Guilds in the Shine Cycle

As the Shine Cycle is set in a world that is basically medieval for about the first half of its history, it’s reasonable to ask the question: What is the role of guilds in Imperial society? Today I’d like to take some time to explore that question.

First of all, what is a guild? For our purposes, a guild is a group of craftsmen that is granted a monopoly on their craft in return for undertaking the training of the next generation in the craft, guaranteeing the quality of the craft’s production, settling disputes between practitioners of the craft, and so on.

The Imperial government—that is, its federal government—has steadfastly refused to grant Empire-wide monopolies to any guilds. This is primarily because several of its countries had granted national monopolies, which would have conflicted with or been overridden any new Imperial grants. But after the arrival of the Chosen, with experience as well as book-knowledge of modern “free markets,” the Imperial government increasingly values (initially limited) competition more than the perceived benefits of monopolies.

But even before modern capitalist economics were loosed on Imperial society, there were always a lot fewer guilds in the various kingdoms that became the Empire, particularly at their national level—and what guild charters were granted often were of limited, if renewable, duration. The reason for this is that, following the example of the Sunshine Kingdom, most countries allowed few if any patents of nobility to become hereditary, or even permanent for longer than the noble’s life, so the idea of giving a permanent monopoly rankled.

Because of this, most guilds are local affairs, given their monopoly within a town or other small district. And while they collaborate with their equivalent guild in other towns, such small guilds are not permitted to merge into larger, inter-district guilds holding both monopolies. This limits their power.

And, finally, within a few decades after the arrival of the Chosen, guilds have begun to fall out of favor, as rapid innovation has passed them by.

Any comments, questions, or other thoughts?

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3 thoughts on “Guilds in the Shine Cycle

  1. At first, it seemed strange that people making their living by a craft would allow innovation to pass them by. But this makes sense, in that the guilds are mostly local and communication between them would be more limited.

    You’re thinking of so many aspects of your world!

    • (Sorry, this seemed to be a given that was basic enough economics to not really be worth mentioning …)

      The reason “rapid innovation has passed them by”, as I say in the conclusion, isn’t that the guilds are small and decentralized, but part of their very nature. In fact, their small size and decentralized organization is the reason they’re still around and a going, if minor, concern in some districts even a century and more after the arrival of the Chosen. The reason they’re being left behind by innovation is that each guild is a monopoly, and in general monopolies tend not to innovate—they have little or no reason to.

      For example, in the context of guilds, suppose there’s a Cobblers Guild, with a monopoly on the manufacture and sale of shoes. Since they have a monopoly, there’s no real reason to try to make their shoes better—such innovation might happen as a result of competition between cobblers in the guild, but they’re more likely to agree not to compete. And in particular, if someone (in the guild or not) invented a way to make shoes never wear out, the Cobblers Guild would be far more likely to try to suppress that invention than to spread it and encourage its members to make such shoes.

  2. Wow! I see! I know almost nothing about the working of economics, but have the capacity to understand your explanation. Interesting! Do you know that I was actually surprised to find a forum thread on money at HW? While writing my book I never thought about money for my world, only wealth in the sense of beautiful or useful things. So, I guess the members of the Cobblers Guild would do just enough to get by…

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