Business

In Defense of the Lemonade Stand

Who knew a business run by kids had so much in common with Uber.

Above the law?

OLIVER LANG/DDP

This post originally appeared in  Money Stuff.

Here is a story about a company that comes to town, violates local ordinances, refused to get the required permits, gets in trouble with the authorities, blithely writes off the fines it pays as a cost of doing business, and complains that the democratically-enacted rules are “old” and “arcane” and restrict “entrepreneurship,” all while minimizing its own exposure by operating through independent contractors (many of whom barely break even, or don’t, after accounting for expenses) whom it treats as entrepreneurial small-business owners rather than classifying them as employees.

Did you assume I meant Uber Technologies Inc.? I hope you did, because that pretty exactly describes Uber’s business model of “regulatory entrepreneurship”—basically, keep openly doing illegal stuff until you can convince people that it should be legal—but, no, in this case I am talking about CountryTime Lemonade:

Popular lemonade brand CountryTime said Thursday that it is "taking a stand for lemonade stands" and pledging to help kids cover the costs of city permits when young entrepreneurs get their lemonade stands shut down. 

“Around the country, kids across the country are getting busted for lemonade stands,” the company said in a video posted to its official Twitter account Thursday.

The brand is launching a new fund called Legal-Ade, “a crack team ready to straighten out lemonade stands permits and fines.”

If a lemonade stand gets shut down or ticketed by city officials for not having proper permits or licenses, CountryTime said it will reimburse the kid or their family up to $300.

Honestly the video is cute, I like it. But, like Uber (and Bird, good lord, somehow we have avoided talking about Bird scooters here, let’s keep it that way), it is a symptom of a certain (probably justified!) despair about the possibilities of democratic governance. People—in Silicon Valley, at Big Lemonade—just can’t imagine that their democratically elected governments can be trusted to make good rules, or that the agents of those governments can be trusted to enforce those rules in reasonable ways. I don’t think they’re necessarily wrong—New York’s taxi rules are notoriously ridiculous, and sure yes kids should be able to run lemonade stands—but the idea of reasonable compromise, of working within the democratic process, of persuading the agents of the law rather than ignoring them, has been largely abandoned. Now you just do what you want and hope that you turn out to be bigger than the law.

I realize I am reading too much into CountryTime’s tongue-in-cheek commercial but, you know, Uber. Bird. Initial coin offerings! It’s a real thing, even if CountryTime is kidding about it.

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    To contact the author of this story:
    Matt Levine at mlevine51@bloomberg.net

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