Economists use beer as measure to document failures of socialism in new book

With the hot-button word “socialism” sparking intense political debate as Americans brace for the 2020 presidential election, two U.S. economists have completed a global drinking tour – and a book already at the top of Amazon's "beer" category – warning that the socialist lure could lead to a drastic dry-up of the country’s adult beverages.

“Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World,” by Robert Lawson and Benjamin Powell, is billed as a “worldwide tour guide written in plain English” which takes readers on a not-so-luxurious expedition into three countries that have embraced socialism – North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba – using beer as an indicator of economic concern.

“In Cuba, there were only two types of beer, almost the same in alcohol content and both tasted like skunky Budweiser. In North Korea, it was just god awful,” Lawson, who is also the director of the William J. O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom at Southern Methodist University, told Fox News. “And, in Venezuela, the country has basically run out of beer because the government planners couldn’t import enough barley.”

The economists' book is slated to hit store shelves Tuesday. (Robert Lawson/Benjamin Powell)


In Lawson’s summation, why would employees of a government-controlled plant bother to go out of their way to seek out the resources, extra cost and energy to produce 30 different types of beer or wine when it is easy to make two, and there is no incentive otherwise to excel?

“We were on the border of Colombia and Venezuela, and the Colombian side was awash with all kinds of beer. On the other side, Venezuela had nothing for sale and people had to cross into Colombia just to get the basic necessities,” said Powell, who is also the director of the Free Market Institute and a professor of economics at Texas Tech University. “It’s an important lesson for ‘Democratic Socialists’ in the U.S. to remember that (Hugo) Chavez came to power in free and fair elections, but socialism centralizes economic power and the system starts nationalizing farms, factories, even hotels. When oil prices were $100 a barrel, Venezuela could mask the dysfunction, but as oil prices went down over the last five years, they couldn’t hide the reality.”

Benjamin Powell and Robert Lawson happily drinking on the Colombian side of the Venezuelan border. (Robert Lawson/Benjamin Powell)

Subsequently, the authors contended, socialism often has opened the floodgates to totalitarianism – as was the case this year in Caracas when Nicolás Maduro was re-elected via a “sham” contest of political oppression and refused to concede to the U.S-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó.


The book, which is slated to hit shelves Tuesday in the hours before the second round of debates among the 2020 Democrats, was born out of the 2016 presidential campaign after the authors took issue with candidate Bernie Sanders using the label to “attract people to the cause.” In their view, he and other pro-socialist leaders have been spreading misinformation.

“We wanted to clear up what the definition of socialism really is; (Sanders) points to Denmark, Sweden, Norway. While they aren’t free market and have high taxes, they are market-orientated and aren’t real socialist countries,” Lawson conjectured. “And, China is fake socialism, it has made a lot of reform when it comes to personal property rights. It’s crony capitalism, but that is a hell of a lot better than socialism.”

Nonetheless, Lawson also observed that even in a country like Sweden – often cited as a shining example of socialism – beer is widely available, but the cost is typically very high.

Economist Benjamin Powell enjoying the Georgian wines. (Robert Lawson/Benjamin Powell)

However, it is not all doom and gloom.

The authors also took their boozing into former Soviet Union countries to document their “progress” since they parted ways with such an economic model in recent decades.

“Our last trip was to the country of Georgia, and basically that was a socialist as it gets. But, it is now one of the highest countries in economic freedom,” quipped Powell. “And, using alcohol as our economic measure – when Georgia was under the USSR and their wine industry was under Soviet control, it was a disaster. Now, it’s a wine mecca, produces really unique wines that don’t exist anywhere else in the world, and it's where wine snobs from across the globe now go to taste.”


Thus, their fundamental message is strikingly unimpaired.

“Socialism is a disaster everywhere it has been tried, historical evidence illustrates this,” added Lawson. “The freer the country is, the more it prospers.”