3 more pennies a pop, and they cry in their beer


October 03, 1990|By ROGER SIMON

Poor people in this country spend a higher percentage of their income on booze than do rich people.

This should not surprise us. Rich people have many ways by which to amuse themselves.

1. They can buy private helicopters and yachts.

2. They can order cashews from room service.

3. They can drive through the streets in their limousines and make fun of the poor people.

But people with limited incomes have a limited number of ways by which to amuse themselves.

1. They can watch TV.

2. They can drink until they pass out.

I exaggerate somewhat. But according to figures provided by the Congressional Budget Office, the 20 percent of Americans with the lowest incomes spend 3.7 percent of their income on booze.

The 20 percent of Americans with the highest incomes, however, spend only 1.6 percent of their income on booze.

There are two ways we could approach this problem. We could spend millions on an advertising campaign saying:

"Hey, Americans, stop spending your money foolishly! Booze will just mess up your mind and ruin your health and you don't really need it. So save your dough for something important -- like a bigger TV."

Or we could spend millions on ads saying:

"Hey, Americans, write to Congress and demand that booze be kept cheap so you can keep guzzling it until your livers swell up to the size of beach balls!"

It seems we have taken the second course.

In the compromise budget plan worked out this week, a lot of groups took it on the chin: the old, the sick, the middle class.

But one group did quite well: beer drinkers.

I know you think the opposite is true, but that is because you have been subjected to a huge publicity campaign by the beer lobby.

The beer lobby feared that the tax on beer would go up to 81 cents a six-pack, and so they started a huge multimedia campaign to stop it. And it worked. In the current compromise, the beer tax goes up only to 32 cents a six-pack. And that's an increase of just 16 cents or 2.67 cents per beer.

So you would think the beer lobby people would be laughing and singing and dancing in their suds today. But, no, they are not satisfied. Yesterday afternoon, the Beer Institute (yes, there really is a Beer Institute, and it spent $1 million to fight the beer tax) faxed a press release around the nation saying it is not giving up the fight against an increase in beer taxes.

America's breweries aren't giving up either. A spokesman for Adolph Coors told the Wall Street Journal: "It's [the increase in the beer tax] not a done deal at this point."

In other words, we should raise taxes on something else -- wouldn't you like to pay even more to Medicare? -- so we can keep beer-drinking cheap.

And the beer lobby is not to be taken lightly. Their TV ads were very effective. In the ones I saw, beer drinkers always looked as if they were personally dressed each morning by Ralph Lauren.

They were seen working hard or standing around an all-American barbecue at an all-American home.

They were never seen guzzling brews while blasting down the highway at 85 mph and throwing the empties out the window.

No, beer drinking was depicted as positive, healthy, as good for you and as American as eating apple pie.

I used to turn down the sound whenever these ads came on and make up my own dialogue.

First Beer Guy: Say, Ted, have another?

Second Beer Guy: Sure, Al, why not? This is only my eighth.

First Beer Guy: But you know the old American saying, Ted: You can never have too much beer!

Second Beer Guy: Damn, right, Al. Why, beer is nature's nearly perfect food.

First Beer Guy: Gosh, yes, Ted. I hardly eat solid food at all anymore. What do you say we finish up here and then take a couple of six-packs back to the office with us?

Second Beer Guy: Good idea, Al. I can't wait to finish up work on the Hubble Space Telescope!

Beer is the largest volume seller in the booze business, amounting to about 86 percent of the 6.75 billion gallons of

booze sold last year. And while sales of hard liquor have been falling off in America, beer sales have been rising.

Yet the beer lobby made dire predictions about how a tax increase would make beer sales fall off, putting people out of work, destroying the fiber of America, etc., etc.

But will that really happen? How many people are going to cut down on drinking beer because the price of a six-pack is going up 16 cents?

What is more likely to happen is that some beer drinkers will just switch to cheaper beer, which is why

the brand-name breweries have been fighting the beer tax so much.

They pretend they are fighting it because it hits working class and poor people harder than it hits rich people. And, in a sense, it does. They can afford it less well.

But keep in mind the beer tax is an entirely voluntary tax.

If you don't want to pay any beer tax at all, just don't drink beer.

If you don't want to pay the cigarette tax, stop smoking.

If you don't want to pay the wine tax or the hard liquor tax or the fur coat tax or the yacht tax, don't buy any of those things, either.

Because there's a concept at least as old and American as

drinking beer:

If you want to play, you have to pay.

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