Would you want to live in the world of Harry Potter? Many readers wish they could magically transport themselves to Hogwarts or Diagon Alley, but despite all the witchcraft and wizardry, J.K. Rowling’s fictional world is simply not as good as ours. Life in the real world today is safer, more prosperous, and more comfortable than it has ever been. Why would anyone prefer the magical world of stymied progress and arbitrary authority?
Why restrict free exchange between the magical and muggle worlds?
The Harry Potter series is a great and epic story, but we must not be blinded by our love for it. Witches and wizards are stuck, after all, with Medieval technology. They can rarely make use of the nonmagical muggle world’s developments, nor can they unite the best of both worlds, because government regulations forbid them from doing so.
Even before the rise of Voldemort, the Ministry of Magic undermined the magical world, preserving poverty and hindering progress.
Consider this exchange between young Harry and the gentle giant who introduces him to the magical world:
“But what does a Ministry of Magic do?”
“Well, their main job is to keep it from the Muggles that there’s still witches an’ wizards up an’ down the country.”
“Why? Blimey, Harry, everyone’d be wantin’ magic solutions to their problems. Nah, we’re best left alone.”
Some libertarians have tried to claim Harry as one of their own, but notice that Harry never questions the continuing existence of the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy long after muggles have stopped persecuting witches.
It is a grave mistake of the Ministry of Magic not to see magic as a service. The wizards know there is a muggle demand for magic, and sorcery is not a “fixed pie.” Why restrict free exchange between the magical and muggle worlds? Imagine if the Weasleys, who struggle financially, could perform magic for money. They could rise out of poverty while making muggles’ lives easier.
The ministry, however, not only forbids such voluntary exchanges; it even outlaws the magical use of muggle technology. Sorry, everyone: no flying cars allowed. (Notice, however, that the magical government exempts itself from such restrictions, as the ministry cars can magically jump ahead of traffic.)
The books’ protagonists fight for the rights of various creatures, but they still look down on muggles, however lovingly. The word muggle is even used by otherwise sympathetic characters as an expletive. Free trade with the muggles, where both parties can reveal who they actually are, would create tolerance as each side could supply the other with useful goods. What we have instead is a trade embargo that the muggles don’t even know about. In our world, embargoes are designed to isolate and punish an enemy. Apparently, Voldemort and his minions aren’t the only ones who see muggles as the enemies of witches and wizards.
Meanwhile, Hogwarts still has torches for lighting, and on school grounds there is neither Internet access nor mobile phones, because, it is claimed, strong magic interferes with technology. Are we really to believe that muggle engineers and the professors of magic, working together, would be unable to figure something out?
A free and functional economic system requires the rule of law, something the wizards lack. There is no separation of powers in the magical world, no constitution, no civil oversight, no transparency, and no sign of elections. Due process is apparently an unpredictable privilege, as the Minister of Magic can turn up one night on your doorstep and willy-nilly throw you in jail for no defined period.
A free and functional economic system requires the rule of law, something the wizards lack.
Perhaps Rowling created her fictional world as a satirical comment on her own experience of Britain, but if so, why does she have her hero join the very ministry that keeps the magical community so impoverished and vulnerable? Is it possible she doesn’t understand the political economy of our world well enough to have imagined a better magical alternative?
Despite her shortcomings vis-á-vis economics and politics, Rowling clearly wanted to promote tolerance among her readers, and this she did with great success. Depicting free trade would have created better circumstances to overcome prejudices in her novels, but it is still apparent that, through Harry Potter and his friends, readers are encouraged to step up against major injustices and to what the politicians and media say with skepticism.
When Voldemort returned, the protagonists’ stance became consistently more inclined toward liberty. Rowling masterfully got at least one political phenomenon right: as a response to the external threat of Voldemort, the ministry increased its already immense powers and replied to the fear of authoritarianism by authoritarian measures. The people on Harry’s side fought not only the evil wizard, but their own ministry as well.
Therein lies an important lesson. Do not be bystanders. Few wizards were willing to stand up either to the Ministry of Magic or to Voldemort. Even the minister for magic was loath to admit that the dark wizard had returned, as this would have upset his comfortable lifestyle. Those who turned a blind eye were no less affected by Voldemort’s return.
Rowling’s message is powerful: dare to step up, and act before it is too late.
In the end, Harry Potter defeats the dark lord, despite the magical government’s efforts to hinder him. Harry and his friends started a grassroots movement, which grew in influence and managed to conquer the forces of evil. Students can change the world — and not only in fiction. (See “A Student’s Essay That Changed the World,” Freeman, May 2005.)
After Voldemort was defeated, the ministry probably returned to the status quo ante, stepping in the way of progress and prosperity through pointless regulations. But if there are more active students who, encouraged by Harry Potter’s example, dare to raise their voices for free trade, the witches and wizards could live in harmony with the muggles as equals, and both would benefit from voluntary exchange between their worlds.
Whatever the drawbacks of the Potterverse, Rowling’s millions of fans will continue to fantasize about sharing it with Harry and his friends. I, however, feel much more comfortable in my electrically lit room, typing away on my laptop and listening to music form the Internet.
Harry Potter’s is a magical world, but if we learn from its errors, ours can be even more so.