Craft beer, localism and creative regeneration

If a tweak to tax rules could lead to the craft beer explosion, imagine what a universal basic income could achieve.

There are now more than 2,000 breweries in Britain. In 1971, when CAMRA were formed, there were about 300. The change happened when Gordon Brown introduced Progressive Beer Duty in 2002, giving tax breaks to brewers who produce less than 60,000 hectolitres a year. That was it. One little change and one massive explosion of creativity.

There are as many breweries as there were in the 1930’s. We have come through a long phase of mergers and acquisitions whereby local became regional then national and then global. The bigger the breweries got, the less choice for the drinker. Stella and Fosters and Bud became the “industrial piss-water” that BrewDog would rally against when they took advantage of Brown’s opportunity.

Walk into most pubs now and there is an array of IPA’s,APA’s, Oatmeal Pales, London Porters, Weiss beers, Steam Lagers, Sours and Saisons. There’s Gamma Ray, Shock Top, Crate, Jaipur, Elvis Juice and and thousands more. There are high alcohol beers to cure binge drinking, gluten-free beers and even Toast Ale, a beer made from leftover bread.

All that entrepreneurialism and imagination was out there, untapped if you like. All it needed was the right economic conditions.

These new beers suit the sophisticated pallet of a Gen X demographic, a demographic bubble who have who are both economically and culturally important. Industrial lager was dominant when Gene X were young but now their tastes have changed and craft has risen to meet the demand. Without the tax break it would not have been worth anyone’s while to even start.

Imagine what would happen if every person over the age of 16 had, as a right, a basic income that would not be taken away no matter what they earned. Imagine everyone who has ever had an idea to do something, had the chance to do it. If just a fraction of us took that opportunity, what new markets would be created?

Before the Crash the economy was hardly buoyant. Growth had been minimal and sluggish since the dotcom bubble burst. That bubble was the last great explosion of creativity but it gave us Google and Amazon and paved the way for Facebook. We need something more substantial than a bubble now, we need an economic foundation for mass creative entrepreneurialism to regenerate every market.

That regeneration will start local. It is a regeneration in villages and outlying towns, in estates and in islands, in bedsits and community centres. It is grassroots because it starts at the most local level of all: the individual creative person or the little start-up gang.

A basic income would be the economic foundation for such widespread cultural regeneration. We would start in a grim place, like the beer market was grim in 2002. Wherever we end up, it will be brighter, more colourful and much more imaginative than today.