Tag Archives: Queen Elizabeth

What should the British do with their monarchy?

I think most American progressives would agree that a form of government that does not have a monarchy is better than one that does. So, it is not surprising that so many people see the death of the Queen of England* as a moment to consider ridding Great Britain and the United Kingdom of any vestige of monarchy. I mean, why not? Many Americans on the opposite of any known political spectrum from progressives saw the end of the Trump Presidency to be a moment to consider the end of democracy and installation of a fascist MAGA state!

But I wonder if monarchy-hate is fully appropriate, given some of the reactions I see from actual subjects of the Queen/King. Said subjects seem blind to the argument that the monarchy is a burden on the budget, has no practical use, and is linked to a history of colonialism and repression. Or are they?

Here is why these ideas may be misguided if not just wrong.

  1. The monarchy has not been the prime mover in colonialism and repression since well early in the 18the century. The monarchy is a part of, and an increasingly no-effective part of, the British government during the last 300 years of British colonial advancement, colonial retraction, and colonial separation. One could easily argue that the parliamentary part of the British government is more responsible for everything that happened than the monarchy. Not to let the monarchy off the hook. I’m just saying that if you have a small gang of thieves and get rid of one of them, you still better keep checking your pocket to see if your wallet is still there.
  2. The portion of GDP attributable to the monarchy is difficult to determine. The annual cash flow of the monarchy represents about one one-hundredths’ of a percent of the British GDP. The annual cost to taxpayers is about 3 one thousand’s of a percent of the British GDP. The total value of the monarchy (if you sold it off tomorrow) is between 2 and 3% of GTP. So, the monarchy is a low-maintenance very valuable asset, assuming that it produces some payback.
  3. Compare it to sports. In America, we have no monarchy, but we do have sports. Sports takes up more American cultural space and energy that the monarchy takes up British cultural space and energy, I would assert. Or at least, they are in the same ballpark, as it were. Sports value as a percentage of GDP is about 2 tenths of a percent in the US. Small nationwide, but huge compared to the equivalent annual cash flow of 1 one hundredths of a percent for the British Monarchy. American sports are a burden on the American budget (every time a city is asked to build a new stadium or bail out a team, or as a function of increased vandalism and criminality associated with sports culture) but with limited practical use, and linked to a history of segregation, racism, nurturing of violence and criminality, and overall stupid behavior. One could argue that sports has advantages, and one can argue that the monarchy has some value too.

I’m agnostic, and I prefer to follow the lead of British progressives. It is their monarchy, after all.

Americans tend to think we threw off the monarchy centuries ago because we did not like it. That is not what happened. America rebelled against unequal tax and representation by our government (we were part of Great Britain) as it applied to the Americas, and against home-country (UK) rules against killing Indians. Our government in London told us we had to stop grabbing land that wasn’t ours. The British government was on the verge of getting rid of slavery, which Brits in the Americas (our forefathers) did not want to do. Our revolution was not about being a democracy instead of a monarchy. It was about us being an out of control asshole on the world stage, not held back by certain British sensibilities. So fellow Americans, maybe lose the impertinence, OK? Not a good look coming from one of the very small number of countries that maintained slavery longer than everyone else, and then converted slavery into something as close to slavery as possible for the next rest of time.

Finally, I suspect most people who are down on the monarchy are not aware that the role of the British monarchy in the British government is not to rule, but to be dignified. Like this:

*I know I know, she is not the “Queen of England” except that she is, but also, Queen of some other things too. As an American I’m not into getting sidetracked by the whinging about the complex national identity associated with that which is British-ish and related.

Queen Elizabeth’s Death …

… considering how long she was monarch, makes you think.

The vast majority of people in the British Empire were born during her lifespan, and there can not be very many people in this world that remember the time before she was born. She has been monarch for longer than most people have lived. I remember as a child seeing film of her coronation, so I have a sense that I remember that, but it is of course a false memory. What I’m remembering is some anniversary jubilee or celebration, which involved a major parade and the showing of films of her coronation.

There are some 68 entries on the lists of English or UK monarchs. Some are disputed, but that’s not my fight, so I count them when I consider who has been in this situation in the past. Also, we assume that the list REALLY goes back to King Arthur and early kings or queens are missing, to the extent that any of them actually existed.

The average time on the throne across these centuries is about 16.3 years. Some 11 throne-sitters spend less than a year (sometimes just a few days) in that position, 16 less than 3 years.

The time-on-throne for Queen Elizabeth exceeded record-setter Queen Victoria, the former at 70 years and the latter at an impressive 63 years. Only five monarchs held the position for 50 years or more. They say that when Queen Victoria died, there was a sort of extra trauma across the British Empire, since she had bee queen for so long. I believe they invented a “Queens Day” to allow people to continue to celebrate her even though she was passé in the truest sense of the term.

The distribution of years-on-throne is no more normal than having a person on a throne is these days. Indeed, it is quite like a poisson distribution with all the “zero values” being MISSING VALUE as one might imagine is the case for pretenders and would-be throne-sitters. (Sorry, inside stats joke.) How long you are on the throne is a function of the chance of a bad thing (ie death or displacement) happening, plus average age of dethronement. So, this:

Dumb Excel histogram of time on English/UK throne ever.

Also, finally, I have a direct(ish) connection to the British Monarchy, finally. My friend and former advisor-type in grad school, David Pilbeam, was for a time Charles’s tutor, I believe at Trinity. I may have some details wrong.

British Life Expectancy for males is about 79.3 years, so Charles will not be King as long as his mom was Queen.