Harry Potter and the Labour Theory of Value

Modern bourgeois society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells. 

– Marx & Engels, The Communist Manifesto

In this post, I noticed that Star Trek portrays the society of the future as essentially capitalist (in all but name) despite the fact that the people of the Federation have ‘Replicators’ that can summon material objects out of pure energy. Such a development of the forces of production ought to have banished scarcity of any description, thus also banishing any need for the exploitation of labour, the extraction of surplus and the existence of class, along with many other features of capitalism which persist (open or half-hidden) in the Roddenberry/Berman utopia.  In short, given the technology it possesses, the Federation ought to look a lot more like ‘the Culture’ of Iain M. Banks’ (though, actually, the Culture is as much a liberal vision as it is socialist or anarchist… with its dependence upon the benevolent dictatorship of super-smart AIs and its liberal imperialism… but that’s a different essay).

There is a similar problem for the ‘wizarding world’ of Harry Potter, for all Rowling’s hasty and hamfisted improvisations about it being impossible to magic-up food. We know that magic allows wizards to transform goblets into rats.  Why then do 11yr old wizards, preparing for their first year at Hogwarts, have to go to Diagon Alley and buy rats (or cats or toads or cutsey owls) from a shop?  In a world where magic washes the dishes, there can be no need for labour.

If one can make things without labour, why labour?  Why produce, distribute and exchange?  Why teach?  Why make or do anything?

Labour – making things, doing things, thus changing your environment – is perhaps the most essential aspect of human nature.  In the wizarding world, this essential human quality is degraded and potentially denied.  Maybe this is why so many of the inhabitants of the wizarding world seem to empty and sterile and dull… they are deprived of any real meaning and content to their activity as human beings.

Yes, I know it takes a lot of work to make a potion in Professor Snape’s class… but the question remains: why not just magic-up a potion from thin air?  Or just magic-up the desired effect of the potion?  Is this impossible?  Okay… then the immediate next question is: why?  The wizards can magic-up light from nowhere by just muttering “lumos”.  Light is material, remember?  Why is this material summonable ex nihilo while others are not?

The cynical answer is to do with J. K. Rowling being a lazy hack.

The cuddly answer is to do with it just being a bit of fun for kids (okay, fine… but somebody please remind Rowling, yes?)

The interesting answer is that there is no answer and cannot be. …

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