47

Why, oh why, don't the Weasleys "conjure" up some diamonds/gold/etc, sell 'em to Muggles, and get rich? They could buy a mansion (like the Malfoys), and live there happily ever after.

I know there's Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration that prohibits one from conjuring food (which doesn't make much sense to me, either). Even if it applied to gold, what about all the other elements/compounds/materials? Could the law really be 'don't let a wizard conjure something if it'll make them richer'? That's totally nonsensical.

Why does Wizard society still have poor people, especially if they're talented?

  • 2
    Why does one need money period when they can conjure/duplicate all of life's essentials? Money does NOT equal wealth. – Mojo Feb 19 '12 at 15:08
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    Surely the same reason as the muggle world has poor people who are talented. Not all talent is equally well rewarded. The Weasleys talents were not the best rewarded ones in any world. – Schroedingers Cat Feb 19 '12 at 17:31
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    "Reparo" seems like a great business model too. If a pre-first year can fix glasses with a wave of a wand, a 7th year muggleborn could do do very well in antiques. – Dave X Jan 17 '17 at 16:19

14 Answers 14

34

Keep in mind there are two types of monetary wealth in the HP world.

Muggle wealth is the money that we are all familiar with, and can only be used to purchase goods and services from Muggles.

Wizarding money is used to purchase goods and services from Wizard society.

For the most part, there's very little that members of Wizard society want or need from Muggles. Property, housing, and food really seem to be about the extent of it for the vast majority of Wizard families. Most families already have established properties and houses, and using magic would, in most cases, make expanding or modifying houses much easier. Which leaves food, for those families who don't already grow or raise their own. However, food can most likely also be obtained from other members of Wizard society (in a market as crowded as Diagon Alley there's almost certainly some grocers, and as further evidence many wizards are so unused to Muggle society that they are incapable of fitting in for even short trips, which implies that they are not making regular trips to the supermarket for food). Add to this mix the convenience of traveling to Wizardly destinations via Floo network, and it seems that the need to purchase from Muggles is a relatively rare occurrence.

Even if a Wizard or Witch did want something from the Muggles, and conjured up gold, or jewels, they'd have to find some way to convert them into Muggle currency. Selling a small fortune in valuable merchandise is not a quick and easy process if you attempt to do it legally, especially if you are shabbily or even oddly dressed, and seem completely unfamiliar with the relative value of currency.

In short, it is no doubt possible for a Wizard to get very rich in Muggle currency, but it is not necessarily easy, convenient, or altogether useful to do so.

As for Wizarding money, it is almost certain that it cannot simply be summoned or transmuted. The whole point of currency is to act as a convenient marker for goods or services that have value and are worth exchanging for goods or services of similar value. In order for currency to be a convenient marker, everyone using it must agree to its relative value, and agree to keep that relative value stable. I think it can be assumed that there are checks and balances in place to insure that magical forgery of the currency is difficult, if not impossible, and that anyone caught doing so would be severely disciplined.

If conjuring gold, or transmuting glass into diamonds, or some other means of conjuring "wealth" would be possible, then those materials simply would not be valuable to Wizards. Why would one wizard buy or trade for diamonds that another wizard conjured or transformed, when they could almost certainly do the same themselves?

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    Let's say a Muggle-born wizard who knows the ways of the Muggle world were to create platinum and sell it to Muggles (under the disguise of a 'mining company' or appearing as a very rich person), they could gain significant amounts of money, and through care, remain unnoticed. Then, they could use the money to buy Muggle-Wizard items (food, etc) in relatively unlimited quantities. This would relieve them of part of their financial woes, and their Wizarding financial position might improve significantly over time. They may even become the next Malfoys, if they're good businesswizards. – Mateen Ulhaq Jun 6 '12 at 1:22
  • But then again, all that is a bit 'complicated', and maybe Wizards aren't interested in controlling Muggles (through wealth) or getting "Wizard-rich". – Mateen Ulhaq Jun 6 '12 at 1:23
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    Hermione converts her Muggle money to Gringotts gold (in PoA if I recall), however, meaning that Muggle money CAN be converted – user30472 Dec 2 '14 at 20:29
  • perhaps that is an accommodation reserved only for muggle-born Hogwarts students @eliyahu-g – NKCampbell Jun 17 '16 at 21:13
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    @MateenUlhaq What you're describing would probably be the wizard equivalent of a criminal enterprise, because you'd almost certainly be breaking wizard laws; you're selling something wizard-made (and essentially counterfeit) to Muggles in exchange for Muggle money, converting the Muggle money to wizard money (turning "bad" money into "good"), and using it on wizard goods/services. In the real world, that's called money laundering and people do get rich that way-- until they're caught. – PlutoThePlanet Apr 19 '17 at 18:00
28

System and logic have never been the strong points of the Potterverse when it came to magic. Without the restrictions literally everything would be possible, even the most illogical things. With the restrictions, things get a bit more logical, but the restrictions themselves are nonsensical. I think J.K. Rowling realized that and, in trying to minimize the WTF-factor, decided to go with nonsensical restrictions rather than nonsensical permissions.

  • This is a good point, though really a comment more than an answer to the question. The lack of details/logic/consistency in a magic system in books like Harry Potter can make the world seem more mysterious and "magical" but if you want those things in your magic systems, try Brandon Sanderson, who carefully constructs his magic systems so you can really think them through, which creates some cool problem-solving by the characters (I love both styles, myself). – MGOwen May 9 '11 at 3:27
26

Because wizards creating money would produce a huge inflationary process in the Muggle society. So probably the Ministry of Magic would ban selling any magically created objects to Muggles under the pain of Azkaban. They have the Improper Use of Magic Office and Aurors, remember? Messing with them is thus a bad idea, unless you are an evil all-powerful overlord.

As for intra-wizard trade, any merchant that does not want to go broke would probably have means of detecting forgeries, just as in our Muggle world they do :)

  • 4
    I know this is the highest up-voted answer, but IMHO it makes no sense at all. There are VERY few wizards, so the "inflationary pressure" would be miniscule. See scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/3354/… – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 9 '11 at 18:44
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    @DVK: not if they would generate huge amounts of money each. And anyway, Ministry of Magic's modus operandi seems to suggest anything that can be considered as mixing the worlds or turning undue attention to wizards would be prohibited. Having somebody that has no apparent source of income but generates huge amounts of money out of the thin air would certainly be a problem for them. – StasM May 10 '11 at 0:39
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    Malfoys seem to be on the equivalent of millionaires. Most of it OLD money, not current income. So, say we have 1mm yearly new income for them. UK GDP in 2000 was $1.4 TRILLION. If all of regular non-high-end wizards go for, say, $100k gold sold a year/family, and you have 10000 of them in the UK (with average of 4 ppl /family), you get an extra 2500*100k=$250MM extra. In 1.4 TRILLION economy that's not even noticeable as far as inflationary pressure, though if they all specifically sell REAL (not leprechaun) gold, the price of gold goes down. – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 10 '11 at 2:39
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    I wouldn't say it would be negligible. Musa 1 of Mali went on pilgrimage to Mecca and spent so much on route he basically bankrupted 3 cities because his influx of money devalued gold. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musa_I_of_Mali – user46509 Jan 24 '16 at 19:13
12

Magical gold comes up at the World Quidditch Tournament where the Irish leprechaun mascot throw it out to the crowd - it disappears by the next morning. This seems to be a common thing with magically created items (not the same as items that are enchanted) - they are transitory.

Also, there are wizarding laws about showing magic to muggles, which a family like the Weasley's are going to follow, even to their disadvantage.

  • How about the rest of the wizarding world that doesn't work at the Ministry? They just need to trade the gold for money (or something similar), and devise a system in which the Muggles won't be looking at the gold when it disappears. – Mateen Ulhaq May 8 '11 at 23:43
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    Good question - and looking at the richer families of the wizarding world, they mostly seem to be the most likely to be bad, too (the Malfoys, the Blacks [not Sirius], etc) - so maybe they are using ill-gotten gains... – HorusKol May 9 '11 at 8:05
9

I'm going to put several answers together, and add in a bit of own bit.

First of all, here's a few facts.

  1. If money was easy to come by, no one would work at all. Thus, money would become worthless.
  2. The wizards don't want to do anything to mess up the muggle world.
  3. It doesn't look like anything is ever really created, but rather, summoned from other locations.

Given these, it seems likely that there must be some laws protecting the money system, some that even the worst wizard will have to follow. Of course, we don't have positive proof that any such law exists, except that there are rich wizards, poor wizards, and magical gold disappears. The following bit I'm going to put in what I would do if I were in charge, and hope that the wizarding world has implemented a few of these things.

  1. Wizard gold much have something done to it to ensure its authenticity.
  2. There must be a spell similar to the decree against under age magic that prevents one from summoning gold, period.
  3. Any creation of gold is similarly temporary.

I would also argue that wizards in general ARE richer than muggles. With the exception of the Weasleys, we don't see any poor wizards, and we do see several rich wizards. I don't know how this plays into things, but...

  • 1. is true (Goblins administer at least the UK monetary system, and have their own means of ensuring authenticity), 2. is probably false, 3. might be true. – Adamant Jan 7 '17 at 5:55
7

For the same reason every programmer in our world is not rich. We are considering programmers selling code to non programmers here. Most of it is to do with talent and who you are working for (google, bank, small startup). Some of it is do with simple politics. Same goes for lawyers, accountants, coffee makers, bartenders etc.

Now let's consider programmer to programmer (or banker to banker etc.).

In the wizard world, remember that while everyone can do magic not everyone is good at it. Hence, if you want to buy a cauldron, you go to someone who makes the best cauldrons and offer them something of your own creation or provide them with a service -barter. To eliminate barter, money was invented and it works just as muggle money does. Producing counterfeit money is a crime.

If you know how to conjure silver, go sell it! If a lot of people know that art then it won't fetch you a lot of money (demand/supply).

6

In-universe there are several places where it is implied that objects of seeming value can nevertheless be detected to be fakes, and therefore worthless. Examples:

  • Leprechaun gold (disappears after a few hours; Gringott's goblins can detect it on close inspection)

  • Geminio-made copies (anything Harry and his friends touched in the LeStrange vault multiplied, but Griphook specifically said the copies were worthless; obviously the difference is detectable)

  • The Sword of Griffindor (most likely another example of the Geminio charm; again, a ex-Gringott's goblin was able to tell it was a copy in the book)

Thus, it is perfectly possible to transfigure something worthless into something apparently valuable, or even conjure something valuable out of nonbeing; however, it's always possible to tell the difference no matter how good you are. It would be like making counterfeit money; sooner or later the fraud will be detected, so the best you can do is run a passing con on someone you'll never see again (which happens in the books as well).

  • They could still fool the muggles, trade the "fool's gold" for something equally (or less) valuable. :P Stupid muggles would be like "'OMG! Someone stole my gold I bought two hours ago!". – Mateen Ulhaq Oct 20 '11 at 3:02
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    And of course that's illegal by Wizarding law. Arthur Weasley's job is to investigate very similar cases of "Muggle-baiting"; tricks like vanishing keys, biting teakettles, etc etc. – KeithS Oct 20 '11 at 14:03
6

As usual, the answer in Wizarding world is "because bad government!".

Q: It seems that the wizards and witches at Hogwarts are able to conjure up many things, such as food for the feasts, chairs and sleeping bags. . .if this is so, why does the wizarding world need money ? What are the limitations on the material objects you can conjure up ? It seems unnecessary that the Weasleys would be in such need of money. . . (Jan Campbell)
A: Very good question (well done, Jan!!). There is legislation about what you can conjure and what you can't. Something that you conjure out of thin air will not last. This is a rule I set down for myself early on. I love these logical questions!
(src: "World Exclusive Interview with J K Rowling," South West News Service, 8 July 2000)

  • Good answer (and great find; I’ll put a bounty on this later to see if this answer can get higher)…but I think she’s making two points here: that there’s legislation, and that stuff you conjure won’t last (fundamentally). While it’s almost certain that there’s legislation on conjuration (don’t conjure any Muggle money, or we’ll throw you in Azkaban), there’s also Gamp’s law and other magical restrictions on what one can conjure. Based on the way Hermione talked about it, I don’t think she meant “a law based on what happened to Gamp,” but “some principle of magic discovered by Gamp.” – Adamant Jan 7 '17 at 6:01
  • So, although this is a great answer, I think it could do with some elaboration with respect to two points: 1) Poor wizards cannot simply conjure all their necessities out of thin air, not if they want them to last. 2). Any Muggle currency or money that was conjured (and possibly even transfigured) would eventually revert to its original form, leaving an angry Muggle and a serious breach of the Statute of Secrecy (thus the laws). – Adamant Jan 7 '17 at 6:06
5

Certainly not HP canon, but...

If we're talking about objects with intrinsic value (like gold), in most fantasy settings magical creation of wealth is typically handled by two basic limits of magic:

  1. If it's summoned, it must be summoned from somewhere (usually not someplace of the caster's choosing unless it's something they own). This means the summoning of wealth is the equivalent of theft.
  2. If it's magically created, the spell typically has a limited duration or is otherwise obviously artificial (couldn't be melted down like real gold, for example). This means creating it out of thin air is essentially fraud.

The reason these rules are usually in place is because too many things about the world stop making sense if they don't, and the world is completely unrecognizable to the reader. If I can create gold to solve my problems, well, I can create anything to solve any problem, and there are largely then no problems at all. That's a pretty boring story. It's not a unlimited-money-is-boring problem. It's an omnipotent-magic-is-boring problem.

As far as fiat money (aka, paper money), laws regarding counterfeit money would apply. Magically created money, no matter how sound, would not be money. It would be counterfeit because it wasn't produced legally. Presumably, the measures of wealth in HP's world would bear magical anti-counterfeiting spells on them similar to the anti-counterfeiting techniques on our world's money.

  • Why do you assume that gold has any intrinsic value? – QuestionAuthority Aug 18 '18 at 18:32
  • @QuestionAuthority You misunderstand. Gold is one possible example -- and one used in the Harry Potter universe -- of a type of money called commodity money. Commodity money could be backed by anything of inherent value. Gold, silver, rice, salt, etc. This is opposed to fiat currency, which is not backed by anything of value. – Bacon Bits Aug 19 '18 at 13:38
  • I know that gold is rare and shiny. But is that an intrinsic value? The main difference between gold and paper is that gold is rare, while paper is not. That means it's easy to print more paper, but not so easy to find new gold. This protects against inflation. But what is the value of gold besides the belief of others that gold has a value? The rice you can at least eat. – QuestionAuthority Aug 19 '18 at 14:01
  • @QuestionAuthority Your point remains irrelevant to my answer and repeating it or rephrasing it does not reinforce it. Again, gold is an example of a commodity. The fact that some fictional culture might not consider gold to be a commodity is wholly irrelevant to the point I'm making about commodity money systems. You are arguing semantics and minutia and ignoring my actual argument. If you do not see "commodity" and "object of intrinsic/inherent value" as synonymous, then I suggest referencing a dictionary. – Bacon Bits Aug 20 '18 at 22:00
4

If I understand correctly, almost the entire "canon" is from Harry's point of view. It's only what Harry observers and understands. Obviously this could be very limited and possibly wildly incorrect in many aspects. Especially for a relative outsider like Harry was.

Therefore any assumptions about the economic "culture" are guesswork at best.

Or being once very poor herself the author wished to make a point that people aren't poor because of the limitations or powers of a society but because society chooses that they be poor.

3

Despite Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration, I think it would be possible to conjure non-magical food. And as the Philosopher's Stone demonstrates, making permanent gold is possible.

But these sort of magical abilities are probably just as rare as geniuses like Nicolas Flamel himself are. In other words, Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration refers more to infinitely difficult abilities and not impossible abilities. And conjuring food that isn't permanent is probably a bad idea for your health.

Moving away from conjuration, who says it's even possible for an adult wizard to exchange muggle money for wizarding money. This could also explain Remus Lupin's poverty. Even if he had a muggle job, he would be unable to buy wizarding stuff. Such a law would also be good for the wizarding economy as muggleborn parents would put legally gained money into the wizarding economy, yet wizards would be unable to put illegally gained money into it.

That said, I could see a Malfoy creating Leprechaun Gold and getting muggle money in exchange. Then using that muggle money to buy agricultural goods in the muggle world. And then sell those agricultural goods in the wizarding world. The problem would be to appear legal in the wizarding world, especially with the Goblins running Gringotts and thus knowing quite a bit about your finances. So this wouldn't be a quick way to get rich; it's a way to get rich over multiple generations.

Then again, if you have no need for Gringotts, there are numerous ways to get rich quickly, but I'll bet those are exactly the kind of wizards that the Department of Magical Law Enforcement keep track of. All in all, I would expect that magical crime wouldn't be worse than it is in the muggle world.

And I think that someone like Remus Lupin is much poorer than the Weasleys. The Weasleys seem to have managed to provide for 7 children. Imagine if they only had to provide for one child: I bet they would immediately be seen as Wizarding Middle Class.

2

I think there's a very good reason for restrictions regarding gold/money/etc - If one could conjure those things - why work? You could have money for everything you'd ever wanted with a flick of your wand. The wizarding world would collapse in such a scenario.

2

I don't see anyone mentioning the Sorcerers Stone. In the book someone (I believe it was Dumbledore) says that the stone offers limitless life and money, which suggests that creating permanent gold is possible, but possibly only for artifacts like the Stone.

1

I don't remember which book, but in one of them Bill or Charlie explains to Harry that you can't create things out of nothing. When you make something appear, you're really just moving it from somewhere else. So when they conjure up, say, tablecloths, the tablecloths disappear from somewhere else, probably wherever they keep them in the house.

So they couldn't conjure up anything of value, unless they already had it, or they would be stealing from somewhere else.

  • Welcome to SFF:SE! You can look through the tour here. Further, if you're able to find a quotation from the books to back up your statement, you're likely to generate more interest towards your answer and attract upvotes (giving you fake internet points, which everyone loves collecting). If you do feel free to edit your post. – Edlothiad Jan 7 '17 at 5:43

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