December 4, 2002

No, not that Harry Potter V (the one everyone’s waiting for J.K. Rowling to finish), but rather my fifth (I think) post on this topic. Via one of the Volokhs comes an article by Andrew Morris (skip the optional registration) arguing that Harry Potter lives in a classically Liberal paradise. Private industry thrives, government is weak and generally incompetent, Hogwarts is “more or less a charter school”, there’s “no minimum wage for Wizards”, “no anti-discrimination laws” and “Rowling seems to have a firm grasp of the basics of public choice theory”.

Cracks abound. I wouldn’t bet heavily on the lack of anti-discrimination laws. There’s certainly an anti-discrimination policy. Hogwarts takes all-comers with magical talent regardless of background, much to the disgust of the Malfoys of the world. Perhaps there’s a Muggle vs Board of Hogwarts in the past somewhere. Morriss also worries that “the most recent book comes closest to touching on a potential issue of political correctness”, namely the status of the House Elves—- what Marx might have called the Elvish Question. Of course he dismisses this as mere “political correctness” and suggests that Hermione’s difficulties with her campaign expose it as such. It doesn’t occur to him, incidentally, that having a large class of slaves might take the pressure off demands for a minimum wage. If the state isn’t that large, in outlook and operation it seems to resemble the British Civil Service (of the Yes, Minister variety) more than a Nozickian Nightwatchman. (There’s a Department of Muggle Affairs, too.) And Hogwarts seems to require courses in Muggle Studies—- sounds like mandatory PC sensitivity training to me! And so on.

But let’s not get too het up. Morriss is careful not to confuse Harry Potter with the real classics:

These books are not, however, junior versions of Atlas Shrugged. There is no overriding message of liberty, or anything else that I am aware of, in the books. And perhaps I am reading a bit much into them. After all, the Harry Potter books are first and foremost well-written escapist fantasy about kids being kids.

If forced to choose, I think I’ll take well-written escapist fantasy about kids being kids over badly-written escapist fantasy about adults being adolescents. (By the way, does anyone want to go halves with me on a robotic Ayn Rand?) In the meantime, consider the first point Morriss makes about the virtues of Harry’s world:

Classical liberals should love Harry Potter because …[of] its banking and monetary system. Really. Wizards do not use ordinary English fiat currency, instead their money supply is based on precious metals. Gold Galleons, Silver Sickles, and Copper Knuts are the basis of wizarding commercial transactions. And there are lots of those transactionsdespite their powers, wizards must buy most of the things they need from the private sector.

It’s good to see that the magic of the market even beats the magic of, um, magic. And best of all, Gringotts uses real money made of gold, silver and copper—- things that have real value, not like paper money. Seems like Morriss may be prone to a little magical thinking himself.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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