Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My Notes on Money in Harry Potter

Potion Master’s Payday

How much money does Severus Snape make?

This is one of those topics that you can argue is both frivolous and fundamental. After all, before the publication of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, many fans thought, based on the prejudices generally ascribed to his house, that Severus was some kind of pureblood wizard nobility. I have to admit I was rather shocked to see that he actually came from some dingy, rundown, working-class hovel with an abusive father and cowed mother. This was the last thing I expected for him.

And then I was thrilled.

I love the idea of Severus being half-blood and growing up in a working-class Muggle neighborhood. I think that set up creates such wonderful tension in his character. It also provides an emotional richness that, to me, disappears if he is a pureblood who comes from money. Also, he can be such a defensive person that the class issue seems to fit, especially in the (to my American perspective) class-conscious UK. This also provides a kind of pathos in his relationships with Lucius and Draco Malfoy. Finally, I love men who make their own way through hard work. That type of man is a fighter, a street fighter because he has so much prejudice against him already. I love the thought of Severus, this intellectual, scholarly man, having to be as tough as a brawler in order to make it. Neither Lucius nor Draco could ever understand that and the fact that Lucius remains Severus’ friend and Draco adores his house head throws a really complimentary light on all three characters.

But the underlying point of that pathos is that class matters even between friends. As a half-blood who has subjected himself to Voldemort’s pureblood tyranny and claims Lucius Malfoy as a friend, Severus above all knows that class matters. And while class isn’t solely determined by money, money goes a long way toward determining how mobile one can be. Knowing how much money Severus makes can tell us just how much freedom he has in the still class-conscious, even down right racist (in terms of Muggle-born vs. half-bloods vs. purebloods) magical society.

Which brings us back to the question: how much money does Severus make?

I want to know in both wizard terms and real world terms, preferably in UK and US currency. After searching the Internet, the only reliable sources I could find were articles posted on the Harry Potter Lexicon and Wikipedia web sites. Happily, the Lexicon lists some wizard-world salaries. Based on that information I’ve come up with an amount. With so little to go on, I used the entry-level salary for a Department of Ministry hit-witch or wizard listed in the Lexicon. It’s 700 galleons per month or 8,400 galleons per year. I used this amount because it’s for a government position and, as Hogwarts is a quasi-governmental institution (the Ministry seems to have oversight even though the school has a board of governors), I assumed the salaries might be structured on a similar scale.

So a hit-witch or wizard would make:
8,400 galleons per year (that’s 700 times 12 months equals 8,400)[1]

In British pounds that would be:
₤42,000 per year (using an exchange rate of ₤5 per 1 galleon)

In American dollars that would be, depending on the exchange rate (I am using two rates, the one quoted in the Lexicon article on wizard money and the one I got in February 2009 using the Lexicon’s currency converter):
$81,900 per year (if we use $9.75 per galleon)
$84,588 per year (if we use $10.07 per galleon)

That’s not a bad chunk of change in this economy. In U.S. terms we’d slice off 30% to account for state and federal taxes, social security, and unemployment insurance contributions. That leaves (again depending on exchange rates):
$57,330 in annual net
$59,211.60 in annual net

I don’t know what British or wizard taxes (if any) are like so I can’t account for those. Nor do I know whether they are required to carry their own medical insurance or if such a thing exists in the wizard world. The UK does have national health care, however I don’t know how it is funded so I don’t know how much, if any, of the average paycheck it claims. Of course, Hogwarts’ teachers presumably have free access to the infirmary. It’s not unheard of as, according to the Lexicon, a hit-wizard has his own “dedicated bed” at St. Mungo’s, so presumably, that’s a kind of medical insurance. If goblins can run a bank and lose money on a potions market (see the first Ministry of Magic scene in the Order of the Phoenix movie) then I’m sure there’s a goblin somewhere making money on selling medical and life insurance. However, I can’t estimate the cost of that at the moment so I’m leaving it out.

This is still a respectable salary for a young, entry-level wizard. I don’t know whether Severus has to pay for room and board or meals. I assume living space is provided for little or no fee since all of the teachers are required to live on the campus for the duration of the school year. I make similar assumptions about meals. Of course he bears responsibility for his own wardrobe, which appears to consist entirely of black – very cost effective. Aside from personal books, floo powder (or perhaps a broom), or specialized potion ingredients that he can’t find in the Hogwarts’ stores, Severus’ expenses should be very few. In America, he would be squarely in the middle class for the equivalent of a single, college-educated adult.

But there’s a problem. The hit-wizard’s salary is for a 12-month period. Hogwarts, however, is only in session from September 1 through the second week of June. That’s 10 months and two weeks, not a full year. Now Severus may or may not put money aside to tide him over the two months and two weeks he is not required to teach. The point is there’s a period of time when he doesn’t have to teach and hence when he doesn’t have to be paid. How does that affect his income?

It’s simple. If we multiply 700 times 10 months (7,000 galleons) and add in 2 weeks or half of a month’s pay (7,000 plus 350 galleons) we can say that Severus’ original starting salary at age 21 was:

7,350 galleons per year

If I use the exchange rate of 5 British pounds to one galleon we get:

₤36,750 per year in UK currency

If I convert to American dollars using either $9.75 or $10.07 per galleon, then I get the following amounts:

$71,662.50 per year (at the 9.75 rate) in U.S. currency
$74,014.50 per year
(at the 10.07 rate) in U.S. currency

Of course, that’s not the whole story. Severus is no longer a strapping twentysomething. He’s a seasoned professor with roughly 10 or more years of experience when we meet him. He is also the Head of Slytherin House. But he’s also a former Death Eater, a fact that is public knowledge. How do these factors affect his income?



I’ll discuss that in my next entry.



[1] “Money” article posted on the Harry Potter Lexicon web site http://www.hp-lexicon.org/wizworld/money.html

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