I just saw the latest Harry Potter movie and that renewed an ongoing question I’ve had about the series. It’s fine for Harry to spend all his time preparing for the ultimate battle with the Dark Lord and fight prelude skirmishes along the way, but what of the rest of the students? And what of the times before Harry met Malfoy, and the times after, assuming Good triumphs over Evil? In the engaging world J.K. Rowling fabricates, there’s a proscription against practicing magic among muggles (non-wizardly humans) so my natural question is, what do all the graduates of Hogwarts Academy do when they grow up? This is the great missing chapter of Harry Potter. Hogwarts sure has a lot of aspiring wizards, and there’s a thriving magic subculture in muggle England. What are its economics?
In the movie Practical Magic, witch Sandra Bullock ran a little pharmacopia in her village, remedying baldness and erectile dysfunction (the latter an easy mark for Bullock, I’m told) and probably other garden-variety illnesses poorly served by HMOs and Duane Reade. Seems like a respectable profession for a magical person: pays the bills, helps people, relatively discreet as long as you don’t make an infomercial. I could use a wizard car mechanic to cure those squeaks and rattles that only occur when the car isn’t in the shop, or a travel agent that would find me an exit-row seat on an early morning flight to Chicago.
Perhaps these simple occupations wouldn’t appeal to those drawn to darker magic. Program trading has a large element of the occult in it to begin with, but a little dash extra would certainly be welcome. It might also explain George Soros. The military would be interested, the mafia for sure, and we’d all be better off if real estate developers had the wisdom of Dumbledore (a name which sounds appropriate only for Donald Trump).
But Harry Potter doesn’t go there, except for a visit to the wizards’ vaults, guarded by gnomes who probably came from Switzerland. There was clearly a lot of wealth sloshing around Diagon Alley and the other venues of Potterland, but where it came from is never fully explained. Potter’s only job seems to be to battle the Dark Lord, and when that’s over, he’d better have a good 401-k.
Which brings us to the United States’ clearly non-magical existence today. We’re focused on getting through the financial meltdown, the real estate collapse, Iraq, Afghanistan and Homeland Security. The sides of the political aisle are as polarized as dragons and their slayers, pro-choice and pro-life see their conflict in epic terms, and 30-50% of Americans hold beliefs as unscientific as Hagrid’s menagerie. Meanwhile, we’re ignoring our everyday economics as completely as Rowling.
These questions are a simple for us as they are for Harry, Ron and Hermione. What jobs will there be when you graduate, and how can you monetize your skills? Can those jobs become careers? We know you’re likely to have many jobs over your lifetime, but within how many different careers will they be? Ancient spells may be the best, but how will you keep current with new ones? Our characters have been at Hogwarts six years now, so that means it’s a high-school-and-college program. If they get B.A.s in magic, where do they go for MBAs in applying it? Or M.D.s, J.D.s, M.F.A.s or merely additional certificates to keep their skills fresh and their knowledge growing? Incantations are spoken in Latin, but what other languages are we learning? Do they teach Mandarin at Hogwarts? How many wizards are learning it? How many Americans, and will we have to? Wizards are wonderful, but they don’t grow their own bugweed and harvest their own newts’ eyes. Is there a community college down the road from Hogwarts? How many assistants-per-sorcerer is the right ratio? What do they make? How many years must they study? The school has seen some serious damage across the six movies – how do they pay for repairs? Who runs the development office? What kind of fundraising works with wizards? Nothing is ever said of tuition. Are they all there on scholarships? I bet Malfoy pays full freight, but our hero clearly can’t afford that. We don’t see any of the kids doing work-study jobs. Have they student loans? How will they pay them off? Where do wizards live? The few homes we see, are they mortgaged or fully paid for? Does anyone ever retire from magic or is it like the Mob? Dumbledore’s 150 years old and still works a demanding full-time job. Will we all have to do that when social security goes bust? When Ron was in hospital in the current movie, did he have to grapple with an HMO, or only the poisoned elixir? (Me, I’ll take arsenic any day over a phone call to United Healthcare.)
Washington is debating that last question now. But the rest of them are as absent from the political dialog as Britney Spears is from the pages of the Daily Prophet. Between 9/11/2001 and Bear Stearns and from Bear to today, we’ve been focused on our own Lord Voldermort, and perhaps rightfully so. But the day comes when either he wins, we do, or a stalemate settles into place. That’s the world Harry’s classmates will graduate into, and that’s the world in which we all live when not being patted down by TSA or refinancing our balloon mortgages. California will muddle through, New York State’s legislature will clean up its act, death-eaters will be vanquished and dementers countered. But then what? Rowling doesn’t answer, and often neither do our universities, foundations, corporations, or governments. My (pointy) hat’s off to those who do, but mostly the hard work’s not there, and neither is the magic.
No potions were used in the writing of this column.