The newlyweds visited Southern California last week and the papers were full of the news of their activities, which prompted me to ask a friend, “Why do we need royalty in the 21st century?” NPR had just reported that the Royal Family costs the British taxpayers $13 million a year. They seemed to feel this was an extravagance, especially when the Dutch get their Royal Family for only $3 million.
What does either of them get as a return on that investment?
It turns out that they get quite a bit, at least the Brits do.
But before we explore that, we should reflect on the differences between Great Britain and their constitutional Monarchy and what we are seeing in the Middle East: in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, where there have been major uprisings since the first of the year.
In 1215 with the Magna Carta, the British were given a major concession. The king no longer had absolute power. In exchange, the free people would defer to kingly judgment on matters that were considered in the king’s realm: matters of war and peace, of taxation to support the public good, of relations with other nations. The king also was allowed a measure of pomp and circumstance to maintain a regal posture.
To date, this has worked out quite well, and the $13 million a year seems to be an acceptable cost to support the arrangement.
In the above-mentioned countries however, the monarchy maintains absolute power, and what the people perceive as compensation to the royals is more than they are willing to give. Add to that the unrest over religion and the combination becomes very volatile.
There is unrest even in some countries where you might not expect it, like Monaco. Monaco is a little strange because it is so small. The population is only about 50,000, a number small enough so that the forty-two year old king has invited the entire population to his forthcoming wedding. It has become a refuge for many multi-millionaire sports celebrities because its taxes are significantly less than in their native-born countries. But there is a huge disparity between the life-style afforded by the wealthy and the general populace. And that leads to unrest.
Unrest that manifests itself in demands for rights: like the Saudi women, who want to drive as well as demands for girl’s education and sexual freedom.
Lost in this conflict are such things as an almost universal desire for little girls to dream of being a Princess and finding a Prince, of living vicariously the life of a Princess Diane, of wearing the Crown Jewels and riding in a horse-drawn carriage, and the study of all the regal history with queens incarcerated and kings dethroned.
Which may explain that most of the 1.2 billion tourists who visited Great Britain in 2008 put on their bucket list visits to Kensington Palace, the Tower of London, the changing of the guards, a visit to see those Crown Jewels and Buckingham Palace.
Those tourists, and the money they spend, explain why it is unlikely we will see the demise of British Royalty any time in the near future. And, as she described her visit to England, was what my friend explained to me.
In Tuesday’s post I think I’ll explore a recent government action or inaction: printing money, and why it is particularly relevant today.