Part 1: The Economics of Ieik, Part 3
Saturday, July 14, 2018
Welcome! Last week I introduced seven economic categories to analyze: workers, consumers, entrepreneurs, business entities, money, regulation, and finance. Then I looked at the first of those, workers, discussing how the Ieikili avoided some of the quality-of-life pitfalls of the efficiency of the specialization of labor, which trap people in our own economy. I also talked about bad eggs who didn't want to contribute to Ieikili society.
This week I'll be covering several additional economic categories: consumers, money, and finance.
Money and Finance in Ieik
In Ieik, money didn't usually take the form we know it in—cash or coin—for the very simple reason that, most of the time, this is neither a convenient nor efficient way of exchanging value in a small society filled with people of goodwill, and also for the much more complicated reason that the Ieikili possessed an ancestral knowledge—that is, their ancient society was structured in the knowledge—of the fact that money as we know it tends to accumulate in a way that steadily diverges from the value of its acquisition ("the rich get richer"), which disrupts society. In other words, the Ieikili understood that there is no ethical situation in which the income of the most poorly-compensated labor is negligible compared to that of the most richly-compensated labor. More importantly, and more subtly, they understood that "growing wealth" separate from earned income—or what we would call finance—is destructive to a society when it is endorsed to proceed on the premise of its intrinsic viability ("laissez-faire").
I'm sure some of you will note, here, that the most widely-known alternatives to laissez-faire finance are to conduct finance either consensually or on the basis of some moral system, both of which are even worse in corruption and inefficacy alike than just letting people do whatever they want with their money. And, indeed, the Ieikili did not proceed under these auspices either: Instead, in Ieik, finance as we know it—the management of large amounts of money for the sake of generating more money for the managers—simply did not exist. The Ieikili had a vague understanding of it—and some of them understood the concept very well, especially given the prevalence of finance in the Panathar Empire, where star Ieikili students often studied—but there was no impetus in the Ieikili society for growing wealth for its own sake, no outlet or object for this kind of resource control (and no great pool of available raw materials in any case), because the things that made people happy were already universally obtainable.
There was one, marginal exception: The most basic and inevitable act of finance, the loan, did exist in Ieik. But it was transacted modestly, on the basis of goodwill. Debt was a scorned notion. A loan granted was expected to be repaid with what we would call interest—the repayment would have to be worth more than the loan itself—but which the Ieikili called float. Most often, loans didn't involve money at all, but the direct exchange of goods or services: "You can borrow my saw if you invite me to dinner." The same principle applied even when the loan actually was in a fungible form like money. ("You can borrow this money if you invite me to dinner.") It was very rare for a loan's float to be paid in money, and when it did happen it was almost always at the institutional level, not the individual level.
One of the primary motives of finance was addressed in Ieikili society outside of finance: What we call "financial security," and its bigger, more elusive sibling, "financial independence," were reflected in the Ieikili economic system through what we would call the Ieikili welfare system, but which among the Ieikili themselves was an intrinsic part of the social fabric that had no direct name. And one of the other primary motives of finance—growing wealth—was, as I mentioned, understood to be a trap when undertaken for its own sake. The culture did not accept it and the economy was not structured for it.
And, so, if someone in Ieik were to have conceived of a major for-profit capital project—say, an amusement park—it would have been impossible to "finance." Nor would most of the Ieikili have condoned it, when similarly great amusement (within the societal tolerance for such things) could already be achieved at festivals or carnivals. There was nothing to stop a person or a company of people from building something like a theme park and a roller coaster themselves from scratch, but in practice this virtually never happened, because profit was simply not the powerful motive for them that it is for us, and because the Ieikili understood that most desires can be obtained through less extravagant means.
For another thing, and just as importantly, those who wanted "more" were encouraged to achieve it through labor, study, the arts, travel, or communion—not wealth. Power of the sort often denoted by economic supremacy was severely frowned upon in Ieik. Anyone who got too rich began to lose mana, and eventually would rouse the disapproval of their peers. Even the leaders of Ieik, and those who provided the most essential goods and services, were understood to exist in the context of a community larger than theme. Everyone, no matter how humble or grand, was playing their role.
The lack of demand for luxuries wasn't simply a result of austerity. The economy was structured very differently from our own: If you wanted a flute, you didn't need to save up to buy one. You could practice on a communal flute. If you really wanted, you could have your own. If there were no flutes available that people were willing to part with, a flute maker would craft one. If demand were too high, no personal flute, at least not immediately—you would have to share, at least for a while. That's just how it was. A different way of thinking from what we know in America.
Economic selfishness comes from two sources, fear and resentment: fear of deprivation, and resentment that someone else would benefit from one's own work. (There are also the factors of apathy and misanthropy, but neither of these are acts of economic selfishness even though they produce economically selfish actions.) And in Ieik, the fear of deprivation was safely allayed by the welfare culture, while the incidence of resentment was greatly diminished due to the culture's strong educational system (i.e., the Academy) and strong sense of community.
Forms of Money in Ieik
As for money itself, I mentioned that most transaction in Ieik did not involve cash or coin. There were essentially three kinds of money in Ieik:
The most common, and most sophisticated, was called mana. I've mentioned it a few times now. It functioned exactly like physical currency in that a person could use their mana to acquire goods and services, but there was no physical container to represent the value. Based closely on the Polynesian concept of the same name (which gave rise in mainstream fantasy to the notion of magical energy), mana in Ieik was essentially a measure of prestige, influence, and goodwill. One who served others and the community; one who excelled in learning or art; one who brought convenience, prosperity, or happiness to others, accrued mana, both in the people who directly benefited from these refinements and through the word-of-mouth that followed. In one important divergence from most communal societies, self-happiness and the cultivation of individual character were also generators of mana, provided they were pursued in socially acceptable ways.
One benefit of a physical currency is that you don't have to keep track of everybody's respective standing in society—which, in all but the smallest societies, would be outright impossible. But in Ieik this disadvantage was significantly mitigated by one of Sourros' many provisions: Anyone in Ieik could impartially discern mana in others through their numen. (In other words, you could, in a sense, see it.) So, although mana was not tangible in Ieik, it was roughly quantifiable. It wasn't profoundly different from our concept of the credit score, with the main differences being that said "score" was calculated very differently in Ieik and that anyone could review it of anyone.
It was through mana that Galavar, as a child in the Academy, rarely had to pay cash for any of the goods and services he acquired. Simply by being a good student and a good person, he became entiled to food, shelter, education, and so forth. Mana was incredibly convenient, and reinforced the notion of citizens having intrinsic value in their society—for one who had no value would not be able to simply take the goods and services produced by others. In this sense mana functioned like a line of credit, except without the punitive aspect in for-profit schemes where credit must always be recouped with interest from the lender.
The second form of money in Ieik was a hard currency called the benezar. This was most often useful in economic contexts that became more complicated than a simple assessment of mana, or wherever a more strictly quantified and accounted tracking of resources was called for. This was common with public works and other large projects, and was also a way for companies to conduct economic transactions agnostically of their members. In this way, all questions of "How do I know this transaction of value is reasonable?" were answerable through the hard data of measurable currency. In this manner, prices as we more conventionally think of them did have a significant role to play in Ieikili life, even though they were far from ubiquitous. And every Ieikili citizen would have had some benezari to use in situations where physical money was required.
Incidentally, the benezari was a coin made of copper with a rich and polished patina. It was the base unit of a family of four coins, with a base of a 50. The smallest denomination was the basalt-made quingentis (almost always shortened to "quing"), equal to one-fiftieth of a benezar; the benezar itself; the dinque, equal to fifty benezari; and the omnophayoiskali benezar, or "brass benezar" (literally "precious to the point of becoming hallowed and inducing anxiety and great care benezar"), made of brass and equal to fifty thousand benezari. (The term benezar itself, like most Relancii currency, is named for a star—in this case the blue star Benezar in the constellation Esmris.)
The third form of money in Ieik was the gamma lucra, the Empire of Panathar's own currency. More specifically, it was a smaller denomination of the gamma lucra, the silver-minted beta lucra.
(The beta lucra is in the same general world of value as about $8; the gamma lucra is closer to $70; thus, the beta lucra is a lot more practical. Mind you, the economic basis in Ieik was very different from our own, which really distorts certain prices, so I'm mainly basing this conversion on comparison to staple consumables like bread—one beta lucra would buy you roughly what we think of as $8 of bread. The actual amount of silver in a beta lucra is equivalent to about one and two-thirds ounces, which is closer to a value of $23. And for the gold-minted gamma lucra the difference is much more stark: A gamma lucra contains what we would consider thousands of dollars worth of gold, despite having a minted value of roughly $70. This happened because of differing economic fundamentals on Relance versus Earth, and because of a somewhat greater abundance of gold.)
Imperial lucra were almost exclusively used for international transactions at home and abroad, as most people who visited Ieik from the outside world were Imperials, and most foreign trips by members of Ieik were to the Empire. (Additionally, the Ieikili collective kept a small reserve of certain other foreign currencies, as the gamma lucra was often met with hostility by foreigners not from the Empire.)
The greatest value of money to the Ieikili was its role in resolving economic conflicts—not its utility as a mode of economic power.
Economic Agents: Consumers
In Ieik, the concept of consumption did not exist as we think of it. Even the term consumer did not exist as such. The concept of the role of obtaining goods or receiving services as part of a larger economic engine was not useful to the Ieikili.
You should understand that this was not entirely a good thing, and more than it was entirely a bad thing. Identifying "consumers" and subsequently targeting them with marketing and advertising is one of the fundamental ways to grow an economy, and with economic growth comes many benefits and advantages.
Nevertheless, it worked for the Ieikili not to have this concept, as their society was mature, sustainable, secure, and in no need of economic growth. Indeed, it was a deeply-held conviction of the Ieikili people that, as the chosen people of Sourros, they would live materialistically simple lives, devoting themselves to logic and wisdom. Thus you can discern a hint of monasticism in their culture, insofar as they largely eschewed economic growth.
It made an enormous difference that the material quality of life in Ieik was very high—higher in many respects than even in our own modern technological society. Some of the strongest motivators of economic progress on Earth—relief from physical misery—were not present in Ieik, because the welfare system was so strong, the education system was excellent, and the profession of medicine was highly advanced. Despite lacking electricity or access to many complex material compounds, the Ieikili had excellent knowledge of chemistry, and, more importantly, they had the benefits of numeneering and divine providence. There was also a much greater understanding and conviction among the Ieikili in the concept of life cycle phase transitions. Some amount of decrepitude and pain were expected in old age. That didn't mean the Ieikili didn't still take analgesics to soothe their suffering, but they weren't eternally expectant of "cures" the way we often are. And they were taught from a young age to be aware of, and at peace with, their mortality. While I would be lying to say it was never a struggle for them, they were certainly more mature about it, on the whole, than we are. So, anyhow, much of the impetus for consumerism was inapplicable in Ieik.
I feel confident in saying that, economically, the Ieikili were a highly mature people. While I don't personally agree with their aversion to extravagance and material abundance, I see a lot to like in their cultural understanding that quality of life should not be indicated by a concentration of economic resources.
That said, as we will see in future installments, once I get to actually talking about the economy of Gala, some of these notions changed extensively in the transition from the Village of Ieik to the City of Sele. What Gala accomplished in its early years would not have been possible under the Ieikili system, and this is not a coincidence: Galavar was well aware of the economic limitations of the Ieikili system.
Anyhow, that's all for this week. Join me next week when I conclude this miniseries within a miniseries with our final piece of the economics of Ieik—and that will be the final Curious Tale Saturdays of Season 4! The 19th anniversary of ATH was this past week, and I am already looking ahead to Season 5!
Until next time, may all that glitters for you not be gold.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!