Economy: Establishing Trade, Production, and Money for Fictional Worlds

E is for Economy...
E is for Economy…

Stopping by for the first time for the A-Z Challenge? Read a short intro to the A-Zs of Worldbuilding here!

I also have a post up at the Rabid Rainbow Ferret Society today – Let’s Talk About Ellipses…

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I will admit straight up that economics is not necessarily my expertise. But I do have plenty of experience watching economics affect me directly. Like the ability to get a mortgage. Or the ability to buy groceries. Or to maintain my car. 

Here’s the beauty of economics in world-building, though: you can have the system be as simple or as complicated as you like. I tend to gravitate towards simple, just to save my poor brain. Other people like complicated.

So, here’s what you need to look at:

Production

How self-sufficient are people?

Does anyone own the majority of the land available? If yes, who?

How many natural resources are at their disposal – especially ones they don’t have to pay for?

What product is in abundance? What product is hard to come by/rare?

Do people trade items for the things they need, or pay for them with precious metals/gems? (Do they use a bartering system, or a monetary system?) Or is it a combination of both?

Regulation

Who (if anyone) controls the flow of commerce and money within a city/state/country?

Are there banks? Are they regulated by the government?

Is there a specific type of coinage or paper money endorsed by the government, or can people smelt their own precious metals into whatever weight amounts they desire (or use something like gold dust)?

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Like money in the United States. Although much of it isn’t ‘backed up’ by gold or silver anymore, which essentially means it’s worthless paper. But you can definitely create a world with a commerce based on paper! That’s the beauty of fantasy. Also keep in mind that many different things have served as money over time. In South America, cacao beans were once a form of money. In China, blocks of tea (which I think is kind of awesome). I believe China also used the leaves of a mulberry tree for money at one point.

Trade

What are the main import and export products?

How are things imported and exported? (IE: By boat on a river, sea, or large lake; by pack animal; etc.)

Who is in charge of the acquisition and/or production of rare goods? Is it a closely guarded family secret, or something an entire community works on together?

Are there taxes levied against import/export products? On income/expense? Who is in charge of regulating and collecting the taxes?

In Conclusion:

You don’t have to make things complicated. You can, if you want, but unless economics plays a huge role in your story, don’t get caught up in it. Know the basics of your money system, and what goods are available where. Another questions you can figure out when they come up.

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8 thoughts on “Economy: Establishing Trade, Production, and Money for Fictional Worlds

    1. Exactly! Unless you’re an economics major in school, there’s really so much to it that it’ll only bog down your writing – especially if you’re trying to put it all in your story.

  1. UGH! Economy – I struggled for long time sorting how the economy in my world would function, what the currency was and so on. Every time I thought I had it covered I’d realize I forgot something. I may just make checklists from your posts 😉 You are really doing a great job covering world building.

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    A-to-Z Challenge 2014
    Mighty Minion of Co-Host Nicole Ayers
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