Posts Tagged ‘drinking and driving’

Gin, politics, and the price of grains

10/01/2013 2 comments

On the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog, Jeremy Cherfas points us to the nice story that at the beginning of his regency the English King William III sought to gain the support of the land-owning aristocracy by keeping the price of grains high. A means of achieving this was the deregulation of distilling, which then led to the famous English 18th century gin boom.

Those who know a bit the political economy of biofuels and the debate on the impact of biofuel policies on food prices may be as quick as Cherfas to draw the parallels to this contemporary phenomenon.

But biofuels aside. Cherfas raises the interesting question whether the demand for grain for distilling has had any impact on food prices in the 18th century? Let’s have a look:


The graph shows the prices of Barley, Rye and Wheat in England from 1650 to 1720. The vertical black line roughly marks the deregulation of distilling by King William (1689 is the date I’ve found after some superficial online search).

What we can observe is that grain prices were declining since the mid 1670s. And indeed, after the deregulation of distilling, this negative trend is reversed and prices started to rise and continued doing so for the following ten years.

Well, as things look like, the price rises have been really substantial. The question is whether drinking alone can cause, say, wheat prices to more than double. It may be more conceivable that 250,272,812 motor vehicles in the US and even more elsewhere running on ethanol blended fuel drive up corn prices …

(Amendment: Many thanks to the International Institute of Social History for making the price series available.)