My wife’s a political news junkie and reads such arcane fare as Foreign Policy, a magazine covering global politics and economics. She forwarded me Chug for Growth , an article detailing how the beer industry is having a positive effect on economies around the world, especially in emerging nations. Here’s how it begins:
The myth of the smug teetotaler is no joke. Many of the most popular theories of economic growth in wealthy countries, dating back to the Protestant work ethic of Max Weber, emphasize the abstemious and sober virtues of the well-to-do. And from the 18th-century Gin Acts in Britain to Prohibition in 1920s America to a certain class of modern-day economists, there’s a long tradition of blaming intemperance for the persistence of poverty.
But in fact, mounting evidence suggests that beer in particular, and the beer industry that surrounds it, may be as good for growth as excess sobriety. In some of the world’s toughest investment climates, beer companies today are building factories, creating jobs, and providing vital public services, all in the pursuit of new customers for a pint. It’s the brewery as economic stimulus: a formula even a frat boy could love.
The article goes on to detail how beer is good for both the big brewers and the local economies where they’re building or acquiring new breweries. They can add “tax revenue, lease payments, numerous local jobs, and increased demand for local agricultural produce.” And it sells even in the most challenged economies, as “even the poorest of the poor will spend money on alcohol.” I could have done without the lecture on alcohol abuse, while of course ignoring the positive health benefits of moderate consumption, but apart from that it makes a strong case for beer not only being recession-proof, but even a recession-beater in some places.
The article concludes with some interesting speculation about economic growth centuries ago, and whether it, too, may have been caused not, as been previously thought, by the Christian work ethic, but by breweries themselves as is happening today.
Indeed, beer may have been a force for growth for a long time. [Researchers] Colen and Swinnen note that beer consumption is higher in Protestant countries. What if the early success of Protestant-dominated economies wasn’t about Weber’s famed work ethic at all, but about the impact of breweries? Of course, it may be just as outlandish to argue that progress is driven by hops and barley as by the fear of eternal damnation — but at least it’s more fun to discuss over a pint.
I’m all for that.