Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russians (in particular, men) have been drinking themselves to death in spectacular numbers. Indeed, the 40 percent increase (not a misprint) in overall mortality between 1990 and 2005 has largely been attributed to vodka. But why are Russians drinking so much more of it?
The standard story revolves around social and economic dislocation. But Daniel Treisman of UCLA has a simpler explanation – and one with an ironic twist. The price of vodka fell sharply both in real terms (by 77 percent between 1990 and 1994) and relative to beer and wine, making hi-test alcohol an irresistible intoxicant. And why did the price fall? Because Russia’s transition governments, fearing populist opposition, maintained price controls on vodka in the midst of an otherwise terrible period of inflation.