Money in the Empire

If I were writing a utopia, I would say that “all worked unselfishly for the good of all” with no need for money. If I were writing a dystopia, I would describe a government that confiscated and abolished money, abrogating to itself the divine powers and responsibilities of predestination, election, providence, and so on. But the Shine Cycle is to be neither, so I have to think about how money fits into the world I’m building.

Unlike our world today, in the world of the Shine Cycle there is no single currency—except in the Dragon Empire, which is more totalitarian than I can even imagine or begin to describe. Under that repressive regime there is at most but one legal tender. But in the free world there is no such restriction. Because what, after all, in a free society, is currency but a medium of exchange, of little intrinsic value but given its value by the mutual trust of those who give and accept it? Any bank, banker, or private person, in addition to any political jurisdiction’s treasury, can (with the proper equipment) coin its own money or print its own currency.

This is not to say that counterfeiting runs rampant. Counterfeit money—whether false currency, as we deal with today, or impure coins—is not difficult to detect with a combination of techniques much like those that our world has developed over the past two millennia and more and applied metaphysics, and avoiding all or even many of the various custom detection schemes that every bank and most businesses have is effectively impossible. And, once a counterfeit has been discovered, it is not all that difficult to trace its history back to its creator, who is then held liable for the face value of the counterfeits, as well as additional penalties.

But what this system does create is a patchwork of competing currencies, all fluctuating in relative value. The Imperial Treasury’s bonds tend to be the reserve currency of the free world, since the Empire has few expenses and (especially with its inability to privatize new enterprises fast enough in the aftermath of the arrival of the Chosen) unreasonably large income despite few taxes. On the other hand, there’s very little call for a “reserve currency”, since most people and institutions prefer to have their wealth either invested in some business (their own, or someone’s they know well, typically) or kept securely in some more intrinsically-valuable form (or at least a form where the value is less easily depreciable, such as unminted gold).

Banking in the Empire never developed in the … curious … way it has here. Loans with a set interest rate are rare (other than institutional bonds, which are not all that common); instead, the standard practice is an investment in return for a small share of the profit (for a defined term or otherwise), though for riskier investments the lender/investor might still ask for some sort of collateral until he recouped his investment. A few enterprising members of the Chosen have introduced credit cards, but they haven’t caught on; stores are willing enough to sell on credit to (i.e. settle up accounts monthly with) local customers that this is unnecessary.

What do you think of all this?

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