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Alcohol and Russia’s mortality crisis: Policy, prices, and self-destructive drinking

by Daniel Treisman. Reading for Tuesday, 25 September.

Russia’s mortality rate has risen sharply since 1990. Most experts agree that a major cause of this has been increasing alcohol abuse. But why have more and more Russians been drinking themselves to death? Various evidence suggests the main reason is not public despair in the face of painful economic change, as some have argued, but a dramatic increase in the affordability of vodka, the price of which fell by 72 percent in real terms between December 1990 and April 1992. Variation in the affordability of vodka—both over time and across Russia’s regions—closely matches variation in the death rate. Although increased market competition and failure to collect excise taxes may have helped, the main reason the real price of vodka fell appears to have been populist price regulation by governments at all levels.

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