Last week, I was in a car with my brother and his fiancee, driving through their upscale neighborhood on a hot summer day. At the corner, we all noticed three little girls sitting at a homemade lemonade stand.
We follow the same rules in our family, and one of them is: Always stop to buy lemonade from kids who are entrepreneurial enough to open up a little business.
My brother immediately pulled over to the side of the road and asked about the choices.
The three young girls — under the watchful eye of a nanny, sitting on the grass with them — explained that they had regular lemonade, raspberry lemonade, and small chocolate candy bars.
Then my brother asked how much each item cost.
“Oh, no,” they replied in unison, “they’re all free!”
I sat in the back seat in shock. Free? My brother questioned them again: “But you have to charge something? What should I pay for a lemonade? I’m really thirsty!”
His fiancee smiled and commented, “Isn’t that cute. They have the spirit of giving.”
That really set me off, as my regular readers can imagine.
“No!” I exclaimed from the back seat. “That’s not the spirit of giving. You can only really give when you give something you own. They’re giving away their parents’ things — the lemonade, cups, candy. It’s not theirs to give.”
I pushed the button to roll down the window and stuck my head out to set them straight.
“You must charge something for the lemonade,” I explained. “That’s the whole point of a lemonade stand. You figure out your costs — how much the lemonade costs, and the cups — and then you charge a little more than what it costs you, so you can make money. Then you can buy more stuff, and make more lemonade, and sell it and make more money.”
The author then proffered a copy of Atlas Shrugged, but the poor girls couldn’t afford it. So she sped off and left the little commies in a cloud of exhaust. She doesn’t say if she charged for the advice, but surely it was worth at least one cup of raspberry lemonade, preferably splashed her face.
Okay, I made that last part up, but what kind of stunted human being feels compelled to do something like that, to browbeat little children at a lemonade stand with a sermon about the profit motive and teach them that giving is wrong? To instruct them that the point of a lemonade stand is to make money, as opposed to, say, maybe just having fun?
Oh, I know, the kind of human being who has a column in the Chicago Sun-Times and a regular gig at CNBC, that beacon of financial integrity which gleefully urged people to invest in Enron and later Bear Stearns before their respective collapses. A truly fine American.