How beer created Belgium…

Those who think the title is a joke, it isn’t.. it is serious stuff. Atleast that is what authors claim…

Koen Deconinck and Johan Swinnen write this paper showing how taxes on beer helped create the boundary between Belgium and Netherlands..

Around the world, Belgium is famous for its beers and its brewing tradition. According to one estimate, the small country has 178 breweries producing some 1100 beer varieties, many of which have a long history (Deweer, 2011; Persyn et al., 2011). Moreover, in the rapidly growing craft beer industry, “Belgian-style” beers are a particularly popular variety. 

In this paper we argue that Belgium’s borders, and arguably even the origin of the country itself, were determined by beer. However, somewhat paradoxically, it was not “Belgian beer” which played an important role, but rather beer consumed by what is now its northern neighbor, the Netherlands. The fiscal revenues from beer taxes gave this region the military power to break away from the Spanish-occupied Low Countries in the course of the Dutch Revolt (ca. 1568-1648), leaving the territory of present-day Belgium behind as the remainder of the Spanish Low Countries.1 The border established by this separation today still forms the division between Belgium and the Netherlands.

Deep diving:

More specifically, the present-day border between Belgium and the Netherlands traces back to the border established by the Treaty of Münster (1648), ending the Dutch Revolt, in which the Spanish accepted the independence of the Netherlands. The border established by this treaty did not coincide with any pre-existing geographical, cultural or institutional dividing line.  Instead, the border reflected the military positions of the Dutch and the Spanish forces at the end of the Dutch Revolt.

The outcome of this Revolt was unusual, in that a small rebellious region eventually prevailed over the mighty Spanish Empire. The explanation for this remarkable outcome lies in a combination of developments in war technology and the extraordinary capacity of the Dutch to finance the war. Because of technological developments and innovations in strategy and tactics, warfare during the Dutch Revolt was an increasingly capital-intensive undertaking. The capacity to finance war expenditures therefore became of paramount importance. The Spanish army in the Low Countries was constantly short on funds, which led to frequent payment arrears among its troops. As a result, demoralization, desertion and mutinies undermined the Spanish position. The Dutch, on the other hand, could count on a superior system of public finance to finance war expenditures. As we document in this paper, a substantial part of the Dutch taxation system consisted of taxes on beer. In fact, the excise tax on beer was the single largest component of government revenues in Holland, the leading province in the Dutch Republic. Hence, beer taxes played a crucial role in financing the Dutch Revolt, and thus in the separation of the Low Countries and the determination of the present-day border between Belgium and the Netherlands

 Hmmm…The Dutch system was also an earlier version of VAT:

In the sixteenth and seventeenth century, Dutch towns introduced a system whereby only a sworn beer porter was allowed to move beer from the brewer to the pub. Beer porters were not allowed to carry beer unless the brewer could provide the necessary receipts to prove that excises had been paid. These receipts were then handed over to the buyer, who needed to be able to demonstrate that all excise duties had been fulfilled. This system, which resembles the VAT system in use in many European countries, minimized the risk of evasion and enabled the successful collection of the tax.

Fascinating read…


One Response to “How beer created Belgium…”

  1. bierfesten Says:

    Great find and its amazing what beer taxes have created. But Belgium sure beats a freeway or town bridge.

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