The New Clarion

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July 9th, 2010 by Bill Brown · 3 Comments · Culture

Terry Savage, in a column on a lemonade stand encounter, argues that this experience “sum up what’s wrong with U.S.” I would suggest that she’s correct in her evaluation but dead wrong in the source of her consternation.

The children running the lemonade stand in question were giving away their product for free to all comers. Savage, flush with indignation, contradicts her companion’s statement that this represented the “spirit of giving”:

“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.”

She then relates the children and their parents to society and the government. People, she contends, act like money and things from the government have no cost. They enact social programs and balloon the deficit because the costs are diffuse and sunk—enabling them to get away with spending that they’d never agree to if they bore the full costs.

I agree with her as far as she goes, but it’s not nearly enough. The real source of our troubles isn’t that some kids are treating their parents’ presumably hard-earned income as a blank check to slake the thirst of strangers. It’s that people like Savage have bought into the idea that capitalism is nothing beyond the money-grubbing mechanics of running a business.

Her objection wasn’t that the children were seemingly ashamed of charging a price, but that they may have been treating themselves to their parents’ goods. If she had discovered that they bought all the raw materials with their own allowances or had otherwise scrimped and saved to put together the stand, she would have applauded their “spirit of giving.”

Capitalism is more than operating a lemonade stand. It’s about recognizing that you have the right to run a lemonade stand and to charge whatever you want. It’s about seeing the honor of trade. It’s about taking risks and taking responsibility for taking those risks. It’s about independence, not just financial but spiritual.

And it’s completely lost on Savage and her ilk. They don’t see the morality of capitalism because they can’t see morality in capitalism. Their moral standards allow for you to “charge a little more than what it costs you, so you can make money” but look askance at charging a lot more. Their morality makes little children balk at charging anything when people might need refreshment on a hot summer day.

Their morality sees business as a charity run for the benefit of others with a living meekly carved out for oneself. And that’s the savage truth.

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