The Right To Earn an Honest Living and That Little Girl Who Was Not Allowed to Sell Lemonade

August 5th, 2010

By now you have undoubtedly hear of this story out of Oregon. A 7-year-old girl tried to open up a lemonade stand, but some bureaucratic wonk told her she needed a $120 temporary restaurant license, at the risk of incurring a $500 fine.

At the time, the state was worried about the public’s health:

“I understand the reason behind what they’re doing, and it’s a neighborhood event, and they’re trying to generate revenue,” Jon Kawaguchi, environmental health supervisor for the health department, said of the fair organizers. “But we still need to put the public’s health first,

Now, after a storm of public sentiments against this idiotic policy, the state backtracked

“Our health department what they were trying to do, I understand…I just feel like we have to be able to distinguish between a 7 year old, who is selling lemonade and trying to learn about business and someone who actually has a business,” Cogen said.

First, what changed? Why are health concerns any less valid for a lemonade stand than other eating establishments. IF anything, a little girl would know less about proper hygienne and have less supervision. Why is the state shirking their duty? Oh yeah.  The enforcement of these rules are arbitrary.

Which brings me to the most important question. Why does this story make people so upset?

Millions of business are constantly barraged by countless regulations, apparently, in the interests of public health. If the state can waive the requirements for this precocious young entrepreneur, why do older and more established entrepreneurs have to be so burdened?

I think the answer to this question is simple. Most Americans recognize the meaning of the right to earn a living, but only get upset about it when a cute little girl can’t sell lemonade. I hope this story makes people open their eyes and look around them. What about all of the unseen costs, to paraphrase Bastiat. What about all of the businesses that never go into existence out of fear of excessive fines? What about all of the lost labor and capital never spent?

If you are generally opposed to any notion of the right to pursue an honest living, ask yourself,why does it bother you so much that this little girl cannot sell lemonade. Then, ask yourself what you think about other regulations that stifle the entrepreneur. This story does not tug on our heart strings simply because she is adorably selling lemonade for 50 cents a cup (suggested price) at a fair. It tugs on our heart strings because the state is unnecessarily clamping down on this little girl’s ability to make some money.

I wish this young girl well, and hope her future endeavors are met with much less resistance from the state. See also Tim Sandefur’s post.