Harry Potter And The Free Market
In the course of reading through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, a particular passage early on jumped out at me. Ron?s older brother Percy is a rather officious git who, after graduating from Hogwarts, is now a member of the Ministry of Magic, working specifically in the ?Department of International Magical Cooperation.? Harry had the unfortunate luck to ask Percy what he was working on, and Percy replied (before being cut off by Ron):
?We?re trying to standardize cauldron thickness. Some of these foreign imports are just too thin ? leakages have been increasing at a rate of almost three percent a year ? [?] but unless some sort of international law is imposed we might well find the market flooded with flimsy, shallow-bottomed products that seriously endanger?
In that passage we find Percy echoing the sentiments of many people in the real world with regards to markets- that unless some smart and right-thinking people at a bureau somewhere intervene and regulate, then everything good in the world (and market) will naturally go to rot, you?ll have dogs and cats living together- mass hysteria! As far as wizard cauldrons go, perhaps the wizarding world has come to be more sensitive to price than leakage, and so doesn?t mind the uptick in leakage rate. And if leakage were as much a problem as Percy and the Ministry thinks it is, surely there would come a time where overly leaky cauldrons simply wouldn?t sell. In either case, there isn?t in truth any real problem for the ministry to solve, but the bureaucracy?s nature is to try and regulate regardless. It never occurs to people like Percy that more often than not, the nightmare scenario never comes to pass because people aren?t as robotic and simple-minded as the would-be regulators believe (and are quite capable of determining their own wants, values, and minimum standards).
And given the many implied instances of bribe taking, graft & corruption at the Ministry of Magic (what with Lucius Malfoy constantly bribing officials into doing his bidding), it wouldn?t surprise me to find that behind Percy?s department?s ?concern? is a consortium of English cauldronmakers who, rather than face the verdict of the market (that people prefer thinner cauldrons to theirs), want artificial barriers put up to stop competition and ensure their profits at the expense of the regular English wizarding community.
I found it gratifying, then, that Ms. Rowling chose to mock the position of the regulators, suggesting that far from being important, Percy?s (and his department?s) concern with such minutiae were hardly worthy of consideration at all- an admirable free-market position!