Alabama City Tells Teens to Get Licenses Just to Mow Lawns

P. Gardner Goldsmith | June 1, 2017
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Remember those black and white mob movies? The ones where the a gangster would walk into a place of business and say something like, “Gee… Nice place ya got heahh… Be a shame if… somethin’ happened to it…” And, of course, the mobster would assure the business person that he or she could continue to do business by paying for “protection” from the mob.

Welcome to Gardendale Alabama, where the tactics of the government aren’t much different, especially when it comes to teenagers.

According to ABC 3340, the overlords of the city are telling teens who want to earn some extra bucks by mowing lawns that they can’t… unless they get licensed by the government.


A license costs $110, which, as ABC 3340 notes, it a sizeable chunk of cash for a budding teen entrepreneur. In fact, it’s a sizable chunk of cash if one multiplies that amount by the sheer number of teenagers who might be forced to get licenses. That’s a lot of cash for the city, and a lot of cash that could be productively spent by the teens and their families in other ways.

But have no fear, the politicians in Gardendale know better than the original money holders how it should be spent. And they certainly know more about the perils of lawn mowing than potential customers and teenagers. They’re probably out doing physical labor every chance they get, taking off their suit jackets and dress shoes to get down in the dirt, fix single-stroke engines, prime them, change plugs, yank weeds, sharpen blades, mix oil and gas, and sundry other things that those pesky teens are just too daft to figure out unless they come groveling to the said same experts in the city government.

Perhaps the politicians are big fans of sheep, and would prefer the residents keep or rent them to graze, lawn after lawn…

Or perhaps there are different reasons for the politicians to erect barriers to entry into the lawn mowing field.

Maybe, just maybe, this is another great example of “rent seeking”, a poorly chosen term used by economists to describe the practice of a special interest trying to take advantage of government power to gain profit at the expense of others. It might just be possible that the politicians in Gardendale are responding to pressure by vested interests who would prefer to not have lower priced competition from teenagers, pressure applied by, yeah, you got it, big lawn care businesses.

In fact, ABC3340 refers to just this in its report:

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.

One man named Elton Campbell, whose daughter mows lawns for between $20 and $40 told the station:

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 Campbell.


Sure is a classy thing to threaten a kid who is offering low-priced services to neighbors. But this is the invisible threat that always exists in the licensing racket, and it’s why the requirement by politicians that people get licenses is not far from the old mafia stereotype.

Whatever happened to honest competition? Whatever happened to the Good Neighbor Policy, where people coexisted to compete for consumer business rather than used the heavy arm of government to push people around?

But don’t worry, Mayor Stan Hogeland has the handy answer.

Perhaps teens could apply for a temporary summer license.

Of course. The political answer is not really an answer. Relinquishing control is not in the lexicon. The ritual must continue. The actual answer – not forcing people to come groveling to the government – doesn’t seem to cross the political mind.

The lesson, teenagers? Don’t try to enter the market and work fairly. Work through force and political ignorance of markets, work through threats and simple-minded rhetoric that changes nothing. Work through the use of the government, so everyone can rest easy that they “protect us”…

From ourselves.

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