Chris Blattman

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Three unexpected facts about beer

Historians speculate that prehistoric nomads may have made beer from grain and water before learning to make bread. The ancient Egyptians who built the pyramids got paid by beer, bread and green onions. Different cultures use different grains to make beer; and beer served for nourishment, pain relief, and socializing.

Swinnen suggested that the Low Countries (Holland and Belgium) won their independence from the Spanish because of beer. They financed their armies from beer tax, while the Spanish relied on tax on silver. The beer won. We learned that people consume more beer than any other alcohol and that the gap is increasing in spending and consumption. As in many other arenas, China has overtaken the U.S. as the largest consumer of beer.

What’s more surprising is that Russians consume more beer than vodka. Swinnen suggests that one reason could be that advertisements of vodka were disallowed in 1995. He also suggests that beer consumption increases with per capita income, but that once GNP per capita is greater than $30,000, beer consumption declines – this has been true in Germany, the U.S., and Belgium. But overall production continues to increase due to increased export.

That is David Zilberman from Berkeley ARE, who has many more interesting things to say on the subject. He blogs here.

18 Responses

  1. When I attended a scientific conference in Moscow in 2001, the bums passed out on the street were clutching vodka bottles, but the students attending the conference sipped beer in the evenings. It reminded me of Hogarth’s 1750s painting Gin Alley and Beer Lane to encourage Englishmen to switch from hard liquor to beer.

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