Every once in a while I see a data set somewhere online or in a newspaper that captures my attention – and my playful (but nerdy) side.
On a random newsfeed this week I saw the following Economist dataset that grabbed my eye (first image, left), probably because I saw the word “beer” in the headlines. I love beer, plus it’s a good manly topic, don’t you think? I am also trying to eliminate it from my diet as part of losing some weight (‘cause my wife called me chubby the other day) and so when I saw “beer and labour” (that’s ‘labor’ for all you Norteamericanos) I thought “cool” not only am I losing some flab but I also get to understand how I am positively diverting my personal financial output relative to everyone else in the world.
When I first studied this graph I immediately recognized that the price of a beer varied widely – and that the relative purchase power of the average person varied even more widely. This is what makes this data set intriguing – because in fact, not all of the countries at the top of the list (like India) are big drinkers. It turns out that in terms of total (equivalent) units of pure alcohol consumed per head, India is the lowest on the list. Considering that India is a massive population, even modest consumption should still enable a big enough market to exist that a price point that isn’t hampered by production scale (indeed, the average cost of a beer in India is lower than the world average).
In addition, the fact that a beer in India is cheaper than the world average would imply that there are probably no excessive tariffs (taxation, religious drivers, public health policy, etc.). This is unlike, for example Britain, where alcohol is massively taxed and where a beer costs ~3 times just about everywhere in a desperate attempt by the government to curb binge drinking. Practically, though, if you earn your wage in Pounds Sterling and you are thinking of going on a bender, maybe a trip to India is not a bad idea. On a big night out, you might just about break even on low-cost charter flights and a cheap hotel in Goa.
On second thoughts, let’s keep those rowdy Brits away (again) from beautiful India and just keep sending them to alcoholic tourism hotspots like Ibiza and Benidorm instead… (Sorry mates – couldn’t resist).
When I apply my amateur cultural analysis lens to this graph, I also notice that beer costs about the same in Russia as it does in India. Although I suspect vodka is a lot more popular than beer in Russia, it is an absolute fact that Russians will pretty much drink anything. I know, I married a Russian and the top 10 drunkest moments in my life have been around my wife’s family. And yes … it turns out that Russians and other ex-Soviet nations are the biggest drinkers in world. Unsurprisingly, Koreans are not far behind (I’ve done a fair amount of damage to my liver from business trips to Seoul over the years, so I can attest) followed by most of the Euro-zone quaffing countries, which have a fairly equivalent drinking culture. You’d think all those Latin American countries would be big drinkers (like Mexico, Columbia) but in fact they are pretty modest. They manage to trash football stadiums without alcohol, which is quite impressive.
Then I started wondering. Based on the total alcohol consumption of these countries and considering that this nifty dataset tells us how long it takes to earn a beer, and throwing in a few rough rules of thumb (like converting total pure alcohol to a rough 5% beer pint equivalent) I was curious to know what percentage of the working life was dedicated to getting tanked. Irrespective of (or ‘normalized’ for) how much people drink in each country, I wanted to know what proportion labor output was effectively directed to getting boozed. The result is more what you’d expect of all the cultural stereotypes. The Columbians are slaving away for that cold one, the Poms are cranking away for a pint and the Russkies and Koreans are spending all their spare dosh on ‘shine. At the other end of the scale, the studious Chinese and Indians are spending a relatively small proportion of their earning hours on getting sloshed – they’re obviously too busy directing their wealth towards more productive things like starting IT companies and world domination.
At this point, I was having fun and I thought it would be entirely appropriate to pull out the top 5 or 6 booziest countries and the bottom 5 or 6 booziest countries and see how alcohol and overall productivity line up. I dug out the figures on productivity/head from the OECD and a few other sources and racked and stacked booze consumption against productivity (for simplicity, productivity is charted as relative to the average of the group). It turns out that there is basically no correlation between alcohol and productivity. Sure there are some highly boozy countries like Russia and the Ukraine who are a bit weak on labor output, but then there are the Japanese and the Froggies who are not far behind in terms of quaffing power but still have comparatively high productivity.This clearly means that there are manufacturing companies in Japan and Korea that are being run on hangovers – says a lot about the stamina of our Asian friends (i.e. very impressive, dedicated lot). You can chart it both ways…and it’s clear, there isn’t a correlation (note: I have studiously avoided the use of any statistics here – that’s for dorks).
Therefore, it’s not just the effects of booze at play here. There has to be some other factor that causes the Russians to be far less productive than the almost similarly boozy French – or the Columbians who actually don’t drink that much at all but also don’t crank out anything (legally) useful. Sure we could be all sophisticated and start doing an analysis of political institutions, corruption, comparative freedom, infant mortality as a proxy for human health, etc. But that would be scientific – and this is a blog.
We don’t do science here.
Applying my warped cultural lens again, I note that the countries with the greatest productivity disparity are also countries that are renowned to have beautiful women. This is not just my opinion (or an attempt to elicit brownie points from my Siberian wife), but there have been rigorously conducted and objective scientific studies – we have the data, people. If you add a 3rd variable to booze and productivity – namely the reputed beauty of a nation’s femmes – and sort from the most beautiful to the least … damned if it doesn’t start to iron out the wrinkles in the correlation. It’s not perfect, but it’s (visually) a whole lot better and let’s face it, we’re not controlling for some corruption or poverty index so it’s not bound to be perfect. The curves truly track each other (pardon the pun). What’s more, there is a pretty strong correlation between the beauty of a country’s women and relative booziness.
Now, I am not being misogynistic here. I think we can be honest with each other and agree that beautiful women drive both men and women to drink – men, to develop the courage and women to dull the ire. However this is not about my personal opinion, this is purely and simply about the numbers. This is about science (disregard my earlier comment) and I can only report the facts. No matter how you analyse it, people who live in countries with beautiful women spend more of their earnings getting boozed and have lower productivity. That’s Boozonomics.
It all makes sense really. Slàinte mhath!