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Harry Potter and the Magic Welfare Check.

By Pete Moss

As my 40th birthday has come and gone and I'm still working as a lowly messenger, I've had the irritating experience of being lectured by successful people I know. These people used to be friends of mine, so I thought, but as their lives blew up and mine didn't, I became an embarrassment to them, although I didn't realize that, until the lectures started up.

The subject of the lectures invariably comes around to why don't I 'Make something of myself'. In other words, why do I stubbornly remain a failure? To the people doing the lecturing, not being a failure is as easy as falling off a log. One friend of mine thinks it's just a matter of joining the Libertarian party. But I've found that Libertarian principals sound good on paper, but once you start delving into it, shortcomings crop up.

Anyway, I don't consider myself a failure. Only perhaps by the exalted standards of someone who is a famous magician in Las Vegas or a Vice-president at a major Frisco consulting company. For an average guy I'm doing fine. I'm employed, reasonably sober, I get along with my kids, I have some strong long term friendships with good people and I'm still capable of forming new friends, a skill that many people seem to lose somewhere in their 30's. But enough autobiography…

The really irritating thing that my famous friend in Vegas e-mailed me about the other day was Harry Potter. I assume that everybody on earth has heard of Harry Potter by now. I enjoy the Harry Potter books. My kids liked them and I try to read what my kids read, so I can know what they're talking about when they refer to 'muggles', though the truth is, among kids, Harry Potter is getting kind of passé.

There is a background story though, and that is how Harry Potter came to be written by JK Rowling.

Let me say here, something that we all know, and that is this: successful people never want to admit how luck and subsidies figured into their success. It's always all about their own hardwork and brilliance. That's why Libertarianism seems to appeal mostly to people who have it made.

One excuse I've used for years for the reason I've never written a book, is because I don't have the time or money. I'm a single parent working two jobs. I'm raising one kid and paying support on another. I have debts. Plus I like to have a little social life, and what with one thing and another I'm usually pretty lucky to have 20 minutes or half an hour, here or there, to write. Over the course of a week I might be able to snatch two or three hours altogether. Keeping the thread of a novel going under those conditions is difficult at best.

But my magician friend decided to trump me by bringing up JK Rowling and Harry Potter. It seems JK Rowling is also a single parent, and that she wrote the first Harry Potter in her spare time. So I went and did some digging. As it turns out, Harry Potter was a bad example for my friend to use. Here's the story.

JK Rowling was indeed a single parent when she wrote the first Harry Potter, and she was living in some crappy place in the rustbelt of north England. But like a lot of people in England, she was unemployed, and on the dole. And she had a great deal of spare time. Matter of fact, she wrote most of the original Harry Potter, sitting in a cozy mom & pop café for 4 or 5 hours a day, where the kindly owners would slip her free hot chocolates, and shoo away anybody who bothered her.

Well whatever, it worked, we've all seen what an industry Harry Potter has turned into. The point is the author had a direct government subsidy. Also direct private patronage, if I might use such an archaic term.

I wonder, now that JK Rowling is rich and famous, probably beyond her wildest dreams, is she going to pay back any of the money she collected when she was poor and obscure? And does she still drop by that mom & pop café and hang out? I'm sure that would do wonders for their business. But these questions are beside the point.

I'm not going to bag on JK Rowling because I'd be bagging out of envy and I have an aversion to letting my actions or words come from base emotions. Truth is I have to admire the way Ms. Rowling manipulated the system. I wish I had the balls to do the same thing. But I've always had it drummed into me that if you don't work, you don't eat, and I've never been able to blot that out, no matter how much Olde English I consume.

What it really comes down to for me is that I can't get behind the Libertarian view that all government subsidies should be abolished. The truth is government is willing to fund all kinds of ventures, from struggling writers to the internet, to biomedical research, without any regard to making money. This is a good thing.

It takes money to make money. Like all truths it has the ring of cliché. But where's a poor person supposed to get money? Banks are like women: they won't give you any unless you don't really need it, then they're begging you to take it.

Theoretically, banks aren't playing with their own money. There are people called 'shareholders' that a banks board of directors have to answer to.

But with the government, there's no such constraint. Theoretically, we're all the 'shareholders' in the government. You can use the formula they use in Hollywood: 1 hit pays for 19 flops, 10 times over.

The private sector, with its incessant demand for profit, is all well and good. And the human race and the market benefit from competition, sure they do. But there must be an alternative: A space where people can do pure research, without the incessant pressure to produce results, or move product.

If you don't believe me, read a Harry Potter book. The amount of entertainment you get for your dollar will make a socialist out of you.

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