Is the British Royal Family Worth the Money?

The monarchy appears to bring in as much in tourist revenue as they cost, at least in years with familial events like births.
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Crowds of people try to look at a notice formally announcing the birth of a son to Britain's Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, placed in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace on July 22, 2013. (Neil Hall/Reuters)

There's always a moment after major events involving the British monarchy -- Jubilee, wedding, birth, what have you -- when sort of a collective royal hangover sets in. We laugh as we see news stories about our over-the-top fascination with a seemingly trivial development (It was the hottest day in seven years! This lady's cake melted!) We wonder why it is the royal family captivates us so, anyway.

Some people go a step further, arguing that we shouldn't just pay less attention to the majestic goings-on, we should do away with the non-democratically-elected head of state altogether -- even if their role is largely ceremonial. Over at Gawker, Hamilton Nolan published an impassioned plea for the monarchy to end, likening it to the mafia and saying it siphons needed revenue away from millions of unemployed Britons, or any number of other, more worthy causes.

"For the sake of all that is holy, please allow this Royal Baby to grow up free of the clutches of this crime family, lest its innocence be lost," he wrote.

Calls for the U.K. to abolish the monarchy and become a republic are ever-present, but they tend to tick up during big, royal-centric events. Still, about 80 percent of Britons approve of the monarchy fairly consistently.

And that may be for good reason -- there's at least some evidence that the monarchy brings in heaps of tourism revenue.

According to Buckingham Palace, sustaining the royal family costs Britons 53 pence, or about 81 cents, per person, per year. The total came to about 33.3 million pounds (about $51.1 million) for 2012-2013, according to the Palace, up from 32.4 million pounds the previous year.

However, the awesomely titled Sir Alan Reid, Keeper of the Privy Purse, noted that figure is actually down by 24 percent from 2008-2009, for what it's worth.

But some British republicans -- those who want to abolish the monarchy -- say the actual cost is much higher, once you factor in things like security detail and the cost of preparing for royal visits. Their figure is about 200 million pounds, or $307 million.

The group Republic broke it down to include things like 3.9 million pounds for travel, half a million pounds for Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles, and some 400,000 pounds for public relations.

The royal couple's bundle of joy will drive up that cost, of course, as babies tend to do. The price of delivery at the duchess's birthing suite in St. Mary's hospital reportedly costs 10,000 pounds, or about $15,300. "Of course, that doesn't include the reported pre-delivery yoga classes at Kensington Palace or visits to private birthing coaches," the Christian Science Monitor noted.

But there's an upside to shelling out for a tradition that some think should have gone the way of the penny-farthing or the Puffing Billy.

The British tourism agency has reported that the royal family generates close to 500 million pounds, or about $767 million, every year in tourism revenue, drawing visitors to historic royal sites like the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, and Buckingham Palace. The country's tourism agency says that of the 30 million foreign visitors who came to Britain in 2010, 5.8 million visited a castle .

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Olga Khazan is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers health.

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