Liquid assets

Winos are well placed to weather the current recession

The following information came round on the Rappahannock grapevine. If you had purchased $1,000 of Nortel stock one year ago, it would now be worth $49; the same investment with Enron would have left you with $16.50, Delta Airlines $49 and United Airlines nothing.

If, however, you had purchased $1,000-worth of beer a year ago, drunk the beer, and then turned in the cans for the aluminium recycling fund, you would now have $214.

This piece of retrospective investment advice is only one of many arguments to suggest that drinkers have done rather better than abstainers in the current crash. And winos have done best of all.

The reason for this is simple. When faced with a sudden excess of money, your average wino will spend it immediately on wine, knowing that he is thereby providing for his future and for the future of his family and friends. A well-stocked cellar is a far greater hedge against disaster than any other material asset known to man - a comfort in times of dearth, and a means to celebrate in times of plenty.

And if the excess of money is too great to be spent on wine, as happens when some near relative slips through the exit before remembering to change her will, a wino will seldom squander it on stocks and shares, which are mere abstractions, far removed from the known and tried comforts that have sustained him down the years.

Instead he will buy land, on the sound principle, announced by Mark Twain, that they ain't making any more of it. And although Americans have witnessed a decline in the value of real estate, it in no way compares with the decline in the value of unreal estate that is traded on Wall Street.

Never once in the history of mankind has land been worth nothing at all, and sitting on a square of American pasture, with a cellar full of wine, your average wino will enjoy the best that can be had in the way of estate, both real and imaginary.

Even better off is the wino who lives in some remote corner of the continent where nothing ever happens apart from the occasional death by lightning, avalanche or grizzly bear.

Here, the knowledgeable wino can stock up on precious vintages and prepare to sell them off to anybody rich enough to buy them. He can be certain that, in the distant reaches of Alaska, for example, anybody who makes money will want to celebrate with a pretentious bottle or two.

As sole supplier, he will be ahead of the game, making a profit whenever anybody else makes a profit, and losing nothing meanwhile.

I would not be honest if I did not confess that I have never invested in anything save land and wine, and that this apologia pro vita sua is merely the current version of a lifelong literary project. But I am still drinking to it.

Roger Scruton is a philosopher and countryside campaigner as well as an author and broadcaster. Widely regarded as one of Britain’s leading right wing thinkers, his publications include the Meaning of Conservatism. He has also written on fox hunting.

This article first appeared in the 02 February 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Interview: Alistair Darling