If Someone Hands You a Lemon, Get a Permit

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You probably don’t know the name Avigayil Wardein, but you might have heard of the six-year-old girl in Naples, Florida, who was busted for operating a lemonade stand without a permit. Avigayil is that girl. She sells lemonade for 50 cents per plastic cup, and has a jar for tips, to boot.

Some disgruntled neighbor reported Avigayil to the authorities for failure to have a permit. City Mayor Bonnie McKenzie was surprised. She hadn’t been aware a permit was required for a lemonade stand. "I’ve been a customer of hers more than once," the mayor said. "That means I’ve aided and abetted. You know what: I’m not one bit sorry. It’s good lemonade." Does that mean that bad lemonade requires a permit, but not good? The mayor may be trying for a humorous note, but the crack about aiding and abetting is true enough, and not funny. Aren’t the laws supposed to be taken seriously, even by kids?

There’s nothing new about crackdowns on lemonade stands. I’ve seen reports of it periodically over the years. From time to time a dangerous tribe of toddler tort-feasors tangles with the law — and loses, like Avigayil.

Oh, to be sure, the kid is back in business, hawking her brew to thirsty customers at Sixth Street and 11th Avenue. But she didn’t win. As is usual in cases of this sort, the issue of why a person needs a license, or permit, or permission of some officious strangers to do business, is never raised. Avigayil’s stand is in operation again because the Naples city fathers, aware of the widespread bad-press they’d received, and of their opponent’s photogenic smile, albeit minus two front teeth, caved. After a few days shutdown, Avigayil was allowed to re-open by the authorities. She’s selling lemonade again, but only after the city graciously gave its permission. And, in any event, a number of outraged citizens offered to pay the $35 permit fee for her, so one way or another, she’d still be in the lemonade business, but only with the city’s permission, whether the fee was paid or not. Is this age discrimination? Is it selective enforcement of the law? Sure, of course, but so what? No doubt the city fathers hope that the matter will fade away and be forgotten. The public’s short memory is one of those things that makes government possible.

But what if it didn’t fade away? What if Avigayil persisted in business and by age twelve had ten lemonade stands, under franchise, throughout Naples? Could the law be enforced against her then, since it was waived when she was six? Or what if dozens of other six-year-olds opened lemonade stands? I’m sure the city fathers are confident that this isn’t going to happen, and they’re right. That’s a shame. The city, dealing with only one juice-jerking tot, looks kind and benevolent, and its control over the lives and activities of the citizens hasn’t been challenged. It’s another thing that makes government possible!

Across the country, in California, motorists will find the annual licensing fees for their vehicles higher by about $130. Facing a possible 38 billion deficit, California lawmakers responded traditionally, not by cutting expenses, but raising taxes. The vehicle license fees will triple. It’s the same idea, thousands of miles away. Whether one operates a lemonade stand, or a Mercedes, that activity is regulated by the government, which owns all people and their property. If you want to operate their car, which they allow you to call yours, or sell their lemonade on their streets, which again, they allow you to call yours, you must obtain their OK. Oh, sure, if you’re a cute gap-toothed kid whose operation makes their requirements look ridiculous, they can waive their demands, though not renouncing their legitimacy. The principle, however, cannot be challenged. We exist to serve the state, in whatever way they decide. Go along with that, and you can drive "your" car, or sell lemonade, to your heart’s content.

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a semi-retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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