Am I a little late on reporting this one? Probably. For what it’s worth, I’m happy to report that Britain specifically created a cabinet position for a Minister of Pubs. The reports I’ve seen and heard about this have been upbeat and positive. I think it is a very cool fact that beer is that big a part of life in the British mind. One can’t help but ask a question: Why? Why create one now?
The reason that it has happened so late in the game is essentially a reactionary situation. I don’t know how many of you know this, but pubs are on the decline in England. Various reasons have dictated the situation. Development of the store bought draught system, increased can selection in the store, and the continued break-down of social life are all mitigating factors. I hit on this point quite a while back when I wrote a rant against American “pubs.” Nate wrote this. Pub is short for public place. But in societies that continually focus on the private life (sometimes to an unhealthy degree…I’m looking at myself, too), there is bound to be a degradation in public life. Something like 2,200 pubs closed down last year. This yielded a job loss of over 20,000 workers.
Sure, pubs are expensive to maintain. Good casks are hard to handle well without a skilled barman. So, the costs of doing business are higher than American “pubs.” But the costs of the pub have remained the same. What has changed is the amount of people going into them. The government’s solution was to appoint a minister. Sounds like government foolishness on the surface. Lately, the government has been rolling out a plan for real public ownership of local pubs. They are encouraging lending to local pubs and encourage local investments in a communal pub ownership.
Some people want to simply blame the recession for this issue. Maybe. But is it possible that the increasing proclivity toward “each person is an island” mentality is propagating the problem? I think so.
Even so, I want to point out one of the more virulent issues behind the whole story. How does a ministerial position come to be appointed? I know little about the British government process, so I’ll speak in generalities. It takes money to do this, yes? Don’t you have to pay that person? How is the money for that derived? I think taxation is probably the source of income in this case.
Here’s the other reason that pubs are failing: taxes on beer are ridiculous. There is essentially a sliding scale on beer price. The stronger the beer, the more the tax. Even aside from that, prices are still high. They’ve been raised recently. Getting a pint is more expensive than ever. So what’s the solution? Raise taxes, create a position using those taxes to deal with the government created problem, and then say that people ought to have private ownership while wondering how this could have happened?
I’m sorry if I sound overly skeptical of the new pub minster, and I don’t want to sound like a hawkish American with my tax views. I realize the structure is different. Maybe the minister is doing wonderful things and maybe I’m completely off base. After all, I don’t know the subtleties of British life. Maybe Bob can fill in some blanks or offer a few counter-points. I’m not averse to being corrected. I will say this, though, the pub is losing ground and that would be tragic…that’s the point we can all agree on.