Magical Economics

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MarMul
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Magical Economics

Post by MarMul »

I run a world building YouTube channel and I recently made this video: https://youtu.be/K4JaBKWbF_0

The essence of it is that I think world builder often neglect the impact of magic on world building. Would you really have a feudal economic system with all its pyramid schemes if you had magic as a tradable resource? *Looking at you DnD*
I run a worldbuilding channel on YouTube where I focus on fantasy worldbuilding with a historical flair. https://www.youtube.com/c/JustInTimeWor ... irmation=1
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Re: Magical Economics

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Cue to Sal giving a long and really well thought-out answer.
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Re: Magical Economics

Post by Khemehekis »

Besides economics, conworlders can also put magic into their worlds without thinking about how it would interact with technology. I was discussing "elves, dwarves, orcs, and magic!!!" conworlds with Nachtuil, a diachronic collaborator of mine on this board, and he said: "I can tolerate elves and such but I'm really not keen on high magic at all. haha I agree that low magic or no magic worlds are way more fun. Maybe because it is easier to conceptualise the behaviour and don't need to suspend disbelief all the time that major factors of the world would be identical to our historical one despite the existence of powerful magic that would supersede a great deal of historical technology etc."
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Re: Magical Economics

Post by MarMul »

So, I don't mind going high fantasy. Magic done well can really create a fantastical element to a world that draws the consumer into the world and gives them a feeling of wonder. However, if you're going ubiquitous magic, think about what you're doing. (https://youtu.be/ePKbNZdU8Q4).

Think about things like a sewage system. If you can have fire running through your sewage system that cleans out the filth every day, your pollution problem that bred so many diseases in the medieval times goes away.

If you have travel magic, what happens to banditry? If you have a lot of magic, how do you deal with mages who are criminals? How do you catch them? How do you punish them?

What about your government?

What about the magical have-nots? Do they have a organization who tries to overthrow the magical elites?

Ahem, etc etc :) So it's a lot of work but if really done well, it can be amazing.
I run a worldbuilding channel on YouTube where I focus on fantasy worldbuilding with a historical flair. https://www.youtube.com/c/JustInTimeWor ... irmation=1
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Re: Magical Economics

Post by Salmoneus »

Creyeditor wrote: 26 Apr 2021 07:38 Cue to Sal giving a long and really well thought-out answer.
*clears throat*

Well...

... 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.
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Re: Magical Economics

Post by Pabappa »

My world is entirely without magic, and although I consider it fantasy, I havent found a term that I feel comfortable with to describe it. I only recently heard about low fantasy, which means various things, but none of which correspond to the idea I have. But now that I think of it, no-magic worlds are probably the most common type within this community, ....apologies that I've never read the Damta thread, but it seems to me that most of the other collaborative worlds we have here are also entirely without magic.

So I ask again .... is there a good term for that?

In my own writing, although there is no magic, the world is still different in many important ways, and things happen there that would never happen here. In fact in recent years I've been ever more pushing the envelope on what I can accomplish within the known laws of physics, biology, and so on. For example, the scale of land-based lifeforms, in general, is much smaller than on Earth, so although I don't mention it in writeups I know in the back of my mind that my humans are only about 2 feet tall, and thus have correspondingly stronger muscles for their size, better athletic skills, and so on, but are a great deal more vulnerable to weather events and will have difficulty rowing a boat.

Things like that are why I consider my writing to still be fantasy despite the lack of magic.

As for economics ... well, economics has always been a weak subject for me, both in real-world applications and in my writing. I'd accept criticism over my ideas, and admit that even within the framework of my writing some ideas that i'm very fond of are difficult to explain. But it's not for lack of thought .... I've never been in the situation like some video games where e.g. "food comes from nowhere" because the story works better if people are free to go on missions, and so on.

But I definitely have addressed the way the differences between our world and theirs would affect basic economic processes such as trade. As above, the people are big enough to get around on boats, but just barely so, and land trade is more common even when the route is considerably longer and passes through difficult terrain. Likewise, while not magic, there are animals that are proportionately much larger than their Earth equivalents, primarily birds, since they have more room to grow before bumping up against physical limits when the scale is so small to begin with. This means that predatory birds keep humans from dominating the food chain throughout much of the planet, and also provide a second reason why sea travel is so poorly developed .... humans are vulnerable enough on land, but much more so when they're trapped in a boat.

Lastly, humans have some anatomical and behavioral differences compared to those on Earth. Throughout much of the planet, women are taller than men, and this is a stable trait, for reasons I've explained elsewhere on this board. Thus, without magic, women completely dominate many human societies and likely have a lot in common with the women in many low- and even high-fantasy stories where magic is what keeps women in power. This affects economics as well because, for example, in Moonshine society, women control all positions of power and also control the money supply, such that men are little more than slaves, and women compete instead with other women, as few women would want to see their own husbands being mistreated or exploited for their labor by others.
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Re: Magical Economics

Post by Dormouse559 »

Pabappa wrote: 26 Apr 2021 16:52So I ask again .... is there a good term for that?
From a writing perspective? Speculative fiction. If the science behind the world is thematically significant, then maybe that can narrow to science fiction. But I hesitate to say "fantasy" if there's no supernatural element at all.
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Re: Magical Economics

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Pabappa wrote: 26 Apr 2021 16:52 My world is entirely without magic, and although I consider it fantasy, I havent found a term that I feel comfortable with to describe it. I only recently heard about low fantasy, which means various things, but none of which correspond to the idea I have. But now that I think of it, no-magic worlds are probably the most common type within this community, ....apologies that I've never read the Damta thread, but it seems to me that most of the other collaborative worlds we have here are also entirely without magic.

So I ask again .... is there a good term for that?
Fantasy doesn't necessarily imply magic. Best example: Middle Earth. No actual magic involved, when you get right down to it. Certainly not magic in the usual sense of the word, some kind of mystical, weird force like we find in D&D or the Wizarding World.
In my own writing, although there is no magic, the world is still different in many important ways, and things happen there that would never happen here. In fact in recent years I've been ever more pushing the envelope on what I can accomplish within the known laws of physics, biology, and so on. For example, the scale of land-based lifeforms, in general, is much smaller than on Earth, so although I don't mention it in writeups I know in the back of my mind that my humans are only about 2 feet tall, and thus have correspondingly stronger muscles for their size, better athletic skills, and so on, but are a great deal more vulnerable to weather events and will have difficulty rowing a boat.

Things like that are why I consider my writing to still be fantasy despite the lack of magic.
I'd actually suggest "science fantasy" or "fantastical sci-fi". Generally, you're keeping to real world laws of nature, but are bending them interestingly.

As for the other points you make, I'd argue that you provided sufficiently cogent and cohesive rationales for why things are the way they are that I'd easily and happily gloss over economics as your weak suit and would simply accept the world as it is without complaint.
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Re: Magical Economics

Post by Salmoneus »

elemtilas wrote: 27 Apr 2021 01:26 Best example: Middle Earth. No actual magic involved, when you get right down to it. Certainly not magic in the usual sense of the word, some kind of mystical, weird force like we find in D&D or the Wizarding World.
[/quote]

Hurling fireballs, becoming invisible, scrying in a crystal ball, intense blinding lights, doors that open automatically in response to magic words, immortality (not only of immortal species, but grants of immortality to humans), walking trees, sentient trees, songs that control (or at least influence) sentient trees, beings made of flame and shadow, glowing people, magic detection of items, magical concealment of places, control of water, spells cast on weapons to make them glow in the presence of enemies, unnatural night... and that's just LOTR. What about spells to prevent enemies from entering an area? Resurrection? Shapeshifting? Vampirism? Talking animals? Mind control? Flying ships? Magic lamps? Glowing trees? Turning a flat world into a globe? Sinking a continent? Lands that make interlopers fall asleep? Etc etc...
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Re: Magical Economics

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Salmoneus wrote: 27 Apr 2021 02:13
elemtilas wrote: 27 Apr 2021 01:26 Best example: Middle Earth. No actual magic involved, when you get right down to it. Certainly not magic in the usual sense of the word, some kind of mystical, weird force like we find in D&D or the Wizarding World.
Hurling fireballs, becoming invisible, scrying in a crystal ball, intense blinding lights, doors that open automatically in response to magic words, immortality (not only of immortal species, but grants of immortality to humans), walking trees, sentient trees, songs that control (or at least influence) sentient trees, beings made of flame and shadow, glowing people, magic detection of items, magical concealment of places, control of water, spells cast on weapons to make them glow in the presence of enemies, unnatural night... and that's just LOTR. What about spells to prevent enemies from entering an area? Resurrection? Shapeshifting? Vampirism? Talking animals? Mind control? Flying ships? Magic lamps? Glowing trees? Turning a flat world into a globe? Sinking a continent? Lands that make interlopers fall asleep? Etc etc...
For this is what your folk would call magic. I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy.

Question: why do you consider those things to be "magic"?
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Re: Magical Economics

Post by Ahzoh »

elemtilas wrote: 27 Apr 2021 02:30Question: why do you consider those things to be "magic"?
Magic is just a shorthand for "supernatural phenomena that can't and shouldn't be explained in terms of expected and physical laws/reality". All those things are magic because they don't even try to adhere to physics or any kind of universal property like that. If they did, it'd stop being magic fantasy and start being science fiction. Middle Earth has physics and "natural"/physical laws and phenomenon, but it also has magic, which defies them.

I am even making space for the possibility of extending Clark's Law to say "another universe's set of physical laws can be so different that its phenomena could appear supernatural to us"
Salmoneus wrote: 26 Apr 2021 15:31 - what can magic do?
- what does magic cost?
- how many people can do magic?
- which people can do magic?
These sort of questions I've been struggling with for my conworld. Because while I want magic, I don't want it to be the case where the entire planet is conquered and enslaved by like 10,000 or so wizards capable of launching fireballs and freezing people to death. But I also don't want sorceror-slaves. It's a hard balance to strike.

-The kind of magic my conpeople can do involves mainly heat-manipulation (either making things hot or making things cold) and short-distance teleportation. Some can also manipulate dreams. But nothing too powerful, like launching explosive fireballs comparable to grenades (at least unless you're exceptionally powerful) or bombs or being able to freeze people to death like Sub-Zero.

But I also think the magic is kind of "esoteric" as there are kinds of magic that aren't typical and things that could empower or dampen magic abilities that aren't common knowledge (e.g. there is a lesser-known pool of water said to be blessed by the sun goddess that is said to confer protection against demons if one makes ink with it and tattoo someone with the blessed ink).
There is also the fact that humans must contend with creatures from another universe ("demons") who possess a mutual-weakness with magic-users (basically akin to how Dragon-type Pokemon are weak to Dragon-type moves).

-The cost of magic is more like a metabolic cost, the kind of cost you'd have whenever you lift things and other kinds of physical exertion. And I imagine a person of great stamina could cast spells more frequently and with greater power.

-The number of magic users is always substantially smaller than the number of people who can't.

-It's either genetic or epigenetic or by some other means. It is mainly a birth-trait but it is a rare trait and it is almost impossible to determine who will manifest it, so it is not possible or practical to "keep it in the bloodline".

I do kinda like how Star Wars does it, where it has force-sensitives but they aren't so powerful that they can exclusively dominate galaxies forever.

Given all this, I'm not sure Feudal Europe could happen, but the Pre-Fall-of-Rome Roman Empire could still exist.
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Re: Magical Economics

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Salmoneus wrote: 26 Apr 2021 15:31
But the answer to "would you have feudalism if you had magic?" is "yes, absolutely"... depending on what sort of magic you had.
Specifically magic as a tradeable resource ala the DnD magical item marketplace. If you have trade networks that support being able to walk into a medium sized town to purchasing an item for thousands of gold pieces, feudalism becomes unsustainable as a socio-economic system, imo.
Salmoneus wrote: 26 Apr 2021 15:31 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.
My point exactly (as I was referencing the DnD magic system and magical item market place).
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Re: Magical Economics

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MarMul wrote: 27 Apr 2021 08:48
Salmoneus wrote: 26 Apr 2021 15:31
But the answer to "would you have feudalism if you had magic?" is "yes, absolutely"... depending on what sort of magic you had.
Specifically magic as a tradeable resource ala the DnD magical item marketplace. If you have trade networks that support being able to walk into a medium sized town to purchasing an item for thousands of gold pieces, feudalism becomes unsustainable as a socio-economic system, imo.
But that's nothing to do with magic, is it? It's true that financial institutions of that kind didn't exist in feudal Europe, but the same would be true of walking into a medium-sized town to purchase a non-magical item for thousands of gold pieces.

I don't think you should base too much speculation about 'magic' solely on a badly-run D&D campaign! Because at the very least, someone's been ignoring the tables on rarity of magical items - there's no way you should be able to find an item worth thousands of gold pieces in a medium-sized town. At least, when I was playing D&D in days of yore, there was both a general discussion in the rulebooks of this "Monty Hall poblem" (not THAT Monty Hall Problem) and suggested probability tables for discovering things. And of course more fundamentally, a DM shouldn't be letting people walk around with thousands of gold pieces (unpassable encumberance checks!), and any letter of credit you could be carrying should itself be interrogated as a plot point (do the villagers understand banker's cheques? do they accept their authenticity? have they heard of your banker?).

[all that said, I don't see why feudalism - a political system rather than a socio-economic one - couldn't coexist with early modern banking systems. And indeed, the presence of fabulously expensive magical items might well spur the earlier creation of banking (and other trading and financial institutions)]
Salmoneus wrote: 26 Apr 2021 15:31 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.
My point exactly (as I was referencing the DnD magic system and magical item market place).
Well then that seems an unnecessarily and confusingly narrow scope for the discussion. Most people won't be familiar with the modern D&D magic system and 'magical item market place', whatever that is.
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Re: Magical Economics

Post by Khemehekis »

I've never played Dungeons & Dragons! And as a result, I'm not really following what MarMul is talking about.

Not really an issue though, as the Lehola Galaxy has Greys and reptoids and FTL travel and wormholes and abductions and knowledge beyond five dimensions and ufopoleis and lifespeeding! No elves, dwarves, orcs, dragons, nor wizards in my conworld!
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Re: Magical Economics

Post by sangi39 »

Probably more related to DnD and similar games, but what if there was some group of necromancers in some settlement who are capable of raising the dead, and can put them to work doing stuff like mining, logging, seed-planting, harvesting, tree picking, and I guess something like basic infrastructure management (like maintaining the state of roads), the removal of waste, etc.? I'm thinking basically anything that's fairly labour intensive, but not very detail intensive (they can be shown where to plant seeds, but they can't make decisions regarding crop rotation, or they can be shown which fruits to pick, but they have to be told when the right time to pick them is).

That would, I think, essentially create something like a mechanised source of production, right? But one that fluctuates over time depending on how many people die over the years, and to what extent the bodies hold up and can be repaired if they suffer damage (which I assume would fall predominantly in the hands of the necromancers, or perhaps anyone who could be trained up in how to stitch things back together?).

What effect could that sort of situation have, or is it dependent on other factors, like who controls what happens to the things produced by the walking dead, who the necromancers side with (or even who takes control of their actions), the number of necromancers, the number of people dying and the rate of replacement for the dead, the actions of other surrounding settlements (which might, I guess, relate to how necromancers and the use of the dead for labour is perceived), and the like?

I was just thinking, necromancers always seem to be played as very self-serving or nigh-on evil (one of my friends plays a half-elf who got into necromancy once they realised they were aging, unlike their full-elf father and siblings, and it drove them to try and understand the workings of life and death in a desperate attempt to attain immortality), but what if a group of them got into it once they realised that the dead outnumber the living and thought "oh, hey, we can control the dead, right? What if we used them to actually do stuff?". But, then, how would that effect the economics of a DnD-like world, and how might a DnD-like world affect how that situation grows?
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Re: Magical Economics

Post by Ahzoh »

A society of necromancers would probably be overpowered because they have an army of dead people who are basically slaves and don't care about dying now. It would also render other forms of slavery as pointless.

Then there's sieges, which would always succeed because you have an army that knows neither tiredness nor hunger nor illness nor demotivation.

This is of course assumes the dead are mindless and don't exhibit wills of their own.
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Re: Magical Economics

Post by Salmoneus »

What can we say about necromancers? Well, a necromancer is basically the same as a union boss: she controls a certain amount of labour (that is, she uses her influence over a supply of labour to enforce collective bargaining agreements). So, all else being equal, having a necromancer around raises wages for everybody.

However, all else is not necessarily equal. Are dead workers cheaper or more expensive than live workers? I don't think there's a definite answer to this.

Some questions:
- is the labour capacity per capita of zombies higher or lower than that of living people? It depends whether we're going for "animated with supernatural strength" zombies, or "shambling rotting corpses" zombies.
- is the energy cost per zombie higher or lower? They're surely going to use more energy - putrefaction is inefficient in a production context - but how expensive is that energy? Again, depends on the model. If it's "necromancer sells their soul to have demons animate some corpses" then the marginal cost of energy is very low - the demons bring their own. If it's "necromancer uses their own life-energy to animate a corpse", then the energy is very expensive - it's ordinary human energy, with the caveat that it kills the necromancer eventually (which necromancers will want to avoid). Or if the zombie obtains its own energy - how? If it has to eat brains, that's much moe expensive than rice. If it eats sunlight, that's very cheap.
- what's the supply chain like? Obviously dead people take as long to grow as living people, so supply is limited - you need to make a living person first, and then kill them. Is the zombie supply endogenous to the local economy - made of local dead people - or is it exogenous, driven by a constant supply of imported slaves to sacrifice?

If dead labour is very cheap, then this will drive down local wages, redistribute wealth to the capitalist class (potentially including necromancers) and spur investment in necromancy. This could kickstart capitalism. On the other hand, cheap dead labour will discourage investment in technological efficiency (you don't need efficiency as much if labour is cheap!). This will probably limit capitalism in practice.

Or, if dead labour is very expensive, then this will drive up wages if the dead labour is very plentiful (makes up a large percentage of the available workforce), but if not then it will have little effect on the economy, because it won't be worth doing. In that scenario, necromancy would be an expensive resource that's only used in targeted ways - to build an important dam, to defend the village in an invasion, etc.

If it's in between... it will be in between.

Overall, I suspect that necromancy is very similar economically to other forms of slavery, since that's basically what it is. Zombies will be a form of conspicuous consumption. In terms of production, they'll be beneficial if there's some economic task that is extremely labour-intensive and ideally dangerous, but potentially extremely profitable - like cotton-farming in the US, or mining in ancient Rome. More generally, they'll be appealing in a low density population, where labour is expensive and capital is cheap. But this will be an oppressive form of slavery - I'm assuming zombies won't be paid, and won't be adopted into the family to bear children - so it won't be very economically useful outside a few unusual jobs. Generally, slavery costs more and produces less than free labour, because it has no incentives for efficiency and innovation. Of course, if we're talking possessed-by-demons necromancy, the demons could be VERY innovative and efficiency if they chose to be!
[the reason slavery in the new world was so economically vital wasn't that it lowered labour costs below that of free labour in Europe... but rather that it was extremely difficult to recruit labour from Europe at first, because living and working conditions in the new world were so terrible. It was hard to persuade anyone to move to Jamaica or Carolina, let alone to persuade farm workers. Slavery allowed the mass importation of labour at a rate must faster than organic growth of the colonies could have accomplished. The reason slavery continued to thrive in the US in the 19th century wasn't profitability, but social status: owning slaves made people sexually attractive. Both of these motivations could equally be applied to zombies.]

In terms of the status of necromancers, it matters hugely who they are and how they become necromancers. If everyone in the village raises their own dead, that's one thing - necromancy is cheap, but hard to control. If necromancy is a rare, random talent, then powerful families will attempt to control necromancers either by force (slavery) or by temptation (adoption into the family). Or both. If necromancy is confined to one bloodline, then however the first necromancers are treated, you'd expect that family to, over time, accrue non-necromantic power and wealth.
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Re: Magical Economics

Post by sangi39 »

Salmoneus wrote: 02 May 2021 15:30 What can we say about necromancers? Well, a necromancer is basically the same as a union boss: she controls a certain amount of labour (that is, she uses her influence over a supply of labour to enforce collective bargaining agreements). So, all else being equal, having a necromancer around raises wages for everybody.

However, all else is not necessarily equal. Are dead workers cheaper or more expensive than live workers? I don't think there's a definite answer to this.

Some questions:
- is the labour capacity per capita of zombies higher or lower than that of living people? It depends whether we're going for "animated with supernatural strength" zombies, or "shambling rotting corpses" zombies.
- is the energy cost per zombie higher or lower? They're surely going to use more energy - putrefaction is inefficient in a production context - but how expensive is that energy? Again, depends on the model. If it's "necromancer sells their soul to have demons animate some corpses" then the marginal cost of energy is very low - the demons bring their own. If it's "necromancer uses their own life-energy to animate a corpse", then the energy is very expensive - it's ordinary human energy, with the caveat that it kills the necromancer eventually (which necromancers will want to avoid). Or if the zombie obtains its own energy - how? If it has to eat brains, that's much moe expensive than rice. If it eats sunlight, that's very cheap.
- what's the supply chain like? Obviously dead people take as long to grow as living people, so supply is limited - you need to make a living person first, and then kill them. Is the zombie supply endogenous to the local economy - made of local dead people - or is it exogenous, driven by a constant supply of imported slaves to sacrifice?

If dead labour is very cheap, then this will drive down local wages, redistribute wealth to the capitalist class (potentially including necromancers) and spur investment in necromancy. This could kickstart capitalism. On the other hand, cheap dead labour will discourage investment in technological efficiency (you don't need efficiency as much if labour is cheap!). This will probably limit capitalism in practice.

Or, if dead labour is very expensive, then this will drive up wages if the dead labour is very plentiful (makes up a large percentage of the available workforce), but if not then it will have little effect on the economy, because it won't be worth doing. In that scenario, necromancy would be an expensive resource that's only used in targeted ways - to build an important dam, to defend the village in an invasion, etc.

If it's in between... it will be in between.

Overall, I suspect that necromancy is very similar economically to other forms of slavery, since that's basically what it is. Zombies will be a form of conspicuous consumption. In terms of production, they'll be beneficial if there's some economic task that is extremely labour-intensive and ideally dangerous, but potentially extremely profitable - like cotton-farming in the US, or mining in ancient Rome. More generally, they'll be appealing in a low density population, where labour is expensive and capital is cheap. But this will be an oppressive form of slavery - I'm assuming zombies won't be paid, and won't be adopted into the family to bear children - so it won't be very economically useful outside a few unusual jobs. Generally, slavery costs more and produces less than free labour, because it has no incentives for efficiency and innovation. Of course, if we're talking possessed-by-demons necromancy, the demons could be VERY innovative and efficiency if they chose to be!
[the reason slavery in the new world was so economically vital wasn't that it lowered labour costs below that of free labour in Europe... but rather that it was extremely difficult to recruit labour from Europe at first, because living and working conditions in the new world were so terrible. It was hard to persuade anyone to move to Jamaica or Carolina, let alone to persuade farm workers. Slavery allowed the mass importation of labour at a rate must faster than organic growth of the colonies could have accomplished. The reason slavery continued to thrive in the US in the 19th century wasn't profitability, but social status: owning slaves made people sexually attractive. Both of these motivations could equally be applied to zombies.]

In terms of the status of necromancers, it matters hugely who they are and how they become necromancers. If everyone in the village raises their own dead, that's one thing - necromancy is cheap, but hard to control. If necromancy is a rare, random talent, then powerful families will attempt to control necromancers either by force (slavery) or by temptation (adoption into the family). Or both. If necromancy is confined to one bloodline, then however the first necromancers are treated, you'd expect that family to, over time, accrue non-necromantic power and wealth.

Ohhh, okay, yeah, that all makes sense, I think. Definitely enough to think about.

I'd had a similar thought regarding golems, but I suppose with them, the "supply chain" question shifts from "where do the bodies come from" to "where do you get the clay/stone/iron/mithral/whatever?" and the economics of obtaining those materials. And then there's flesh golems [:P]

It's just not something I'd ever really seen anyone look at, and me and a friend have been looking at co-running a game, and if I could make this make sense, I really wanted to throw it in there somewhere.
You can tell the same lie a thousand times,
But it never gets any more true,
So close your eyes once more and once more believe
That they all still believe in you.
Just one time.
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