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Harry Potter and making money magically

For many years I always wanted to make a post about the Wizarding world of Harry Potter. I’ve read the books at least two times and I have seen the movies on multiple occasions. This blog needs more posts, posts of a more divers character. Lets start something lighthearted about magic.

If you’ve read the books and seen the movies you might noticed that the wizards and witches aren’t exactly the most happy lot. In the movies many are portrayed as a bit scruffy and not particular wealthy. Which is odd since they have this ├╝ber power called “magic”. In this post I’ll try to give my view of what I read and saw about making a living in the Wizarding World. And how this relate to the muggle world, because J.K. Rowling wrote this book in a very non-magical, highly technological culture. Magic really doesn’t exist, you know.

How to get some dough

Gamp’s law says you can’t create money out of thin air. As you cannot with food, which dough is really. Money is just an object, a wizard shouldn’t have trouble with creating some. But we’re talking about wizarding money, which is made and tightly controlled by goblins. Apparently the amount is fixed and can’t be increased by the muggle way of fractional banking. At least the only debt I encounterd in the books were betting debts. Money is exchanged as a physical object only.

Only gold, silver and bronse, secured with goblin spells, as money may appeal to the romantics, but it makes live pretty difficult. Mrs. Weasly clearly was scraping by with difficulty getting cash, while Harry had a pile of gold sitting idle in a vault. My impression was that every adult wizard and witch was trying hard to get galleons, sickles and cnuts. Only two ways were presented to earn an income; working for a handful of institutions or being self-employed.

Making money magically
“Heart of the Wizarding economy”

In fact there is one institute where almost everybody wants to work, the Ministry of Magic. Outside the Ministry, if you’re not working for the Daily Prophet or Hogwarts, then your only option is being self-employed. In this case, bar some shops in Diagon Alley, this means being a poor peddler.

All the talent, but no skills

We’ll get back to the Ministry later. First, making a cnut on the street. You would expect that a wizard would have no trouble creating a good life for himself. And having plenty of purchasing power. Lets see, a roof over your head? No problem, with magic you can make a nice house with magically produced material. Need a plot for your house? Pick any remote spot with no muggles in sight. You’re a wizard, transportation is easy and free to any spot on the planet. Food? Conjur the best salmon from the rivers, fruit and wheat from muggle farms. They won’t notice. In short, magic will provide almost all, for free.

J.K. Rowlings is brilliant though. Being a wizard, or witch, makes you lazy. Everybody has the same talent as you have and magic takes a lot of muggle effort away. Hermione may be the best witch of her age by studying hard, when push comes to shove the difference with others is negligible. Harry has better fighting talent and that’s all he needs. Thanks to their muggle upbringing Harry and Hermione do have street creds, which keeps them ahead of their peers. Most students, even Neville, reach the same level off skill, the difference really is only in the amount of skills, for instance the number of spells you’re able to perform. If there is no real incentive to excel then what you get is a bunch of bone idle wizards and witches who get through live with the least amount of effort.

The result is people scraping by or hitting rock bottom in Knockturn Alley. Given that the estimates of the British wizard population varies from 3000 to 15000, that’s a lot of bums I saw in the movies. According to this wiki it seams that most wizards get their wealth through inheritance and not through business. Then again how shall a wizard succeed in business if he has never learned to work hard, study hard and apply discipline. It is no wonder that being self-employed is a poor mans option. George and Fred may have been natural business men, Mrs. Weasley was horrified. A funny objectivist view on the Harry Potter world points to the oddity the Wizarding world is, despite his excellent talent in potion making, it never occured to professor Snape to monitize his concoctions.

Knockturn alley
“A lot of loosers for that tiny part of London”

The Ministry, the only game in town

There is another reason why being a being a business men is hard for a wizard. You can’t interact with the muggle world very much. As a wizard you could create great value for muggles, if necessary in secret. But this Ministry of Magic keeps a Big Brother style of control on magic performed close to muggles. With thousands more muggles than wizards, that’s a huge market which is out of bounds. The British Wizarding world itself is barely the size of a small town. This keeps wizard businesses at the level cottage industry. Except the Ministry itself.

The Ministry is the 900 pound gorilla in the room. Any wizard who wants to have a decent income tries to get a job at the ministry. The Weasleys pretty much a civil servant family. A save bet but the pay isn’t always stellar. Which is no surprise since the Ministry is depicted as a rather large organization. With so many mouths to feed and such a poor tax base, money is spread thinly. Especially since the Ministry can’t print its own money. No doubt the offices are filled with poorly trained wizards and witches doing a half-assed job (what do expect with just five years of secundary education).

Is there a lesson for us?

Although the Wizarding world is weird, there are some striking similarities. For instance the dominant Ministry of Magic is starting to get its counterpart in the Muggle world, namely the modern western government. Also citizens getting resources with hardly any effort, for instance benefits, almost look like wizards and witches. But this blog is getting too long already and these comparisons I would like to keep for another post.