In defense of Percy Weasley

The character of Percy Weasley, the third oldest of the seven Weasley children in the Harry Potter franchise, is underappreciated at best.  When we first meet him, he’s in his fifth year at Hogwarts and has just been named prefect.   Unlike his brothers, he’s ambitious to a fault, and significantly more power hungry than anyone else in his family.  

In any sufficiently large family, all of the children might want something to help differentiate them from the rest.  The oldest, Bill, gets that by simply being the oldest.   The only daughter, Ginny, gets that by being the only girl.   The twins, Fred and George, are the jokers and the troublemakers.  

That leaves Ron, who got it simply by befriending Harry Potter, Charlie, who found his comfort in magical creatures, and Percy, who likely had no choice but to be the most studious and ambitious.  

While this ambition starts to cause real problems in the fifth book (and rightly so), I’d like to focus on Percy in the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.   At the start of the book, he has just graduated from the school with high marks and lands a government position in the ministry of international magical cooperation.  The British wizardry’s equivalent of the US State Department.  

His first responsibility, for which he receives some ridicule, is to help draft new regulations regarding the thickness of cauldrons.   In fairness to his brothers who laugh about it, this is decidedly not sexy or even headline grabbing work.  

But when you get down to it, this is one of the main purposes of government.   It’s even a clause of the preamble to the US constitution: “in order to … promote the general welfare”.  You can’t have your potion spilling out onto the fire because the cauldron you bought wasn’t thick enough.  The government is really your only line of defense against a “caveat emptor” attitude exposed and espoused by a free market economy.   The “invisible hand of the market” only pushes things so far and many lives are harmed if not lost without some reasonable regulation or restriction.   

At least as far back as the 1920s, the mantra of the Republican Party has been that government regulations are bad and that they stifle job creation and harm the economy.  This mantra has been magnified in the past 40 years even though they very seldom point to any specific regulations (other than those designed to protect the environment) that are so bad.  

Just like the correct tax rate (and in this regard, I don’t care whether you’re talking about consumption taxes, property taxes, income taxes, or other taxes) can be problematic in terms of deciding what’s too high and what’s too low (too low means the government doesn’t get enough money to do its business, while too high means that some jobs may be lost), there are trade-offs with any other numeric value that must be ascribed to.  If cauldron bottoms are too thin, they may cause problems for the end consumer.   If they’re too thick, the demand for replacement cauldrons will shrivel up and depress the market.   

But without an external agency driving minimum standards, there can be no protection at all.   It’s why I’m skeptical of any politician who makes a speech railing against regulations in general.   If you think the speed limit is too low, or that the proper limit for defining drunk driving is too high, or that fuel efficiency standards for cars are too high, fine.   Tell me what you think they should be and we can talk.   

This is especially true for any regulation that they perceive as having a result of lost jobs.   A lot of coal miners and oil drillers think that environmental regulations cost jobs.  While not outwardly incorrect, it’s a dramatic oversimplification of the truth: changing market conditions, most notably consumer demand, has done more to limit the availability of those jobs.  I should think that for each job lost to the closing of a coal mine, a job can be gained by installing and maintaining wind farms and solar panels.  All that’s needed is a little training.  

So Percy Weasley was a typical bureaucrat: he wants to do the right thing and make lives a little better.  Is that really so wrong?


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