Creyeditor wrote: ↑26 Apr 2021 07:38
Cue to Sal giving a long and really well thought-out answer.
... oh, never mind.
I've answered this question a few times now, and I know from experience that it's a lengthy discussion, so I won't go into detail again.
But the answer to "would you have feudalism if you had magic?" is "yes, absolutely"... depending on what sort of magic you had.
There are four big questions you have to address in a world with magic, and the answers to those four questions completely change the economic world you'd end up with. The four questions are:
- what can magic do?
- what does magic cost?
- how many people can do magic?
- which people can do magic?
People often give a bit of thought to the first question, and a little to the second, but it's the third and fourth that are most important. In particular, people often completely ignore the significance of the fourth question, yet it's the one thing that probably more important than any other.
Even if we assume a fixed answer for the first three questions, think about the impact of the fourth. Consider these worlds:
World 1: everyone has the talent to do magic, but it takes decades of dedicated academic (/religious) study to actually learn
World 2: the talent for magic pops up randomly throughout the population
World 3: magic is genetic, and only certain families have the talent
These three worlds have the same 'amount' of magic in them - the same number of magic-users, with the same powers and costs - but would look completely different from one another.
We could easily build a magical feudalism if we assume that magic is a rare talent passed down in a few aristocatic families, giving them immense power. In fact, we could go further: only the aristocratic mages can be the source of magic, but they are able to lend their magical power personally to supplicants. Such a system would be extremely feudalist!
On the other hand, if magic pops up randomly, requires no training, and allows the enchanting of physical objects that can then be used by anyone, then that's much less conducive to feudalism.
The other thing people need to remember: magic isn't power. Magic is industrial capacity. And industrial capacity by itself can cut both ways. For instance, being six feet tall and massively strong gives you more industrial capacity; but whether that makes you the barbarian king who rules by crushing your rivals in single combat, or whether that makes you the first pick of the slavemasters to send down the mines, is another question entirely. So when we ask 'which' people have magic, we have to consider what that answer means for, in particular the ability of magic-users to (officially or unofficially) unionise. If there's one natural-bon sorceror in each province, there's a good chance they'll end up enslaved; but if there's a guild or family of like-minded sorcerors, then they may end up running the shop. [but again: what are the costs? There's a difference between a fraternity of sorceror-kings who rule and conjure on a whim, and a guild of wizards who have to spend ten hours a day in a book and don't have time to worry about things like taxes and diplomacy]. And remember: magic is only one form of capital. Holders of capital, magical or otherwise, will attempt to control other capital - how will the rich and powerful attempt to control the magic-users? By force? By paying them? By bringing them into their families?
Always remember: the defining feature of economics is not access to raw materials, or even the scientific understanding to use those materials more efficiently (although, of course, both those factors are important). It's the presence or absence of institutions to efficiently organise the use of those materials - laws, courts, currencies, families, nations, joint stock corporations, stock markets, banks, feudal obligations, guilds, armies, and so forth.
Magic means that there are things you 'can' do more easily, or at least without needing as much science. But it doesn't mean you'll do them!
Let's take you first example: burn out your sewage system. OK, first, what sewage system? Who built the sewage system, and why? It's a good example, really, because on the one hand sewage systems are really easy to build - Harappa and Knossos had flushing toilets thousands of years ago, and Rome was famous for its water projects, both fresh water supply and sewage removal. But on the other hand, after the Fall of Rome, Europe more or less lacked sewage systems for another thousand years. The sewage system was that you threw your waste into the street and let the rain eventually deal with it. People had the technology to build a better solution, but they didn't - even though this cause both unpleasantness (the unbearable reek) and harm (all the disease). So just because you give them magic that lets them build an even better solution doesn't mean they'll use that either. And again, when people did build better solutions, they had a choice: building sewers is a huge capital investment, while employing nightsoilmen is an ongoing labour cost. So which solution you choose depends both upon your ability to finance long-term investment projects and upon the relative prices of labour and capital (which vary dramatically from place to place and time to time). The same economic factors will determine how people make use of magic. How much would you have to pay a sewage-burner? Well, what are their other options? If a mage has the power to live a life of luxury by, say, transmuting lead into gold all day, it'll be expensive (in money or in other forms of capital, like force, or political influence) to persuade her to instead spend her days setting fire to human waste.
[I don't actually understand your solution, to be honest. What sewage system? If you assume they have sewers, you don't need flame - sewers already work. If you don't have sewers, you're setting fire to... what, exactly? The polluted river? The polluted streets (mind out, passers-by and vagrants!)? Also bear in mind that setting fire to large amounts of sewage is a seriously risky idea, due to the combustable gasses!]
Which brings us to another point: there's a huge gap between having a resource, and having the technology to use it effectively. Setting fire to sewage is not difficult, even without magic. On the one hand, dried faeces is a major fuel source even in the modern world. On the other hand, slurry decaying in a confined space, like a sewer, produces sewer gas, a combustible mixture of methane and hydrogen sulfide (plus ammonia, nitrogen oxide, etc etc), which can easily be ignited. Indeed, "biogas" is an increasingly popular form of renewable energy source. Now, sewer gas, which combustible, isn't normally present in high enough densities to cause explosions, or to burn all the way through the pipes (and what, you're setting fire to the water in the sewers too?). "Fire" isn't a thing in its own right - "fire" doesn't run anywhere. Things catch fire. You could set fire to a sewer by using magic to change the chemisty - alter the chemistry to be more combustible, or concentrate the gases. But here's the problem: we do that in real life, too. Accidentally. When you add more combustible materials to (already a bit dangerous) sewers, the result is catastrophic explosions - it's happened dozens of times. So the real problem isn't 'making fire' - it's CONTROLLING that fire so that it spreads to exactly the right places at exactly the right speed, NOT causing an explosion. And that's really, really hard. Magic is actually very often just doing the easy bit more easily - you still need the technology and expertise and engineering to use it properly. [for instance: setting fire to petrol is the EASY bit of an internal combustion engine. It's the cunning design of the pistons and so forth that actually enables the device!] Similar problems tend to arise with any magical technology - it's easy to imagine simply teleporting magically, but in a way, teleporting is the easy bit. You still need a lot of surrounding technology and institution to use it on an industrial scale: how do you know where you're going? how do you know the teleporting area is empty? how do you know whose turn it is to be teleported? where do people queue up to be teleported? Who certifies the teleporters as safe? And so on.