What are the per capita alcohol consumption rates of England from 1700 to 1900?

What are the per capita alcohol consumption rates of England from 1700 to 1900?

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The rates are readily available for the period 1800 onwards but there is some trouble finding equivalent data for the period prior to 1800. Moreover, the data that I have some across so far even for the period 1800-1850 is not very satisfactory.

For example, one may take a look at this which gives the rates for each decade from 1800 to 1930: - In this, the statistics appear to be confusing. The rates are given in gallons per capita with rates for wine and spirit enlarged. Moreover, since it is a graphical chart, one cannot easily deduce the exact number of alcohol consumed.

It'd be far more helpful if data was to be presented in a modern manner: that is, the rates be given in "litres of pure alcohol consumed per capita per year" in exact numbers.

I very well understand that there may be some problems getting such data for prior 1800, but surely it won't be that hard for the early and middle 19th century overall? I am well aware that such rates are readily available in a modern and exact form for the period 1890 in several European countries in: "Holmes, A. J., & Anderson, K. (2017). Convergence in national alcohol consumption patterns: New global indicators. Journal of Wine Economics, 12(2), 117-148". It would be very great if rates for the period anywhere from 1700 to 1900 were to be given in a similar manner as to 1890 in the source above.

I request specifically for the rates be given, if possible, for each decade for the 18th and 19th century. Once again, it should be remembered that they be provided in litres per capita consumed per year.

See Also

  • From the end of the sixteenth century, distilled drinks existed throughout the West.’ 1
  • The Dutch came to dominate the wine trade. 2
  • Vintners began producing sparkling wine. This was a major event in the history of alcohol in the 17th century. It first occurred in England with still wine from Champagne stored in cellars over the winter. There it underwent a secondary fermentation. The English referred to it as ‘brisk champagne’ in 1664. The French intensely disliked bubbles in wine and tried to prevent them. 3 However, the English preferred them. Contrary to popular belief, Dom Perignon did not invent sparkling wine. Around 1668, he used strong bottles, invented a stronger enclosure, and began blending the contents. However, another century passed before vintners solved the problem, especially bursting bottles, and sparkling Champagne was popular. 4
Native North Americans
  • Except for several tribes in the Southwest, Native North Americans did not have alcohol beverages before the Europeans. Apaches and Zuni made alcoholic beverages for secular consumption. The Pima and Papago produced alcohol for religious ceremonial use. The Papago limited their heavy consumption to a single peaceable annual ceremony. Drinking among other groups was also infrequent and there were no drinking problems. 5
  • People began growing hops in Massachusetts. In Maryland laws encouraged both brewing and distilling. 6
  • Rum was in demand because sub-Saharan Africans were drinkers. 7
  • Franciscus Sylvius (Franz de la Boe), a professor of medicine at the University of Leyden, distilled spirits from grain. 8
“Triangle Trade”

Tavern Owners
  • Tavern owners in the American colonies typically enjoyed high status in the community. The early records of Harvard show this. The records listed the names of students according to the social position of their fathers. Tavern owner’s sons preceded those of the clergy. 14
  • ‘Beer brewing was one of the earliest industries in colonial America.’ 15
  • Distilling grew in the mid-to-late seventeenth century. The expansion of sugar production in the Caribbean greatly facilitated distilling. It provided the molasses needed for local distillers as well as those in Europe and North America. 16
  • The Dutch promoted major innovations in wine production. This included fortifying wine, using sulphur for sanitizing, and late harvesting of grapes. 17

Germans founded a temperance society in Hesse. Its members pledged not to drink more than seven glasses of wine at a meal. And not to do so more than two times per day. They also pledged to refrain from ‘full guzzling’ for two years after their initiation. 19

  • In England, Dr. Alexander Nowell showed that ale stored in cork-sealed, glass bottles lasts longer. 20
  • In Europe ‘There was a severe, a cold April, a hailstorm in the summer. The wine was scarce and of poor quality.’ That year a plague raged in the Palatinate, through Saxony and Prussia. 21 People may have resorted to drinking less sanitary liquids due to the scarcity of wine.

English Parliment passed ‘The Act to Repress the Odious and Loathsome Sin of Drunkenness.’ 22

Bushmills, the oldest whisky currently distilled in the world, began in Ireland. 23

The early American colonists made alcohol beverages from, among other things, carrots, tomatoes, onions and beets. Also celery, squash, corn silk, dandelions, and goldenrod. 18

  • ‘[T]o stem the tide of mortality, the governor and the council of Virginia advertised for two brewers.’ 24
  • England passed a statute to punish ‘the inordinate and extreme vice of excessive drinking and drunkenness.’ 25

For the first time, England imposed a levy on malt. 26

The wine trade was the most profitable industry in Rotterdam. 27

France imposed state control of distilling. 28


People drank widely and heavily during the first century and a half of the American colonies. This was typical of alcohol in the 17th century. People viewed alcohol positively but condemed its abuse. “In 1673, [Puritan minister] Increase Mather praised alcohol, saying that ‘Drink is in itself a creature of God, and to be received with thankfulness.'” 29

  • The Puritans loaded more beer than water onto the Mayflower before casting off for the New World. 30
  • The Pilgrims may have landed at Plymouth rather than sailing on because they were running out of beer. 31

A brewery was one of Harvard College’s first construction projects. That was to ensure a steady supply of beer for the student dining halls. 32

Anyone operating an ale-house without a license was subject to a fine and whipping. 33

The New Netherlands began hop growing. 34

The first attempt to impose prohibition in the New World occurred. Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts attempted to outlaw all alcoholic beverages in Boston. 35

Holland ordered the closing of all inns and taverns during worship hours and after 9:00 at night. 36

Cir. 1633

The modern wine bottle wan an English invention,its creator Sir Kenelm Digby [1603-1665]….’ ‘[F]or the first time since the fall of Rome, Europe had the technology to age wine.’ 37

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, hand blown bottles largely replaced ceramic vessels for alcohol. 38

Ireland began licensing the retailers of alcoholic beverages. 39

The West India Company built a brewery on a lane that became known as ‘Brouwers Straet.’ It’s in what is now Manhattan in New York City. 40

A traveller in Poland described heavy drinking there as a national failure. 41

Massachusetts General Court attempted to maintain moderate drinking. It focused on the role of tavern keepers. They wern’t to let anyone ‘drink excessively, or continue tippling above the space of half an hour.’ 42

Virginia began hop cultivation. 43

The importation of rum into New England from the West Indies began. The beverage became especially popular among poor people because of its low price. 44

  • ‘The first mention of [rum] is contained in a description of Barbados, dating to 1651….’ 45

The North American colonies established their first distillery on what is now Staten Island in New York State. 47

South Africa planted its first vineyard. 48

A rum distillery was operating in Boston. It was highly successful. Within a generation the manufacture of rum would become colonial New England’s largest and most prosperous industry. 49

The British Navy issued its sailors a daily ration of rum from 1655 until 1970. 63

Claret (i.e., red Bordeaux wine) was the most popular wine in Scotland and England at the beginning of the Restoration. 50

Maryland passed a law to promote the establishment of inns. Each had a monopoloy on alcohol sales within a specific geographic area. The goal was to promote innkeeping, brewing, distilling, travel and commerce. 51

  • Russia reinstituted the kabak alcohol concession system after the reforms of Tsar Alexis. This resulted in a significant decline in revenue to the state. 52
  • Amsterdam had over 400 small distilleries. 53
  • The first brand-name wine (wine sold as the product of a specific estate in France) was produced since ancient Egypt. 54

In Germany, Saxony-Gotha enacted an ordinance outlawing public drunkenness and specified a fine as punishment for any violation. 55

  • Dublin had about 4,000 families. It also had 1,180 ale-houses and 91 public houses.’ 56
  • A Massachusetts law prohibiting payment of wages in the form of alcohol resulted in a labor strike. 57

A group of citizens petitioned Parliment for legislation to prohibit brandy, coffee, rum, tea and chocolate. It was because ‘these greatly hinder the consumption of Barley, Malt, and Wheat, the product of our land.’ Parliment did not take action. 58

Massachusetts established the office of tithingman to report alcohol violations in homes. 59

The Portuguese began adding brandy to wine before the end of fermentation to stop it. That leaves some of the natural sugar in the wine. 60


Beer was the major drink of the English. Consumption rose throughout the decade to 104 gallons per capita for the entire population. 61

William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania, operated a commercial brewery in Philadelphia. 62

War broke out between Britain and France and King Charles II banned the importation of French wine. 64

The first true cafe (Cafe de Procope) opened in Paris. 65

  • England passed “An Act for the Encouraging of the Distillation of Brandy and Spirits from Corn.” Within four years the annual production of distilled spirits reached nearly one million gallons. Most of it was gin. 66
  • Organizers formed the Bank of England to help the country fund wars. The bank’s shareholders lent the government money. They knew the government could guarantee returns based on the potential revenue from taxes on alcohol. 67
  • In Massachusetts, Puritan minister Cotton Mather wrote “Wo to Drunkards.” The next year he blamed growing irreligiosty on excess drinking. 68
  • William and Mary enacted heavy duties to discourage French wine trade and light duties to encourage Portuguese wine trade. 69

“In 1697 Emperor Peter I [of Russia] ordered the Moscow patrarch ‘to forbid priests to go to the pubs [so as] not to tempt ordinary people.”’ 70

We’ve seen something of alcohol in the 17th century. Now let’s explore what happened to alcohol in the 18th century.

Who does the drinking?

Average consumption figures are useful, but limited. They show roughly what is happening across the population, but not what is happening among specific individuals or social groups.

Around 20% of the population don’t drink at all – and this figure is increasing among young people in particular. Among those who do drink, patterns of consumption vary enormously:

  • higher earners are more likely to drink than those on lower incomes
  • older people are more likely to drink regularly
  • men are more likely to ‘binge drink’ than women (though this is less the case among the young)

Most of the alcohol sold in the UK is bought by people who drink heavily. Indeed, the very heaviest drinkers – who make just 4% of the population - consume around 30% of all the alcohol sold in the UK. It has recently been estimated that about a quarter of the profits made by the alcohol industry arise from these very heavy drinkers.

While youth drinking has been falling steadily, consumption among older people has not changed at the same rate. People aged 55-64 are more likely than anyone else to drink at higher risk levels, and are least likely not to drink at all. It may be that a generation who drank heavily in the 1990s and 2000s is bringing those habits into middle age, with potentially serious consequences for their long-term health.

Historical Note on Temperance Reform in the Early 19th Century

Drink was everywhere in early America. “Liquor at that time,” recalled the Massachusetts carpenter Elbridge Boyden, “was used as commonly as the food we ate.” Americans drank in enormous quantities. Their yearly consumption at the time of the Revolution has been estimated at the equivalent of three-and-a-half gallons of pure, two-hundred proof alcohol for each person. After 1790 American men began to drink even more. By the late 1820s imbibing had risen to an all-time high of almost four gallons per capita.

The primary historical resources in this section document America’s first campaign against drink. This pattern was unchallenged until early in the nineteenth century, when local efforts to curb drinking by individual clergymen were amplified by the founding of the American Temperance Society in 1826, sponsored by a wide range of groups and individuals. Temperance reformers acted for a variety of reasons, but we can describe four powerful perspectives on temperance that motivated most advocates and shaped their arguments and campaigns. For many of them, of course, all four were linked together. One perspective was that of social order. Many reformers feared that drunkenness—particularly the increasing prevalence of binge drinking—was a threat to law abiding society and economic prosperity. How could men act as responsible workers and vote as responsible citizens if they were insensible with drink? Another cornerstone of temperance reform was evangelical religion. Religiously motivated temperance advocates came to see drinking as a sin—a way of giving in to the animal or depraved self that was incompatible with Christian morals, self-control and spiritual awakening. A third temperance perspective focused on damage to the family. Looking at family destitution and violence, reformers reckoned the cost to American wives, mothers and children of heavy drinking by their husbands and fathers. A fourth point of view was medical, as more health-minded reformers popularized a radically new way of looking at alcohol. Americans had traditionally considered strong drink to be healthy and fortifying after 1810, many physicians and writers on health were telling their patients and readers that alcohol was actually a poison.

In the 1830s and 1840s national and state societies generated an enormous output of antiliquor tracts, and hundreds of local temperance societies were founded to press the cause, first of moderation in drink but increasingly of total abstinence from liquor. The temperance campaign proved extremely successful, particularly in New England and New York. Most New England communities became sharply divided between drinkers and non-drinkers. By the 1840s, liquor consumption had fallen to less than half its previous level, and hundreds of thousands of men had signed pledges of total abstinence. Much of this change proved more or less permanent—since the mid-nineteenth century, per capita alcohol consumption in the United States has never gone back to pre 1820 levels.

Since the 1830s, the United States has seen other “temperance” crusades—in particular the Prohibition movement of the late 19th and early 20th century, and today’s seemingly endless “War on Drugs.” Because most Americans today approve of moderate alcohol use, these early temperance reformers, with their passionate and moralistic advocacy of total abstinence, may well seem both amusing and dismaying. Yet by rescuing a substantial number of men from alcoholism they did in fact achieve a great deal of good for American society.

What are the per capita alcohol consumption rates of England from 1700 to 1900? - History


1. Contemporary discussions of British drinking often suggest breaks or continuities with the past, but these tend to draw on recent experience. A focus on questions of alcohol supply, for example, reflects the spectacular boom of the "night-time economy" over the last 30 years.

2. However there has been a long decline in alcohol consumption from the late 17th century. Levels rose again in the 19th century but fell rapidly and significantly from the late 1880s onwards, remaining low until the late 1960s.

3. The last 30 or 40 years have seen a significant shift in these long-term trends, not just because consumption levels are rising again, but because of the growing popularity of stronger drinks (wine and spirits).

4. These changes are not a simple consequence of the availability of alcohol. Changing levels of prosperity are also significant, but rising income has not always resulted in increased consumption. For this reason it is also essential to consider changing consumer habits .

5. Government intervention seems to have been most effective when it has followed the tide of events free trade policies have had a limited or temporary effect when set against long-term decline and the slow evolution of consumer tastes. Recent growth does not seem to be the result of any particular policy relating to alcohol, though the licensing of supermarkets from the 1960s may have encouraged domestic drinking.

6. I am a historical geographer in the Department of Geography at UCL. I am interested in the place of alcohol in 19th and 20th century British culture and have published on the internal organisation of the pub, its role in urban public space, and geographical aspects of alcohol policy over the last century and a half.


7. We think of the century as a time of great drunkenness, particularly in comparison with the 20th, but it represents part of a very long-term decline in the significance of drink for British society. In the 17th century beer was an essential aspect of everyday life (and diet) it has been estimated that consumption reached over 100 gallons per head per year in 1689. Beer drinking declined during the 18th century, and while drink remained important in the 19th century the period between 1800 and 1960 saw consumption fall to its lowest recorded point. This constitutes a decline over more than two and a half centuries , which puts the recent revival of drinking into perspective.

8. Between 1830-34 and 1895-99 the annual per capita consumption of beer in England and Wales rose by only 2%—though for the UK as a whole this figure was 44%, reminding us that different places had different drink problems (see 25 below). The annual per capita consumption of spirits rose by around 25% in the UK over the century. The 1830s and 1870s represent peak consumption years for beer, spirits and wine, with the 1840s and late 1880s representing slumps.

9. Free trade arguments prompted lower spirit duties in the 1820s and inspired the 1830 Beerhouse Act. There were about 45,000 pubs in the UK in 1830 but by 1838 nearly 46,000 beerhouses had been added to this total under the new Act. Despite the increased availability of beer and lower prices consumption rose only briefly before levelling off again by 1840 spirit drinking also rose and fell between 1825 to 1840. The decline in the 1840s is probably due to hardship as well as changing tastes (competition from tea). Levels of prosperity and changing habits can be just as significant as availability and price.

10. The second and more significant peak in the 1870s was the culmination of a slow, steady rise to the century's highest level. This seems likely to have been a reflection of prosperity and rising wages . It has been suggested that working-class consumers saw drink as a "treat"—not as a necessity, as it had been before the 19th century—and as a good way to dispose of rising incomes. This seems to have been short-lived as consumption levels began to fall again in the 1880s despite wages rising until the mid 1890s. By the 1880s there were many counter-attractions for working-class consumers (music halls, football, cigarettes, and holidays) this decline seems to be a question of changing tastes .

11. Per capita consumption of beer and spirits continued to decline until the First World War, which marks a significant moment because of the Government's efforts to control alcohol production and consumption—the most sustained attempt to come to grips with drink in British history. Measures included shorter opening hours, higher duties on beer, and significant reductions in both the production and strength of beer. The amount of beer consumed in 1918 was nearly half of the pre-war total, despite rising incomes, and arrests for drunkenness in England and Wales fell from 190,000 to 29,000 between 1913 and 1918.

12. Levels of consumption continued to fall after the war. Britain had become more home-centred, and these homes were often new ones, far from pubs or off-licences. While the Depression undoubtedly kept demand low in some areas, the majority of workers saw real wages increase between the wars. However spending on alcohol did not increase, because drink had many rivals now: radios and gramophones, gardening, cinema and the pools. Per capita beer consumption hit what is probably a historic low point in the first half of the 1930s, about half of what it had been in 1900 it rallied briefly after the end of the Second World War, but demand only really began to pick up again in the late 1960s.

13. The post-war revival in drinking is extremely significant. It represents a return to levels of drinking last seen before the First World War but it also shows a significant shift in tastes. The slow rise from the 1960s probably reflects another case of prosperity-inspired drinking it also reflects the increased participation of women in the workplace, leading to a rise in the demand for wine in particular. Over the last thirty years the consumption of beer has risen and fallen again, but recent falls have been eclipsed by the rise of wine-drinking. The consumption of wine almost doubled between 1985 and 2000, and the 2000 figure of 26.8 litres per person per annum is more than ten times the amount drunk in 1876, the high point of 19th century wine-drinking.

14. Twenty-first century wine consumption remains much higher than it was in previous centuries. Despite its democratization wine still tends to be drunk by consumers in the higher social groups in 2003 71.6% of those who drank wine at least once a week were in social classes AB and C1. In 1997 supermarkets accounted for 61% of all UK wine sales, with other off-licences selling an additional 23%.

15. Spirits also increased in popularity after the Second World War, especially in the 1970s per capita consumption trebled between 1953 and 1990. A small fall in the 1990s preceded higher figures at the beginning of this century, reaching 0.95 proof gallons per capita per head in 2003. Again this seems to be a consequence of rising incomes and changing tastes.

16. The change in tastes represented by the return of spirits and the rise of wine is extremely important. Graphs that show consumption levels of drinks in terms of their alcohol content (eg p10 of the Government's Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy, 2004) show that wine and spirits contributed about 40% of the alcohol consumed in 2000. In comparison beer, which accounted for over 70% of the alcohol consumed in 1900, made up less than half of this total.

17. While income remains significant, it should be noted that alcoholic drinks make up a much smaller part of household or individual budgets than in the past. At the start of the 20th century it was estimated that about a sixth of working-class incomes went on drink at the end of the century it was more likely to be under 5% of household budgets (with non-alcoholic drink and food representing around a sixth). This suggests that changes to income or price will not have such a significant influence on consumption as they have in the past .

Numbers of Drinking Places

18. The relationship between the number of licensed outlets and the consumption of alcohol is not straightforward. However many commentators have assumed that the recent expansion of the "night-time economy" has been the cause of increased drinking. During the 19th century the drink trade also did very well: breweries consolidated into a smaller number of larger businesses, the production of beer grew steadily and the tied house system expanded, though the number of premises fell behind the rate of increase of the UK's population.

19. However historic rises in the number of licensed premises have led to only temporary increases in consumption. As described above (9), while the Beerhouse Act of 1830 doubled the number of places where alcohol could be bought, this had only a limited, decade-long, effect on consumption.

20 The total number of outlets in England and Wales declines in the late 1830s after this period of growth, then grew again in the 1840s. Considering pub and beerhouse "on" licences together, there were around 85,000 premises in 1840 this total reached a peak of about 115,000 in 1870 and then fell to 96,000 by 1900. The per capita consumption of spirits and beer rose and fell over the same period, with peaks in the late 1870s. The fact that the highest point of consumption coincides with the peak number of premises is sometimes seen as proof that an over-supply of premises promotes consumption. However as we have seen this was also a period where working-class incomes rose significantly, some of this being spent on drink questions of demand must also be considered.

21. Between 1920 and 1939 the number of "on" licences in England and Wales fell by around 10,000 to about 74,000 many licensing authorities forced brewers to exchange several old licences for each new one. Numbers continued to fall until a low of about 69,000 in 1961, picking up again after this and rising faster in the early 1970s.

22. The last three decades have seen significant growth. There were about 82,000 "on" licensed premises in 1975 and about 110,000 in 2001, an increase of 34%—though about half of this growth came from restaurants, hotels and private clubs rather than pubs. In 1989 the number of on-licences in England and Wales exceeded the figure for 1900, a significant moment.

23. The modern off-licence owes its origins to Gladstone's "grocer's licence" of 1861 which encouraged the development of wine merchants like Gilbeys and Victoria Wine. Like other free trade drink policies this did little to encourage consumption per capita levels fell after the 1870s and did not grow again until the 1950s. It seems likely that working-class consumers were not yet prepared to change their habits, despite wine's increased availability and lower prices.

24. Off-licences have grown faster than pub numbers since 1945 they regained their 1905 level by 1964, suggesting that home drinking grew faster than on-sales. The number of off-licences increased from about 31,000 to 44,000 between 1975 and 2001. Sainsbury's was the first supermarket to acquire an off-licence, in 1962, and this period coincides with the increased popularity of wine (per capita consumption doubled between 1960 and 1970). These off-licences were now able to open in shop hours, rather than pub hours. In 2004 supermarkets and other "multiple grocers" accounted for 65% of the turnover in off-sales.

Historical Geographies of Drinking

25. It is not particularly helpful to talk of a "British attitude to drinking" because there has been considerable geographical variation as well as a good deal of historical change. As noted above (8), while the annual per capita consumption of beer rose by only 2% in England and Wales between 1800 and 1900, it rose by 44% for the UK as a whole Ireland and Scotland had much lower consumption levels. Across the UK urban dwellers tended to consume more alcohol than their rural counterparts, and areas dominated by trades like mining and dock work also recorded higher levels. In 1900 the average per capita expenditure on alcoholic drink was estimated to be ٢ 10s and 4d a year the average dock worker was thought to spend 8s and 4d on drink every week in 1899, nearly five times as much as this average figure. Maps of arrests for drunkenness must be treated with care because police were keener to prosecute in some areas than in others but Rowntree and Sherwell's map from 1899 clearly shows more arrests per head of population in London, the North-East, North-West, and parts of Wales, and fewer arrests in Southern England. The North West Public Health Observatory's contemporary maps of binge-drinking show a similar north-south divide, "wet" cities and "dry" rural areas.

26. Despite these variations the idea that "the British" drink differently from the rest of Europe persists. This sometimes takes the form of a comparison between Mediterranean "wine-drinking cultures" and Northern and North-western European "beer-drinking cultures" wine is drunk with food, while beer is consumed to get drunk. There are three problems with this:

    — The distinction between British and "Continental" consumption of food and drink is not all that clear, historically speaking.
    — "Wine-drinking countries" may not suffer from the public order problems associated with British drinking but some experience severe health problems.
    — Today's binge-drinking is increasingly "Continental", reflecting a shift away from beer as the main element of alcohol consumption, and a new emphasis on wine.

27. Until the 19th century there was a good deal of similarity between Britain and the rest of Europe in terms of the food on offer in public drinking places the sale of anything more than simple meals like bread and cheese was prohibited in order to distinguish drinking places from inns or taverns. While some 19th century British pubs cooked food brought in by patrons, food became less important, which is why the "improved public houses" of the 20th century made it a central part of their appeal.

28. On a related note the most striking difference between British and other European drinking places is the absence of table service in the former, which are also associated with rapid "perpendicular drinking" (ie standing at the bar). However table service remained part of the culture of pubs in the Midlands and northern England until the second half of the 20th century, with some examples surviving today in Lancashire and on Merseyside. The bar counter was also an integral part of the Parisian caf

, often held to be the antithesis of the British pub.

29. In terms of contemporary international comparisons, per capita levels of consumption may be falling elsewhere in Europe, but Britain remains drier than many countries. The French consumed about twelve litres of alcohol per head per year in 1996 (the British figure is just under eight litres) in 2002 they consumed nearly three times as much wine as the UK (per capita per year). German per capita consumption of beer was 20% higher than in the UK in 2002 the Irish nearly 50% higher. Health costs of drinking are as unequally distributed as social costs. Countries with higher levels of death from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis than the UK between 1993 and 1995 include France and Germany Ireland, Greece, and the Netherlands had lower rates. These figures cut across any line we might try to draw between Europe's "beer-drinking" and "wine-drinking" regions.


30. Questions of demand (taste and habit) have long been ignored at the expense of issues of supply (production and retail). We need to know why consumption has risen again. Will it fall if incomes do? Or will tastes shift away from drink again, irrespective of income?

31. Geography matters. Many of the new residential areas thrown up by 19th century urban expansion did not have pubs, making the area "drier". With the success of drink-driving legislation roadside pubs have become less appealing. And while there is continued concern over "clusters" of licensed premises in urban centres, we should remember the significance of off-license sales, particularly from supermarkets, and high levels of home drinking. There is little research on off-sales and domestic drinking, on the connections between supermarkets and homes.

32. The number of teetotal adults appears to be rising the proportion was estimated at 12% in 1980 and about 18% in 2003. Clearly some drinkers are receiving more than their share of increased consumption, but can we learn anything from the increasing popularity of abstinence?

33. Early 20th century reformers argued that the drink problem required far-reaching social reforms as well as public health programmes: decent housing, protection from unemployment, old-age pensions. This is still true today. The poorest members of society continue to suffer disproportionately from alcohol-related harm, but they are not, on the whole, more likely to drink. Eileen Goddard's report on Smoking and drinking among adults from the 2005 General Household Survey noted that

    "…the GHS has shown over many years that there is little difference in usual weekly alcohol consumption between those in non-manual and manual households. Where differences do exist, it has been those in the non-manual categories who tend to have the higher weekly consumption."

Policies such as minimum pricing will presumably affect only the poorest heavy drinkers, and they need other kinds of assistance. If we are worried about wine, on the other hand, then perhaps we need to consider measures aimed at more affluent consumers, and the role of off-sales.

“I Will Pour Out My Spirit upon All Flesh”

Latter-day Saints who learn of the American health reform movements of the 1820s and 1830s may wonder how these movements relate to the Word of Wisdom. Did Joseph Smith simply draw upon ideas already existing in his environment and put them forward as revelation?

Such concerns are unwarranted. Remember that many early Latter-day Saints who took part in temperance societies viewed the Word of Wisdom as inspired counsel, “adapted to the Capacity of the weak & the weakest of Saints who are or can be called Saints.” 23 Moreover, the revelation has no exact analog in the literature of its day. Temperance reformers often tried to frighten their hearers by linking alcohol consumption with a host of horrific diseases or social ills. 24 The Word of Wisdom offered no such rationale. Strong drink, the revelation says simply, is “not good.” Similarly spare explanations are given for the injunctions against tobacco and hot drinks. 25 The revelation can be understood more as an arbiter and less as a participant in the cultural debate.

Instead of arguing from a position of fear, the Word of Wisdom argues from a position of confidence and trust. The revelation invites hearers to trust in a God who has the power to deliver great rewards, spiritual and physical, in return for obedience to divine command. Those who adhere to the Word of Wisdom, the revelation says, shall “receieve health in their navel and marrow to their bones & shall find wisdom & great treasures of wisdom & knowledge even hidden treasures.” 26 These lines link body to spirit, elevating care for the body to the level of a religious principle. 27

In the end, some overlap between the Word of Wisdom and the health reform movement of the 19th century is to be expected. This was a time of “refreshing” (Acts 3:19), a moment in history where light and knowledge were pouring down from heaven. On the night Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni for the first time, in the fall of 1823, the angel quoted a line from the book of Joel and said it was about to be fulfilled: “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh,” the passage read (Joel 2:28 emphasis added). Insofar as temperance reform made people less dependent on addictive substances, prompting humility and righteous action, the movement surely was inspired by God. “That which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually,” the Book of Mormon stated (Moroni 7:13). 28 Rather than concerning themselves with cultural overlap, Latter-day Saints can joyously contemplate how God’s Spirit touched so many, so widely, and with such force.

Soon after receiving the Word of Wisdom, Joseph Smith appeared before the elders of the School of the Prophets and read the revelation to them. The brethren did not have to be told what the words meant. They “immediately threw their tobacco pipes into the fire,” one of the participants in the school recalled. 29 Since that time, the inspiration in the Word of Wisdom has been proven many times over in the lives of the Saints, its power and divinity cascading down through the years. In some ways, the American health reform movement has faded from view. The Word of Wisdom remains to light our way.


Since the beginning of the 20th century, life expectancy in the countries of the world has grown significantly due to technology development, economic growth, advances in medicine and sanitary control measures, as well as the reduction of war death toll since the end of the World War II ( Chesnais, 1992: 54–57 White, 2004). Life expectancy in the European Region of the World Health Organization has tended to increase generally, and has reached 75 years for men and 81 years for women ( Statista, 2018). At the same time, in some East European countries life expectancy for men in particular has deviated significantly given their income levels (see Fig. 1).

Correlation between the logarithm of GDP per capita at PPP (in constant 2011 international dollars) and life expectancy at birth, male in 2010. Scatterplot with a fitted regression line. ( World Bank, 2018a, 2018b).

Correlation between the logarithm of GDP per capita at PPP (in constant 2011 international dollars) and life expectancy at birth, male in 2010. Scatterplot with a fitted regression line. ( World Bank, 2018a, 2018b).

Thus, life expectancy for men was in 2015 68.6 years in Belarus, 67.5 for Kazakhstan, 66.7 in Kyrgyzstan, 69.1 in Latvia, 69.9 in Lithuania, 67.2 in Moldova, 65.5 in Russia and 66.4 in Ukraine. In contrast, male life expectancy was relatively high in Bosnia and Herzegovina (74.2), or Albania (76.2) despite the fact that GDP per capita levels there ($10 902 [All the GDP data are here and elsewhere in constant 2011 international dollars at purchasing power parities.] in Bosnia and $11 025 Albania in 2015) are much lower than in Belarus ($17 230) or Kazakhstan ($23 523) ( World Bank, 2018a).

Improving public health in the European region and worldwide requires understanding of these health inequalities.

The economic development is a major determinant of population mortality levels, which is measured in the this article with the GDP per capita (at purchasing power parity). On the other hand, it has been shown that the most important role is played by the share of GDP spent on healthcare. Therefore, we included both GDP per capita, per capita health expenditures, and health expenditures as a share of GDP to the analysis. At the same time, the total health expenditures per capita level strongly affects life expectancy, in both children and adults, and this pattern is relevant for any society (Fig. 2). This connection is substantiated by a number of statistical analyses of a number of countries of the world for dozens of years (see, e.g. Crémieux et al., 1999 Gupta et al., 2002 Cutler et al., 2006 Baltagi and Moscone, 2010).

Correlation between the total per capita health expenditure for countries of the world in 2010: (a) linear regression (b) logarithmic regression.

Correlation between the total per capita health expenditure for countries of the world in 2010: (a) linear regression (b) logarithmic regression.

At the same time, alcohol consumption in the Eastern Europe is, on average, about as high as in the West European countries. Therefore, a number of researchers argued that high levels of distilled spirits consumption is the major explanatory factor of high mortality in East Europe. This claim is supported by time series analysis and cross-sectional (ecological) research ( Khaltourina and Korotayev, 2005, 2006a, b, 2008, 2015 Korotayev and Khaltourina, 2005, 2006 Razvodovsky, 2010 Treisman, 2010), case-control ( Shkolnikov and Chervyakov, 2000 Shkolnikov et al., 2004b Zaridze et al., 2014) and cohort studies ( Denisova, 2010), mostly based on the Russian data. The point that the distilled spirits consumption can be a very strong determinant of the adult male mortality at the level of Europe is also implied by the research of Rehm et al. (2006) that will be discussed in more detail below.

Similarly, tobacco is one of the major risk factors of all-causes mortality for men in working ages. Tobacco-attributable mortality is higher in East Europe than in West Europe and in the world in a whole ( WHO, 2011).

Healthy nutrition is another major determinant of population health. The WHO (2017) recommends to consume at least 400 g (five portions) of fruits and vegetables a day. Observational research consistently shows fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with lower risks of all-cause mortality. A cohort study in the three East European countries confirmed that disease burden due to low fruit and vegetable consumption is higher in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union than any other parts of the world ( Stefler et al., 2016) as it was proposed earlier by other researchers ( Ginter, 1995 WHO, 2009 Zatonski, 2011). Poor nutrition could aggravate cardiovascular morbidity in this region.

At the same time, fruit and vegetable consumption could be a component of the benefit of living in more Southern environment, which also includes higher levels of insolation, and, as a result better vitamin D plasma level, which is beneficial ( Gaksch et al., 2017), higher physical activity throughout the year ( Wu et al., 2017), and possibly, some effects of genetic adaptations to cold climate. Therefore, we include both fruit and vegetable consumption and latitude into the analysis.

Finally, the studies show high risks of mortality among users of some narcotic drugs, and opiates in particular ( Hser et al., 1994 Hulse et al., 1999 Gossop et al., 2002), while the effects of cannabis use on mortality is much lower, even though cannabis users suffer from accidents and suicides provoked by losing of self-control ( Andreasson and Allebeck, 1990 Sidney et al., 1997 Calabria et al., 2010). Thus, we include data on various types of drug use into this study.

Why America Won’t Be ‘Great’ Again

They called him the ‘Little Emperor’. Romulus Augustus — better known as Romulus ‘Augustulus’ (‘Little Augustus’) — was the last Western Roman Emperor. He assumed the throne at the age of 16 during a period of unprecedented strife. There had been 8 emperors in the previous 20 years. Like his predecessors, the Little Emperor’s reign was short. It lasted less than a year. In 476 CE, Augustus was deposed and the Western Roman Empire came to an end. 1

One wonders what Augustus said to his followers during his reign. As little more than a proxy for his military-general father, Augustus left no monuments and made no decisions. But what might he have said in private? Perhaps he promised to ‘make Rome great again’. …

We are perennially fascinated with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. Why? Likely because its collapse cast such a long shadow on Western Europe. Once the center of civilization, the Roman collapse sent Western Europe into a dark age. It would take a millennia to recover.

Interestingly, the Roman elite seemed to be the last to recognize the empire’s decline. True, during Augustus’ reign the elite probably knew that the empire was a shadow of its former self. But elites were too busy squabbling over power to care much for the long arc of history. In their eyes, a return to Roman ‘greatness’ was probably forever on the horizon.

Perhaps the best characterization of this elite attitude comes not from history, but from science fiction. In his Foundation trilogy, Isaac Asimov imagines a galactic empire that sits on the verge of collapse. Scientist Hari Seldon sees the writing on the wall. But the leaders of the galactic empire do not. They’re too busy squabbling amongst themselves.

This lack of elite awareness, I’d guess, is a general rule. As empires collapse, elites are usually the last to know. Take Donald Trump. As the US empire slowly declines, Trump promises to restore America to its imperial heights. He’ll ‘Make America Great Again’. Like most elites, Trump is too busy gripping power to see the writing on the wall.

What is this writing? And how can we read it?

In Asimov’s Foundation, Hari Seldon uses ‘psychohistory’ to predict the galactic empire’s impending collapse. A kind of statistical mechanics for humans, psychohistory is the social scientist’s dream. It predicts with uncanny accuracy the course of humanity. Sadly, psychohistory doesn’t exist, nor will it likely ever exist. So we’re forced to find a more crude window into empire’s rise and fall. That window will obviously be history. But what is the language?

The history of empire, I argue, isn’t written in the speeches and proclamations of elites. Instead, it’s written in the language of energy. Although the motivations for empire building differ between societies, the end result is always the same. A successful empire centralizes the flow of energy. This means that energy use (per person) in the empire’s core will dwarf energy use in the periphery. The degree that this is true marks the degree that the empire is successful.

Energy use, then, provides a window into the rise and fall of empires. Let’s look through this window and see what we find.

The rise and fall of Western civilization

We’ll look first at the grandest scale of all — the 10,000-year history of civilization. Permanent settlements first arose in the Mediterranean basin in an area that anthropologists call the ‘Levant’. It was here that agriculture started. And it was here that agriculture was first intensified using irrigation. Not surprisingly, the Levant was where the first empires emerged.

The rise and fall of these proto-empires should be written in the language of energy. Unfortunately, the ‘book of energy’ has long since been lost. The first civilizations kept few written records. And most of their physical artifacts have been destroyed. So how can we estimate the energy use of early empires? We make an educated guess.

That’s exactly what Ian Morris does in his book The Measure of Civilization. Morris estimates energy use in antiquity. His results are fascinating, so I’ll present them here. But keep in mind that Morris’ data is less of a measurement and more of a back-of-the-envelope guess. Over the whole of antiquity, Morris estimates energy use in both the ‘West’ and the ‘East’. By ‘West’ Morris means the basin of civilization in the Mediterranean. By ‘East’, he means the basin of civilization in China.

What I do here is simply divide the two series. I compare energy use in the ‘West’ relative to in the ‘East’. This ratio gives us a window into the rise and fall of Western empire. The greater the energy ratio between West and East, the more successful is Western empire. I’ve plotted this ratio in Figure 1. The rise and fall of the West is unmistakable.

Figure 1: The rise and fall of the ancient ‘West’. [Sources]

I’ll start by acknowledging the scale of history shown in Figure 1. It covers some 15,000 years — a period so long that it’s hard to grasp. To get some perspective, the entirety of industrial society covers just 1% of this time. 2

Let’s go back to the beginning of civilization. After a hundred thousand years (or more) of living as hunter gatherers, humans started to farm. This happened first, we think, in the Mediterranean. We can see this Promethean event written in Morris’ energy data. Some 14,000 years ago, energy use in the ‘West’ started to pull away from energy use in the ‘East’. To give you some perspective on this timeline, I’ve marked in Figure 1 some important historical events. Dates are obviously approximate. (Note: I’ve used the ‘common era’ dating system. Negative years indicate ‘BCE’. Positive years indicate ‘CE’.)

Around 9,000 BCE, relative energy use in the ‘West’ peaked and began to slightly decline. While we should treat this peak with appropriate uncertainty (the data behind it are rough guesses), it has a simple explanation. It’s around this time that farming started in the East. So the relative gains of the West, where farming first arose, began to level off.

Then around 5,000 BCE, the West again began to boom. The first city (Uruk) was born, as was the forging of bronze. And for the first time, language was written down. This boom coincides, unsurprisingly, with the dawn of irrigation. Without irrigation, the bounty of agriculture was unpredictable. This made empire-building difficult. If farmers couldn’t reliably feed themselves, they could hardly pay tribute to an imperial power. Irrigation ‘fixed’ this problem by making harvests predictable. As a result, the first empires flourished.

The energy bounty of irrigation, however, was not shared equally. This fact is written in the record of human height. Carles Boix and Frances Rosenbluth find that as civilization arose, average height plummeted. In other words, health and nutrition worsened. But royalty bucked this trend. Kings and queens, Boix and Rosenbluth show, remained tall. This suggests that rulers used the bounty of irrigated agriculture mostly to enrich themselves.

As an example of this inequality, think of ancient Egypt. Rather than share the energy bounty, Egyptian pharaohs built pyramids — colossal monuments to their own vanity. That so much energy could be squandered on something so useless is a testament both to the wealth of these first empires and to the depravity of their rulers.

Back to Figure 1. The pinnacle of Western empire came, interestingly, not with the Romans but far earlier. As written in the language of energy, Western superiority peaked around the time of the Akkadian Empire — roughly 4,000 years ago. This peak has less to do with events in the West and more to do with what was going on in the East. It was around this time that the first Eastern empires emerged. The pinnacle of (relative) Western energy use came as the Xia Dynasty was formed in China. Western empire continued (for instance, with the conquests of Alexander the Great), but the West’s advantage relative to the East slowly declined.

The Roman Empire, which emerged around 2000 years ago, briefly paused this decline. But when the Roman Empire collapsed, Western decline accelerated. It didn’t level off until the depths of the Middle Ages, at which point Europe was a provincial backwater.

With this sprawling history in mind, let’s return to our friend ‘Little Augustus’. As the last Western Roman emperor, what power did Romulus Augustus have to stave off collapse? Likely very little. By the time Augustus assumed the throne, the empire had been in decline for centuries. The exact reasons for this decline are still debated. But the fact that it happened is undeniable. It’s written in the language of energy.

There’s an interesting paradox here. Elites, as a rule, are forward looking. 3 Worried about losing their power, elites scheme incessantly about the future. Historians, in contrast, are backward looking. It’s their job to study the past. Yet paradoxically, it’s backward-looking historians who are best equipped to see an empire’s future. The long arc of empire’s rise and fall is evident only when you look at the past. Busy scheming about the immediate future, elites rarely see this long arc of history. And so they rarely anticipate imperial decline.

The rise and fall of the British Empire

A thousand years after the Roman Empire collapsed, Europeans again conquered the world. Millions of words have been spilled trying to understand this return of Western dominance. I won’t add to the noise here. Instead, I’ll be content to watch history happen. Like the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the rise and fall of European empires is written in the language of energy. Let’s read this ‘energy book’.

In the last 500 years, Europe has had many empires — Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French and Russian to name a few. But all of these empires paled in comparison to the British Empire. For most of the 19th century, Britain effectively ruled the world. It created a sprawling, global empire upon which the ‘sun never set’. But, like all empires, the sun eventually did set on the British Empire. In fact, the rise and fall of Britain was more spectacular than the rise and fall of Rome. The British Empire burned more brightly and more briefly.

Figure 2 tells the tale. Here I plot British energy use per capita relative to the average in rest of the world. Britain began, in the 14th century, as an unremarkable nation. When it first colonized North America, Britain consumed roughly the same energy per person as the world average. But that would change.

Figure 2: The rise and fall of the British Empire. [Sources]

Not only did Britain conquer the world, it became the world’s first industrial superpower. Britain plundered the resources of the world at the same time that it plundered the coal reserves under its belly. The results were spectacular. From an unremarkable nation in 1600, Britain accumulated so much power that by the late 1800s it was effectively the world’s administrator. This rise is written in the language of energy. At the empire’s peak, the typical Brit consumed about 7 times more energy than the world average. This pinnacle, however, would be short lived.

Before we discuss the fall of the British Empire, I can’t resist framing its rise in terms of the birth of my own discipline, political economy. I’ve marked in Figure 2 the publication of two seminal texts: Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and Karl Marx’s Capital. Both grappled with the changes engulfing British society.

When it comes to empire, Adam Smith is important because he started a long line, in political economy, of imperial apologetics. As empire spread through force and plunder, you could count on the admirers of Adam Smith to see ‘free markets’ everywhere. This worldview was solidified in the ‘marginal revolution’, during which neoclassical economics was born. The timing of this revolution is ominous. Faith in markets was perfected at the height of British imperialism.

Karl Marx, in contrast, saw empire for what it was — a sprawling octopus whose arms sucked resources from the world. A fierce critic of British rule in India, Marx is the father of many anti-imperial schools of thought (like dependency theory and world-systems theory). Marx even recognized the ‘metabolic rift’ in British society that was being driven by industrialization. (Human refuse, for instance, was no longer being returned to the land.) But despite his insight, Marx succeeded in doing the same thing as the neoclassical economists: rather than create a science, he created an ideology. Millions would suffer as a result. (See the discussion of China below.)

Back to Britain’s rise and fall. During its century of dominance, Britain was able to maintain global peace (of a sort). As the unchallenged superpower, Britain acted as the world’s police — a Weberian ‘peacemaker’ that reserved the sole right to use violence. Perhaps paradoxically, this long peace began to unravel as a series of ‘ententes’ were formed.

In hindsight, this is understandable. Strong empires don’t sign peace agreements. They enforce their will unchallenged. So the series of ententes that Britain signed at the turn of the 20th century signaled the weakening of its empire. And this is written in the ‘book of energy’. When Britain signed (with France) the Entente Cordiale in 1904, its energy free-fall had already begun. This fall would continue through two world wars, up to the present. The only interlude was in the 1980s, when Britain briefly exploited a bonanza of oil in the North Sea. But that wouldn’t last. North Sea oil production soon peaked, and the energy free fall continued.

That brings us to Brexit. The Brexit movement is, in many ways, the British equivalent of Donald Trump’s campaign to ‘make America great again’. Brexiters long for a return to British ‘greatness’, recalling a time when Britain was ‘independent’ of Europe. But as many commentators have observed, this return to ‘independence’ is an illusion. Britain was never ‘great’ as an independent nation. It was ‘great’ as an empire. And that empire, it seems, is gone forever.

The Brexit movement won’t bring back the British Empire any more than the ‘Little Emperor’ brought back the Roman Empire. If anything, the Brexit movement is similar to the fracturing of the Roman Empire after Romulus Augustus was deposed. What ensued was not imperial ‘greatness’, but feudal backwardness. Is this what’s in store for Britain? Only time will tell. …

The rise and fall of the American Empire

As the British Empire declined, the American Empire rose. Although unremarkable in many ways, the American Empire is unique in at least one regard. It’s the first empire that denied its own existence. The British celebrated their empire loudly, as did other imperial rulers in history. But Americans bucked the trend. They created an empire, but never called it that. It was merely a ‘sphere of influence’.

Let’s not mince words. Just like the British (and the Romans long before), Americans stationed military garrisons around the world. They created a vast supply chain that brought resources to the United States. And they punished groups that defied American power. That’s empire in everything but name.

Like Britain, the rise and fall of the American Empire is written in the language of energy. But unlike Britain, which declined as rapidly as it rose, the American rise and fall is less spectacular (at least so far).

Before getting to the data, I’ll point out an important difference between Britain and the United States. Britain is an island whose geographic boundaries didn’t change as it conquered the world. That makes estimating energy use per capita fairly straightforward. The US, in contrast, was a colony that expanded its own territory at the same time that it expanded its imperial power. This changing territory makes it more difficult to track energy use per capita. The further back in time we go, the more poorly defined ‘US energy use per capita’ becomes. For that reason, I’m skeptical of some of the energy data that I present here.

Figure 3 shows the rise and fall of the US empire, written in the language of energy. Unlike Britain, the US seems to have risen and fallen twice. The first peak occurred just before the Declaration of Independence — perhaps not coincidentally near the peak of the US slave trade. The second peak happened after World War II.

Figure 3: The rise and fall of the American Empire. [Sources]

The first peak, I’ll admit, may not have actually happened. Or if it did occur, it may have been less pronounced than shown in Figure 3. The reason I’m skeptical of this first peak is because I don’t have confidence in the underlying data. I estimate energy use per capita by dividing aggregate US energy consumption by US population. The problem is that during colonial times, it’s not clear that the energy data uses the same geographic boundary as the population data. For that reason, I’d mark the first energy peak with an asterisk (* needs independent confirmation).

Data uncertainty aside, let’s look at the energy trends. What seems clear is that from initial colonization, American fortunes rose rapidly, peaking around the time of the Revolutionary War. In other words, at its official birth the United States was already a wealthy society. This is unsurprising. Epoch-making documents like the Declaration of Independence or the US Constitution are rarely forged by impoverished societies. If you’re struggling to feed yourself, you don’t write moral treatises.

The good times of American Independence, however, didn’t last. As Americans conquered the continent, internal tension brewed. This tension is written in the language of energy. From its peak at American independence, relative US energy consumption declined throughout most of the 18th century, reaching a low in the mid-19th century. It’s perhaps not a coincidence that it was then that the Civil War erupted. In his book Ages of Discord, Peter Turchin analyzes the long-waves of American social stability. His waves match (at least roughly) what’s written in the energy data. Turchin finds that social stability peaked after independence, but reached a trough by the Civil War. Stability rose again during the good times after World War II. But today, social stability is on the decline.

Back to the energy data. After the quagmire of civil war, American fortunes rose again. By the turn of the 20th century, the American empire was in full swing. As revealed by energy consumption, the ‘American century’ lasted roughly 70 years (1900–1970). During this time, the typical American consumed about 6 times more energy than the world average. The peak of US supremacy came during World War II. At the height of its war machine, the US consumed roughly one third of the world’s energy. It’s doubtful that any other society has achieved this feat. And given that fossil fuels are being rapidly exhausted, it’s doubtful that this feat will ever be matched. (Let’s hope it’s not. Fossil-fuel-driven empire is ecologically suicidal.)

As with all empires, the US empire eventually declined. Looking at the energy records, the end of US dominance came around 1970. It was then that the US energy supply became unstable. In 1970, US oil production peaked. And geopolitical events made importing oil more difficult. Unhappy with US foreign policy, the oil cartel OPEC decided to limit the taps. As a result of both events, relative US energy use began to fall. This decline was halted, briefly, during the boom of the 1990s. But then the dotcom bubble burst, and the energy slide continued. Today, it shows no signs of stopping.

That brings us to Donald Trump. In hyperbolic fashion, Trump promises a return to American ‘greatness’. But it’s a return that, in all likelihood, will never happen. The pinnacle of US empire has long passed. Like ‘Little Augustus’, Donald Trump commands an empire in decline. He shouts loudly, but on a shrinking American stage. For that reason, it would be fitting to call him the ‘Little Emperor’.

The fall and rise of the Chinese Empire

No story of empire would be complete without discussing the rising power. Today that’s China. Unlike Britain and the US, the story of Chinese empire is not of rise and fall, but of fall and rise.

During the Middle Ages, China was the center of world civilization. But with the European renaissance, that would change. In the 19th century, Europe colonized China (although never as completely as it colonized neighboring India). Colonization eventually ended in the 20th century with the Chinese communist revolution. But this revolution didn’t end Chinese suffering. If anything, it exacerbated it. Still, China eventually emerged as an industrial power. In the last 40 years, its transformation has been remarkable. And the whole story is written in the ‘book of energy’.

Figure 4 tells the tale. We begin in 1700, at the pinnacle of the Qing Empire. At this time, Britain was just starting to industrialize. To guard its domestic industry, Britain banned the import of Asian textiles. (This use of protectionism to industrialize is a repeated feature of history. See Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans for details.) By 1800, European dominance was in full swing, and relative energy use in China started to decline. Still, the Qing Empire ruled roughly a third of the world’s population.

Figure 4: The rise and fall of the Chinese Empire. [Sources]

In the mid-19th century, Britain and France sought to colonize China and engaged in a series of Opium wars. By the early 20th century, the Qing dynasty collapsed, and China was sent into political turmoil. It’s relative decline continued.

Interestingly (but perhaps not surprisingly), the Chinese Communist revolution happened as China’s fortunes hit rock bottom. It’s worth pausing here for a theoretical note. In his theory of social transition, Karl Marx predicted that communist revolutions would happen in the most ‘developed’ capitalist societies. He was wrong. All of the communist revolutions in the 20th century happened in relatively peripheral societies. Communist revolutionaries didn’t overthrow industrial capitalists, as Marx foresaw. Instead, they did away with agrarian aristocrats. This put revolutionaries in charge of managing industrialization.

The problem for the revolutionaries was simple. Farmers didn’t share their central-planning ideology. This meant that communist leaders had to force change. And so they did. Like Stalin before him, Mao forced Chinese farmers to collectivize. He proclaimed a ‘Great Leap Forward’. But the result was a perverse type of ‘greatness’ — the ‘Great Chinese Famine’. Mao’s politically induced famine was perhaps the most devastating in human history. As many as 40 million people may have died. It’s worth remembering this fact when we read Marx. When put in action, Marx’s ideology plumbed the depths of depravity.

Although it hardly speaks to the extent of Chinese suffering, the Great Famine is written in the ‘book of energy’. It appears as an energy trough around 1960. After this trough, Mao would proclaim another revolution — the ‘Cultural revolution’. China’s fortunes began to rise. But the greatest changes would come after Mao’s death. When Mao died, the Chinese government abandoned hardline command and control. Instead, it let (big) firms take some of the economic reigns. After this reform, the growth of Chinese energy use was spectacular.

Notice, however, that Chinese energy consumption has only recently surpassed the world average. Today, the typical Chinese citizen consumes about 1.3 times more energy than the world average. While China is on the rise, it has yet to catch up to the fading imperial power, the United States. Today, the typical American consumes about 3.8 times more energy than the world average. Although the US is in relative decline, it’s still a far wealthier nation (on average) than China.

This picture would change, though, if we focused on the center of Chinese power — cities like Shanghai and Beijing. That’s because China is marked by a great urban-rural divide. In 2012, Chinese urbanites earned about 300% more than their rural counterparts. In contrast, American urbanites earn only 36% more than their rural counterparts. 4 This divide means that speaking about ‘average Chinese energy use’ is misleading. Some Chinese live much like modern Americans. Others live more like Americans of the 18th century. In the language of world-systems theory, we’d say that China ‘includes its own periphery’.

There’s another caveat to Figure 4 that arise from mathematics. China accounts for roughly a fifth of world population. Mathematically, it’s difficult for the energy use of such a large nation to pull away from the world average. Why? Because as its energy use increases, it pulls the world average up with it. 5

Caveats aside, it’s undeniable that Chinese empire is on the rise. When the peak will come is difficult to predict. But the evidence suggests we’re headed for a ‘Chinese century’.

Greatness without empire

The rise and fall of empire is written in the language of energy. But we shouldn’t mistake imperial ‘greatness’ for human well-being. True, well-being is correlated with energy exploitation. But only to an extent. Other social factors also matter — fair access to healthcare and education to name a few.

As empires decline, citizens should be aware of two things. First, their imperial ‘greatness’ is probably gone forever. Second, there are other ways to be ‘great’. A society can be ‘great’ not by conquering the world, but by becoming sustainable and equitable. But unlike imperial power, this alternative type of ‘greatness’ won’t be built by elites. Like always, elites are too busy squabbling over power to see the writing on the wall. But this time the writing signals a warning not just for one empire, but for the whole of humanity: become sustainable or risk collapse. It’s up to us to make the sane choice.

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Sources and methods


  • 1965–2018: BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2020
  • 1820–1960: Appendix in Vaclav Smil’s Energy Transitions: History, Requirements, Prospects
  • 15,000 BCE–1800 CE: Ian Morris’ The Measure of Civilization. I calculate world energy use per capita by averaging Morris’ estimates for energy use in the ‘West’ (Table 3.1) and ‘East’ (Table 3.4), weighted by population. I use Angus Maddison’s population estimates (see below). I assume the ‘West’ consists of Maddison’s series for ‘Western Europe’ and the ‘East’ consists of Maddison’s series for China, India and Indonesia.

Population data comes from:

To calculate energy use per capita from 1820 CE to 2018 CE, I divide world energy use by world population. Morris’ pre-1800 energy data is already expressed in per capita terms. The various datasets aren’t consistent with one another. To make a continuous series, I splice the data together backwards in time, keeping the BP series at their original values. Then I interpolate linearly within the series to get estimates in each year.

Ancient East and West

Estimates for energy use per capita come from Morris Table 3.1 and Table 3.4.


Population data comes from:

  • 1965–2018: World Bank series SP.POP.TOTL
  • 1560–1965: Paul Warde’s Energy Consumption in England & Wales: 1560–2000

I calculate energy use per capita by dividing energy use by population. I splice the data series together by indexing the Ward series to the BP/World Bank series in 1965.

United States

  • 1965–2018: BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2020
  • 1949–1964: EIA Annual Energy Review, Table 2.0
  • 1900–1948: Benjamin Warr’s REXS database.
  • 1635–1900: Appendix E1 in the EIA 2009 Annual Energy Review (see archive here)

Population data comes from:

  • 1960–2018: World Bank series SP.POP.TOTL
  • 1790–1959: Historical Statistics of the United States, series Aa6–8
  • 1630–1780: Historical Statistics of the United States Volume 2, page 1168

I calculate energy use per capita by dividing energy by population. I then splice the resulting per capita series backwards in time, keeping the BP data at their original values.


  • 1965–2018: BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2020
  • 1 AD–1964: To my knowledge, there’s no good data on China’s energy use prior to 1965. Here’s my solution. I plug my nose and look at the correlation, in the World Bank data, between international energy use and ‘real’ GDP. I regress this relation and then use the equation to estimate China’s energy use from Angus Maddison’s estimates of China’s GDP. Obviously this estimate must be treated with caution.

Population data comes from:

I splice the Maddison/World Bank estimates to the BP series.


  1. By convention, Romulus Augustus is treated as the last Western Roman Emperor. The Eastern Roman Empire continued long after Augustus. And there were a few people who, after Augustus, proclaimed themselves ‘emperor’ of the West. But none were widely recognized.↩
  2. I assume here that the industrial era covers roughly 200 years, which is roughly 1% of the 15,000-years period shown in Figure 1.↩
  3. On the ‘forward-looking’ worldview of elites, Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan note another paradox. It’s impossible to ‘look’ into the future (it hasn’t happened yet). This means that the ‘forward-looking’ worldview of elites is, in reality, backward looking. But unlike historians who are concerned with the long arc of history, elites look ‘forward’ by analyzing the recent past. For modern elites, the most important element of the recent past is the motion of the stock market. For more details, read Bichler and Nitzan’s A CasP Model of the Stock Market.↩
  4. According to 2018 census data, US urban dwellers (those in ‘Metropolitan Statistical Areas’) had an average income of $52,245. Rural dwellers had an average income of $38,338.↩
  5. We could solve this mathematical problem by comparing China to the rest of the world (excluding China). But since I haven’t done this for the US or Britain, I won’t do it for China.↩

Further reading

Bichler, S., & Nitzan, J. (2016). A CasP model of the stock market. Real-World Economics Review, (77), 119–154.

Boix, C., & Rosenbluth, F. (2014). Bones of contention: The political economy of height inequality. American Political Science Review, 1–22.

Chang, H. (2008). Bad samaritans: The myth of free trade and the secret history of capitalism. Bloomsbury Pub Plc USA.

Morris, I. (2013). The measure of civilization: How social development decides the fate of nations. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Smil, V. (2010). Energy transitions: History, requirements, prospects. Santa Barbara: Praeger.

Turchin, P. (2016). Ages of discord: A structural demographic analysis of American history. Chaplin, CT: Beresta Books.

Warde, P. (2007). Energy consumption in England & Wales, 1560-2000. Consiglio nazionale delle ricerche, Istituto di studi sulle societa del Mediterraneo.

A Brief History of U.S. Drinking

In 1770, the average colonial Americans consumed about three and a half gallons of alcohol per year, about double the modern rate.

For many of us, summer is the season for rum cocktails on the beach and beers on the patio. If you’re feeling guilty about overindulging, consider this: in 1770, the average colonial American consumed about three and a half gallons of alcohol per year, about double the modern rate.

Rorabaugh writes that the Europeans who traveled to North America in the 1600s were already heavy drinkers. Because imported beer was expensive, colonists fermented peach juice and apple cider, and imported rum from the West Indies. In Virginia, barbecues, market days, and elections were a chance to pass around jugs of liquor. In 1770, many Americans opened the day with a drink and consumed rum or hard cider with every meal. People of all ages drank, even toddlers, who enjoyed the sugary dregs of their parents’ rum toddies.

After the American Revolution, the British refused to supply the former colonies with rum. Fortunately, Kentucky and Ohio had a glut of corn that could be transformed into whiskey. Farmers produced such large volumes that whiskey ended up being cheaper than beer, coffee, or milk. Given contamination in many water supplies, it was also safer than water. By 1830, U.S. residents over age 15 drank more than seven gallons of alcohol a year.

“Instead of a morning coffee break, Americans stopped work at 11:00 a.m. to drink,” Rorabaugh writes. “A lot of work went undone, but in this slow paced, preindustrial age this was not always a problem.”

New England ministers declared public drunkenness a sin, but they weren’t opposed to drinking in general. In fact, Puritans called alcohol the “Good Creature of God.” Still, not everyone accepted the widespread tippling. Some Protestant ministers warned that drinking led too easily to drunkenness and demanded total abstinence.

In 1838, Massachusetts banned the sale of hard liquor except in bulk, though the law was easily circumvented. “One enterprising seller sold the right to see his blind pig for six cents,” Rorabaugh writes. “The purchaser also got a free drink.” The Massachusetts law and similar state prohibition statues were deemed ineffective and quickly abandoned, but the temperance movement remained socially powerful. By 1850, half the population had stopped drinking entirely.

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When the movement finally achieved nationwide prohibition, it was partly thanks to World War I. German-American brewers lost their political clout as public sentiment turned against all things German, and anti-liquor activists warned that breweries were using grain that was needed for the war effort. Congress passed a war-time dry law, which was soon superseded by the eighteenth amendment.

After the end of prohibition in 1933, many states kept alcohol illegal. But in the prosperous post-World War II years, drinking rose again. Despite serious concerns about teen drinking, fetal alcohol syndrome, and drunk driving in the decades that followed, alcohol once again took its place as an important part of American culture.

1.13 References

  • Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. 2012. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, 1st ed. New York, NY: Crown Publishers.
  • Augustine, Dolores. 2013. ‘Innovation and Ideology: Werner Hartmann and the Failure of the East German Electronics Industry’. In The East German Economy, 1945–2010: Falling behind or Catching Up? by German Historical Institute, eds. Hartmut Berghoff and Uta Andrea Balbier. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Berghoff, Hartmut, and Uta Andrea Balbier. 2013. ‘From Centrally Planned Economy to Capitalist Avant-Garde? The Creation, Collapse, and Transformation of a Socialist Economy’. In The East German Economy, 1945–2010 Falling behind or Catching Up? by German Historical Institute, eds. Hartmut Berghoff and Uta Andrea Balbier. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Coyle, Diane. 2014. GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Diamond, Jared, and James Robinson. 2014. Natural Experiments of History. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
  • Eurostat. 2015. ‘Quality of Life Indicators — Measuring Quality of Life’. Updated 5 November 2015.
  • Kornai, János. 2013. Dynamism, Rivalry, and the Surplus Economy: Two Essays on the Nature of Capitalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Landes, David S. 2003. The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Robison, Jennifer. 2011. ‘Happiness Is Love – and $75,000’. Gallup Business Journal. Updated 17 November 2011.
  • Seabright, Paul. 2010. The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life (Revised Edition). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Smith, Adam. 1759. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. London: Printed for A. Millar, and A. Kincaid and J. Bell.
  • Smith, Adam. (1776) 2003. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. New York, NY: Random House Publishing Group.
  • Sutcliffe, Robert B. 2001. 100 Ways of Seeing an Unequal World. London: Zed Books.
  • World Bank, The. 1993. The East Asian miracle: Economic growth and public policy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Jean Baptiste Tavernier, Travels in India (1676). ↩

Diane Coyle. 2014. GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ↩

Jennifer Robison. 2011. ‘Happiness Is Love – and $75,000’. Gallup Business Journal. Updated 17 November 2011. ↩

Smith, Adam. 1759. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. London: Printed for A. Millar, and A. Kincaid and J. Bell. ↩

David S. Landes. 2003. The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ↩

Paul Seabright. 2010. The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life (Revised Edition). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ↩

Hartmut Berghoff and Uta Andrea Balbier. 2013. ‘From Centrally Planned Economy to Capitalist Avant-Garde? The Creation, Collapse, and Transformation of a Socialist Economy’. In The East German Economy, 1945–2010: Falling behind or Catching Up? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ↩

János Kornai. 2013. Dynamism, Rivalry, and the Surplus Economy: Two Essays on the Nature of Capitalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ↩

Dolores Augustine. 2013. ‘Innovation and Ideology: Werner Hartmann and the Failure of the East German Electronics Industry’. In The East German Economy, 1945–2010: Falling behind or Catching Up? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ↩

Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson. 2012. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group. ↩

Watch the video: Ο Covid-19 το τέλος των εθνικών παρελάσεων στην Ελλάδα;-Στα gay pride u0026 στην Αμάλ δεν κολλάει ο ιός; (June 2022).


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