Can royalty be fired? Prince Andrew of the U.K.'s resignation from public duties following a disastrous TV interview concerning his friendship with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein doesn't quite go all the way. But the king of Sweden recently cut five blameless grandchildren from the royal house. That's good practice in an age when monarchies are essentially keepers of a brand rather than rulers.
In a 2006 paper, John Balmer of the Bradford School of Management in the U.K., Stephen A. Greyser of Harvard University and Mats Urde of Lund University in Sweden argued that Europe's constitutional monarchies function as corporate brands. This makes sense: Even when monarchs have a lot of constitutional power, as in Norway where the king theoretically could veto any law and pick prime ministers more or less at will, it just doesn't happen anymore. Perhaps the only monarch who does play an active political role is the king of Belgium, who constantly has to prod parties in the country's two nearly independent halves to form governments together.
At the same time, the monarchies have a value to the nations they serve, which can be expressed in financial terms.
The U.K. monarchy is among the most expensive in Europe from the taxpayers' point of view. The royal family's most recent annual budget allocation is 15 times as high as that of the Swedish one, which gets by on about $7 million a year. Some Swedes feel even this is too much, and in response to that sentiment, King Carl XVI Gustaf last month removed the two children of Prince Carl Philip and the three children of Princess Madeleine from the list of royal house members who are entitled to compensation from taxpayer funds for performing official duties. That left the House of Bernadotte with just 10 members who receive a subsidy for public service, though the royal family counts nine more, including the five children.
In their paper, Balmer, Greyser and Urde wrote of the five Rs that are essential to a crown brand: royal, regal, relevant, responsive, respected. Of these, only the first one applies to Prince Andrew: he's royalty by birth. The other four refer to behaviors that support the value of the brand. People aren't born with those, and they can't be expected to behave a certain way simply because they were born into a certain family. Pursuing these behaviors is a heavy burden. In Sweden, the parents in the two princely families clearly didn't want it for their kids.
As my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Alex Webb wrote recently, Prince Andrew's fall may help Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, advance his long-standing plan to make the royal family leaner. The Swedish example shows this is possible. It doesn't detract from the reigning house's cachet to have fewer members who serve as national symbols than there are people with royal blood in their veins. Nor does a smaller number of royals with public responsibilities affect the value of the crown brand in the way hapless royals' misadventures can.
The U.K. doesn't have to wait for its royal family to decide to become more like the Swedish one. The British democracy can push the monarchy in that direction by drastically cutting its budget, perhaps to the Swedish scale, and forcing it to select the worthiest members for public service.
Editorial on 11/25/2019
Print Headline: Monarchies as corporate brands