Part 1: The Economics of Ieik, Part 4
Saturday, July 21, 2018
Welcome! It's the last week of my miniseries-within-a-miniseries as we look at the economics of Ieik in part of a larger, occasional series exploring the economics of Gala. Gala (including its precursor, Ieik) is the only economic system in Relance that is both extensively developed and which isn't simply an adaptation of a past or present economy on Earth.
In previous installments I've looked at how the Ieikili regard economics, and have explored several of the seven economic categories to analyze: workers, consumers, entrepreneurs, business entities, money, regulation, and finance.
This week I'll be covering the three remaining categories: entrepreneurs, business entities, and regulation—i.e., the "creator" side of the economic equation.
Doing Business: Entrepreneurs & Business Entities
We have a construct in English, business, that, for as fundamental as it is, actually requires some rather specific sociopolitical circumstances to exist in the forms we recognize. While all cultures build economic structures around their transactions, these structures have taken many forms on Earth over the millennia, and even today are much more widely diverse than our economic vocabulary easily reveals.
In Ieik, "business" was not really a part of the social psyche the way it is for us. People had work to do, of course, and that work was specialized—proverbially, the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker—and it was expected of virtually everyone to work, within their abilities, from childhood to old age—not to the bone, the way we see in Earth's history and even in the present day, but enough for each individual to say that they added more to society than they took away from it, with some remarkably progressive alternate expectations for the infirm.
We would perceive the Ieikili attitude toward economic enterprise as very informal. Most people were able to do work that they more or less liked, in a way that was sustainable for them and made the labor more pleasant or less unpleasant. Naturally, some work was done because it had to be done, or there would be serious costs to pay—hunger, filth, etc. But the majority of work was because there was non-essential demand for it to be done. Luxuries, essentially—not by the Ieikili sense of the word but in an economic context: bookbinders, vintners, musicians, and so forth.
Regarding the former—those who performed essential and often undesirable labor—there was much accrual of mana, as well as a community division of labor, not unlike conscription into the civil service (or military) here on Earth. And those who volunteered to perform such labor more so than was due of them were rewarded with great mana indeed, for one year of such labor was considered to be worth seven years of luxury labor. In essence, in Ieik, the proverbial trash collectors were some of the best-compensated of all workers.
This didn't necessarily extend fractically into the many kinds of work that are repetitive, menial, or physically arduous but potentially enjoyable, or at least not actively repulsive, to some people. Instead, great care was taken in Ieik to connect adolescents and young adults with work that was both in need of doing but also within individuals' temperamental abilities. Repetitive, boring tasks would not be assigned, generally, to those who detested such work. Physically arduous labor would not be assigned to those who had great difficulty with it or aversion to it. The society, despite being as small as it was (between six and seven thousand people), nevertheless had enough economic diversification that this was not generally an issue: There was just about something for everyone. Maybe not all the time always for everybody—there were often short-term hardships—but not so far from it.
And there was, generally speaking, no "entrepreneur class." Those who ran their own business were not treated particularly differently from those who worked in somebody else's business. This makes sense when you recall that "business" itself was not especially formalized in the Ieikili consciousness.
And so there were no "captains of industry," no "corporate titans," no magnates, no moguls, no capitalists. The word enterprise, and its cognate entrepreneur, did not carry the same economic context they do here.
But these ideas did have their Ieikili equivalents, so let's explore those.
Ieik always considered itself a "mature" society—no longer in need of growth, expansion, population increase, or advances in science and technology. For thousands of years Ieik had existed outside the spectrum of what is considered possible on Earth—the prerogative of an enlightened people. Life had been perfected in Ieik, according to one definition of perfection, and it worked to the extent that there was nothing to disprove it (that Ieikili technology, cultural acumen and wisdom, and divine intervention could not nullify), and almost everyone was more or less accommodated in their desires all throughout their lives.
Imagination was applied to the more immediate arts and entertainment. Ambition was channeled into artistic or scholastic achievement, or civil service. Greed was tempered with self-discipline, and individuality was given safe outlets that did not threaten society. It worked only because the Ieikili culture was wise indeed, and because Ieikili technology and Sourran providence were so powerful.
Even so, in the course of regular life it was not uncommon at all for people to go into some new venture, or to start their own business as it were. This was usually preceded by training and working under somebody else, to instill respect and to ensure the inheritance of living knowledge.
The resources necessary to commence whatever economic activity a person might wish to commence could be obtained through the expenditure of mana, or through simply borrowing them. Nor was there a problem with the rather conspicuous loophole that people in America would be quick to exploit, of claiming to be engaged in entrepreneurial activity but not actually doing much of anything: Ieikili people, almost without exception, really meant it when they declared they would go into business. Mostly this came from cultural factors, but it also helped that Ieikili "businesses" were very simple, with obvious products or services. Most of the village's larger work projects spanned only a year or two, and these were a minority; most business was simple commerce.
Entrepreneurs were praised for their work ethic and productivity more so than for their vision or creativity, and they were not singled out to be praised for their courage at all—perhaps understandably, since entrepreneurship in Ieik carried much less personal risk than it does for us—but there was a more significant factor at play as well, in the form of Ieik's lack of interest in vain traits like courage and ambition. Remember, they were the Chosen of the God of Logic and Wisdom. Life in Ieik had, in many ways, an almost communal monastic quality to it. There was of course accommodation for the viutari emotional spectrum and drive, but society strongly enforced social adherence to a studious, humble, contemplative, and serene way of life. A restless Ieikili would be encouraged to undertake a difficult tutelage in a demanding field, like medicine or engineering, and dedicate their energies to the mastering of those fine crafts. And most Ieikili were able to come to peace with feeding their drive into this "universe of fine tuning," as opposed to big, splashy, grandiose outlets that would likelier catch the fancy of the American entrepreneur's psyche.
It isn't that creativity and ambition and courage and so forth were hated or banished, but they were to be held in strict temperance; that was a key aspect of the genius of the Ieikili way of life. In this way, countless destabilizing forces were prevented from ever occurring. It would take thousands of years before such a force powerful enough to overcome this tradition would arrive in Ieik (and his name was Galavar).
Ieik's entrepreneurs, then, generally behaved like casual small business owners in America, or, more aptly, like dedicated hobbyists—not that there wasn't often professionalism and a strong workplace discipline and mindset.
Lastly, on the subject of entrepreneurship: I've spoken many times in this miniseries of Ieik's "communalism," but this is to be taken at face value, and not as code for "communism" or any attitude of collective ownership, for that economic paradigm was even less relevant in Ieik than the capitalistic one. Capitalism, at least, could claim a foothold in the Ieikili consciousness in that individuals were the masters of their own ventures, having the freedom to choose what and how to consume and produce, within their means. There was of course a considerable amount of public input, as there inevitably is in small towns, and naturally there was involvement by the government in anything of sufficient importance, but at the end of the day there was little of the economic ethos or rhetoric that you would expect from communistic paradigms—not least because, in Ieik, economic injustice virtually did not exist.
Business Entities and Organization
I don't want to mislead you with the impression that every business in Ieik was some homespun sole proprietorship. Not at all. Most businesses had more than one person working for them, and many had quite a few people involved.
The organization of these "companies" (in the literal sense of the word) was, however, still far less formal than their counterparts in our world. This gets into the question of Ieikili law, which is another topic entirely, but suffice it to say that most businesses were organized through the simplest of contracts, with hefty measures of goodwill and the honor system. I'm not saying that viutari pettinesses and limitations and so forth did not exist among the Ieikili, but both Ieik's norms and individuals themselves were usually good at handling conflicts, even when acrimonious.
And that's what business organization from a legal standpoint essentially is: divvying up the goodies and anticipating legal problems. In Ieik: largely superfluous. Every business did have a charter—a proud document that excited people to create—but the charters were more about intent than any questions of legal arrangements.
As for the organization of a business from a labor and hierarchy standpoint, Ieik's businesses tended to be pretty primitive in that respect, with obvious hierarchical chains tempered by Ieik's customary collaborative, communal mentality.
Ieik had many businesses, covering all areas of life. So long as the operation of a business did not deplete more mana for its proprietor than it accrued, and so long as the proprietor remained committed to it, or could find a successor for it otherwise, the business would likely continue. And that's how Ieik came to have a fine mixture of businesses, some brand new and some thousands of years old. Ieikili businesses were quite a colorful part of the society; what they lacked in formality and economic optimization they made up for in community pride and involvement. Branding and company culture, because they were not opportunistically spammed in people's faces constantly, were well-regarded in Ieik, and served as anchors for many various affiliations and subcultures. I hope to be able to tell some of those stories once I resume The Great Galavar, because there's a lot there!
We close out this miniseries on the topic of regulation. You might have expected this, but, once again, Ieik was not nearly as elaborately fleshed out in this area as, say, American society is. The peer pressure of cultural norms did most of the heavy lifting of constraining what abuses, exploitations, and negative externalities did occur.
Nevertheless there was government oversight too. I've described parts of the Ieikili government in The Great Galavar, but the short version is that any public complaints that arise were investigated by the authorities, and the government had wide discretion to intervene if it saw fit. The scope of that intervention was more heavily qualified; changes that would disrupt a business were often a matter of genuine public interest and warranted public comment and debate, in the best tradition of a small town.
I should say something about economic competition, here—the issue of two or more businesses offering the same goods or services, especially in situations where the demand did not warrant it. One flaw in the geniality of the Ieikili is that people often did not want to cause one business to succeed at the expense of another one going out of business. Brand loyalties notwithstanding, when situations arose where one or more businesses were going to have to go out of business, and nobody wanted to be that person—most commonly because they loved the work, but also for a variety of other reasons—the government typically intervened here too. When feasible, some new arrangement would be found to allow everyone to continue on. But if that were impossible, the town's leaders, in conjunction with the public, would devise a solution. In practice this was not so different from letting "the free hand of the market" do its thing, but it was far less impersonal. And there was a whole cultural contingency ethos for this, to help people transition out of doing something they loved or were otherwise committed to, and to do so with dignity and new plans waiting for them around the corner.
And That's a Look at Economics in the Village of Ieik...and Season 4!
There we have it. I know I could have gone into much more depth, but at four installments it does seem like a good time to stop. Hopefully you enjoyed this! Let me know.
This marks the end of Season 4. Thank you to all of you who accompanied me on the journey this year. I'm doing a lot better today than at any prior point in the season. The first half of the season didn't even see any production, since I was in such an awful place, and, since production resumed, I have gotten slowly but steadily better. I still have a long way to go, but I am better off now than I have been in about fifteen months.
Next week will be the interim vacation. My sister will be in town visiting, and my birthday is on Friday.
Join me in two weeks, on August 4, when I talk about what's in store for Season 5. Until then, may you reflect fondly on the 19th birthday of After The Hero!
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!