How to build your world: Economy

I’m back with another World Builder article.  So far I’ve already covered several topics including landscapes, races, habitats, transport and more.  So today’s topic is about creating an economy in your world and what aspects you might want to consider.

Title Image: World Builder Series: How to build your world: Economy. Image: Jar of money with a plant growing out the top. Growth

What is ‘Economy’?

The word economy is used to describe a number of aspects, such as the management of resources, the state of a country in regards to production and consumption of goods/services, supply of money etc.

When building a world, you will need to have systems in place for it to function.  The bigger and more elaborate the story, the more things you will need to consider in order to develop a realistic world model.

Wealth Structure

Distribution of Wealth

A common aspect within a world’s economy is the concept of wealth distribution.  Often referred to as the Wealth Gap (rich/poor divide).

Unless you have a more utopian world, the likelihood is that there will be a wealth inequality.  Where the distribution of assets including homes, possessions, finances etc are unequality divided amongst the people.

We see this is own world across different countries, as well as within individual countries and even the exoberant concept of the “1%” (the richest 1% own half the world’s wealth).

So consider how the wealth of your world is distributed.  Remember wealth is not just in the concept of money/currency.  If you have a region or territory that is situated on fertile farm land, clean water and draws in the best skilled workers, then that area could be considered “wealthy” .

The easiest way to start considering wealth divide is with those who rule on your world.  Do you have monarchs?  A church faction?  President?  Overlord?  Grounded gods?  Usually there is some ruling person, class, faction or group that will (most often) have or be given the larger amount of wealth.

Sources of Wealth

Now consider how that wealth is sourced.

  • Do your lands produce specific goods or services?
  • Where are the raw materials produced?
  • What is valued in those lands and in others?

Maybe you have a land that sits at the top of a river.  They could produce a dam and control the flow of water thus forcing their neighbours further down the river to pay them tithes.

If they fail to do so, they dam the water completely and withhold this imperative resource.

Maybe one of your lands has a diamond mine, they are not interested in such gemstones for what they are, but they know such things hold tremendous value to others so they use them to barter for say medicines or workers.

Sources of wealth can come from many places.  One land can conquer another, claim the land or the resources there before moving on.  Maybe your ruling class imposes taxes on their people, do they tax the merchants? the roads? everyone?

If your land is coastal, then maybe it has a port and charges the boats tithes to dock and unload their cargo.

Think about your wealth divide with the following questions:

  • Who does it benefit?
  • Who does it disadvantage?
  • How are they disadvantaged?
  • Why did it come about?
  • How is it maintained?
  • Is it changing?

Resources

Depending on what your land has in regards to resources, consider what they do with them.  I’ve mentioned earlier that a land with, say a diamond mine, may find it more beneficial to export what they have in order to get what they need.

Import & Export

Import is where goods or services are brought into a country from another and Export is where goods or services are sent out of a country into another.

Import and export are financial trade transactions between countries.  They are used to help countries develop and grow.  After all, not all countries have the same resources or skill levels of each other.

Mostly these types of trade can be done due to necessity, though you could decide that your countries are trying to broker a peace and so have created a trading system that is beneficial if not necessary.

For example, maybe one of your countries can feed themselves fine, but their neighbours have a better, higher-quality of meat.  This trade would be considered more of a luxury than a necessity.

Limits, quotas, mandates

Taking our world as an example, trade often comes with imposed limits or barriers.  These can be in the form of tariffs, taxes and quotas.

There are different reasons for why charges and limits are imposed on imports.  This can be to protect domestic industries.  If a country imported all its timber, for example, from another country, then it’s own timber industry would collapse.

Charges can also be added just as a means of creating revenue for the governing body, as a means of reducing the prevelance of a type of import or simply as discouraging money from leaving the origin country.

Things to consider:

  • What do your lands import and export?
  • Do any of these define the wealth and stabllity of the land?
  • Are there any charges or limits imposed?
  • How does this affect the people?
  • Are there any items that are illegally imported?

Labour

Let’s look at labour economics, this is all about those who supply labour and those who demand it.

Workers

Your characters will most likely have some form of work to do.  After all, if you’ve created a wealth system and given your land resources and services that you want to import and export, labour is going to be involved.

If you export timber, someone needs to cut down the trees and prepare the wood.    If you import diamonds, someone needs to mine them etc.  If the goods are shipped to the other lands, then you have sailors, deck hands etc.

Working conditions

What are the conditions like of your workers?  Are safetly regulations in place?  Are they treated fairly?  Are they trained up?  Given decent amounts of time for lunch and breaks?

These things can help to develop a deeper sense to your story.  Is your character tired of toiling for pittance, in conditions that often claim the lives of people or can severely injure them?

Do they want to travel to another land where people are treated better?

Unions

Does your land have unions?  How are they viewed?  Taking into account our own world, unions are seen as bad by some and great by others.  It would depend on your perspective, the union and how it operates etc.

Unions are designed to give workers stronger voices and a fair share of the growth they are helping to create with their work.  By becoming a single force, they have greater power to make demands and be heard by those in management.

However, unions can be considered to monopolise the labour supply and force demands that may be detrimental to the company/industry in the long run.

Again it comes down to perception mostly, how it affects each person or group.  A strong union fighting for safety protocols and higher wages will be seen as positive by their members, the work force.  Not so much from the standpoint of the employer.

Wages & Benefits

What do your workers get for their work?  Is it just a wage?  Are their extra benefits?  Depending on your story, this could be something explored and added to create conflict or obstacles.

Maybe your characters are working in deadly areas.  Those who perform these tasks are given access to a safer living location or medicine for their extended family as payment.

Does working longer hours give your characters more credits and these can then be redeemed for permits.  Only those with permits may travel or start a family, perhaps?

Are there pay inequalities in your world?  Maybe those considered pure blooded are given more wages than the hybrids.  Are your cyborgs paid less than full humans?

Are those from wealthy families instantly put into positions of power even without training but just because of their heritage and bloodlines?

Non-Labour Force

You will undoubtable have people in your world who are not part of the labour force.  These are people who don’t work or don’t employ others.

These can include:

  • People unable to work or unfit to work
  • Retired people
  • People too young (children, students)
  • Those caring for family (stay-at-home mums/dads)
  • Full time caregivers
  • Those who do not wish to work

How are these people treated in your world?  Are there stigmas attached?  Are some of these shunned in a land that values only what a person can earn?

Welfare

Welfare, or social security, is the government assistance.  There are many different types but in a nutshell it is money given to those who are unemployed, differently-abled, retired, sick and/or poor. 

These assistances are such things as pensions for those retired, disability living allowance for those differently-abled, child benefits for those with young dependants, caregivers allowance etc.

Does your world have this concept?  Does it take care of its people when they reach old age?  If they are injured or born with disabling conditions?  If they get sick for long periods?  If they are raising a family alone?

Who would be eligible for this assistance?  Are your poor and desolute cared for by the ruling bodies or is it left to the individuals who set up shelters, charities and soup kitchens?

Does your King drive out the homeless who he considers “cluttering his streets” or does he show benevolence and treat his people with kindness, offering succour?

Taxes

One way welfare is paid for is by taxes on those who work.  Taxes are used to pay for numerous services such as maintaining roads, building social housing, education, defense, health, protection etc.

Does your world charge taxes or some other levy?  Do all your citizens pay a token amount every month to the ruler so that their lands are well-maintained, well-protected?

Are they taxed so the wealthy can live in decadent opulence while the rest of the people starve?

Is the wealth that is generated used to educate or house the people?  Fortify the defenses?

How is it collected?  What happens if someone cannot pay?  Or won’t pay?

What do the people get for their taxes?

Currency

Currency is an accepted system of money used in a specific country.  So, many countries have different currencies.  They are all “money” which we have in the form of notes and coins with their decided value imprinted.

Things to consider:

  • Does your world have currency?
  • Does each location have different currency?
  • Is it money like we know it?
  • If your currency isn’t a fixed item (like coinage) do you use barter/trade instead?
  • How is the “money” made? (are they digital credits in your sci-fi, are they copper or silver tokens, wooden discs made from different values of wood?)

Banks

Since we’re talking about currency might as well touch on banks.  How is your form of currency used and saved?  Do you have banks that hold large amounts for its people?  Is this where the kindgom’s treasury is kept?

How do people save their wages if it’s a type of currency?  Are they forced to store it in a bank (or something similar) so they can be taxed on it?

Is “money” loaned out to people or invested?

Exchange rates

If your lands have different currencies, does that mean some are worth more?  You may want to keep things simple with a single, global currency that way you don’t need to consider the different values.

Though it can be an interesting aspect to add to a story, for example, does one land refuse to accept another’s currency?  How could this affect your character if they travelled between places and suddenly found their “wealth” is reduced to nothing?

Summary

Not all of this will be necessary to include in your world or your story, however having the concepts and ideas regarding economy can help to add in depth and complexity, as well as possibly allow for additional conflict and difficulties your characters need to overcome.

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Thanks for reading all the way through, those who did 😀  I hope you found this interesting, if nothing else lol.

I’ll be back with another World Builder post in a few weeks.  If there is anything you want to see on this blog, drop me a comment or use the contact form.

Have a great weekend and happy writing

Signature & logo of Ari Meghlen

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9 thoughts on “How to build your world: Economy

  1. Pingback: How to build your world: Economy | Dragons Rule OK.

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