Are American alcohol prices a ripoff?

Wine at Spanish supermarket
Amstel at Spanish supermarket

Ever feel like you’re overpaying for alcoholic beverages? If you’re in the US of A, you are probably right; our society seems to treat alcohol as a luxury rather than a commodity, and it’s priced accordingly.

I took the above two photos in Spain. If you factor in the exchange rate the bottle of wine comes out to about $2.25 and the six pack of Amstel is about $2.85. These prices seem low but neither of these were on sale or special deals; these are everyday prices in Spain.

Granted, you can pay more for imported alcohol (i.e. from outside the EU) or for fancier wine, but even the top shelf wines top out at about $30. The prices here are simply a fraction of what us Americans are used to paying. I’ve found this phenomenon to be true throughout western Europe.

This all makes me wonder: are we getting ripped off? Sure, you can attribute some of this to the import tax — but that can’t be the entire story since domestic alcohol isn’t much cheaper. American has a sad history of puritanical anti-fun policies, a particularly embarrassing heritage when our supposed “freedom” and “abundance” aren’t reflected in the prices we pay.

It makes me wonder: are we simply getting ripped off? Why is the rest of the world paying a fraction of what we pay for alcohol when we purportedly value capitalism and freedom? Who’s pocketing the difference, and how are they getting away with it?