Sunday, January 26, 2014

Harry Potter - Education, Population, and Socioeconomics

As quaint as they find Muggle society, Witches and Wizards in Harry Potter seem to have a very peculiar culture of their own. After watching the films and some exhaustive online research, I find myself asking a few fundamental questions. Generally, my roommate has silenced these queries with "Oh my god shut up its just a movie you're ruining it for me," but she's not here right now, so ha!


Christmas is still celebrated, granted in its most secular aspects but still the modern form, yet what are miracles in a world of magic? Excepting resurrection, which is achieved only through the legendary resurrection stone or the blackest magic of horcruxes, every miracle traditionally attributed to Christ is taught to the average third-year. Water to wine, levitation, aparating food. These are straight-forward. (Apparently food cannot be created, only moved. This is one of magic's few fundamental restrictions, so maybe Jesus was simply an epic chef?)

There is an afterlife. Whether you've personally seen it and talked to your dead relatives and headmaster aside, ghosts are a common sight during lunch period. This … has got to put a damper on the bible and organized religion in general. If nothing else, it should codify it somehow. In the wizarding world, has the public knowledge of existence after this mortal realm simply anesthetized the more fanciful aspects of religious fervor from our hearts? Are there no Jews, no Muslims, Buddhists, or Sumerian worshipers? Since Hogwarts was founded half a millennium before the breakaway of the Anglican church, I'm going to assume they were originally Catholic at best, if not outright Pagan and animists. Perhaps they simply adopted the trappings of Christmas out of English cultural camouflage.


Which brings us to Wizard-Muggle interaction.

Apparently, the upper echelons of the Muggle world are aware of and work with the wizarding community, but it should be universally recognized that with their own history, technologies, cultures, government, and penal systems, the magical world remains completely autonomous from its mundane counterpart.

According to my roommate, a subplot from the books which never made it to screen involved Mr. Weasely's hobbyist fascination with Mundy technology, outfitting a car with levitating ability and accruing a collection of batteries. According to her, magic and muggle devices do not play well together. Sure. Fine. Don't cross the streams. I got you.

However at what point did wizard give up on technology and become complacent? Steam engines and rail cars certainly caught on for long-distance mass transport, but fireplaces, toilets, brooms, and just general aparating seem the de facto methods of transport for small groups. Streetlights are usable, but not common to the magical realms. It would not be unreasonable to say a eternally burning candle is more efficient, but this raises so many conservation of energy questions I'd like to set it aside for a moment.

At what point did wizards stop developing better equipment for daily life? The only innovations seem to be in the scope of brooms, candies and jokes, and odd personal tinkering. Culture itself seems to have stalled out some time in the early 20th century, fashion-wise, and earlier still in regards to non-magical items of utility. Perhaps we're only missing a larger picture, missing the long and varied history of magical computational tools and dictating devices. The movies do take place from 1990-1997, mind you. It's unreasonable to assume Hermione would have brought a MacBook along with her cat.

Perhaps the complete lack of awareness to modern Muggle technology and society is indicative of how we ourselves remain predominantly unaware of customs and standards in even nearby foreign nations. Is it better, then, to consider Wizarding Britain a country unto itself, occupying overlapping though quietly ceded territory with the U.K. proper?

Money, Economics, and Government:

All these items come together in a disastrous head: How the hell do Hogwarts and the wizarding community even function?

Hogwarts as a school was founded in the year 990, by the four most prominent and talented magicians of their era, somewhere in Scotland. This predates England as a unified kingdom in any semblance, and thus establishes it as a separate, non-governmental entity.

Jumping to modern usage, Hogwarts prepares all students for their O.W.L. examinations, a government-approved standardized test for budding wizards roughly akin to a combination of the SATs and a drivers test. The Ministry of Magic maintains a close relationship with the school, but it is officially a private institution.

Since only the philosopher's stone–at very, very great cost mind you–can actually create gold, actual work must go into creating the wealth by which Hogwarts is kept functioning. Wizarding families have varying economic classes, and Harry Potter himself is of no small fortune, a capitalist economy, albeit mitigated by the ability to essentially create most objects given the right materials, talent, and time–so, life–is evident. Three types of currency are also noted, exemplifying this system: 29 bronze Knuts to a silver Sickle, 17 Sickles to a gold galleon. (It's like the Imperial system on crack.) So who pays students' tuition?

It should be recognized that Hogwarts admits students very oddly. They are granted placement, and though expected to procure their own supplies, tuition, room and board, even transportation costs seem to be gifted by scholarship. It is a huge honor to be accepted to Hogwarts.

And yet every Weasley for three generations, ass-poor, has been admitted, up to four at a time. That's not fiscal prudence, that's legacy. A possible theory is that, due to its prolific nature, Hogwarts has, over a full millennium of scholarship, amassed an insane fortune from endowments, invested it wisely, and uses the proceeds to pay the way for every student who walks through its doors, likely with a not small government subsidy for adhering to O.W.L. guidelines (which they likely developed, mind you).

While other countries' schools are mentioned (never in the New World, mind you; it's quite curious American wizards never had anything to say or intervene about with the whole 'dark lord starting an ethnic cleansing' thing), Hogwarts appears to be the only Magical school in the whole of the UK. Unless they're homeschooled, every British child of hocus-pocus blood goes through those doors. These numbers cannot possibly add up, at least at face value. We know there are at least several thousand adult magic users in London's magical shopping districts alone. We've seen international Quidditch matches attended by the tens of thousands, with thirteen professional teams in England and seven different newspapers reporting on their seasons.

Or, just maybe, there is simply a wizarding version of public school, and once again we have simply viewed the lives of incredibly lucky or incredibly wealthy, predominantly white kids in high school, with a dash of alluding to racism and a whole lot of elitist class bullshit just like every other British story of the last 60 years.

But perhaps not.


How many students are there, really? J.K. Rowling initially claimed there to be about a thousand students at Hogwarts, though later revised this to about 600 as she had only written around 40 characters in Harry's year. The internet seems to have settled on three-hundred. My roommate, though I can find no mention of this number, insists there are 50 students admitted to each house, each year. That's 200 students per grade, with 7 years of schooling between them. Rounding up for error–assuming fifty is an approximate average, that's at most only 1500 undergrads at any given moment. Roughly a small community college. So somewhere between 300 and 1500 is our answer.

According to, in 2012 there were 10,466,700 schoolchildren in the whole of the UK, roughly 18.7% its total population. The population in 1998 was roughly 50 million in total, so assuming relatively stable matriculating rates over the last 16 years, that would provide Harry Potter's United Kingdom just about 9.35 million children on the high end. Comparing these two figures, we arrive at a Wizarding student, and therefore total population that is approximately 1.6% of the total British commonwealth (about 800,000 in 1998 and just about 900,000 today). On the low end, that leaves us only 1600 wizards in 1998. Spread out over the whole of the United Kingdom, this number is, at face value, insubstantial to maintain the communities seen, so the larger of the two is more likely.

That said, Hogsmeade, the closest town to Hogwarts for many miles, is the only all-wizard village in all of Scotland. What we see in London is Diagon Alley, a single street crammed full of every magical shop imaginable, and the only openly magical thoroughfare in London. While there may only be upwards of 40 or 50 shops, since we know magicians can play with spatial relations, both of people and objects, it is entirely possible that this community is displaced from the natural world to some degree, squished into less volume than it appears, or that the entryway to the Alley is in fact merely a gateway through which one is 'adjusted' to a new, more fitting, width.

The short of it is, there is a sizeable Wizard community in England–albeit a sliver minority in the total human population–and the vast majority of these magic users must go without formal education. They must take vocational training, go into family businesses, or otherwise become menial laborers. There seem to be no repercussions for dropping out after passing the O.W.L.s, as two of the Weasley clan did, though doing so before passing the follow-up N.E.W.T.s would prevent a student from landing government  and private sector jobs in certain fields.