A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
I can’t help myself. I love arguing with anti-monarchists. I never win, so dedicated are they to their point of view, but it renews my faith in the human ability to remain steadfastly obstinate in the face of overwhelming truth and logic. Let me explain.
For as long as I can remember, the battle cry of the I-hate-the-monarchy crowd has been that the royals are a bunch of useless inbred Germans who cost a lot of money and don’t do anybody any good (notice, they were useless twice.) And if we got just get rid of them (this is the good bit) we could use the cash they’ve been squandering on polo and tiaras to feed the homeless, clothe the starving and restore peace in our time to Afghanistan. This is an idiot argument based on fairytale logic you could drive a golden carriage through.
The quaint assumption that once the Queen and her family are off the clock the politicians would automatically use the ex-monarchy money for something useful — instead of the stupid crap they always buy — is ludicrous. Aristotle, wherever he’s buried, isn’t spinning in his grave; he’s doing the meringue. Besides, the cost recovery for keeping the royals in the style to which the rest of us would like to become accustomed is worthy of the brilliant money management skills of George Soros and Warren Buffett … combined.
Everybody knows that the monarchy is maintained by the British government. However, ridiculous as it may sound, a lot of people think that David Cameron and George Osborne show up at Buckingham Palace once a year with a big bag of money stained with the tears of widows and orphans. They hand it over to the Queen and clear off before she unleashes the corgis. Nice try — but not even close. Actually, the money the British government provides for the monarchy is based on a deal, brokered way back when, by King George III. It’s all very complicated, but here’s the decaf version.
In 1760, George III, not the sharpest royal blade, was up to his sceptre in debt. He worked out a deal with the British government to exchange the revenue (only the revenue) from his Crown Estates for a one-time debt reduction package and an annual financial grant to keep him in crumpets for the rest of his life. The government of the day said, “You bet!” and the Civil List was born. Ever since then, every sovereign has renewed the agreement by voluntarily (voluntarily!) forgoing the revenue from the Crown Estates. The government, in turn, takes on the financial responsibility of maintaining the institutions of the monarchy, not the Royal Family itself. In fact, Charles, Camilla, William, Kate, Harry and now little George don’t get a penny for their personal use. I imagine, given it’s the British Isles; most of the taxpayer money is spent on mending the plumbing.
Now, let’s crunch the numbers. As of March 2012, the annual surplus (Brits don’t like the word profit) on the revenue from the Crown Estates was just shy of £240,000,000.00 — a hefty chunka change. Meanwhile, the monarchy, in all its various and assorted glory, costs the British taxpayer, give or take a farthing or two, about £40 million per year. Do the math: that’s a 600% return on your investment! The mighty shysters of Wall Street would kill for numbers like that. However, before you start counting your shillings, this isn’t even where the big money is.
Pound for pound the Royal Family is a tourist attraction that rivals Vegas. The souvenir industry alone is worth billions. Walk down any High Street in Britain: you’ll find royal faces on everything from coffee cups to black light posters. (Yes, I’ve seen those, more than once.) Furthermore, the crowds the monarchy generates are incredible. Show up at Buckingham Palace (any day of the week) for The Changing of the Guard, and you’ve got to fight your way in to get a picture. The line of people waiting to see the Crown Jewels stretches for blocks – every day. Let’s just crunch a single number. Last year, in the two months it was open; more than 400,000 people toured Buckingham Palace, and the vast majority were not from London. Those people had to eat somewhere, they had to sleep somewhere and, by Tube or by taxi, they had to show up to take the tour. This is business as usual in Britain; throw in a Royal Jubilee, a wedding or a birth announcement and you could pave Hyde Park with American dollars—or, more recently, with Chinese yuan.
There will always be someone ragging on the Royal Family. However, as the man said, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” The anti-monarchists are just too strident to think the thing through. It might cost every Brit– man, woman and child– about 65p (75 cents, this side of the Atlantic) to have a Queen, but if they fired Her Majesty and gave the money back, nobody — from the Isle of Wight to the Isle of Skye — would be ahead more than the price of a hotdog. Plus, many of them would be ruined by the economic downturn. In actual fact, the Royal Family is one of Britain’s most valuable sustainable resources. So, ladies and gentlemen, charge your glasses. God Save the Queen!