“Social Services” in the Empire

Nowadays it seems an unspoken assumption that in a civilized society, the government is morally obligated to provide various “social services,” including health care, a “social safety net,” “retirement,” and so on; education is also sometimes included in this list. As a contrast to this notion, today we’ll take a look at how the society of the Shine and Wild Empire, the main country of my Shine Cycle, ensures the well-being of its citizens.

The way Imperial society functions stems directly from the fundamentals around which it is built—faith, family, and fealty. While the government does play a role, as I’ll explain in more detail below, these three parts of life are far more relevant in nearly every case.

Health-care is one of the biggest “social services” that the governments of “modern societies” are expected to provide. As with education, some districts choose to fund the construction and operation of hospitals or clinics, but most are run by church bodies or, more rarely, other nonprofit corporations. Most churches take the responsibility to minister to the sick quite seriously, so anyone unable to care for himself or herself will find help there. But families also go to great lengths to take care of their family members in need, and there is also strong precedent for a suzerain being obligated to assist a vassal who asks in time of such trouble.

While the government doesn’t have much of a role in direct “health care,” it is more likely to be involved with what we call “public health,” especially in coordinating resources and efforts from disparate organizations. Similarly, governments above the local level rarely provide direct assistance in the aftermath of a disaster, but they are almost as likely to end up coordinating responses as a Church bishopric or other non-governmental organization is.

As a basically medieval society, the Empire doesn’t have the same notion of “retirement” that we do. The Church, the family, and a suzerain would all consider themselves bound to help someone too frail to work or whose labor could no longer provide his or her livelihood, but there’s the underlying assumption that everyone will contribute what he or she can before relying on the assistance of others—there’s certainly no age at which a person has to “retire.” Also, given all this, and the “unemployment” situation (which I’ll talk about next), most choose to take brief “holidays” or “sabbaticals” throughout their life rather than saving for a “retirement” years or decades down the road.

Related to the issue of “retirement” is that of “unemployment.” People of means—landowners, entrepreneurs, and the like—generally do their best to find employment, at wages the work is worth, in their “concerns” for anyone in need who’s connected to them through the church, through their family, or by a chain of fealty, as both a duty of charity and an investment in the society. The last connection, in fact, is formalized in law: if a suzerain cannot provide work for a vassal, the vassal may ask to be released from the oath of fealty, and this request must be granted.

On the other hand, the government plays a larger role in this last area than in the others, simply from necessity. First, when the Empire goes to war, it can’t be reinventing organizational structures from scratch every time, and given the nature of its enemies a strong military is a necessity even in peacetime. But more relevantly, early in the Empire’s history, a large group of people from our world appeared in the capital with little warning. That was just as a war was starting, and many took up arms in it, postponing the problem somewhat, but when the war was over employment needed to be found for them—and they had none of the usual connections, being but newly arrived (so not yet members of local church bodies), having no family there, and not yet having sworn fealty to anyone. After a while the Imperial Service (which originally was largely just “the palace staff”) was expanded to employ them in something productive; after becoming accustomed to the society, many eventually became, essentially, entrepreneurs, and the generally successful businesses were “spun off” and privatized (once they had repaid the initial investment with interest), but that took a long while, and many others found bureaucratic or other “government service” roles more to their liking.

Any comments or questions about the above, or this topic?


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