When Upton Sinclair pennedThe Jungle, he intended to paint a grotesque picture of the conditions in which the working class lived. Instead, readers saw a grotesque picture of the meatpacking industry and supported reform, which became the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. His retort: “I aimed at the heart and hit the stomach.”
Today, the opposite is true:
This story was originally covered from Maryland, but is not
at all unique. A Google search brings up cases from Oregon and Philadelphia. Look into each of them and you’ll find the same characters: children, who see the chance to sell lemonade as fun; regulators, who live by the mantra ‘I has power;’ parents, who are forced to stand between their child and their government.
The response from each city’s government is generally the same. Maryland regulators want a license. Oregon regulators want a license. Philly regulators want a license and a hand washing station.
The parents are put in a sticky situation. In Oregon, a mother goes back and forth, asking the regulator to use discretion while reminding her child that the regulator was doing her job. In Maryland, a mother tries to explain that her kids are raising money for children with cancer, (0:43 in the video) hoping the regulator will see compassion as more valuable than permits.
So we get to the kids. In Oregon, 7-year-old Julie Murphy says only “it was a bad day.” In Maryland, the boys disagree with the fine their mom was slapped with and one of them pips up “I think the county is wrong!” In Philly, the report is that they simply packed up and left.
Someone is aiming at the stomach but hitting the heart.
And so, one wonders a few things.
Off the top of my head, I’m wondering whether this is really about cleanliness. After all, the regulators were on site. They could have inspected the kids’ work and either praised their diligent watch for bugs in the pitcher or asked them to close for 15 minutes as they tidied up their station. This would teach them to think about others when engaging in commerce. Instead, the clipboard wielders are hung up on a license, which, when you think about it, is a piece of paper. Does it strike anyone as odd that no one has the power to judge cleanliness? Not kids. Not parents. Not even regulators!
Call it regulation without representation.
Second, isn’t America spending millions (billions?) because of obesity? Don’t we lament children who are overweight? And what is obesity caused by? Excessive calorie intake? Yes. But getting kids active is the other half of the battle. Some parents do such a good job that kids WANT to get out. In fact, these particular parents have even taught their children the virtue of compassion. The children are (were) having fun sacrificing an afternoon for other children. Not only did they learn that it’s good to help others, they were realizing the happiness that accompanies charity. But let’s not jump the gun—to be charitable you need something to give. Cu
e hard work and diligence. The kids were being introduced to the business world, one in which you work for what you get. Once you have it, you’re free to do with it as you please. Add it all up and these children were learning quite a bit about being good people. I think these lessons display the greatness of America.
I recall a lecture I had the pleasure of attending in the last couple months with President Obama’s Fiscal Commission Chairmen, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles. Sharp men, both of them. But at one point, I remember that Senator Simpson said something that perhaps my grandfather would say to the loud objections of his idealistic grandchildren: “Now don’t you forget that selfishness that made this country great.” Clarifying, he held up Carnegie and Rockefeller as examples. Such men and their families established numerous libraries, parks, universities, hospitals, orphanages, and every other sort of charitable fund imaginable. Yes, their fiscal wealth was insurmountable, (In 2007, Carnegie’s wealth was adjusted for inflation. It measured nearly 300 billion. Take that, Mark Zukerberg.) but by the work of these men’s hands, Simpson added, as much as by the hands of every one of their employees, the fiscal prosperity of the United States was won.
Flip the book to the first pages.
Rockefeller, at 16, started as a bookkeeper’s assistant. Carnegie, at 13, began as a factory worker.
Fortunately for my generation—and the lemonade children—the clipboard wielders saved us from such a life of abject suffering. Fortunately for American oil and steel, the clipboard people weren't around in the 19th century.
And so, a final thought: Lincoln, in his Lyceum Address, challenged the mobocratic spirit which was sweeping America. He spoke for the rule of law and against the rule of the mob. He urged strict obedience to laws, even bad ones. But he noted that the United States could not allow a group to enforce its will outside the law.
Lincoln’s words are every bit as pertinent now as they were in ’38. In his time, abuses were executed through mobs. They are now executed through permits. Neither can be appealed against in court nor voted down in elections. Licensing boards in fluorescent halls are, by their nature, every bit as mysterious as the faceless crowd in the night. Both exist outside the democratic rule of law. Lincoln said the former arose out of a mobocratic spirit. The latter is arising from a permicratic spirit.
Their spirit threatens to blight everything it touches, from the smallest barber shop to the largest airline industry. Regulation without representation breeds resentment, increasingly so because there is no one to appeal to but the very authors of the permits, who themselves are never responsible to popular election and seldom so to judicial redress. I hope I am over wary, but if I am not, we should take a note from Lincoln's book:
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.