple dollars between neighbors that your instinct is to freak out and shut it down?
Teenagers have already become a casualty to the war on learning, as the learning wage and its companion the summer job have been essentially outlawed by anti-learning politicians. It will be a much larger fight to regain that freedom, but it will be far easier if we first make sure that learning about human nature in the most innocent (and often adorable) way isn't completely outlawed by bureaucrats.
Even 10 years ago, I remember doing all kinds of little jobs here and there and people never worrying about legality and liability. What has changed? Simply an acceleration of government and regulatory growth.
The Free Range Parenting Movement is reminding America that it's okay for kids to be exposed to nature, something of which I am a huge supporter. But I also think that we need a Free Market Parenting Movement. We need to expose children to economics in the same way we expose them to nature, from a young age, and encouraging personal initiative.
After all, what is economics but the study and observation of human nature? The lemonade stand is individual voluntary interaction in which one person says, "I like that, if I give you this will you let me have that?" Likewise mowing lawns is the same in which one person says, "I don't like doing that but if you'll do it, I'll give you this." What could be more natural?
One tip for any young person making lemonade this weekend: Don't use powder. Make some real lemonade with plenty of sugar already melted in hot water and remember to dilute the bejeezus out of it. This is California, you can't walk past a single lot without seeing a ton of lemons bearing down on a tree.
The author is a 19-year-old Woodland Community College student and a fourth generation Solano County farmer.