When money equals power, how does the world's richest man compare to the world's most powerful wizard?
By Alexander Huang-Menders and Daniel Farber Huang
**This article was originally published in July 2020, and updated in Sept 2020 to reflect Jeff Bezos’s reported increased net worth to $205 billion.
Don’t get us wrong, we’ve got no beef with Jeff Bezos but there are many timely parallels between JK Rowling’s magical world and our’s that are worthy of discussion. In Harry Potter, magic is the means to accumulating great power and in our world, let’s face it, money equals power. The three most powerful wizards are Voldemort, Professor Albus Dumbledore and Harry. The three richest men in the world according to Forbes are Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.
Clearly Voldemort was evil to the core with little redeeming value. We are in no way saying Jeff Bezos is the same in that manner, it’s just that by virtue of his King Midas-level legendary dollar accumulation, he can shape the world at his whim, hopefully for the benefit of the rest of us but, let’s be realistic, it’s entirely at his discretion.
To the outside world, Bezos is fearless, bulletproof. Not long ago The National Enquirer tried to blackmail him with super embarrassing photos, threatening public humiliation. But we’re talking about Jeff Bezos. He took control, turned the spotlight on his adversaries and deservedly crushed them. To deal them a death blow and remove any power they tried to exert over him, he shared his, shall we say, Richard portraits online for all to see. Now that was a gangsta move.
Warren Buffet, kindly dubbed the “Oracle of Omaha,” has accumulated a reputation as the sage, shrewd philosopher investor. Not only does he compound wealth for himself, he does so for many others. Sharing coins of inspiration such as “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently,” sounds like something JK Rowling herself would write.
And then there’s Harry. A boy who had to prove himself repeatedly, sometimes being tough, sometimes tactical, but as he matured net-net considered to be a man of the people. Bill Gates and his equally capable and benevolent partner Ginny Weasley, umm that is Belinda Gates, have spent their past decades helping both man and mankind by eliminating disease around the world, encouraging other uber-rich to give significant portions of their money away and too many other deeds to list here.
Harry’s father James was born into a wizarding family while his mother Lily was born into a non-magical family (called a Muggle in the local language) but she possessed the natural talents to become a witch (the good kind). So Harry was half magical and half Muggle, a man of both worlds. He fought against the inequity and inequality certain wizards wanted to promote whereby magical folk would hold absolute dominion over the non-magical.
Why does any of this comparison matter? In our world today, according to Credit Suisse’s 2018 Global Wealth Report, the top one percent of the world’s population owns 47 percent of all global wealth (read that again… the wealthiest one percent of the world’s population owns 47 percent of all global wealth). We — you and us — are racing along on the same path leading to dominion by the extreme few over the extreme many. Some would argue we are already there.
Take, for instance, the Malfoy Family. In Harry’s world, Lucius, Narcissa, Draco, and their kin such as Bellatrix savor their generational power and, purely by the numbers, Wal-Mart’s Walton family would be an equally royal family. Neither of us know any of the Waltons personally but we find it interesting (and by interesting we mean horrifying) to compare the monetary riches of so many Walton family members versus Walmart employees who are forced to live on welfare because they are not paid a livable wage for their labor.
Again, we don’t summer with the Waltons nor do we go into their stores (Super or other) very often, so this comparison to the Malfoys is made because multiple Waltons are at the top of the rich list. Please don’t sue us, Waltons. There’s not much to take anyway.
How about Gellert Grindelwald, who has the power and means to let the world devour itself? We’re still pondering that one [cough cough Mark Zuckerberg cough]. We are returning to the time of kings. The wealthiest already exert significant influence over “ordinary” people’s lives, and we will concede that very often it can be for our collective personal good. Should the wealthiest choose to be selfish, however, they can influence if we live or die by the masses, whether it’s slowly through erosion of our quality of life or rapidly, say, by pushing billions of Oxycontin pills on us and our loved ones to make a profit.
It will not take much to tip the scales permanently against the common person. Since most every item sitting on our desks as we write this article was purchased on Amazon.com, we’ll use Jeff Bezos as the proxy, but many others on the Forbes billionaire list could perform some variation of this next scenario.
Imagine if Jeff Bezos decided he wanted to rule the land, or at least the entire West Coast of the United States. He wants it so badly that he is willing to share his vast fortune with every man, woman and child living in Washington State, Oregon and California in generous exchange for their consent, buying their votes basically.
With a fortune of $205 billion, Bezos can equitably distribute $195 billion of his wealth to the 50.2 million men, women and children in WA, OR and CA. That spreadsheets out to $3,884 he could pay to every man, woman, and child in those 3 states, paid upon successful election, either by check or perhaps credited to their Amazon account (where they were going to spend it anyway). Let’s assume he sets aside the remaining $10 billion for “convincing” lawmakers to amend the Constitution so he gets his way.
If you think that is far-fetched, remember that our government has bent over backwards to special interests for much less.
Bezos could hire political strategists and a good public relations firm to appeal to the people in those three states. The sales pitch is easy: their current government is broken and he should be elected as — for lack of a better name let’s call it the Keeper of Infrastructure, Nature and Government (KING).
He can make a very persuasive pitch that he has the resources, expertise and vision to make the people’s lives better, more affluent, easier in every way. Basically bringing the Amazon Prime philosophy into all the major aspects of their lives. He’ll promise to lower taxes. He’ll promise to replace our inefficient, wasteful government with Government Prime, an easy-to-navigate, One-Click ordering, overnight delivery, fast streaming, cloud-based, auto-refill way of life that removes that distasteful burden of having to think and act for oneself day after day. Promises are easily broken, but that’s a discussion for after the changeover in power, or never, whichever comes later.
KING of course would have oversight of taxation, tolls, and everything else that gets paid to the West Coast government, which is now him. Bezostan? Bezotopia? A clever KING would be able to take that $205 billion initial investment and double it in perhaps 7 or 10 years from the various state revenues (plus all the new taxes and fees he would have the power to create), generating a robust return on investment and cementing his ruling legacy for generations to come.
A scenario such as this could happen anywhere if those in power have the ego and conviction to secure such a future.
What’s to stop or at least slow this descent into subservience? Fortunately for all of us, the benevolent and unconventional abound in Harry Potterland and in ours too. The unexpectedly heroic Neville Longbottom who ultimately saved the world from destruction? Elon Musk, the man who freely shares Tesla’s patented energy-saving technology for the good of all people yet also adds electronic whoopie cushions into his electric cars could easily be his brother.
Others find their power through non-monetary currency and instead use their empathy, courage and voice to stand up for the vulnerable and oppressed.
Malala Youseff comes to mind when we think of Luna Lovegood, the enigmatic young woman who often sees the beauty in the world which others do not notice and speaks up for those who have had their voices taken away. Malala and Luna both make numerous contributions to making their worlds better through their kindness, courage and empathy. Both would fit into each other’s shoes nicely.
In our opinion, brilliant, courageous Hermoine Granger and First Lady Michelle Obama are kindred spirits, and might even be twins separated at birth.
What about Ron Weasley, Harry’s other best friend? Ron is the unsung hero in the story. Ron is neither the strongest nor the weakest but he does have his own inner nobility that often is overlooked due to his self-doubt. In our world Ron is not just one person, Ron Weasley is all of us individually and collectively. (That being said, his two brothers Fred and George Weasley are clearly Owen and Luke Wilson.) Ron is not powerful enough to save his world on his own, but his world cannot be saved without him taking a stand.
Today, this moment in our world is similar to the midpoint of Book 7, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Chapter 31’s “The Battle of Hogwarts” is the start of the fight to decide the fate of Harry’s world. The battle for our world, our fight against total subservience, is getting closer as well.
We are beginning to write the next chapter in our epic saga. The grotesque disparity between those with obscene wealth and power over the other 99 percent will come to a head one way or another. Whether the resolution to the revolution will be gentle or bloody remains to be seen, but either way there is likely to be more personal suffering experienced by the vast many until there is more equality between the have-it-alls and the have-barely-anythings.
Our world needs someone to protect the masses who have been marginalized yet don’t even recognize their subservience has already begun. Our world needs Ron Weasley to stand up against inequity. Our world needs You.
Alexander Huang-Menders is a documentary photographer, freelance journalist and high school senior. Daniel Farber Huang is an independent advocate on humanitarian issues and a documentary photographer. As a father and son team together they document the global refugee crisis at www.ThePowerOfFaces.com.