Adam Smith, optimist

Were the duties upon foreign wines, and the excises upon malt, beer, and ale to be taken away all at once, it might, in the same manner, occasion in Great Britain a pretty general and temporary drunkenness among the middling and inferior ranks of people, which would probably be soon followed by a permanent and almost universal sobriety.

Wealth of Nations, IV.3.ii.

Alcoholic Politics

Quick round-up: from the archives of the Stoa, here’s a post from back when Paxo was asking CK whether he went to bed with a bottle of whisky (complete with the words to the CK-themed Skye Boat Song); here‘s William McGonagall’s reminder that “the abolition of strong drink is the only Home Rule”; and here‘s a general remark about Prime Ministers who drink too much.

To these we might add a link to Guido‘s fine (photoshopped? or not?) photo; and another entry in the survey of PMswDTM — William Pitt the Younger was known as a “three-bottle man” (port, usually, though the bottles were smaller in those days), and on one occasion shortly after the war with France began in 1793 Pitt and his lieutenant Henry Dundas were sufficiently unsteady in the chamber of the House of Commons so as to inspire this little bit of doggerel:

“I cannot see the Speaker, Hal, can you?”
“What! Cannot see the Speaker, I see two!”

[Hague, Pitt, p.220, p.308]

On the Piss

From today’s News of the World:

She [Carole Caplin] said that Mr Blair was drinking more alcohol since she had stopped advising him. He was not “an alcoholic” or “a drinker” but needed a break from drink when subjected to stress, she added.

Now, obviously CC’s an unreliable source for anything and everything, but if Mr Blair were drinking too much, this would support my general theory of British prime ministers, which is that after a few years in the job they start boozing heavily.I haven’t researched this with any care, but I think the theory holds for Asquith (“Mr. Asquith says in a manner sweet and calm / Another little drink won’t do us any harm”), Macmillan, Wilson and Thatcher.

There are exceptions. Winston Churchill may be one, as he was drinking the whole time he was in No.10, beginning with champagne for breakfast, and consumption may not have increased as time went by. I don’t really know anything about Lloyd George, but given his pro-temperance noises, he might be an exception. And I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say that John Major hit the bottle c.1996 or so, though if anyone thinks that he did, please say so.

But according to the general theory, at any rate, it’s high time Mr Blair hit the bottle, so we should keep an eye out for further signs.

Beer: The Cure For Depression

Oxford’s Psychiatry Department is circulating this leaflet, left, around the university. Turns out that when you turn over the page you learn that beer isn’t really the cure for depression after all, and that it’s better to take antidepressants (and, perhaps, to follow some other therapies) than to booze heavily in response to feeling gloomy. Got that?

It seemed, however, a nice image to accompany a blogpost to report that Guy Maddin’s new film, The Saddest Music in the World is a fine, fine film — since this really is a film about how a particular kind of Canadian beer, brewed in Winnipeg, will help to lift North America out of the Depression (and a reminder of just how Depressing the United States must have been in the Prohibition era).

Oh yes, and it said in the glossy cinema programme in reasonably big letters that “While rejecting accusations that he’s a mere pasticheur, Maddin resurrects long-abandoned film forms, stirring into the mix with admirably straight-faced conviction German expressionist lighting, Soviet montage, “golden age” Hollywood melodramatics and Busby Berkeley’s more fetishistic choreography”. That’s an opinion from one Michael Brooke, writing in Sight and Sound, and a reminder that my brother is one of the world experts on the films of Guy Maddin, which must be quite a strange thing to be.

Only seen three of them myself, but very much want to see Careful if I ever get the chance.

Booze on a Budget

Since it’s Budget day, and since comrade Brown has just raised the price of beer — again — it’s worth remembering (as people often don’t) that John Stuart Mill’s defence of taxing booze in On Liberty is conditional on the necessity of having a decent chunk of public funds raised through indirect taxation. Since the British Government could easily choose to raise the money it raises from booze through rises in the direct, progressive income tax case, rather than through the indirect, severely regressive booze-and-cigarettes tax, this particular case for taxing booze is considerably weakened. Here’s the passage in full:

A further question is, whether the State, while it permits, should nevertheless indirectly discourage conduct which it deems contrary to the best interests of the agent; whether, for example, it should take measures to render the means of drunkenness more costly, or add to the difficulty of procuring them by limiting the number of the places of sale. On this as on most other practical questions, many distinctions require to be made. To tax stimulants for the sole purpose of making them more difficult to be obtained, is a measure differing only in degree from their entire prohibition; and would be justifiable only if that were justifiable. Every increase of cost is a prohibition, to those whose means do not come up to the augmented price; and to those who do, it is a penalty laid on them for gratifying a particular taste. Their choice of pleasures, and their mode of expending their income, after satisfying their legal and moral obligations to the State and to individuals, are their own concern, and must rest with their own judgment. These considerations may seem at first sight to condemn the selection of stimulants as special subjects of taxation for purposes of revenue. But it must be remembered that taxation for fiscal purposes is absolutely inevitable; that in most countries it is necessary that a considerable part of that taxation should be indirect; that the State, therefore, cannot help imposing penalties, which to some persons may be prohibitory, on the use of some articles of consumption. It is hence the duty of the State to consider, in the imposition of taxes, what commodities the consumers can best spare; and � fortiori, to select in preference those of which it deems the use, beyond a very moderate quantity, to be positively injurious. Taxation, therefore, of stimulants, up to the point which produces the largest amount of revenue (supposing that the State needs all the revenue which it yields) is not only admissible, but to be approved of.

Full text here.

Gin

More on gin, thanks to Katy. This is a 1705 ad for a special kind of gin brewed up in a London ginhouse:

“One glass will restore an old man of threescore to the juvenility of thirty, make a girl of fourteen as ripe as an old maid of twentyfour, a Puritan to lust after the flesh and a married man to oblige his wife oftener in one night than without it he might do in seven”.

She adds: “Such dangerous concoctions were served up surreptitiously at so-called Puss and Mew shops after the hardline mid 18th century Gin Act. On walls down side alleys, there were painted signs of cats, and if you looked closely, there was a little slot under its tail for a coin. On inserting a coin, crying “Mew, mew!” and holding a glass underneath the cat’s mouth, the glass would be magically filled with contraband gin via a spout protruding from beneath the cat’s teeth.”