Archive for April 18th, 2009

Horo and the guy whose name I forgot.

A bit later than the curve would suggest, but I've started on Spice and Wolf. Note that I said started, as in "watched about five minutes of the first episode before I had to go". I have heard tell that this anime concerns itself with being informative and educational rather than entertainment, which I admit would probably not have lured me in if there hadn't been the much-fanarted Horo. I learn better when a cute anime girl is involved; I am a simple man.

Most of my knowledge about the history of currency is from Neal Stephenson's unwieldy Baroque Cycle. For those who have never read it before (and believe me, if you've read it you'd know, considering its possible usage as a 1d6 bludgeoning weapon), it deals with the political and cultural upheavals of the late 17th and early 18th century, with an immense focus, as only Stephenson can do and still get published under Fiction, on modern finance and banking. I am hoping, with the sort of desperate optimism a college student the day before his finals may possess while looking for Cliff's Notes in the bookstore, that Spice and Wolf may provide a less depressing context for the history lesson.

(And while I like Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, Making Money isn't really all that informative. Entertaining, but not informative.)

The idea of economics is pretty fascinating, although I should mention that I'd rather not do all the heavy lifting of actually studying the subject. The basic principles, from the concept of barter, is simple: I have A Thing which you want. You may have Another Thing which I want. We then trade our Things as far as we see the transaction to be viable. Except that the Real World doesn't work that neatly, and so lots of complications arise, and lots more complications arise from the attempted solutions to these complications, a state of affairs familiar to experienced gamers.

Along the way someone came up with the idea of representing, say, a given amount of apples or spices or cow with a shaped bulk sample of precious metals, and then someone else thought of keeping the general shape but reducing the amount of precious metal in that sample, and then we have things Written Down which promised to Pay The Bearer One Dollar I Say One Dollar Upon Presentation Of This Note. The piece of paper alone is worth about as much as a regular piece of paper plus some ink, but the information recorded on that paper, and the reputation of the person or organization encoding that information, made it worth as much as a given amount of precious metals, or a given amount of cow, if it comes to that. The jump to that information without the paper seems trivial in comparison.

Along the way, the world became more and more connected, and lines of communications became more and more secure, and very intelligent people thought up of ways to use this to their advantage, or their nation's advantage, or their culture's advantage. Or politics, which is never very far behind. (I include religious beliefs of that time inside politics, since that's what it boiled down to anyway.) Thus, given that it is fairly safe to assume that a message sent to someone will reach that person, these intelligent people are able to shuffle around money that they have, or don't have, or will possibly have in the future provided various things come to pass, or other people's money which they are keeping in yet other people's pockets, and still settle accounts, through some sort of financial voodoo.

We have come from trading Things, to what is essentially Magic. And the essential part of magic is in knowing just that bit more than everyone else.

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