Sunday 17 January 2010

Britain's Puritan Epidemic

It's Sunday so, as has become a weekend tradition, the righteous take the opportunity to lecture us. While we all enjoy a lie in, put our feet up and pour a cool one in front of Sky Sports, Nicola Sturgeon is all over the news envisioning her fantasy alcohol armageddon.

She added: "All the evidence tells us that the big rise in Scottish alcohol consumption in recent decades is closely linked with the 70% drop in alcohol's relative cost. As a consequence, our country now faces an unprecedented burden from alcohol-related health problems, crime and lost economic productivity, which runs into billions and which we are all paying for."

Now, let's leave the fallacious 'costs to the country' argument, neatly destroyed by VGIF recently, and focus instead upon the 70% claim and Sturgeon's insistence of its causative nature.

Her figure is the widely touted one which compares affordability between 1980 and now. According to the ONS, though, the cost of alcohol has increased in real terms during that time.

Between 1980 and 2008, the price of alcohol increased by 283.3%. After considering inflation (at 21.3%), alcohol prices increased by 19.3% over the period

So, while puritans and the health establishment regularly, and viciously, target the supermarkets and alcohol industry, they have only been doing as any business would in a capitalist market - charging the price which is most favourable for maximising their profits.

Indeed, the price of bread, for example, has followed the very same path. Costing 33p in 1980, a calculation of its price now returns £1.23, which is about right. In fact, considering bread has risen almost exactly in line with inflation, you could argue that bread is even more affordable than alcohol over the same timeframe. The prices of just about any product you care to choose, from any supermarket, would tell the same story.

It's not the supermarkets, or the brewers and distillers, evilly attempting to subvert society, it is the success of capitalism (you know, the system which is now apparently discredited and 'dead'?) and its huge benefits in driving down costs, improving production, and raising incomes to boot.

However, the righteous need a demon to attack, they always do, so alcohol suppliers will be in for more bruising handbaggings yet.

Digression aside, let's assume there has been none of the usual massaging of the figures, and that the 70% increase in affordability is correct. Sturgeon's assertion that this is 'closely linked' to the alcohol problem doesn't seem to be borne out by consumption figures.

UK Consumption of alcohol
Litres per head of 100% alcohol

1980 - 7.4
1990 - 7.9
1998 - 7.9
1999 - 8.3
2000 - 8.4
2001 - 8.7
2002 - 9.1
2003 - 9.2
2004 - 9.5
2005 - 9.4
2006 - 9.0
2007 - 9.2
2008 - 8.9

Such a huge increase in dispensable income, coupled with lesser working hours and therefore more leisure time, should be accompanied by a much larger increase in consumption than the meagre 20% in nearly 30 years. In fact, consumption has been steadily declining in the past five years, so why tinker when it's clear that things are going in the right direction?

There really is no panic, no 'booze epidemic', and no reason for the incessant hype surrounding the subject.

It is also not true to say that affordability and consumption are 'closely linked'. There is a correlation, but that's about it. Or, to put it another way, if we were to believe Sturgeon's simplistic declaration of causation, we can see from these figures that it would take a 70% decrease in affordability to bring consumption back to 1980 levels.

And a 40p minimum price isn't going to bring about anything of the sort. But once it becomes clear, as it inevitably will, that little or no difference is being made, so will the insistence increase on more draconian meaures to save us all from ourselves.

Strangely, the real problem we face are the righteous themselves. As JohnB pointed out this week, history tells us (and if MPs weren't so damn stupid they would see this from their own reports) there isn't any real difference between now and 100+ years ago.

The data shows that, before the global descent into miserable puritanism around World War I that led to prohibition in the US and draconian licensing rules in the UK, alcohol consumption was around its current level.

It then spiked after the war ended, fell during the Depression, rose slightly during the mid-late 1930s and WWII, fell in the austerity period, and then rose fairly consistently from 1950 onwards – accelerating slightly since 1995 due to increased wine consumption. We’re now at about 9 litres of pure alcohol per head per year, compared to 11 litres in 1900.

A right royal storm in a pint pot, which one could say is 'closely linked' to fake charities and quangoes being shovelled great piles of our money.

This manufactured problem is nothing to do with consumption, affordability, or prices, but directly caused by a state which is too large, throwing too much cash at too many career doom-mongers.

I think we're more than ready for that bonfire.


manwiddicombe said...

There is of course the taxation aspect to consider in all of this push for minimum pricing.

Not only will the government raise extra revenue at the point of sale but they are also planning a new levy on anyone who makes extra profits out of this proposed legislation.

The Telegraph sneaked that information into an article about an interview with Andy Burnham a few days ago.

However much fear the BBC or Alcohol Concern want to generate by calculating consumption by the equivalent number of vodka bottles my feeling is that the real driver is the potentially very large friendship gift that such organisations will receive.

Witterings from Witney said...

Actually a sturgeon is one fish I have yet to 'fill(et)'. Woudn't mind trying though. Before any adverse comments arrive in defense I have to say at my age.........any fish in a barrel!

BTS said...

"Adults in Scotland are drinking the equivalent of 46 bottles of vodka each in a year, a study has suggested."

Bunch of poofs..

Anonymous said...

As Tim Worstall points out on JB's blog, the 'Doll 1994' study shows that mortality in drinkers only exceeds that of teetotallers when the drinkers mean intake reaches 61 units a week. This is from Table IV in:

I'd like to point out that the 61 unit per week group includes people who drink 200+ units and the overall mortality is small enough for drinkers at such suicidal levels to skew the average.

Slightly off topic, it is interesting to note that Doll adjusts for smoking habits before reporting any remaining correlation as caused by alcohol. He does not adjust for drinking in his smoking studies. Even more importantly he makes no adjustment for other confounders and assumes all doctors are equal which is certainly not true. Diseases of the poor tend to be less infectious than diseases of the rich for example.


Anonymous said...

That should have read:
"Diseases of the poor tend to be more infectious than diseases of the rich for example."


Unknown said...

I need a feckin' drink! Might be worth traveling to Leg Iron's "smoky, drinky" place as this country will be "dry" if these puritan morons get their way.

Mr A said...

Did you hear arch-wanker Maryon Davies on the Today programme this morning? Absolutely frightening - the guy is a deluded Nazi. Much wibbling about the success of the smoking ban, of "the public acceptance of the ban" (which he said several times - good ol' Common Purpose-style neuro-linguistic programming - repeat something often enough and it becomes a "fact"), and advocating that whatever Government comes in at the Election bans smoking in cars, bring in alcohol limits etc as "they are in for 5 years" i.e. "Sod democracy! We can screw the public and they won't be able to do anything about it as they can't vote them out". Incredible and shameless stuff. Also several good examples of the anti "slice, slice, slice" technique. When talking about banning smoking in cars - "They've done it in Australia"; when talking about various alcohol restrictions - "Well, the smoking ban worked and that has been accepted so why wouldn't that?". I actually felt chills run up and down my spine as he was speaking. Scary, scary stuff. And of course completely unchallenged by Al-Jabeeba.

Mr A said...

Here we go. 7:52 - Listen and weep.

I am Stan said...

The zeal of the Puritan spirit in curtailing individual liberty by legislating against most forms of enjoyment is much in evidence and gathering pace in the UK.

The spirit which prompts this is from its historical prototype known as Puritanism. The old Calvinistic Puritans regarded all worldly pleasures, especially pleasures of sense, as sinful.

the practices which fall under its ban lies without doubt mainly in the pleasure involved in them, although it may be “camouflaged” by other alleged reasons like physical health or cost.

Reason said...

Good post DP.

From memory, beer was about 50p a pint in a pub in 1980 which, adjusting for inflation , would be £1.87 in today’s money. It is now about £2.79 a pint. Therefore BEER IS 50 PERCENT MORE EXPENSIVE in real terms than it was 30 years ago.

The undeniable fact is that alcohol is more expensive now than it was 30 years ago.

However the miserable righteous puritanicals cannot accept this plain fact. They have to talk in terms of “affordability”, all this means is that living standards have improved over the last 30 years.

Anonymous said...

"Adults in Scotland are drinking the equivalent of 46 bottles of vodka each in a year, a study has suggested."

So the Scots are drunken wife beaters after all

JJ said...

Mr A

"the public acceptance of the ban" (which he said several times - good ol' Common Purpose-style neuro-linguistic programming - repeat something often enough and it becomes a "fact")

This of course has always been a well known psychological tactic that has stood the test of time. Adolf Hitler knew this only too well…I don’t know if this particular saying was attributed to him or one of his henchmen.

‘Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it and eventually they will believe it’.

It’s beautiful and works every time.

But these sayings only become fact if they are routinely left unchallenged. If you listen to the Prof Maryon Davies interview where he said that the public had accepted the ban and were quite pleased with it, he was never once challenged by the interviewer.

There is tacit agreement throughout the media that the smoking ban is a good thing…that is why no media commentator ever picked up on the government reneging on their manifesto pledge in 2005.

I had to smile at the comment by the interviewer saying this, ‘the smoking ban excited a huge amount of debate’…and pray tell what huge debate was that…has anyone ever witnessed any media debate whatsoever about the smoking ban.

Apart from the odd gripe given a few column inches in the tabloids I can't think of anyone who has ever been aware of such a debate.

I will always believe that unless and until a high profile court-case that forensically takes apart ‘junk science’ and the myths surrounding smoking, then this crap will only continue unhindered.

Anonymous said...

cfjc7 - I try to tell everyone that ASH are a shower of charlatans in the hope that people will begin to believe it - except it's not a lie!


Dick Puddlecote said...

Some top comments here, thanks. :-)

Mr A: Cheers for the link, but I think I'd better not listen to the twat, just your summation of his arrogant wibbling is anger-inducing enough.

Reason: This article says that a pint of beer was 35p in 1980, and using the calculator above, that works out at around £1.31 in 2008. So yes, a massive increase in alcohol cost. 'Affordability' is a cleverly used word by the temperance lunatics, but then everything has become more affordable so the only remedy would be to go back to 1980 level earnings. Now, a 'call for action' along those lines from the righteous would create the scenario for a lynching, but that is just about what they are calling for by way of taxes, minimum prices and restrictions.

Bastards, all of 'em.

Reason said...


The price of 35p a pint is probably the "national average". My of recall of 50p is the price in the south-east and possibly distorted by my memory and “units of alcohol” over the last 30 years!

Yes, so the cost of alcohol has more than doubled in real terms in the last 30 years.

I agree that “affordability” is a cleverly used word by the temperance lunatics as they cannot tell the truth that alcohol is more expensive than 30 years ago. Yes, everything has become more affordable as living standards have improved.

As a side I can’t see an index of “affordability”. How can we check their assertions?

The Retail Prices Index data can be found here:

Willy said...

According to your chart, alcohol consumption increased during the NuLabour years.

Not surprising really.

If they're really concerned, why don't they do the decent thing?