War, Wine, and Taxes

John Nye’s new War, Wine, and Taxes: The Political Economy of Anglo-French Trade, 1689-1900 argues that 19th century Britain was not nearly as free trade as is commonly supposed.  Here is one summary of that argument.

Nye also argues that an odd industrial policy, as applied to alcohol, drove the rise of the British nation-state (and thus modernity as we know it).  As a result of the wars of 1689-1713, the British placed very high taxes on French spirits.  British domestic production grew, and to make up for the lost revenue, the British applied heavy domestic taxes to alcoholic production.  The British spirits industry became oligopolistic — in large part by governmental design — and the resulting monopolies were a cash cow for their owners and for the government alike.  The taxes on alcohol helped finance the British state on the backs of consumers, without requiring higher taxes on capital or land.

Here is a sample chapter of the book, which promises to be one of the most important works in economic history in recent times.  I am pleased that John will be joining us as a colleague at George Mason this coming year.


I don't think many of this blog readers can read Russian. Those who can
may see here http://alex-k.livejournal.com/332754.html one post in the blog
of Russian publisher of economic history Alexander Kuriaev, which dottes
some i's in Russian discussion around Nye and his somewhat questionable conclusions/

Does this have a connection to the famous wine-cloth example of Ricardo?

Data Charmer,

Much as we'd like it to, the world does not always work by the laws of neo-classical economics. What you say may be correct in a world without transaction costs. However, collecting taxes was not easy in Britain this time (for example, I believe that British property taxes were at one point determined by how many windows you had on your house as this was believed to be a proxy for the home's value. I leave to you what effect this had on house design in Britain).

By granting monopoly/oligopoly licences to only a few and taxing them heavily the British government was able to get around these transaction costs.

Old Greg - I take your point, it might as well be true.

the entire tax structure replaced by high taxes on narcotics, booze and tobacco.
Much lower compliance costs, and much lower taxes for all except those who choose to indulge.
Colon Cleanse

There is not such thing as free trade. The state has to tax everything in order to make it's budget. The good tax policy here was that they over taxed alcohol and expatriate income tax vices.

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