Like Beer? Thank Jimmy Carter!

A Southern Baptist Democratic president hated by conservatives is largely responsible for the rise of the American craft brew industry.

E.D. Kain informs me that today is International Beer Day and that,

If you’re a fan of craft beer and microbreweries as opposed to say Bud Light or Coors, you should say a little thank you to Jimmy Carter. Carter could very well be the hero of International Beer Day.

To make a long story short, prohibition led to the dismantling of many small breweries around the nation. When prohibition was lifted, government tightly regulated the market, and small scale producers were essentially shut out of the beer market altogether. Regulations imposed at the time greatly benefited the large beer makers. In 1979, Carter deregulated the beer industry, opening back up to craft brewers. As the chart below illustrates, this had a really amazing effect on the beer industry:

That’s the number of large and small-scale breweries in the US. You can see how the large brewers continued to consolidate and grow and absorb more and more market share right up to the point where Carter deregulated the industry.

This is interesting on at least two fronts.

First, those of us over a certain age will immediately recall “Billy Beer,” the product promoted by Carter’s infamous younger brother.  Whether this made Jimmy more or less sympathetic to small brewers is hard to say.

Second, while I was decidedly not a fan of Jimmy Carter, he actually gets a bad rap — and Ronald Reagan gets too much credit — on a couple of fronts.

Contrary to popular belief, Carter wasn’t anti-defense.  He was, after all, a Naval Academy grad who served with distinction in the Navy.  And his SECDEF, Harold Brown, pioneered the Offset Strategy that Reagan would later fund, putting us on the path to the world’s most technologically advanced military.

And, while Reagan certainly continued the trend, Carter was the one who put us on the path to deregulation.  That’s especially ironic in that he followed two Republican presidents, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. James,

    You are just proving how this isn’t a conservative blog anymore by saying nice things about Carter!  And by taking away some of the credit given to Reagan, no less.


  2. sam says:

    I should think conservatives, of a certain stripe anyway, would be happy to hear this. It’s one more confirmation of the law of unintended consequences about which they go on, and on, and on, and on, ….

  3. reid says:

    This alone puts Carter in the top half of presidents.  Billy Beer may knock him down a few spots, though.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    Wow.  I now have to reassess my opinion of Pres. Carter.  This makes up for the lack of leadership during the Iran hostage crisis.  We now know who to thank for overpriced beer and snobby beer drinkers.  Pass me a Miller Lite and some pork rinds.

  5. Tano says:

    “and Ronald Reagan gets too much credit…”
    Also, it was Carter who appointed Paul Volcker to the Fed, with the mission of driving inflation out of the economy (even at the cost of an economic downturn) – and thus setting the stage for a generation of growth.
    Volcker himself recounts apologizing to Carter for having cost him his reelection.

  6. physics geek says:

    As a homebrewer, I’ve always given props to Carter for this particular action.

  7. Unfortunately, E.D. Kain and Carlson were both completely wrong about one thing, which negates their entire argument: Carter did nothing to deregulate commercial brewing, as implied in their posts and every follow-up and debating comment about the subject.  See for more details on the reality.