As anyone with children can tell you, the Harry Potter books by British author J. K. Rowling have taken the world by storm. Now in its fourth installment, this series of stories about the education of a young British wizard at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is wildly popular with children and adults alike. Harry made the cover of Newsweek, prompted the redesign of the New York Times bestseller list (authors of adult books complained that the Potter books were occupying too much room at the top of the list), jolted the publishing industry (Americans buying the books from Amazon.co.uk forced the US. publisher to alter its publication schedule), prompted attempts to remove the book from schools (some religious parents objected to the depiction of witchcraft as wholesome), and upset critic Harold Bloom (he didn't think the books lived up to The Wind in the allows).
The Potter books are, despite Bloom's criticism, great fun to read. Rowling is also the best known "welfare to work" story I've heard in quite some time. The first book was written (supposedly on napkins) in coffee shops in Britain while the single mother was on welfare-she's now obviously become quite wealthy. But those aren't the reasons classical liberals should love these books.
First, for those who have somehow missed the stories, here is the plot in a nutshell. Harry Potter was orphaned as an infant when the evil Lord Voldemort killed Harry's parents while attempting to use his magical powers to take over the world. Harry then spent his first ten years living with his thoroughly repulsive Muggle (nonmagical) Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and cousin Dudley Dursley. Then Harry was whisked away to Hogwarts to begin a seven-year education, although he still spends summers with the Dursleys. Along the way, Harry makes friends with other wizard kids, battles Lord Voldemort, plays an exciting wizard sport called Quidditch for his house team, and learns about the ways of wizards. Telling you more would spoil the books.
Classical liberals should love Harry Potter because there are three strikingly classical liberal features of the wizarding world. The first is 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 transactions--despite their powers, wizards must buy most of the things they need from the private sector. Wizards keep their money in Gringotts, a private bank run by goblins who are quite ruthless in protecting the money entrusted to their care.
The second classical liberal feature is the extent to which commerce is presented favorably. True, Uncle Vernon's business career, like everything else about Uncle Vernon, is not exactly gripping stuff. But the most exciting places in the wizarding world are Diagon Alley, the wizard shopping zone in London, and Hogsmeade, the only all-wizard village in England, which is crammed to the gills with fascinating shops. Harry's friends, George and Fred Weasley, aspire to open a shop themselves, selling wizarding jokes, rather than follow their brother and father into government. Sporting broomsticks are manufactured competitively, and new models are brought out as regularly as new cars are in the Muggle world.
Most important, however, is the role of the government. Wizards don't have much to do with Muggles, and so most of the British government has little relevance to the lives of wizards-truly a fantasy situation. Nonetheless, there is a Ministry of Magic, headed by a wizard minister. What is amazing-remember these are books by a former welfare mother-is that the ministry does almost nothing. Its primary focus is preventing Muggles from figuring out that there are wizards living among them-allowing the wizards to live in peace. …