One of the great things about living in a city where the standard lot size is 30 x 100 feet — and at least half of that is house, garage, deck, and garden — is how easy mowing the lawn becomes. True, we have to mow constantly, because Midwest soil is absurdly fertile and the neighbors are approximately three feet away at any moment, close enough to observe every out-of-place blade of grass. But still, it’s an easy chore.
That is not the case elsewhere, which is why teenagers getting paid to mow lawns is a time-honored American tradition — and one that ought to be able to proceed without the interference of busybody local governments. Not so in Gardendale, a town near Birmingham, Alabama. From a local news report:
Teens in Gardendale are in for a rude awakening this summer when it comes to cutting grass. According to the city’s ordinance, you must have a business license.
Teenagers have been threatened by officials and other lawn services to show their city issued license before cutting a person’s lawn for extra summer cash.
Cutting grass is often one of the first jobs many have in the summer. But a business license in Gardendale costs $110. And for a job, just for a couple of months, that can be a bit extreme.
This situation becomes even more ridiculous when you find out the going rate for mowing a lawn in Gardendale is $20-30, so a teenager would have to mow about five lawns just to pay for the government’s permission to mow lawns.
Unsurprisingly, the reason this has become an issue is crony capitalism on a micro level. “One of the men that cuts several yards made a remark to one of our neighbors, ‘that if he saw her cutting grass again that he was going to call Gardendale because she didn’t have a business license,'” said Elton Campbell, whose granddaughter is one of the kids affected by the business license requirement.
The most likely explanation is that the teenagers were offering a better price for lawn care, and rather than fairly competing in the market by lowering prices or providing better service, this business decided to get local government involved to squash the competition.
Of course, the underlying problem is not the man who threatened to call the city, but rather the fact that the law exists for him to manipulate to his advantage.