Monday, January 25, 2016

World Blip – Currency

How much money is in your wallet (or purse or pocket or wherever you keep some loose change or spending money)?
What sort of money is it? American dollars, perhaps, or maybe euros or pounds (heh, perhaps a two-pence because you have an opinion?), or maybe even a few Sen?

Money is an important part of our lives, is it not? We think of goods in terms of how many “dollars” or “shillings” or “shekels” they cost (if you think in terms of shekels, you are my new favorite person). Go back a thousand years and people thought more in terms of “my pig will buy x-bags of flour and x-dozen eggs at market”.

I don’t have time to give you a lesson on the economics of a barter system vs. a monetary system, but I think you get the basic idea.
Money is important.
And when it isn’t considered important, something else is.

Consider a story which takes place in another world. This world can have any form of technological advancement or magical difference from our world.
Any world at all; I’m serious. It can be a hard science fiction or soft science fantasy or a low fantasy or steampunk alternate history of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

How do people buy things in this world?
Hm. That’s interesting, ever thought about it? We go around buying things all the time and hand out bills or coins or checks or little plastic cards with hardly a thought, do we not?
Yet our story worlds rarely consider the idea of money, beyond the massive treasure store guarded by the fearsome dragon.

There’s something off about that, and I hope you can see it.
Quite simply, currency can be a five minute creation. Five minutes. Give me five minutes of your world-building time and I can help you create a quick, efficient, simple currency system for any world.

As a note before we begin: currency is one of those details in a world that needn’t be focused on. Your story will still work without a currency system. Unless the plot focuses on a moneychanger or merchant who deals in large sums of money, the only reason to have currency developed is to add a realistic sheen to your story.

Now: there are three basic steps you need to “follow” to create a decent currency set for any country:

1) Money or Barter?
A lot of stories set in medieval fantasies have excessive money systems when, in reality, most medieval countries would use a barter system. With the exception of the rich nobles and the late-medieval second class, people would trade what they had for what they needed. Eggs for flour, milk for nails, a sow for a plow, and so forth.
So. Decide: do the people in your world deal in money (such as coins or paper) or do they simply trade?
If there is a barter system rather than currency, you’re already done. Isn’t it great? Thirty seconds and your country’s economy has its foundation set.

2) What does the currency look like, and what is the exchange value?
      -Is the currency coins or paper bills or bits of shell? If it’s metal; gold or silver or bronze?
      -All currency has to be backed by someone. Coins aren’t just “worth” something because you want it to. A government has to decide “all right, puny peasants, this coin is worth this many of this coin, so deal with it”. If there is nothing to back the currency, it’s worth nothing. You can’t eat a piece of gold and it’s hard to wear a paper bill.
       -As a side note, consider a unique approach: what is rare in your story world? In a high-tech world, gold might not be that rare; it can be imported from some colony world with no problem. Gold becomes a common furnishing. So what takes its place? Perhaps the currency is backed by stockpiles of titanium or ununoctium.
And in a fantasy world? Think like a Native American and try sea shells as coins. It’s pretty interesting.

3) What buys what?
Once you have a system where “Big Coin” is worth four “Medium Coin” is worth four “Little Coin”, now it’s time to figure out what people measure “Big Coin” as relative to products they might buy.
If people decide two “Medium Coin” will buy a loaf of bread, then one “Big Coin” will buy how many loaves of bread?

Please tell me you said two.
Find some standard by which people measure the value of the currency. If two “Medium Coin” will buy a loaf of bread, it doesn’t make sense that only two “Big Coin” will buy a bolt of silk. Maybe fifty “Big Coin” will buy silk, and five hundred “Big Coin” will buy a common horse or cow.
It’s fairly simple; use common sense. A cow is worth more than a loaf of bread, and a jetpack is worth more than a computer.

And that’s it. Decide what the currency is, what it’s made of, what it is worth relative to other forms of currency, and how much currency buys a cow.

Of course, you can go further if you wish. It’s rare for two countries to share the same currency. Currency exchange is a tricky business, but it’s a real thing that needs to be dealt with.

A simple five-minute thought process about a few bits of gold can add a million peso’s worth of reality to your story.

What about you? Does your story world have a currency? If so, what is it like? Leave a comment and share!

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