Drinking freedom

Dr Eric Crampton
Insights Newsletter
30 August, 2019

The very best part of grad school was the drinking. Well, not so much the drinking. Too often, the beer was stuff that would make an Export Gold taste like Export Gold had taste. It was the arguing about economics, over beer, until close to sunrise, with other people who cared deeply about ideas. That was heaven – despite the bad beer.

Professor Ben Powell was a year behind me in grad school at George Mason University, and a fantastic drinking companion. But Ben was, and is, a lot smarter than I am. He persuaded people to cover the costs of an interesting book project with the creator of the Economic Freedom of the World indices, Professor Robert Lawson.

The project’s genius is obvious in the book’s title: Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World (2019).

Ben and Bob went on a tour of some of the world’s less-free places in search of a decent beer. As they put it, “We wrote this book because too many people seem to be dangerously ignorant of what socialism is, how it functions, and its historical track record. We also wanted to get drunk in Cuba, and this was a great way to write off our expenses.”

The tour starts in Sweden, mostly to explain the country is definitely not socialist. It has a lot of redistribution, but the government mostly leaves the rest of the economy alone. From there, they head over to Venezuela – or at least a few feet over the border. Then on to Cuba’s subsistence socialism, China’s fake socialism, a peek across the Chinese border into North Korea’s dark socialism, the hungover socialism of Russia and Ukraine, Georgia’s new capitalism, and back to the USA for drinks at the Democratic Socialists of America’s annual convention.

Just like those late-night sessions in grad school, the drinking mostly isn’t the point – despite the title. It’s the ideas. The book takes us to parts of the world you might not otherwise visit to teach us history lessons that are quite relevant today. We’re right to lament how many Kiwis haven’t the faintest clue about the Holocaust, but how many Kiwis know that Mao’s Great Leap Forward starved 45 million people to death?

If you like reading P.J. O’Rourke, you’ll want to pick up a copy. It’s ridiculously fun, especially when paired with a bad beer for authenticity.

Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World is available at Amazon.

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