Maybe it’s the summer heat? Michal Lemberger posted a curmudgeonly article at Slate: “Down with Lemonade Stands.”
Her complaint against this childhood summer endeavor? “Lemonade stands don’t teach a single thing about how capitalism works.
Well, no wonder, on her account of her 4- and 6-year-old daughters’ recent efforts:
I outlined the word “LEMONADE 50¢ A CUP” on a sign, and my daughters colored in the letters. This represented their only contribution to the development of their small business. I mixed together two pitchers of lemonade from scratch—one regular, one pink—lugged out a folding table, taped on the sign, and then stood back to let them do their thing.
To be fair, they were ace marketers—they immediately began shouting, “Lemonade, 50 cents a cup” at the top of their little lungs . . . [but,] if my children’s experience is in any way representative, lemonade stands are joyfully embraced by adults but they don’t teach entrepreneurship. My kids’ clientele didn’t act like typical customers: They didn’t compare the price and quality of my kids’ lemonade to the price and quality of the lemonade being sold by other kids a few blocks over. They didn’t haggle. And that was the problem. Rather than encouraging an understanding of the value of money and hard work, my daughters’ customers taught them that all they had to do was show up.
It didn’t matter to them that they made only $14.50, or that I unilaterally decided their proceeds would go to charity. They happily handed over their till, already begging me to let them do it again.
Lemberger unilaterally handed the proceeds over to charity?? That’s Marxist appropriation, not capitalism, for starters--no wonder her daughters didn’t learn about capitalism!
I suppose there can be some lessons about capitalism in setting up a lemonade stand. Unlike Lemberger, I think I did make my children pay for lemonade mix out of their piggy banks when they set up their first lemonade stand, and perhaps they took away some notion of “start-up capital” from that.
And, Lemberger’s daughters’ lemonade stand was not divorced from capitalism: K. R. McKenzie noted that Lemberger’s daughters' customers were buying a nostalgic experience as much as they were buying lemonade—and a lot of what is bought and sold in the marketplace are experiences (think of most of the tourism and entertainment industries, for example). Further, consumers frequently satisfice—choose the first lemonade that looks pretty good—rather than compare all lemonade stands in the neighborhood.
But is the value of lemonade stands to teach about capitalism and entrepreneurship?
No! It’s really about what is for many kids a first venture into the world of civil society—where they step outside their family, and the playgroups, schools, churches, chosen by their family.
Children running a lemonade stand need to take all comers—certainly my children’s lemonade stand drew neighbors out of their houses for a cup of lemonade, but our well-trafficked street in Princeton brought along quite a few strangers as well. Selling a cup of lemonade is a pretty simple transaction, but still requires many of the skills of communication and connection that make for the successful operation of civil society—that essential set of institutions that stands between individuals and their families and the state. The lemonade stand is a first trial of learning how to be part of civil society.
In an interview with Marketplace’s Kai Ryssdal, Lemberger herself concedes that “maybe it isn’t really about capitalism, as much as that’s what we say it’s about. And that’s why the value is social, and for the adults as well” (start at 1:56). There she gets it right—there’s a terrific value in getting kids practiced in the ways of civil society.
So, not down but Hooray! for the lemonade stand!