Lemonade stands: Not the ideal pitcher of capitalism

The image of a kid sitting behind a make-shift store front. A pitcher of lemonade and a sign that reads "50 cents." Can it be a child's first lesson in the world of business?

Apparently not, at least for some. In her article for Slate, "Down with Lemonade Stands," writer Michal Lemberger says that there is value to a lemonade stand, just not a capitalistic one.

"My children who are out there for 20 minutes, before their shop closed up for the year," says Lemberger. "They were for that brief moment the hub of the social experience of that corner. And that's valuable. But they don't really have a sense of the value of money the way we do."

In Slate, Lemberger writes:
One woman stopped her car, rolled down the window, handed over a dollar, and then refused to take the plastic Solo cup offered to her. An older couple out for a stroll bought a round for three twentysomething strangers who were already on their way to the corner 7-Eleven to get change. The pitchers were empty by the time the three guys got back, but one of them handed my daughter three bucks anyway. And not a single person who bought lemonade from my children would take the change owed them.
Rather than teaching kids the harsh reality of capitalist competition, the lemonade stand is much more a social lesson.

"They're learning that somebody will give them money if they're six and cute," Lemberger says.

AUDIO EXTRA: Lemberger explains where lemonade stands came from:

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
Log in to post6 Comments

Kai's mention of the work he did for his kids' lemonade stand point out an important business lesson: the pressures to use unpaid interns to save on labor costs.

Samaritan funded enterprise more like it! ;) certainly cuteness plays a factor. Why else would the pretty looking waitress net more in tips dollar? We constantly evaluate reality sensory inputs through our narrative frame of the world, in other word, we make action based on economy of judgement so cuteness triggers approach me instead of danger in the evolutionary context of things.

Entrepreneurial, sure, but more like a worker owned cooperative or a sole proprietorship. I'll believe it's capitalism when I see the share certificates and an IPO.

Hmmm, is lemonadestand.com taken?

I disagree that these children are not learning about capitalism and the marketplace. I also disagree that people stop just because they're six and cute. I stop because they have put in crucial elements of the marketplace: advertising; a quality product; labor and time; exchange of goods and money.....all at a young age! I want to encourage work and exchange...putting time in and the return. Of course they are getting pleasure from the exchange and the return....but capitalism can learn a lesson from that.

I try to teach my kids some basic business lessons that don't depend upon the cuteness factor. They use some of their profits, agreed upon before they set up, to pay for supplies (naturally I kicked in for the initial investment). And they must negotiate how they will share their profits with their siblings (and the occasional hanger-on neighbor kid) before they begin.

I enjoyed this talk with Michal Lemberger. But Kai, you are not paying attention to what should be driving the market. Try selling something the public really wants to buy--like the Girl Scout cookies you were dissing at the end of the interview. I love GS cookies and buy them happily. Lemonade--not so much. I'd buy it to be nice, but not because I like the stuff. Cookies: valuable market commodity. Lemonade: charity. Cute, 6-year-old charity.

With Generous Support From...