Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What Do Wizards Even Do?

The Malfoys are very rich.  The Weasleys are very poor.  However, they are not nearly as poor as the inbred and horrible Gaunts.


This is again part of the same basic problem with the series: Rowling never bothered to figure out her universe from the perspective of the characters who live in it.

How do wizards generate wealth?

As revealed in the books, there are really only so many things a wizard or witch can do professionally.  You can make wands.  You can make magical pranks.  You can manufacture magical candy.  You can sell books or robes.  You can teach at Hogwarts (and there's only a dozen positions there).  You can work for a news publication.  Or you can work for the Ministry of Magic.  That is the entire wizarding economy.

For instance, when the students begin taking their OWLS and deciding their classes for future employment, almost every single job opportunity considered is at the Ministry of Magic.  Harry becomes an auror, but what else was he going to become?  An accountant?

Doesn't understand the people he is paid to study
Wizards in the world of Harry Potter do not in any way associate with the Muggle world.  This is shown most clearly in Arthur Weasley, who is fascinated with Muggles and works at (surprise) the Ministry of Magic in the Department of Muggle Relations.  His job is to relate to Muggles, and yet the books show repeatedly his incompetence at understanding non-magical culture.  He has clearly never had contact or dialogue with an actual Muggle,
besides perhaps when speaking to wizards raised by them.

And despite the fact that Hermione's parents both have fulfilling careers as dentists, she doesn't bother considering careers in the world of the actual economy.  She instead goes on to work for... the Ministry of Magic.

Why does this economic break exist?

If you were a highly competent wizard, why would you not go on to, say, be an executive in a corporation?  Or if you're a highly ineffective wizard, why wouldn't you go to work at Burger King?  If you have tons of literal gold sitting in a literal bank vault, why would you just leave it there and not invest it in the New York Stock Exchange?  At least part of it, anyway.    Is there really no inflation in the wizarding currency?

So what exactly did the Malfoys do to get all of their money?  Lucius sits on a lot of boards and councils, but none of them are boards or councils for actual companies.  It's mostly the wizard equivalent of the Rotary Club.  Near as I can tell, he just has lots of money.  Maybe he inherited it?  All that means, though, is that he has a room in the bank filled with gold coins, and over his life he takes coins out of it when he needs to buy stuff.

But how did the coins get there in the first place?  Who was the first person to put coins in to that room in the bank?  Where did that person get the coins from?  What did they do to earn them?

All money in Harry Potter is minted, mined, and controlled by goblins.  Each coin is stamped with the mark of the goblin who made it.  So it isn't that the Malfoys own a mine and mint it themselves.  Somehow, every wizard using wizard money has managed to convince a goblin to give it to them.

Were all of these coins stolen in the Goblin Wars, and they still circulate amongst the human wizards using them as an exchange medium?  Then why are the goblins so insistent on guarding these coins in their banks for the sake of the human wizards who use them illegitimately?  We know their feelings about humans owning "stolen" goblin artifacts, and how anything made by a goblin belongs to goblins.  So it can't be that the coins were taken from the goblins.  Human wizards in the modern wizarding England have to be earning these coins from their goblin masters.

Which also puts some things in light.  The goblins own and control the entire currency.  To get money, the goblins have to give it to you.  Galleons and Sickles function as goblin favor tokens.  In some way or another, everyone in wizard England actually works for the goblins.

So what did the Malfoys do?  Why don't more wizards just do whatever they did to curry such high goblin favor?

But then of course, the better question is why you would even use the wizard currency at all.  If you have stockpiles of gold, why would you use one of your coins with a real world value of several thousand dollars to buy the equivalent of $10 of groceries at the magical grocery store?  Why not just go to the Muggle grocer and buy the exact same food using pounds sterling?  You could melt your goblin coin down for base metals and buy a whole year's worth of food for a Galleon.  Or, you could work in the Muggle economy (where your employers are human beings with reasonable understandings of human trade practices) to actually earn Muggle currency, and then use this to buy your groceries.  And pay your mortgage.  And since pounds sterling turn out to be so incredibly useful, it's likely that other wizards will be willing to trade with them as well, so really you should be able to use them at the magical grocery store, too.

When it comes down to it, there's no reason for there to be wizard money at all.

And then there's the question of if there even exists a magic grocery store.  There's a magic book store.  And a magic candy store.  And a magic prank store.  But where does the food come from?

Maybe they just never describe the grocery store because it's commonplace.  My point isn't that Rowling never mentions such a store; such a store must exist.  Wizards are people, and eat the same food we do.  My point is, how does this store function?

Does the owner of the magical grocery store buy his produce from wizard farmers?  Does he buy it exclusively from wizard farmers?  Are there any wizard farmers at all?  Or does the magical grocer buy his produce from Muggles?  How does he coordinate exchange with the Muggle farmers?  Do they accept his Galleons in payment, or does he exchange it for pounds sterling?  He must exchange it, or else if he pays the farmers in the canonical exchange-rate equivalent of Galleons (£5 per Galleon), and those farmers talk about the source of their trove of hand-carved golden coins, the world supply chain of food is going to be vastly altered, with every farmer in the world wanting to sell exclusively to wizard markets.  Why sell an apple for a dollar when you can sell it for a master artisanal coin made of solid silver?  Maybe this explains why the wizards are feasting so frequently.

There's other problems besides the currency exchange with the magic grocer.  By being a magic grocer and not a normal grocer, he is needlessly limiting his customer base.  There's no reason to sell only to wizards when Muggles need food, too.  By setting up shop in Diagon Alley, only the select few who can even see the existence of Diagon Alley can shop in his store.  I suppose he could open up elsewhere, but then he's limiting his exposure in the wizard community to which he caters.  He could also sell to Muggles, but then he can't stock magical things in the grocery store (presumably and for some reason): his store becomes just a normal store, no different than the Muggle one.  The wizard grocer has to stock normal food, and accept normal money, and conform to normal sanitary standards of how a grocery store is supposed to work.  But then why go to the wizard grocer in the first place?

If we're assuming the produce comes from Muggles, then they have to be driven in by trucks.  How is a Muggle truck going to get to Diagon Alley?  Does it pull up outside the Leaky Cauldron and dump it all in the middle of the sidewalk ("It's what the instructions say!  'Leave on sidewalk, in front of empty wall!'"), and the grocer comes by after they've left and carries it all through the Leaky Cauldron and through Diagon Alley all the way to his store, box by box, until he's got it all?  What if two competing grocers get deliveries at the same time?  It would be madness!

I think it's quite clear that the grocery stores of the wizarding world must be the grocery stores of the Muggle world, too.  They must exist in normal areas accessible to Muggles, and therefore sell to Muggles, and also therefore do not stock non-Muggle items.

Really, there is no reason not to
sell these in normal candy stores
If  all grocers run Muggle groceries, then Muggles and wizards have to interact.  Either a wizard has to go in to a Muggle part of town and be in a store surrounded by them, or Muggles are going to go in to the wizard store and shop.  This is economic interaction, but it's also social and cultural interaction.  If the wizard grocer insists on selling Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, there's no way human children aren't going to be buying them up -- and there's no way Bertie Bott wouldn't sell to this massive customer base.  That makes for a commonality between the two, as wizards and Muggles can both discuss their traumatic experiences with bean flavors.

The wizard grocer would also end up having to hire Muggles to work in his store.  Think about it: you don't necessarily want to hire someone to organize soup cans who can also transmute mice into cups.  Basic literacy suffices there.  The magical worker might expect to be paid in solid gold coins (most transactions -- in-going or out -- would take place in pounds stirling, adding needless overhead), and might expect to be paid more based on the fact that she can do magic.  Wizard small business owners would probably prefer to hire Muggles, just on economic grounds.  This would entail more social interaction between the two types of people than we see going on.

And when I say wizard small business owners may prefer to hire non-wizards, I don't mean just the grocer.  As an example, there is nothing about selling magical books that suggests it is any different in principle from selling normal books.  All that changes is the content of the books, and in some cases not even that.  The Tales of Beedle the Bard is just a book of fairy tales.  Gilderoy Lockehart's books are just biographies.  There are magical textbooks, but some of them aren't far off from weirdo books in the weirdo section of Barnes and Noble.  The only truly magical book is the Monstrous Book of Monsters, and it is unique in that respect.  A Muggle could handle stocking the shelves there easily.  Maybe they'd need some briefing, but they'd be able to do it, and likely with a lot less fuss than the wizards.  This applies to pretty much any wizard store.  Olivander the wandmaker could hire a part-time worker to organize the shelves and dust the floor and deal with customers (while he handles actual wandmaking), and even he doesn't need another wizard to do that.

Maybe you think the Statute of Secrecy would stop this sort of thing.  It'd probably be against the law to hire a Muggle to work at Olivanders.  Kinda like how it's also against the law to hire undocumented migrant workers in the US.  But guess what?

On the other hand, just like our wizard grocer, it's likely wizards may want to pursue other lines of employment that aren't specifically oriented to magic.  Again, Hermione may decide that she wants to be a dentist like her parents.  Or maybe she decides that she wants to be a physicist.  What's to stop her?  Assuming that Hogwarts counts as a high school for the purposes of satisfying truancy laws (otherwise her parents would be in a lot of trouble), then Hermione has every chance of getting in to Oxford and becoming a world expert in any field she decides to study.

The fact is, a wizard has every ability to compete in the same Muggle markets as their non-magical counterparts.  Since the Muggle market is larger, more active, and the place where all of the real commodities like food and land are involved, the majority of wizards would prefer to operate in these markets, and not in the sequestered, smaller, less fundamental and less prosperous wizard markets.

Maybe this explains why the only businesses that seem to exist in the wizarding world are in the production of novelty and luxury items?

However, wizards don't work in the Muggle economy.  We know that wizards don't do these things because magic remains a secret, wizards remain unacclimated to Muggle money and customs, and the economy doesn't implode with the sudden influx of golden Galleons from trade with wizards.  Wizards aren't bankers, or grocers, or dentists (Slughorn had never even heard of dentistry), or scientists, or accountants, or police men, or engineers, or anything like that.

So what do they do?

We know some jobs explicitly from the book and that I listed earlier.  But those sorts of jobs are not enough to sustain an economy.  The Weasley twins may make their money from selling pranks, but how do the people buying the pranks make their money?  I mean, if you can afford to spend cash on something so trifling, you probably have a lot of it.  We know other wizards make robes and wands, so presumably they can buy the Weasley's pranks with their income from these sales.  But not everyone can make wands and robes in this society.

How do the people buying the wands and the robes make their money?

What undergirds the economy of this community?

How do the 99% of wizards who don't make wands or robes or pranks or write books or write newspaper articles or teach in Hogwarts actually make their money?  What do wizards even do?

Taken just by itself and  considered as an isolated community, the wizarding economy of Harry Potter would be slightly above that of a post-nuclear-apocalypse third-world nation.  So how do they get all these castles and magic trains and vast underground lairs?

The only plausible answer, based on what we know from the books is: they work for the government.  Just like how every character who is not a professor... works for the government.  And since there isn't an actual wizarding economy, and therefore no tax base, this means that the taxes that pay their salaries come from the Muggles, who do actual work in actual jobs that produce actual wealth.  The English taxpayer bears the expense of letting this privileged group carry on in blissful segregation.

The wizards and witches of Harry Potter are Welfare Queens.  There you have it.  Their entire storybook existence carries on because of governmental largesse.  Otherwise, there is simply no way to explain how even one single wizard has any money at all.

Why do we arrive at a situation like this?  Really, I think Rowling was forced in to it.  Adult wizards had to work somewhere.  To have them work in any position that wasn't magic-only would completely contradict everything else in her story, as explained above.  Government work is the only consistent possibility.  But this is the only consistent possibility because she never bothered to really understand her universe.  She never thought of the implications of goblins controlling the currency of literal gold.  She never thought of what it'd really mean to have a million-person-wide secret entrusted to 10-year-olds (and their parents...), Dark Lords, and entrepreneurs.  She never thought of how wizards would use their abilities (however secretly) to gain advantage in various professions.

The economy in Harry Potter doesn't make sense, because the author never bothered to make the world make sense.  And that's it, really.


  1.'m a massive fan of Harry Potter, but wow. And again, wow. I've never read such a detailed analysis and I think your points are completely true- but I'd like to add that if you take apart a lot of fantasy books like this, they would unravel too. :P


    1. You're right. My mom loves Harry Potter, and one day she interrupted me to ask if Narnia made any sense. I had to hang my head in shame.

  2. I just stumbled on this blog and it's fantastic.

    Also, Ministers of Magic are shown interacting with the muggle prime minister, albeit in a shifty, cloak and dagger midnight meeting way. Thus suggests that those up high are aware of the existence of wizards butare compelled to keep the secret. I think this suggests that the wizards are actually in charge. Not welfare queens but overlords, and they keep themselves secret so that the ignorant multitudes don't rise up and depose them.

    1. "I think this suggests that the wizards are actually in charge. Not welfare queens but overlords"

      Excellent point! Can't believe I missed it. Thanks for reading.

  3. Thank you, thank you! I had wondered this myself throughout the series. I hadn't given their economy the thorough examination like this, but I didn't understand why they couldn't just conjure up material things, eliminating the inequality. Sure, wizards could not magically make coins or money of value, but why not turn old robes and hand-me-down clothes into new ones? The old clothes were an ongoing point of disdain by the Malfoys toward the Weasleys. I also wondered how families and institutions (such as Hogwarts) acquired the house elves in the first place.

  4. If I were a wizerd I would accio summon gold from rivers and just buy real estate like crazy.or use magic as labour saving to mill timber for profit

  5. If I were a wizerd I would accio summon gold from rivers and just buy real estate like crazy.or use magic as labour saving to mill timber for profit

  6. I think we have to assume that there must be wizard farmers that don't interact with the outside human world. Wizards have randomly strange plants that are hidden and protected by wizards, and I'm going to go ahead and assume that the farmers have superior magical food breeding methods for regular food, removing the need for processing as the muggle modern world has adopted to feed the masses. Also, that said, it seems the house elves/individual W&W (witches and wizards) are buying the foods directly from the farmers or farmers markets, or after placing an order having them magically appear in their houses, eliminating the need for a shop.
    It seems to me that the Magical world picks up what Muggles have made more convenient (hospitals) and completely disregard the inventions that W&W deem not as convenient (electric lights are irrelevant when you can light a bunch of candles with the same amount of energy and risk, cars are ridiculous with all the other magical ways of travel)
    I also always assumed that the ridged class society in Magical England mirrored our England, and so the ancestral Malfoys would own all the land, renting them to the rest of the people and pocketing the profits as Lords/Barons/Dukes etc did in England, allowing their descendants to be extremely wealthy and buying up magical stock in other countries' magical communities. This would allow them to do what you mentioned, buy goldmines & make deals with goblins.
    Also, JK Rowling seems to just limited herself in the books to things that harry has experienced. Adulthood is boring. There are few kids who care about being a CPA, a but there must be a Wizard Equivalent.



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