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Government regulations: One sour Lemonade Day

May 3, 2011 | 10:49 am

Lemonade You have to hand it to Nicolas Martin: He took lemons and, because he couldn't make lemonade, he made a federal case out of them.

In "Lemonade Day done wrong" in Sunday's Times Opinion pages, Martin, executive director of the Consumer Health Education Council in Indianapolis, tells how he and his 8-year-old daughter were eagerly looking forward to setting up a lemonade stand on May 1, which is Lemonade Day in America.

Everything was going smoothly, and then:

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.

Yep, big bad Big Government reared up and stomped all over their cookies, er, dreams.

But it’s not just kids' lemonade stands that are threatened, Martin says; it's the American dream:

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.

Whoa. I’m picturing Aztec priests with still-beating hearts in their hands! (I wonder if they needed a government permit for that?)

I'm sure Martin's heart, though, is in the right place. And I'm sorry that, at the tender age of 8, his daughter had her heart broken. (And I'm finished with the heart puns.)

But do you want to know when Big Government is bad? It's when it has a rule to keep you from doing something you want to do.

And do you want to know when Big Government is good? It's when it has a rule that keeps someone else from doing something you don't want them to do.

Take lemonade stands. 

A good lemonade stand is the one Martin and his daughter were going to set up.

A bad lemonade stand is the one your neighbor's kid sets up on the corner near your house, causing a traffic jam and leaving empty cups on the sidewalk and lawn, all while screaming at her friends and passersby for hours while you're trying to sleep one off on a Saturday morning.

And do you know what you say then? "There outta be a law!" (Right after "Honey, do we have any aspirin?")

Or maybe it's not a lemonade stand. Maybe it's a taco truck that parks on your street from 10 p.m. to midnight and serves hordes of folks who love a good street scene. They make noise and litter, too; plus the taco truck guy can be cheaper than the restaurant down the street because he's unlicensed, doesn't pay taxes and doesn't have to pass a food inspection.

But, hey, he's just a humble entrepreneur. Why should he be "sacrificed on the altar of government regulation"?

But the lemonade stand girl is just a kid, you say; she isn't hurting anyone. 

At least, that's what Martin hopes. Because if somehow someone does get hurt -- say, slipping on some spilled lemonade -- he'll hear that other great American cry: "I'll sue!"

ALSO:

Lemonade Day done wrong

Federal regulations: Let's review the rules

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo credit: Matthew Mead / Associated Press

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