Several years ago I wrote a post on an Economist article analyzing the decline of Britain’s humble neighborhood pubs. An unfortunate occurrence, but one not difficult to understand when considering a frustrated economy that leaves consumers with less disposable income. That, coupled with an overall decline in beer consumption, the traditional staple of any public house.
Yet that decline hasn’t resulted in less drinking. On the contrary, it appears that Britain has a national problem with drink. And the problem isn’t only with booze, but with the political discussion surrounding it.
First, let’s discuss the booze problem, placed within a geographic context: “Like most chilly north European countries, it has an ancient tradition of getting blotto. But Britons manage to combine Scandinavian bingeing with liver-pickling Mediterranean levels of consumption.”
If such a problem does exist, how can it be fixed? Increased regulation appears often in these situations, but perhaps properly understanding the problem might be a best first step. “Britain’s noisy youthful drinkers, who attract most of the public ire, are in fact a diminishing part of the problem.” Instead, this latest attempt by legislators to mandate health choices is much like its past attempts: “Britain’s battles with the bottle have always involved a heady mixture of anxieties about health, morality and social class.”
The problem thus appears more complicated than it first seemed. Might there be a confluence of factors responsible for Britain’s love affair with drink, such as geographic and economic considerations? “Growing prosperity and urbanisation were likelier causes of both drunkeness and its critics, because they brought rowdy commoners into greater proximity with gentler inebriates.”
Is British society doomed? In the Economist’s opinion, the worry is overblown: “This class-infused tension is discernable in every major campaign against drink that has followed: from the 18th-century crackdown on the ‘gin-craze’…to the high-minded Victorian temperence movement, and the exaggerated popular concerns over ‘binge Britain’ of today.”
Moveover, critics and naysayers completely fail to acknowledge the social benefits the bottle brings. “Britain’s buttoned-up society gets a lot of precious bonding and cheer from the bottle, which is too often ignored in the public browbeating.” Bonding and cheer, a way for us to blow off steam, to unwind after a day’s work, to make new friends and grow closer to those we have. Intangible benefits that produce happiness and revelry, benefits that bind society together.