What if booze was a public good?
🎧 Part 2 of The Fingers Podcast with James Wilt, journalist and author of 'Drinking Up the Revolution'
Editor’s note: Part 1 of this interview is available here. A condensed transcript of Pts. 1 and 2 is available here. This is a paid-subscriber exclusive, so if you haven’t yet, please purchase a subscription to support my independent journalism about drinking in America!—Dave.
You know how parts of the United States have state-run retail networks for selling beverage alcohol, via which they hold partial or full monopolies over the pricing, sale, and profit of booze? What’s up with that?
So glad you asked. Today, exclusively for paying Friends of Fingers, I’ve got the second half of my interview with James Wilt, author of Drinking Up the Revolution: How to Smash Big Alcohol and Reclaim Working-Class Joy. (Here’s Part 1.) The book, which came out earlier this year, confronts the profit-driven practices of the world’s biggest beer, wine, and spirits producers and argues for a radical alternative system that puts drinkers before shareholders.
My interview with James took place a bit earlier this fall and lasted nearly two hours. We talked about everything from the ways in which global booze capital flexes its political muscles, to how craft beverage producers inadvertently give cover to their corporate counterparts, to his vision for a fairer, safer system for distributing drink without the profit motive dictating the terms of engagement. “It’s about reducing the density of liquor [stores], increasing pricing, doing all these things that are very contested, but ultimately evidence-based ways of reducing industry profits, and reducing harms,” he says of his (admitted radical!) proposal for regulating the beverage-alcohol business.
That’s not to say James is a prohibitionist; not so. “The world sucks for most people…. so it’s really necessary to come up with alternatives, which is why I [argue for] degrowing Big Alcohol and regrowing these community-owned and controlled alternatives” to the production, distribution, and sale of booze. How would we get there as a society—if we ever even decided to go? “I think at the end of the day, it really has to come down to owning, controlling, and retailing alcohol as a public good, as opposed to something motivated primarily by private profit,” he argues.
I highly recommend you grab Drinking Up the Revolution at the Fingers Reading Room or your local library. Even if you’re a diehard free-market anti-Marxist type, I think you’ll find it really thought-provoking. (Also what the hell are you doing reading Fingers with those politics? Drop me a line, I’d genuinely love to know!)