Perhaps, like many sensible citizens, you read Investor's Business Daily for its sturdy common sense in defending free markets and other rational arrangements. If so, you too may have been startled recently by an astonishing statement on that newspaper's front page. It was in a report on the intention of the world's second-largest brewer, Belgium's InBev, to buy control of the third-largest, Anheuser-Busch, for $46.3 billion. The story asserted: "The [alcoholic beverage] industry's continued growth, however slight, has been a surprise to those who figured that when the economy turned south, consumers would cut back on nonessential items like beer."
"Non what"? Do not try to peddle that proposition in the bleachers or at the beaches in July. It is closer to the truth to say: No beer, no civilization.
The development of civilization depended on urbanization, which depended on beer. To understand why, consult Steven Johnson's marvelous 2006 book, "The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic -- and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World." It is a great scientific detective story about how a horrific cholera outbreak was traced to a particular neighborhood pump for drinking water. And Johnson begins a mind-opening excursion into a related topic this way: