A Lesson in Beerconomics: The Wealth of Libations

Beer is the ultimate liquid asset.

All bad puns aside, malt beverages are almost a form of currency on campus. Like prisoners trading cigarettes, Pomona students accrue and settle debts by the can, bottle, and case. Right now, I have roughly the same amount of money owed to me in various forms of alcohol as I have in my bank account. (Don’t worry, I’m not some kind of alcohol debt-collecting magnate; there’s just not that much in my bank account.) This sobering fact has led me to consider the fascinating nuances of alcohol-related bartering.

For starters, alcohol can be used either to get its owner drunk or to pay other people back—it’s a currency that can be consumed. Aside from maybe the most die-hard, Donald Trump-style capitalist, I don’t know of anyone who could get intoxicated from a ten-dollar bill. It is also the only kind of money that grows, albeit not on trees—my Coors Light was Born On? a fateful day in the Rocky Mountains, when amber waves of grain were harvested and mixed with a sprinkle of hops and American pride, then delivered to Claremont on a big train named The Silver Bullet.

Beer is more of a currency than liquor for the simple reason that it’s a lot easier to quantify cans and bottles than it is to estimate swigs out of a handle. Wine is in between—bottles of Two Buck Chuck can be useful instruments for repaying smaller debts, but nobody really wants a case of it. Paying back a friend with more than two bottles of Charles Shaw is bad form, anyway—kind of like handing them a pile of quarters and dimes. For anything in the $8-$12 range, etiquette dictates either a six-pack or a nice bottle of wine.

Like any type of currency, alcohol can also be swapped for other goods or services. Forget Craigslist or Uncle Henry’s; on campus, you can see the underground bartering economy at work every day. Two of the best examples from recent memory: a girl who bought a futon and paid up with two cases of Bud Light, and a guy who received a stiff martini as compensation for five minutes of Photoshop work. Alcohol can be borrowed, too—though ironically, most drinkers follow Islamic law by refusing to charge interest on such loans or set deadlines for repayment. Of course, Islamic law has a lot of other things to say about alcohol, and I doubt the mullahs are smiling because of Pomona students’ generosity in this regard.

If Pomona students trade alcohol like prisoners trade cigarettes, someone has to constantly replenish the supply. Just like Andy Dufresne had Red in The Shawshank Redemption, anyone who’s under 21 and wants to drink has to have connections. On Pomona’s campus, as in prison, it helps to know someone whose ID allows them to “get things.” Continuing the Shawshank metaphor, watching underclassmen hustle around South Campus with brown paper bags and 30-racks peeking out of backpacks calls to mind the movie prisoners’ elaborate method for sneaking in contraband with loads of laundry. The guards (Camp Sec) and the warden (Dean Feldblum) maintain a vigilant watch over the whole process, hassling anyone brazen enough to question their authority by carrying alcohol out in the open.

I’m not trying to liken Pomona to prison (though Beer Scavvy is kind of like Andy Dufresne’s prison library—a small bit of satisfaction for innocent and well-intentioned students. But now I’m being obtuse). No draconian alcohol policy or isolation caused by the 5-C Bubble is really bad enough to warrant such hyperbole. If anything, Pomona should be compared to a small 19th-century American town where trading and bartering rule—some place like Independence, Missouri, the jumping-off point for the Oregon Trail. If my early childhood video gaming taught me anything, it’s that you can barter for almost anything in Independence—oxen, bullets, food, even medicine. Since medicine in those days was probably just a bottle of whiskey, it seems that we’ve come full circle and reaffirmed my original point: alcohol is liquid currency as well as liquid medicine.

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