The Economics of Villainy

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Being a life-long fan of James Bond movies, I’m used to placing logic securely under my theatre seat. It’s obvious that physics and most of the other laws that govern us do not apply when 007 is involved. But what about economics?

Since money, and the power it brings, is the primary motivation of most Bond villains, we need to take a closer look at the economic repercussions of their wickedness. Bond villains have enormous capital outlays in real estate, human resources, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, and sundry sinister devices.

No wonder they need to hold the world for ransom just to keep their shop doors open. A Bond villain can’t set up a Go Fund Me page to help defray the cost of a secret hideaway. Since villains seem drawn to lairs built on islands, mountaintops, underwater, or in space, it’s quite understandable why they need to raise serious money to pay for their evil lifestyles. And that’s just the cost of the real estate. Think about the labour costs of constructing a lair, generating electricity, and paying an interior decorator to come up with just the right statement to reflect your treachery.

Since they can’t tap into conventional capital markets, it only makes sense to produce a scheme that will net millions, even billions. Can you imagine Blofeld or Goldfinger going hat in hand to an investment bank like Goldman-Sachs to get financing to pay for a space laser or a rocket capable of snatching a spacecraft from orbit? Well, after the financial crisis of the last decade, it’s not so hard to visualize.

But let’s face it, villainy is expensive, and even if these villains achieve their evil purposes, what are they going to do with all that cash? I mean, have you seen a Bond villain with any semblance of a personal life? They don’t have wives or kids, or even serious romantic partners. A few have relationships with trusted henchmen—think Goldfinger and Oddjob, Scaramanga and Nick Nack, Blofeld and his pet cat. So, if your typical Bond villain isn’t socking away money for his kid’s college fund or taking his partner on a romantic getaway, then what does he need the money for? His own private rocket ship like Bezos or Musk? A second, bigger secret lair? Packages of ink for his inkjet printer? A few gallons of premium gas? Or does he have an Apple iPad and needs the accessories?

Of course, the answer is world domination; it’s always about world domination. But maybe this motive requires a rethink on the part of any potential Bond villain because, with the shape our poor old world is in these days, there isn’t going to be much left to dominate. And since the villain usually ends up being ground to a pulp, blown up, or launched into space, I suggest that instead of the risky pursuit of riches and world domination, a villain would be better off throwing in with a hedge fund manager. At the end of the day, the returns are probably higher, and he would still be in one piece to enjoy it.

And what about the other side of the coin? James Bond strikes me as a guy who lives way beyond his means. Afterall, how does a mid-level civil servant afford all that beluga caviar, premium champagne, and luxury hotel accommodations? Not to mention that tricked out Aston Martin that always seems to be in the shop getting repaired. And I can’t even imagine what his liability insurance coverage must cost.

However, I will leave the economics of being Bond for a future posting.