Monday, June 27, 2016

This Intolerable Deal of Sack

Having looked into Utopia in Power: The History of the Soviet Union from 1917 to the Present (published in 1986), I found the results of inquiry into alcohol consumption in Lithuania during the 1970s:
The average resident of this region (note that Lithuania is one of the most culturally advanced republics of the USSR) spent 330 rubles on vodka and 3 rubles on books.
That is not quite as bad as Falstaff's ratio of expenditure for sack and bread, which is something greater than 136 to 1, yet it is impressive. But a friend who spent some time in the Soviet Union during its late days offers some context: a ruble would buy an art book, 35 kopecks a hardback novel. Given that Utopia in Power reports a 28.5 liter per capita consumption of vodka at that time, one can say that a liter of vodka cost about 11 rubles, roughly 30 times the price of a novel. My most recent purchase of a hardback novel was for about $19. I have never contemplated the retail purchase of a bottle of an alcoholic beverage costing even four times that, let alone thirty times.

Still, do any of us but teetotalers manage a ratio weighted to the book side?  I doubt that the general population of the US does. Alcohol is heavily taxed, and books take time to read. The Census figures are not quite clear, but it appears that in 2014 wine, beer, and liquor stores had sales of about $34 billion, book stores had about $9 billion.

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