The Beer is Too Damned Cheap

Over the last few years, two giant multi-national companies, Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors, have managed to gain control of 80 percent of the beer market in the United States. Now they’re working to squeeze out the middle men who distribute and sell that beer, too—all in the name of cheap booze.

But is that a good idea? That’s the question Tim Heffernan poses in a probing analysis of America’s beer market in the latest issue of the Washington Monthly. In recent decades, Heffernan notes, Great Britain has allowed such “vertical integration” of its liquor industry, and the result has been rampant alcohol abuse at levels that now constitute a national crisis.

Could such a thing happen here? The answer’s yes. In fact, it already has. A hundred years ago, it was precisely that cheap booze, provided by monopolistic and vertically-integrated brewers and distillers, that led to the rampant alcoholism and family breakdown that fueled Prohibition. With the repeal of Prohibition, America carefully crafted policies to limit the power and concentration of the alcohol industry by requiring that beer makers sell their product through middlemen. And it’s those same middlemen that Big Beer is trying to put out of business today.

Read “Last Call” here.

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Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. He was an editor at the magazine from 1986 to 1988.