Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Magic Changes The World, Part II

So I'm back to thinking about the world of Gai, and in particular the economy. When I first put it together, I had in mind a more-or-less feudal system, in which the aristocracy were all wizards - 'wizards' being used here to define people who can do more or less anything with magic, as opposed to those who can only done one specific thing or group of things. Since wizards are about 2.6% of the population (a bit over one in fifty people), it's a fair bet that not all wizards are aristocrats; it's also safe to assume that the aristocrats are generally more powerful than other wizards (owing to both selection and training). Of the rest, most are either hedge wizards or non-practicing; there was also a knightly order composed of wizards.

Given that magic in this setting lends itself to creation and transformation, and given that a relatively large portion of the population is capable of this, what does that do to the economy? Start with a simple example: what do you use for money, if one out of every hundred people (or so) can duplicate {coins, bills, gems, and/or precious metals} more or less at will? Do you create something more difficult to duplicate (the Star Trek solution)? Or do you go with a barter economy? (That would make taxation more difficult, and banking nearly impossible, I think... but since the aristocracy are all wizards, it might work anyway.) Similarly, how does this affect trade? If a significant portion of any community can create (or duplicate) more or less anything they need, what would you trade for, and why?

I'm actually going to leave this here. For one thing, it's sometimes more fun to look at questions than answers. For another, it doesn't affect the current story (not directly, anyway). In the current, post-post-apocalyptic era, trade is going to be mostly barter, and it will be quite important, especially among the smaller communities. (Some things are going to be easier to make than others, and not everyone is going to have the same level of skill; if your community's wizard specializes in, say, healing rather than transforming objects, then you may have to import building materials, or arrange some sort of exchange program.) That said, I'd like to have some idea of how things used to work, because that will affect the expectations of the current generation, the ones who are rebuilding their world.

Obviously, I'm not an economist; but my understanding is that most of modern economics is built around the concept of scarcity - value is established by things that are hard to get. The concept of a "post-scarcity" economy, in which more or less anything can be easily obtained (thus making everything effectively free), causes current economic models to implode; it's a bit like trying to divide by zero. Some science fiction (Star Trek is a notable example) has played with the idea, but so far I haven't found much detail.

Fortunately (for the sake of my sanity), my world still has scarcity; it's just that magic changes what sorts of things are scarce, and who controls the means of production.

And that means it's time to do more research.

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