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Somewhat related question, but not the same goal

In my current concept metals (from nickel to iridium, based on density) are used in the magic system. So in a way they are directly tied to power.

I was thinking, that's a good way to have a "gold standard". (they are useful in many circumstances, helpful for achieve other (terminal) goals.)

So I came up with rough conversion spreadsheets linking them to the price of a iron ingot (which is not included as currency, but useful nevertheless).

Now, before I base my entire work (since this is woven really deep into my worldbuilding) on this (I have some doubts left), I got here for a reality check.

More Info on magic system:
- Magic can not be used to create things (So you can't create gold for example)
- It can be used to accelerate growth/yield for example of food crops (but only to ~quadruple the crops or speed up the growth and nutrient and water use would still be that of the final yield.
- No resurrection, only slightly better healing, no time travel and so on.
- The most utility of using magic is to exert power (Warfare, Protection, Intimidation)
- Metal is a necessity for the execution of any magic feat and is consumed in proportion to the power of the effect. Individual prowess dictates how much a single person can "convert" however. So you can't just consume a ton of copper :)

General Info:
- The tech level is late-roman in the cities to hunter-gatherer societies still in the stone-age in the outer reaches of my map.
- Most bigger settlements and trading posts would have a way to measure the density of a substance (i.e. an ancient version of a pycnometer)
- Coins of different worth are created out of tempered glass, and forgeryproofed via magic means, but they are only used in the innermost centres of civilization. They are basically a huge nuisance to reproduce (you need a complicated mechanical device and they have a magic fingerprint) so most people will not bother.
Joachim: How are the coins directly tied to power within the magic system?
- They exist for an easier flow of riches within the big cities and are basically a fiat-currency. People don't want to take big bags of weighty metals with them for larger trade deals. They are backed by the power of military (magic assisted) guilds.

So in most civilized and half-civilized regions of my world goods and services are exchanged using small amounts of different metals.

  • Is there any big, glaring problem with that?
  • Do I need to come up with explanations why X would not happen?
  • Are there any loopholes left?
  • Do you need more info to answer the question?
  • I am ready to tune the availability of metals on the planet to fit the economy. What would be needed here?
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    $\begingroup$ "Forgeryproofed via magic means": magically microchipped? Protected by the spell Seal of Genuinity? Magic 'watermarks'? How can those be forgery-proofed in a world with 'wizards'? Or are the forgeries so hard to make they are comparable to those in our modern world, i.e. a nuisance (most of the time) more than a thread? Also: how are they directly tied to power within the magic system? $\endgroup$ – Joachim Apr 27 at 10:55
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    $\begingroup$ Is metal a necessity for magic? $\endgroup$ – Joachim Apr 27 at 11:00
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    $\begingroup$ Are metals consumed when they are used for magic? $\endgroup$ – Cumehtar Apr 27 at 11:26
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    $\begingroup$ Multimetalism is a sure way to wreck your economy. There is a reason why in the bad old days of the gold standard payment in silver was allowed only to a certain maximum value, e.g., 2 pounds in the United Kingdom. Think what happens when some lucky soul discovers a massive silver deposit, and then, half a century later, another lucky soul discovers a massive gold deposit. In addition, having money with intrinsic value is a sure way to depress your economic growth; consider that with a gold standard the increase in money supply is exactly what is mined, limiting the maximum economic growth. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 27 at 13:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Alex - in Mistborn the amount of material consumed is very small. Only extremely rare metals had a value of their own, for trivial metals (tin, iron, copper) the cost of preparation and alcohol solution itself would cost more then metal. $\endgroup$ – Cumehtar Apr 27 at 16:11
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The problem I see here is that it's not obvious from your description whether a single unit of any precious metal does the same thing for any person involved.

From your description it seems that you want to have not a monetary system, but a barter system. I'm thinking here of your metals not as of currency, but rather as of a calculable unit of value. Something like a cow in northern European early middle ages. Not that they carried cows as a currency, but rather that they could convert a price of any given item to cows and trade with that in mind. (Say, a sword is worth two cows, two slaves are worth a cow, so you can trade four slaves for a sword).

If your society is agricultural, and uses fertility magic - and if there is averagely the same result any mage can get from a fixed amount of metal, I can see it becoming a value measure. Say, a pound of copper is necessary for an average mage to make an average family plot of land fertile for a year. Then I can see this 'pound of copper' becoming a base from which barter values of all other items and metals are calculated.

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  • $\begingroup$ Important to note that in a barter system the value of any given item fluctuates much more from person to person than that of a fiat currency. Four slaves are only worth a sword if the swordsmith wants four slaves, as the sword smith can’t guarantee that he’ll be able to ‘sell on’ the slaves, unlike the metals that he may well be able to shift based on some notional value other than their intrinsic value. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Apr 29 at 11:42
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Your currency is consumable for a purpose other than currency. That will affect its value.

Magic uses up your metal. If metal is also your currency then that metal it has 2 roles and the one will affect the other.


Suppose I want to buy chickens. I want to be paid in metal. Big magic doings in my locality have consumed all the metal. I have none left to pay for my chickens. I trade for it by exchanging some good looking pants that I made.

2 weeks prior I had some metal. A magic user needed it for her magic. She wanted to buy it from me. But how does she pay? She can't pay with metal - she needs the metal for her magic! I invited her to trade me for it with wart removal services and a chicken. We traded. The metal is just another item and we are in a barter system.

2 weeks from now she needs more metal for magic. But metal is now hard to find! Now for the metal she needs she must trade 8 chickens and make a bald guy grow back his hair. The metal is worth more, because it is scarce.


The good thing about metal currency in our system is that (except for some industrial uses) precious metal is not used up. There are gold bars in a Swiss vault that were once in Roman eagles and were melted and remelted over the years. If your metal is used up it becomes scarce and then less useful as currency.

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  • $\begingroup$ If the amounts of metal consumed are really small, maybe similar to the amounts used in our circuit boards, would this be less of a problem? $\endgroup$ – Joachim Apr 27 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Joachim - definitely less of a problem. $\endgroup$ – Willk Apr 27 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ RL example: copper used to be a common material for coinage, but the price of copper has risen to the point where the metal value of copper coins often exceeds the face value. For instance, a pre-1982 US penny contains almost two cents' worth of copper so it's more lucrative (albeit illegal) to collect them and melt them down than to spend them as currency. Australia discontinued its copper 1c and 2c pieces altogether, for the same reason. $\endgroup$ – Geoffrey Brent Apr 28 at 2:33
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Scarcity

Before the discovery of the silver and gold mines in America and the development of fiat money, Europe was constantly short of precious metals for coins, to the point that tally sticks were commonly used.

Now, you somewhat alleviate the issue by allowing for more metalsmore on this later to act as coins, but you worsen it considerably by creating a process that consumes the metal (thus removing it from circulation).

Also, while iron is certainly more abundant than gold and silver, it is not as if late roman technology was very effective at extracting it. They had iron, but it was not as abundant as today.

Bad metals

If Europe had scarcity of gold and silver... why did not they solve it by using iron coins? Well, previous metals are precious because they have some interesting properties, like being impervious to oxidation. An iron coin would not last long as such.

This adds to the fact that to, for ease of use (and other reasons), coins were minted as a way of ensuring the weight and purity of the material they contained, so people would not need to weight and measure absolutely each coin that passed through their hands. But iron is harder to work into coins (less ductile) than gold, silver or copper, and as stated above any markings of the coins would be lost to oxidation rather quickly.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks! As stated above, iron is not used as a currency, but any metals denser than iron (copper, nickel, silver...). $\endgroup$ – openend Apr 27 at 12:37
  • $\begingroup$ Silver and cooper were well known (and used for coinage) by late roman era (and before). But not much was known about other metals (like nickel) that were usually found in impure ores that needed complex (and modern!) refining techniques. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Apr 27 at 12:54
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, it's a tossup as to whether iron or gold would last longer in circulation. Iron rusts, but coins are normally not exposed to weather. And iron is much harder than gold, and so resists wear much better. In medieval England, there was a category of currency cheaters (a variant of coin clipping) who would carry coins in their pockets, exercise vigorously, and at some point burn their trousers to recover the gold which had worn off and been captured in the cloth. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Apr 27 at 17:31
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Deflation

When you have a shrinking money supply, it causes deflation. It effectively forces the economy to shrink to match the amount of money available. I.e. people lose their jobs.

In your system, the money literally disappears from the economy. This is a bad characteristic for money. Rather than a shrinking money supply, you want one that grows with the economy. Our modern solution has been money without intrinsic worth. We can therefore print as much of it as we need. Deflation is rare in modern economies as a result. Historically it was part of the business cycle. Every so often, there would be a shortage of gold followed by a depression.

As described, your system is perpetually short of metal. People who have metal will get richer while people who don't get poorer.

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protected by L.Dutch Apr 28 at 14:57

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