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From “License to Dine: 007 and the Real Exchange Rate,” a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which compares the evolution of James Bond’s salary with that of French and British restaurant prices.

At the start of his career as a Double-0, James Bond was paid reasonably well, perhaps very well. In Moonraker (1955), Ian Fleming tells us that Bond “earned 1,500 pounds a year, the salary of a Principal Officer in the Civil Service, and he had a thousand a year free of tax on his own.” That was well above the average annual earnings of 434 pounds in the United Kingdom at the time. While today it seems that dining at Michelin-star restaurants requires the salary of a successful hedge fund manager, this was not the case when Bond embarked on his career. Prices were not sky high, the lower-cost items averaging 1.80 pounds at three restaurants that held two or three stars. Had Bond dined at one each week for the year, his expenditures would have totaled 94 pounds without wine or service charges, 180 pounds with both. In other words, Bond could have dined very well and spent no more than 12 percent of his salary at restaurants.

Of course, Bond did not always eat alone. Although he tells Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale that when “I’m working I generally have to eat my meals alone,” dining with Bond girls was an important component of his character; doubling those percentages would yield an upper bound on the figure. Still, it is not unreasonable to think he could have afforded to dine out regularly at nice restaurants, with a companion, in the early Fifties.

Could he do it today, or at other times over his nearly seventy-year career? Did his salary keep pace with the rise in prices? Regrettably, the authors after Fleming made no mention of his salary. Thus our estimate is based on that of someone in the same civil-service grade as Bond. We assumed that Bond’s salary remained unchanged at 1,500 pounds from 1954 until 1959, as per the Fleming novels, and then increased at a steady annual rate to reach the known median salary for 1970.

In the Fleming era, Bond would have spent 17.9 percent of his salary on average to dine well with a companion. The average restaurant price rose another 57 percent between the novels written by John Gardner and those by Raymond Benson, but Bond’s salary bettered that, having risen by 60 percent. Dining out would have required slightly less than 20 percent of his salary. After France adopted the euro in 2002, however, Bond had more of a struggle to maintain that lifestyle. The average restaurant price rose by 41 percent between the Benson era and the euro era, while Bond’s salary increased by only 29 percent. On top of that, the pound fell considerably relative to the euro; Bond would have had to spend 26.4 percent of his salary in the euro era.

It is possible that Bond’s salary would have been higher than the median in his pay grade after many years of service, or because there may have been a risk premium added to his salary. Even at the higher salary, he still would have had to spend 21 percent of his income on dinner between 2002 and 2019. While that may seem too steep for many of us, perhaps it would not for a bon vivant like Bond, who, after all, was not saving for his children’s orthodontia or education. This penchant for fine dining, whether paid by Bond or Special Branch, suggests an alternate dialogue for the scene in Goldfinger in which the villain threatens Bond’s private parts with a laser beam. As the beam creeps closer, Bond asks, “Do you expect me to talk?” It is easy to imagine that Goldfinger’s reply could have been, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to dine.”

It is doubtful the same advice would be offered to Brits more generally. At the start of his career, Bond’s salary was more than three times the median U.K. income. The disparity decreased over time, and Bond’s salary eventually mirrored that of civil-service pay, which has not risen much since 2010. Many middle and upper income earners in the U.K. experienced more favorable income growth in the euro era. That uptick, however, started from a substantially lower salary level; it was not likely to push many British travelers to take up gourmet dining in France. Broadly speaking, our results indicate that over the entire period, changes in the British exchange rate were not favorable for Bond or British travelers.

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February 2022

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