The modern state: protecting us from us.
Listen To You Tell Me Texas Friday 6/12/15
Every now and then, this piece just writes itself. Thanks to the leadership of the City of Overton, Texas, this is one of those times.
When I was a kid in growing up in Amarillo, Texas I browbeat my mother one day into helping me set up a Kool-Aid stand. I hand lettered a sign and, with her help, mixed up a pitcher of red Kool-Aid, hauled a folding card table out to the curb and set up shop.
It was the middle of summer, sweltering hot and I validated that day the retail maxim “location, location, location” – which is to say, my residential street didn’t have a lot of drive-by traffic.
I sold the entirety of two cups before the heat drove me out of business. One was to the sweet old lady who lived caddy-corner across the street. The other was to the Amarillo police officer, who saw me from the corner intersection about three houses down as he was driving by, and took a detour. Total gross sales; ten cents.
Jump a half century forward to Wednesday in nearby Overton and two little girls setting up a lemonade stand to raise money to buy their daddy a Father’s Day present. Down upon them came the full weight of the 21st century American state.
The Overton police, rather than buying a cup of lemonade, shut them down. At least that’s what you and I would call it. But not the semanticists of the City of Overton. Overton mayor C.R. Evans was at pains to to tell me that the girls were not “shut down.” According to him they were simply told that they could not sell lemonade without obtaining a permit.
For those of us not in government, we call that “a distinction without a difference.”
The mayor went on to explain that such permitting is required by state law as a public health protection.
It must be a great comfort to the residents of Overton to know that they may sleep soundly at night, secure in the knowledge that no lemonade stand – devoid of the proper certificates and inspections and rubber stamps – can possibly threaten to unleash upon them a lemonade-borne pandemic.
I’d have a lot more respect for Mayor Evans if he had said, “I wish we had this one to do over.” But he instead did what all statists do when they get called out. He hid behind a hyper-literal interpretation of regulation and statute while intoning solemnly about public safety. (By a show of hands who has ever heard of someone getting sick from a kid’s lemonade stand? No one? Me neither.)
So our nation has devolved since we were handed its reins by our parents – the people who defeated Adolph Hitler and put men on the moon.
In the country they bequeathed to us, the lemonade stand was an All-American rite of passage – a first foray into entrepreneurism. In the country we are leaving to those two little girls in Overton, a lemonade stand animates the sprawling apparatus of the modern regulatory state — the first instinct of which is to stifle freedom and enterprise.