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Let's say we have a world where magic is so powerful that essentially all labor requirements are obviated - a single mage can build a castle in a day, instantly plant and later harvest a large field, in a matter of hours extract and refine all ore from a mountain, etc. They do this either directly, by construction of magically powered machines, summoning of demons and so on. Magic can only apply energy in various forms to the world, but not alter its properties - e.g. it's impossible to have plants grow instantly, teleport or create things from nothing.

Let's examine two potential scenarios. Both can be further differentiated by the number of potential magic users - either it can be wielded either by a small (<5% of the population) caste of mages or by everyone. In either case, mages don't require more nutrition than a muggle or any specific external resources.

  1. Our society is in the late hunter-gatherer stage. Magic has been known for many generations and has provided plentiful hunting yields. IRL by now we would be discovering agriculture and settling down. Would there still be any reason to do so with magic? If yes, how would the society evolve from there?

  2. It's a normal magic-less medieval/renaissance setting and the magic appears suddenly by being brought by arriving traders/discovered by mad scientists/just out of thin air. How does the society change to accomodate the new addition?

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closed as too broad by pluckedkiwi, Andon, Mołot, ShadoCat, RonJohn Apr 10 '18 at 23:03

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ This is far too broad a question with many elements. Consider breaking this apart into several smaller questions. (only a small number of mages vs everybody), multiplied by (hunter gatherer vs medieval or renaissance Europe), multiplied by (always been around vs new arrival disruption). Far too much here with an entire array of possibilities and conditions $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Apr 10 '18 at 20:59
  • $\begingroup$ Also, it would be nice to know a little more about this society that is bringing in the magic, are they europeans? Asian? Pacific islanders? $\endgroup$ – Sasha Apr 10 '18 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ @pluckedkiwi It's just the first four possibilities (always been around is always hunter-gatherer stage, new arrival is always medieval). I thought about splitting them, but they are so closely related (I would have to copy the whole description of magic and the main question "what would the society look like") that it looked like it would be better to leave it together. $\endgroup$ – Dariush Apr 10 '18 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Sasha It doesn't matter in this case - the core idea is that a few years there was no magic and now there is. Traders are just on of the potential routes and their importance fades after their arrival. Compare it to the spread of the plague, for instance. $\endgroup$ – Dariush Apr 10 '18 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ How many people have this magic? Is it a few, is it half, or it is it most? $\endgroup$ – Len Apr 10 '18 at 21:45
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What makes you think labor is devalued?

Unless your mages are driven uncontrollably by an altruistic ethic, they will only be willing to help out insofar as people are willing to pay them to do it. Humanity has always been that way (and the handful of times it tried to not be this way... failed).

What you really have is the ability of the wealthy to quickly compensate for misfortune (environmental, social, military...).

It was a bad harvest and there is no way I'm going to let my people starve like Duke Bob over there! I'm planning to give him the whoopin' of his life next spring! Just think of how easy that will be if I give everything I have to Rhrombic the Mage to fill my granaries!

And the mages would quickly discover they can make the wealthy their lap dogs by charging them an arm and a leg.

It's sure a good thing that I poisoned both Prince Charming's and Duke Bob's fields, cause I knew one of those idiots would pay me for food and to not help out the other dude. Wait 'till they find out next spring that I sold them both food, took them for all they were worth, and now I can afford to buy my honey the very best in modern medieval jewelry!

For the most part, the poor will have to do what they always have done — work like dogs for their bread and butter. And the middle management will always have to do what it's always done — exploit the poor to build a castle that almost looks like Duke Bob's if you hide one eye, squint with the other, and only look at night.

Frankly, the mages would only devalue the labor if they were willing to charge so little for their services that it priced the working guy out of the market.

But that's not the reputation of the average arrogant mage, who's unlikely to actually lift a finger for anybody else unless it profits him mightily.

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Scenario 1 will create a Neolithic "trickle-down" society, where all resources are controlled by the elites, while regular people can take only service jobs. I assume the magic is not as powerful as Alladdin's Genie and it can not design a splendid palace by itself. Depending on wills of the leaders, this may turn into Macedonian-style conquests, Nero-style indulgences or Athens-style proliferation of arts and sciences.

Scenario 2 will initially lead to widespread wars, because every country will use newfound power to protect itself and settle old scores with neighbors. After things will settle down, it will resemble Scenario 1.

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Individualism vs Cooperativism

The biggest question here is how your society sees... well, Society.

What is the personal obligations the individual has to their peers and the rest of society?

Does this society values personal gain over the common good?

(Both scenarios will be about a small number of mages)

(This is heavily opnion-biased)

The cult of Individuality

So, your culture values the individual more then the group, when magic comes back and only a few people discover how to use they will become true Randian Ubermensch. They are the fabled "Great Man" of history and on their shoulders will rest the destiny of humanity.

They will stablish themselves in protected Enclaves, always in competitiom to prove themselves better than the others. Their subjects lives will depend on their whim and opinions.

Most of the population will still have to work a lot since the benefits of magic are centered on the hands of a few people that have no reason to spend their time and resources with others.

People will serve them, only because those people are the only ones capable of protecting them from another Mage.

From each according with their abilities, to each according to their needs

In this scenario your population will be more foccused on the well being of the group.

Mages in this situation will become servant of the people, using their powers to create an equalitarian utopia. These mages will probably congregate and work together to make sure society is running steady.

With magic doing most of the hard labour, the population will be able to focus their energy and time on the arts and sciences. For most people on the outside they will look like a decadent, lustful, lazy bunch.

Soon enough Hierarchy will become useless, the concept of family will be another one to go pretty fast. Money for them will be something almost cerimonial, since the scarcity has been eliminated and the only things that will still have any worth will be artistic pieces.

The closest example of this society would be the Culture, with the Mages acting as the Minds.

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Just look into any book with classic "lazy future", from H.G.Wells onwards, and probably much earlier: "Utopia", Defoe, Rabelais, or even Plato, to name a few possible suspects.

Wells had it for sure, I seem vaguely to remember that the idea was much older, but don't quite remember the original source.

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