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Making Economics from Lemonade

OPB | Aug. 6, 2010 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:33 p.m.

I grew up across the street from a golf course where, from the ages of eight to twelve, my older brother and I ran a nice little used golf ball business. We’d hunt through the course in the evenings, sifting through the roughs and the woods that always sucked up errant balls. We’d take them home, wash them and polish them. And then we’d head back out to the course, often to peddle the balls to the same golfers who’d lost them the week before. Every now and then we’d get caught by golf course workers who would take us to the clubhouse and call our parents. (Our parents, in turn, would say they were shocked! shocked! to hear about our exploits.)

Our business effectively ground to a halt on the day my brother convinced me to wade into the swamp near the 18th hole. He was sure there were thousands of well-preserved balls just waiting to be scooped up. It’s possible, but to this day I don’t know. I stepped on a three-inch shard of glass before I found them.

In fact, even before the puncture wound, I wasn’t really an entrepreneur. If I could meet my meager needs — ie, earn enough change to buy baseball cards and candy bars — I was satisfied. It never occurred to me to expand my black market golf course business to include drinks, say, or plaid pants. I bet a young Fred Meyer would have been savvier.

All of this came to mind when I read today’s Oregonian article about the great lemonade standoff of 2010. At issue was whether or not a seven-year-old’s lemonade stand — which didn’t have a permit, because which seven-year-old’s lemonade stand has ever had a permit? — should have been kicked out of a recent Last Thursday event on Portland’s Alberta Street.

We’ll talk about the health issues involved, and we’ll ask if there should be a carveout in Multnomah County’s regulations that would treat lemonade stands and more robust food stands differently. (In fact, the county now says that they might look into possible changes to the regulations.)

And we’ll focus more broadly on what exactly lemonade stands and other kid-run commerce should be teaching these budding capitalists. Is it the workings of the market? The mathematics of profit? Is it that lemonade is old technology and kids should be focusing on the future? What about fun, or the pleasure of giving free thirst-quenchers to parched neighbors?

What did you learn from your childhood or adolescent businesses? What lessons are you passing on right now?

UPDATE: As usual, The Simpsons was here first (hat-tip to a commenter to this Oregonian article):

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