Buy From a Lemonade Stand, Take a Stand for Freedom

Buy From a Lemonade Stand, Take a Stand for Freedom
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Regulators and bureaucrats have come up with a way to turn tasty lemonade into sour lemons. Victims range from kids running a lemonade stand to adults trying to make a living as a barber or interior decorator.

The zealous efforts that authorities sometimes direct against children’s lemonade stands is a reflection of a dramatic growth in superfluous regulations that make it harder - even for adults - to open a business.

In the past, kids who wanted to make a little money could just mix some lemonade, make a simple sign, and start selling. Today, they often must battle bureaucracy. Some of the examples of police and other officials trying to close kids’ lemonade stands are bizarre and outrageous.

In Texas, a stand two young girls set up to raise money to take their father to a water park was shut down by police within an hour of opening up. That was just the beginning of their travels through a bureaucratic maze.

First, police told them they needed a peddler’s permit. After they obtained one, they were told they would also need a food-handling permit. The girls navigated this bureaucratic roadblock, and proved that opening a lemonade stand is often a sign of entrepreneurial inclination, by simply offering lemonade for free - while accepting tips. The girls received hundreds of dollars in “tips” and even free tickets to the amusement park.

Stories like these don’t always have a happy ending. Last spring, police in Denver shut down a lemonade stand operated by two young boys who wanted to raise money for Charity International, because they didn’t have a permit that would have cost $30. The police were acting on a complaint from a lemonade vendor at a nearby festival - who was charging 10 times as much as the kids for a glass.

And lemonade stands aren’t the only way of earning a few dollars that kids are blocked from due to red tape. Kids who want to shovel snow or do chores for neighbors for a small fee are in a similar boat.

The piddling rules are just an example of the unnecessary and even counter-productive regulations that prevent commerce - even by adults. In 1950, only about 5 percent of jobs required a license. That has skyrocketed to 30 percent, reports the Mercatus Centre.

In New York, becoming a barber requires more than two years of training before one can start making a living cutting hair. Thirty seven states require a license just to shampoo hair in a salon. In over 20 states, you need a license to paint houses - a process that takes an average of almost 400 days and costs an average almost $400. In Connecticut, it takes a year-and-a-half to get licensed to install TVs.

Some would argue that such regulations are put in force to protect public safety (such as protecting people from the possibility of a bad haircut?) But the Mercatus Centre has found that occupations that involve potential risk to the public are less likely to be as heavily regulated. On average, emergency medical technicians in the United States, for example, require only 33 days of training - compared to almost 2,200 hours to become an interior decorator. Do we really need to be 100 times as concerned about whether people end up with a bad colour for their walls than whether they die of a heart attack?

Frequently, unnecessary occupational regulations are simply a way for those who are already in a job or business to keep out those who might compete with them. Should we be denying opportunity to some in order to maintain profits for others?

Next time you see a kid selling lemonade, you may want to buy a cup. In their own way, they are striking a blow for freedom.

Allan Golombek is a Senior Director at the White House Writers Group. 

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