Gaian is a large city situated along a natural cove, defended to the north and south by towering mountains and to the east by the city walls. To the west is the largest ocean in the known world. Gaian is located in the middle of that ocean on Jeweler's Isle, a small, mountainous island rich with ore and crystals.

In the past, the island was just one province in a vast empire, its main export being wool and livestock. Once the riches hidden within its rocks were discovered, the island soon became prosperous. Eventually, this wealth, along with the Gaian's placement as a hub for trade, allowed Jeweler's Isle to win independence during an opportune moment of imperial turmoil. For nearly a century, Jeweler's Isle has remained an independent nation by building strategic alliances and exerting economic influence. In this time, the population and wealth of Gaian exploded, making it dependent on trade with other countries to supply its populace with food.

I need advice on how this economy should look. The following is what I have so far, but I feel that it needs to be reworked.

The majority of the people living outside of Gaian are still farmers, producing grain, fruits and vegetables, livestock, and the like. They often export their surplus through Port Gaian, but being a small island (think the size of the Faroe Islands or smaller) these farmers do not produce enough to make anyone wealthy. The exports which account for most of the wealth of the city are ore and refined metals, jewels and handcrafted jewelry, and textiles. This means that a large portion of the population of Gaian and the outlying villages must be miners, and a smaller part must be jewelers, smiths, or profess other crafts.

The wealth generated by these exports is then used to fuel other parts of the economy. Taxation provides the aristocratic government the ability to hire shipwrights and construct a massive navy. Because Gaian is a high volume port, the hospitality industry flourishes with a myriad of taverns, inns, brothels, and shops. Dockhands, harbormasters, and bureaucrats are required to keep the port running efficiently. Stonemasons and carpenters are hired en masse to construct housing for hundreds of newcomers to the city. Centrally located, Gaian is a frequent stop for merchant sailors traversing the sea to their final destination. Merchants in Gaian import goods from all over and sell them at a premium to sailors from other nations.

This is well and good, but I feel that I am missing a lot of professions that would need to exist to keep this city functioning. I also find it hard to estimate how much wealth Gaian can realistically expect to have. Would merchants buying and reselling actually make that much money? Will jewelry and craftsmen actually be able to support the economy? How many people can Gaian expect to contain given that most of its food will need to be imported? Will the exports of Gaian realistically be able to offset the price of all this imported food? Will there be a surplus of jobs on the market which convince farmers to move to the city? As the city grows, will Gaian be utterly reliant on a large miner workforce to export enough goods to sustain itself? These are all questions that I am having trouble finding answers to.

I don't have a background in economics, so I don't know if my assessment of the island's economy is entirely off base or not. I want to find some way to reasonably justify the existence of such a large and wealthy city given these circumstances. Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

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    $\begingroup$ The Most Serene Republic of Venice, 697–1797. It endured for eleven centuries, and at some time even assembled its own maritime empire. As for general prosperity brought by mining, see for example Joachimsthal; their coins were called Joachimsthallers, from where came thaller and dollar. (And, please, the words "profession" and "occupation" or "trade" are not interchangeable. Sailor, dock hand, bureaucrat, harbor master, stone mason, carpenter, tavern keeper, courtesan etc. are not professions.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 2 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding.SE riley, glad you found us. Please check out our tour and help center. $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Sep 2 at 22:28
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    $\begingroup$ While these are all good questions, and certainly will be important as you build your world, there are way too many of them. The correct number you want is one. "List all the jobs" questions are generally closed (example). I recommend you start with one small piece of this. You can ask other questions later, if they are on topic. Thanks! $\endgroup$ – Cyn says make Monica whole Sep 2 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ A quick quibble. I find it hard to believe there would be much good farmland left during/after a gold or gem rush on such a small island. Remember mining, even pre-modern mining, is pretty destructive. You have huge piles of tailings, thousands of gallons of water being pumped from the mines, possible noxious gas releases, and extreme logging to provide charcoal. Further, it's quite likely that prospectors would offer high prices for even the worst farmland, so high the farmers would be crazy to not take it. I don't think you can have a gold rush and subsistence farmers in the same place. $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L Sep 3 at 2:47

There are a couple big problems with importing most of your food.

  1. It makes you vulnerable economically. If one of your sources raises their price for, say, rice...you may not have much choice. This is called inelastic demand, and is a good way for your suppliers to siphon a great deal of your wealth away.

    Today we have lots of alternatives worldwide for sourcing food, but this is quite new and due to instant communication and food preservation technologies. 200 years ago, transport between continents took weeks...but most food rots by then. Sending to a faraway land (by ship) to open an alternative food supply means a famine before the contracted shiploads arrive (if they arrive at all, maybe no agreement could be reached).

  2. It makes you vulnerable politically. The ruling class might sometimes be willing to squander a great deal of treasure to ensure a reliable food supply in order to prevent a rebellion. Both allies and enemies might be willing to put pressure on the food lifeline in order to influence the policies of the city leaders. Example: Distant empires may threaten food-producing lands in order to bring pressure upon the city, wringing trade concessions or even tribute.

  3. It increases your cost of living. Everybody, including the lowest paid workers, widows, the unemployed, etc, must pay very high prices for food. Importing food is very expensive, and most fresh food cannot be transported far before it rots. These high prices rebound across the economy: Cobblers charge more for shoes, coopers who buy food and shoes charge more for barrels, miners who charge food and shoes and barrels charge more for gems. Everybody passes on their cost of living in high prices.

    High prices aren't necessarily bad. But there must be value to justify the price. Example: If the city's shipwrights make the best ships in the world, they can command the premium that their location requires. If, instead, the city's shipwrights make average ships, then buyers will instead buy similar ships elsewhere at lower cost...and many shipwrights will likely emigrate to lower-cost places to work.


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