With all the values of items that are bought and sold in Harry Potter, is it possible to approximate a high/average/low weekly take home pay for a wizard?
The only thing we know for sure? Dobby gets 4 Galleons a month
Your question requires two answers, depending on what you want to know. The average monthly salary in the wizarding community
- for its own sake
- to know how it does compare to ours.
In both cases, I would argue that no, it isn’t possible and any estimates would be bogus. The only thing we know is that Dobby gets 4 Galleons a month. I’ll show you why.
What is the average monthly salary (in Galleons, Sickels and Knuts) according to the Economic Department of the Ministry of Magic?
Abstracting from the income type (salary is only what you get from your labor), we could be interested in the mean income or GDP per capita (take total income and divide it by the number of witches/wizards in working-age) or the median household income (arrange all households from the poorest to the richest and take the income of the household exactly in the middle, the 50th percentile). Depending on how unequal the wizarding community is, mean and median income could markedly diverge (e.g. if 20% of the population earns 80% of total income), with the latter measure giving you a more representative number. If you insist on the salary you’d do the same two procedures (for mean vs median) considering only a) the salary component of total income and b) number of employees.
You immediately see that we haven’t the necessary information (national income or its distribution, salary component, working-age population or the number of employees) to do this job seriously. We also don't have a random sample of witches and wizards big enough to use the Law of large numbers. In fact, what we know is:
- The only explicit reference to a salary is the 4 Galleons a month Dobby gets at Hogwarts (Dumbledor offered him 40 and weekends off). Is this representative of anything? How does it relate to other salaries? Based on the indifference principle, we could argue that this a wage floor (if it were too good of a wage, witches/wizards, including the Hogwarts teachers, would quit their job and come to work as house-elves). However, the indifference principle rests on some crucial assumptions, starting with perfect information (Dumbledore could have made Dobby a gift by giving him a monthly salary that is 2 Galleons higher than the one of a Hogsmeade clerk, confident that nobody will know).
- The second most promising case is Slughorn, a teacher at Hogwarts. He hopes to sell Acromantula venom for 100 Galleons a pint, saying "To be frank, my salary is not large. ..." (HBP22). How should the 100 Galleons compare to Slughorn's salary to convince him it's worthwhile (and remember he has an expensive lifestyle and particular tastes)? Personally, everything up from 1/4 (i.e. from a salary of 400 Galleons downwards), but that's subjective! He could also think "hey, a free lunch!" (.5% of his salary) and grab it.
- The Weasley family: a) there is only Arthur's income as government official to (barely) sustain a family consisting of 9 people with as many as 5 children going to Hogwarts contemporaneously; b) at the start of the second year there is only 1 Galleon and a pile of Sickles in the family vault; c) the fine for the flying Ford Anglia amounts to 50 Galleons; d) the annual Daily Prophet Grand Prize Galleon Draw is worth 700 Galleons (mostly spent on the Egypt trip, some (around 7 Galleons) on a new wand for Ron); e) Mr. Weasley bets 1 Galleon on the Quidditch World Cup finale. That may seem a lot of information, but without knowing how the fine compares to the Ministry salary, how risk-averse Mr. Weasley is, with how many savings Molly and Arthur started a family or how much a typical consumer basket of a kid is worth we cannot infer anything about Mr. Weasley's salary.
So, we can say that Dobby's 4 Galleons a month may be the wage floor. That's it. We can't even say "look, the salary in the wizarding world ranges from ... to ..." (and that would already be not much, we still couldn't infer the mean or median), since we have no idea of what the upper limit is.
If we would know the average consumption basket (prices and quantities), we could add up the stuff and go on from there. The issue with this approach is that the record of economic transactions we have
- refers to a very limited number of mostly homogenous consumers (most of the time Hogwarts students);
- probably isn't even representative of this set of consumers: we know a tiny fraction of their transactions as we know a tiny fraction of their daily activities (how many times do we see them going to the bathroom and how many times do the really go and we're simply not told because the story focuses on more important things?).
We know that the smallest amount of money cited is 1 Knut (the price of a Daily Prophet issue delivered to Hogwarts students; Hagrid pays 5 Knuts in PS5), while the highest figure is 200-thousand-Galleons (what Greyback hopes to get from delivering Harry and his wand). At the end of the post, you find a list of all economically relevant passages in the seven Harry Potter books, if you're interested.
How would the average witch/wizard salary compare to ours?
Let's suppose that tomorrow JKR states that in 1991 the average monthly salary in the UK wizarding community was 250 Galleons - making all the chatter above useless. We can compute exchange rates because Gringotts would need to set it according to the world (Muggle) price of gold and silver to avoid arbitrage (indeed the fixed conversion rate between Galleons, Sickles and Knuts would lead to funny results). So on July 31, 1991, Harry's 11th birthday and first Gringotts visit, with exchange rates of WZG/USD = 9.70 and WZG/GBP = 5.76, the average witch/wizard salary was worth 2425 USD or 1440 GBP. Great! But what does it mean? It would mean very little.
We make comparisons because we deem them meaningful. We compare two heights, two weights, two people, two populations, two basketball players, two sports cars etc. We compare similar stuff to see which is bigger, taller, quicker, cooler, more elegant, more efficient and what not. With economic figures, it is not always the case, and even in our Muggle world things can get very, very tricky.
To see this we may ask ourselves how we compare per-capita income (outputs, GDP) in the real world. We want to make this comparison to understand which economies perform well (are efficient) and how well off the respective people are, but no two countries produce exactly the same output, plus the currencies are different and prices too.
- One way is to take the exchange rate of the various currencies to a common one (usually USD) and to express the income of all the countries in that currency. The problem with that is that exchange rate can change drastically even in a single day. Does Japan get 10% poorer if the value of yen drops 10% with respect to the USD? Nah. On top, the interaction between the Law of one price (tradable goods' will have the same price, corrected for transport and taxes, everywhere) and the Penn effect (non-tradable goods and services are very cheap in low-income countries) brings us to understate the income of developing nations (China's may have already surpassed the US).
This is why we use the Purchasing Power Parity:
The purchasing power parity calculation determines how much things would cost if parity did exist. It describes what each item purchased in a country would cost if it were sold in the United States. These are then added up for all the final goods and services produced in that country for that given year.
You have to construct an average consumption basket that is both representative (what people actually buy in the different countries, most importantly the shares of different consumption categories) and comparable (not identical but similar things in it, i.e. things among which the consumer is indifferent). Although it is a very hard task (here, here or here), the methods are quite advanced and give you a reasonable gauge of how advanced an economy is and how its people are doing.
These comparisons are meaningful because, by and large, we (Muggles) consume a comparable set of goods and services (food, shelter, clothes, appliances, bikes, cars, public transport, education, haircuts, movies etc.) produced with more or less the same technologies that anybody, theoretically speaking, could learn to use.
This is not true for the Muggle vs non-Muggle comparison. Even if, as humans, we share the same basic needs, witches/wizards have an enormous advantage: magic,
- which changes drastically the way these needs (and other wants) are satisfied and
- to which Muggles have no access.
Much of what Muggles need to produce with a mix of capital, natural resources, land, labor, and human capital can simply be conjured up with a charm with virtually no cost - aside from the initial investment in learning the spells. Does it make any sense to say, for example, that a trip was produced when you move by Apparition? The scarcity constraint that witches and wizards face is completely different, except for
- food and precious metals, respectively the first and probably the second Principal Exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration. But even crops and livestock can be grown, transported and prepared with the use of magic;
- land, to some extent. For one, there are property rights. Second, there are strict limits to the use of the Extention Charm;
- human capital (you have to learn how to use magic).
The divide is enormous:
- energy - you don't need electricity or the internal combustion engine make light or to get from point A to point B;
- raw materials and physical capital - you can conjure up potable water, you can take an object and transform it into a clock or a kitchen utensil and you can simply conjure up a fire without the need for wood chops;
- labor - you can use the Leviosa charm to lift heavy objects or use the washing-up spell to wash the dishes etc..
As Hagrid says:
"Why? Blimey, Harry, everyone'd be wantin' magic solutions to their problems. Nah, we're best left alone." (PS5)
The quote drives home an important point. Trade happens primarily among witches/wizards. Having a different mix of IQ, knowledge, abilities, interests, not every witch/wizard produces everything but specializes in something. In contrast, trade with Muggles is very scarce because they don't have a lasting comparative advantage. It is probably confined to three of the four resources mentioned above - food (maybe), precious metals, land (think of the camping place at the Quidditch World Cup owned by Muggles) - plus some Muggle-made goods (cars, motorbikes, radios, and televisions).
Knowing that witches/wizards made on average - say - 2425 USD (1440) back in 1991 is useless because many goods and services Muggles produced can simply be conjured, and many goods and services Muggles consume are not produced and consumed by witches/wizards and vice-versa. Moreover, given there are high (cultural and educational) barriers to labor mobility and imperfect information, we cannot really use the indifference principle (i.e. "if the living standard in the Muggle world would be perceived to be higher, witches and wizards would pour into the Muggle economy").
The most interesting case of the two economic worlds colliding is households with both Muggles and non-Muggles. It is reasonable to assume that the Muggle spouse would be better off, being able to count on magical help, literally.
In sum, a comparison of salaries/incomes between wizarding and Muggle world risks to be meaningless, a comparison between apples and oranges, considering:
- the radically different resource constraints and "technology";
- the difference in consumption baskets because of starkly different cultures and of a very limited share of tradable goods.
PS: As mentioned above, the second exception to Gamp's Law could be gold and precious metals in general, but don't make the mistake and consider that as economic wealth (you don't eat metals). As Adam Smith taught us, wealth is what a nation is able to produce and consume.
The wizarding economy in the seven Harry Potter books
A non-exhaustive list with information about economic activities, transactions, magnitudes or goods follows.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
- Hagrid pays a Daily Prophet issue (subscribed) 5 Knuts (69);
- Dragon liver is 16 Sickels / OZ (80);
- 17 silver Sickel = 1 Galleon, 29 bronze Knuts = 1 silver Sickel (84);
- Silver unicorn horns cost 21 Galleons, "minuscule, glittery black bettle eyes" 5 Knuts a scoop at the Apothecary (90);
- Harry pays 7 Galleons for his wand (96);
- Harry has "a pocket full of wizard money" at Platform 9¾ (101);
- On the Hogwarts Express, Harry gets "some of everything" from the Trolley witch and pays 7 Sickel, 7 Knuts;
- "Gold plates" at Hogwarts (130, 137);
- The Snitch is made of gold (190);
- The Philosopher's Stone is said to transform any metal into pure gold (246);
- Hagrid wins the Dragon egg in a card match (262).
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
- Muggle-baiting: there are witches/wizards who sell shrinking keys to Muggles (44);
- "Imagine a wizard buying a rusty old car". Mr. Weasley's Ford Anglia must have been owned and sold by Muggles at one point (45);
- "Lockhart's books are really expensive", according to George (50);
- "You couldn't use Galleons, Sickles, and Knuts in Muggle shops." (53);
- Hermione's parents change "ten-pound notes" at Gringotts (64);
- In Weasley's Gringotts vault there is "a small pile of silver Sickels inside, and just one gold Galleon" (65);
- Harry buys "three large strawberry-and-peanut-butter ice creams" (65);
- Mr. Weasley is fined 50 Galleons for "bewitching a Muggle car" (247);
- Draco Malfoy bets 5 Galleons that Hermione will die (297).
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- Mr. Weasley wins the annual Daily Prophet Grand Prize Galleon Draw worth 700 Galleons, mostly spent on the Egypt trip, some (around 7 Galleons) on a new wand for Ron (9-10);
- Harry refills his money bag and tries to exert self-control by reminding himself that he still has 5 years at Hogwarts (55);
- A night ride on The Knight Bus (Little Whinging to Hogwarts) costs 11 Sickels; with a hot chocolate 13 Sickels; with a hot chocolate, a bottle of water and a toothbrush 15 Sickel (38);
- At Diagon Alley, Hermione still has 10 Galleons and thinks of a birthday present for herself (62);
- Harry speaks of "hundreds of Galleons" when receiving his Firebolt (248);
- Percy bets (and wins) 10 Galleons (that he does not have) with Penny on Harry winning the Quidditch game (287);
- The time Turner's chain is apparently made of gold (440).
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- Amos Diggory says the tickets for the World Cup cost about "a sackful of Galleons" (80);
- Mr. Weasley pays with Muggle money for the camping place owned by Muggles (85);
- Mr. Weasley bets 1 Galleon on Ireland winning (97);
- Fred and George bet 37 Galleons, 15 Sickels and 3 Knuts (their "entire savings") that Ireland wins but Krum catches the Snitch, and Bagman pays 5 Galleons for their fake wand (97-98);
- At the Quidditch final, omnioculars cost 10 Galleons, a "bargain" (103);
- Magic advertisement is a thing! "The Bluebottle: A Broom for All the Family — safe, reliable, and with Built-in Anti-Burglar Buzzer … Mrs. Skower’s All-Purpose Magical Mess Remover: No Pain, No Stain! … Gladrags Wizardwear — London, Paris, Hogsmeade …" (106);
- One of the young wizards boasting themselves in the presence of the veelas says "I pull down about a hundred sacks of Galleons a year" (138);
- The prize money at the Triwizard Tournament is worth 1000 Galleons, a chance for which many would die, according to Fleur (308);
- Fred and George sell Canary Creams for 7 Sickels, a "bargain" (405);
- Dobby gets a 4-Galleon monthly salary (and one day off a month) after refusing a 40-Galleon salary (and weekends off) because he "isn't wanting too much, miss, he likes work better" (418-419);
- Ron refers to 10 Galleons as "a pocket full of Galleons" (602);
- Bagman hasn't got "2 Galleons to rub together" after his World Cup bets went sour (808);
- The 1000 Galleons Harry has won fit into a bag/sack which Harry thrust into George's hands (809-810).
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
- The Ministry put a bounty of 10,000 Galleons on Sirius' head (123);
- Sirius inherited "a decent bit of gold" from Uncle Alphard (144);
- Sirius insinuates that you can buy yourself an Orden of Merlin, First class, for "a load of gold" (151);
- Harry sees Sickles and Knuts in the fountain at the Ministry and promises to donate 10 Galleons to St. Mungo's (and later empties his entire money bag) if he doesn't get expelled from Hogwarts (164);
- The Ministry displays various golden ornaments including the statues and the gates;
- Malfoy is about to donate "a full pocket of gold" to the Minister (or the Ministry?) (198);
- Fred offers Mundungus 10 Galleons for a lot of Venomous Tentacula seeds and George considers 6 Sickles for a bag of knarl quills too much. (220-221);
- Luna is reading an issue of The Quibbler with an article about Fudge's ambition "to seize control of the goblin gold supplies" (247);
- The Weasley twins pay people for trying out their inventions (282) and have used the 1000 Galleons to buy Ron a new set of dress robes (290);
- Hermione pays 1 Knut for the Daily Prophet (286, 365);
- A bottle of butterbeer = 2 Sickles (430);
- Hermione buys a new quill at Scrivenshaft's Quill Shop for 15 Sickels and 2 Knuts (446);
- George and Fred collect about 26 Galleons selling Puking Pastilles to students (472);
- Ron says he has no real Galleons with which he could confuse the fake D.A. Galleon (512);
- The trip Grimmauld Square-Hogwarts by The Knight Bus costs 11 Sickles (671);
- The twins sell headless hats for 2 Galleons each (690);
- Harry leaves 1 Galleon for consuming two coffees at Madam Puddifoot's (717);
- The twins sell their Basic Blaze box for 5 Galleons, their Deflagration Deluxe for 20 Galleons (809);
- Ron claims his twin brothers needed "loads of Galleons to afford the rent on a place in Diagon Alley" (868);
- Eddie Carmichael sells a pint of Baruffio's Brain Elixir for "mere twelve Galleons" (904).
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
- Metamorph-Medals are sold for 10 Galleons (97);
- The Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes products in Ron's arms are worth 3 Galleons, 9 Sickles and 1 Knut (135);
- The Necklace at Borgin&Burkes costs 1500 Galleons, the skull 16 Galleons (141);
- The textbook "Advanced Potion-Making" costs 9 Galleons (247);
- Caractacus Burke gave Merope 10 Galleons for Slytherin's Locket, although its value was much higher (293);
- Hogwarts has a fund "for those who require assistance to buy books and robes" (307);
- Participating in the Apparition course provided by the Ministry costs 12 Galleons (399);
- Tom Riddle offered Hepzibah Smith 500 Galleons for a goblin-made armor (489);
- Slughorn hopes to sell a pint of Acromantula venom for 100 Galleons saying "To be frank, my salary is not large. ..." (541).
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
- Ordinary invisibility cloaks are "not exactly ten a Knut", according to Ron (470);
- Greyback estimates that the bounty on Harry plus his wand is worth about 200000 Galleons, while he gets 5 Galleons for each Mudblood (512);
- Hermione speaks of a 10000-Galleon price on Harry's head (259).