Thursday, May 24, 2012

A comment on the economics of Harry Potter

And, oh yes, we're back in CA safe and sound, happy to be well-fed on fresh fruits, vegetables, and Mexican seasonings, and well-rested but on East Coast time.

For some reason this early morning, I was pondering on the holes in the Harry Potter series, specifically the economics holes.  This is all very nit-picky as most fantasy/sci-fi authors ignore or try to wave away economics (replicators destroy money, replaced by gold pressed latinum, anyone?). But it is instructive of the kinds of things we forget markets provide for us. Today's installment: the markets for education and food.

1) The only ways Rowling deals with class are to have tension between an aristocracy and everyone else (mostly Malfoys and their aristocratic henchmen ... say what?) and a downtrodden caste (little green elves). So here's my question: why do the Malfoys send their kids to a school that is affordable by people like the Weasleys? Britain has a long and venerable tradition of "public" schools that are really private, so it's a surprising oversight to me. There is no mention of the tuition fees at Hogwarts, room and board fees which are quite substantial at British boarding schools, scholarships (why does Ron never worry about maintaining a high-enough GPA given his study habits?) and so forth. If the students aren't paying, where does Hogwarts get its money? If the school is totally public, the Ministry ought to be able to exercise a lot more control than it seems to.

2) Where does the food come from? Elves can't magic it up. Mrs. Weasley doesn't create food, but has a potato peeling spell. Are the wizards buying food from Muggles? If they are regularly buying goods and services from Muggles, why do they have truly no concept about their culture, ways, technology, and fashion? If not, where are the wizard farmers who grow food instead of reagents? Speaking of which, where is the foodie movement, arguing that non-magically modified organisms simply taste better and are healthier for you? I've always wondered in general why they never teach the potato peeling spell at school - where are home economics, barbering (how to not cut yourself with magically-propelled scissors, how to get your hair to change the exact shade you want, etc), wizard fashions, and other useful and applied classes that would help them function in the world without needing to deal with Muggle markets?