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The cost of dining with a Bond girl
James Bond may be an invention of Ian Fleming from the 1950s, but let’s be honest, most boys (and many men) wish they could have the life of James. He may be a mid-ranked civil servant with a wage that is much lower than what he could earn in the private sector, but he probably has the world’s largest expense bill.
Take his dining habit, for example. Craig, Lee Craig, is an economist at North Carolina State University and teamed up with two colleagues to identify the restaurants mentioned in all the Bond novels ever published. Then, once he identified them, he tried to track the price of a menu including wine over time. In total, the researchers could identify 23 restaurants in and around Paris where they could track menu prices since the 1950s.
One thing is clear. Bond is a gourmet at par with every hedge fund or private equity manager. Out of the 23 Paris restaurants mentioned in the novels, 21 were included in the Guide Michelin. The average star rating of the restaurants James Bond took his dining companions to was 1.67 stars. Had he chosen restaurants in the Guide at random, the average star rating would have been 0.25. Notably, Bond also seems to be a connoisseur of traditional classic restaurants. Only five of the restaurants no longer exist, which is an astonishingly low number in an industry where most businesses don’t make it past the five-year mark.
So how much does James Bond rack up in expenses for the taxpayer while performing his duties to protect the country? Let’s assume he takes a Bond girl out for dinner once a week and pays for the menu including wine. No other costs for entertainment are included, though in the case of James Bond one would have to assume that these can be expensive since his choice of hotels and other establishments tend to be as exclusive and rarefied as his choice of restaurants.
During the period when Ian Fleming wrote the Bond novels (1953-1967) the average cost of dining with a bond girl once a week would have been £304 calculated at the then prevailing exchange rate between French Francs and British Pounds. When John Gardner wrote the Bond novels after Fleming’s death (1981-1996), the average annual cost was already £4,771. After Gardner, James Benson took over from 1997 to 2002 when the average annual cost of dining with a Bond girl is estimated to have been £7,254 and during the last 20 years when a host of different authors wrote new Bond novels, it reached £13,023.
That is a substantial amount compared to Bond’s likely salary. According to UK government salary bands, the median salary for an agent like Bond in 1953 was £1,500 per year and the average salary in the UK overall was £400. Bond, therefore, was a well paid civil servant. By 2019, the median salary in Bond’s salary band was £52,304 but due to his long service for her Majesty, he probably would have earned more than that. If he was in the upper quartile of his salary band, he earned £67,017 per year compared to the annual average income of a UK worker of £27,976.
Thus, the percentage of his annual salary that James Bond racked up for dining with Bond girls alone rose from 17.9% in the 1950s to 26.4% today. This is quite an expense bill, but the interesting thing about it is that it is almost all due to the depreciation of Sterling vs. the Franc and the Euro. In constant exchange rates, the share of his annual income spent on dinners was constant at roughly 20%.
Share of annual income Bond spends on dining out with Bond girls
Source: Craig et al. (2021)
What do we learn from that? Well, if you live in the UK and you feel like going on vacation has become more and more expensive, you are right. But don’t blame inflation for that. It is all due to a weak Sterling that has depreciated for decades, making international travel increasingly expensive.