Recently, I was driving down my street in my mom’s cream Volkswagen convertible bug, blasting the remix of “All The Way Up” and wearing my Ray-Ban wayfarers, when I passed four kids standing at their lemonade stand on the side of the road. These kids were probably all between the ages of 6 and 10, and screamed at me as I passed by, trying to get me to stop. Being the coolly aloof guy that I have always known myself to be, I simply smiled and waved before passing on, blissfully immersed in my own thoughts and musings. However, as I reached the end of my street, I had a realization. What if, in twenty years, one of those kids had the opportunity to follow an entrepreneurial urge; to take a risk; to truly change the world? And what if, in that moment, that then 26-year-old thought back to that lemonade stand, and how, despite his best efforts, he was unable to sell even one cup of lemonade, and endured a scorching lecture from his father that night about the perils of risk and the need for steady, gainful employment at a large company with very little upside, due in part to the selfishness of that Ray-Ban-wearing, effeminate-car-driving recent college graduate who refused to stop at his lemonade stand, even when doing so would have had zero adverse effects on his future prospects. And what if, because of that, that then 26-year-old declined to act on that entrepreneurial urge, and ended up neglecting to create something of true value; the next iPhone; or the first truly autonomous home, and instead went to work for a large accounting firm and ended up eating peanut M&Ms as a competitive sport, as if he were Kevin Malone from The Office. And so, having considered this, I hit the brakes, turned the car around, and drove back to the lemonade stand. When I arrived, they greeted me with all the excitement of the father in the bible greeting the prodigal son upon his return. I smiled, and asked, “how much for a cup?” And they replied, “free!”
I paused, unsure of how to react. I clarified, “You’re not charging anything?” And they said, “Well, we won’t argue with money if you give it to us.”
I paused again before I realized that these kids will someday, absolutely, unequivocally, without a DOUBT, vote for Bernie Sanders, or some socialist with dreams of a world in which lemonade costs nothing, in which everyone, regardless of status, background (criminal or otherwise), willingness to work hard, or anything else you can think of can get lemonade for free. What angered me even more was that even in the face of economic profit, even with me ASKING if they wanted to charge me money, they still managed to talk me out of giving it to them. What privilege, I thought, to be able to host a lemonade stand with zero worry of actually covering your costs. What an insult to all those kids out there running lemonade stands just to keep clothes on their backs, or shoes on their feet. What an outrage! What blasphemy!
So what did I do? I took a cup of their lemonade. And I didn’t pay them anything. And I drove away. And the lemonade was actually pretty good. But just because pure socialism (in the welfare sense) tastes good, doesn’t mean that I don’t believe it to be a system that encourages dependence, laziness and the stagnation of critical thought. I considered telling them this as I took their lemonade and sipped it, the rush of sugar and citrus cascading down my throat. I considered giving them the lecture that every Economics professor I’d ever studied under had given me. But I didn’t. Because as I drank their lemonade, I had another thought.
What if I had given them that lecture? What if I had asked that young six-year-old just how he believed he was lucky enough to be standing on the side of the road in a wealthy, upper-middle class neighborhood, not a care in his mind or a fear in his heart? What if I had seared the image of Capitalism’s merits so fully in his brain, imprinted the need for prices as a method of efficient resource allocation so deep into his psyche, that one day, fifty years from now, when presented with the opportunity to make a massive profit at the expense of hard-working, middle to low-income workers, he chose to do so? And what if, even further down the road, because of that, our world became nothing more than a collection of individuals that weighed economic profits over emotional understanding, a world in which money trumped everything, and relationships were but a means to an end? Is that a world in which any of us want to live? Is that a world in which we want our children to live? Or their children? I don’t think so.
So which one do we choose? The economical, self-interested world? Or the recklessly idealistic society in which everyone helps everyone and money grows on trees? On the one hand, without self-interest and entrepreneurship, no persecuted Briton would’ve ever escaped Europe and taken a risk on something new. Without the fierce and unwavering belief in the existence of something better, no general would’ve crossed the Delaware River and stormed British camps, turning the tide in the war that was to decide the very future of our nation. Without the bravery and opportunism displayed by all those with a hand in America’s independence, none of us would be standing here today.
And yet, we are more than the product of self-interested opportunism. Remember back to those who signed the Declaration of Independence. Was that in their self-interest? Or a profit-maximizing endeavor? Given their fates, and the fates of their families, we cannot say that it was. There was something else, something more that drove them; something greater than themselves; something that we cannot hope to understand, even as we stand here in the midst of it. That something remains within us, awake at times and dormant at others, even as our country reels in the face of threats, both foreign and domestic, threats both shrouded in darkness, and bathed in the light.
In spite of these threats, our great country forages on, as our forefathers did so many years ago. And so, as we stand here today, we must remember that in spite of forces that threaten to tear the very fabric of our country apart, we will endure, and we will emerge stronger as a result. Our forefathers understood this better than anyone, in many cases sacrificing their land, titles, and lives for something that they saw as greater than themselves. So, the next time you see a kid on the side of the road, selling lemonade for free, remember that it was as much noble self-sacrifice as it was self-interested opportunism that gave rise to the country in which we live. Let us honor the nobility, the courage, and above all, the selflessness of those who gave their lives so we need not, as we stand here in celebration of the anniversary of the birth of the greatest country in the world.