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Published: Sunday, 7/20/2008

Sell 'em Brussels sprouts

THE sale of Anheuser-Busch, which makes iconically American Budweiser beer, to the Belgian firm InBev is not necessarily another death rattle for the American economy, but it does carry some negative symbolism.

American companies are sold to foreign buyers all the time. Sometimes the sales get rolled back if the asset seems to have strategic importance. One example: the attempted sale of the management of a number of important American port facilities to a company held largely by the government of the Persian Gulf state of Dubai.

The sale of Anheuser-Busch for $52 billion appears to have been a straightforward commercial deal. The Belgians generally make good beer, so it is unlikely that the taste of A-B's product will become less palatable. The question in this case is whether the American psyche has suffered a blow because of the sale of this quintessential American company to foreigners.

The people of St. Louis, the longtime beer capital for A-B and the Busch family, are - pardon the expression - crying in their beer over the sale. Even though InBev assures them otherwise, they fear a loss of employment, not an unreasonable fear given that the American economy has shed nearly a half million jobs since the beginning of the year.

Another aspect of the sale is the fact that Cindy Helmsley McCain, wife of the Republican candidate for president, owns one of the country's largest distributors of Anheuser-Busch products. This is probably not a conflict-of-interest issue, but if Sen. John McCain were elected it could require some fancy financial footwork on the first family's part to keep their interests apart. Mrs. McCain's company has in the past been an active lobbyist on a number of issues.

Will U.S. sales of Budweiser drop if the company is no longer American-owned? We doubt it. It is likely that sales of Budweiser, like those of Toyota, Honda, and other foreign-owned products, will depend on the quality of what the company is selling rather than its nationality.

As far as we can tell, the slogan is still likely to be "This Bud's for you," not "Ce Bud, ci est pour toi."



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