Thursday, April 14, 2011

Peak Beer

Is alcohol the new religion in Ireland? The thought is prompted by Andrew Brown's response to the recent findings linking alcohol to cancer. Alcohol is now the main source of transcendental experience for both Britons and Irish, now that we've stopped going to church on a regular basis that is. We seemingly tolerate the risks associated with alcohol consumption because of the benign experiences it provides. I haven't heard of any links between religion and cancer interestingly enough.

But as always with these earnest warnings (typically reported without any of the relevant context: like what share of all cancer deaths are caused by alcohol?), there is a suspicion that those issuing the warning want to nanny us into better behaving ourselves. Whether we want to or not. But before they start wielding their 'nudgeons' it's worth stepping back and asking what's really happening to alcohol consumption. According to a recent paper (pdf) on global beer consumption, beer drinking is distributed as an inverted-U in terms of per capita income. In other words, as countries become more affluent then initially their beer consumption goes up (China is a current example of this), but then as income per capita keeps rising it levels off and beyond a certain level it starts to fall. This is what has happened in Ireland - the chart shows bar sales volumes in Ireland from 1995 to 2011. The peak was in 2001 and has fallen steeply since (by over a third). That's mostly beer consumption.

So it looks like people's behaviour is self-correcting to a certain extent, mitigating the need for policy interventions to curb our consumption. Unless one is left-handed of course (thank you Kevin Denny for ruining my weekend!)

1 comment:

  1. Looking at the semi-hysterical behaviour in response to the unavailability of alcohol on Good Friday, the answer to your opening question appears to be in the affirmative.


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