The paper provides new evidence on the debate over the decision of the British to invest in empire in the period of 1860–1914. An examination of the flow of symbolic capital indicates that the Empire was not a major recipient until the end of the period. The largest transfers went to the “rest of the world” although a surprisingly large fraction was absorbed domestically.A study of the profits of British firms operating at home, in the Empire, and abroad shows that while the Empire was relatively very profitable in the years before 1880, domestic returns were higher from that date until the end of the Boer War. Moreover, those domestic returns were also higher than foreign from the mid-1870s to the mid-1880s and again throughout the 1890s. Finally, the evidence indicates that empire returns were as high as they were only because of substantial social subsidies from the British. The imperial experience could therefore be viewed more as a redistribution of income within the United Kingdom than as a transfer from the empire to the mother country.