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So I've been working on the history of a particular fantasy world and one of its main societies. Specifically how it rebuilt after a civil war that destabilizes government and destroyed larger cities etc. during this a plague breaks out. All in all most people end up dead with a few small groups of survivors scattered around. Whyterith village is what one of these groups ends up forming in to.

I'm currently focused around the time (~5 years post apocalypse) when Whyterith is at a population of ~320 people. Whyterith is now producing a surplus of food so the ruling council decide that the village needs to move from an almost entirely farming communist/communal society to one which encourages more rapid growth in order to improve the production of other resources. People will still have to work for the government/society for a certain amount of time each week i.e. helping with planting, harvesting, building, cooking, teaching etc. for the community but will have options outside of the compulsory working time to exchange services and hand-made goods. Things such as child care and school which are all run by the community to allow more adults to work will still continue running.

The Council is aware that issues such as inflation may come of introducing currency. I'm curious as to what form of money could be used. I though a rare variety of dry beans that only the Council has access to grow could do as metal is still being redeveloped (they mainly use tools left behind), but I am also curious about how much the Council should provide. I was initially thinking that the council pays all workers 12 beans / week (one for each half working day). Would that be too many for such a relatively small society? Any other problems you can foresee arising?

Any feedback or advice would be welcome.

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    $\begingroup$ You should get them out of the starvation phase first. Communal farming is a recipe for starvation. From Plymouth Colony en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Bradford_(governor) to forced collectivization of Chinese peasants, every time it has been tried has produced mass starvation. $\endgroup$ – puppetsock Nov 13 '19 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ You might also consider moving from a communal to a Cooperative - Wikipedia model (free enterprise without individual ownership). $\endgroup$ – Ray Butterworth Nov 14 '19 at 15:46
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Do you know where the word salary comes from?

It comes from the pay which was given to roman legionnaires, salaries, consisting of salt.

Salt is hard to make and until recent time it was highly valuable for this very reason, thus it can be used as convenient value deposit.

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  • $\begingroup$ I didn't even think about salt. It is already a resource allocated to people in the society. Mainly sourced from a sea ~8km away. It was recognized as an important resource for food preservation so people started production of it soon after the collapse. I also thought that something that couldn't really be used for food etc. might work better as people most likely wouldn't use it for things other than currency. $\endgroup$ – Elfie Nov 13 '19 at 6:07
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    $\begingroup$ This is an unsubstantiated "just so" story. No Roman soldier was ever paid in salt. The word salarium looks very much as if it was derived from sal, but we do not have any confirmation (or even an allusion, something) that salt had anything to with wages. And salt was never ever "highly valuable" in any place or at any time; it was significantly more expensive than today (let's say, comparable to what we pay for sugar), but nevertheless nobody has ever become poor because they had to pay a lot of money for salt. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 13 '19 at 10:05
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    $\begingroup$ Not sure if it was in Rome, but it looks like it was used as a currency in Ethiopia - kiwihellenist.blogspot.com/2017/01/salt-and-salary.html $\endgroup$ – Riddles Nov 13 '19 at 10:20
  • $\begingroup$ Salt was an important commodity in many societies and was often used as a currency medium or backing for an ancient currency. $\endgroup$ – hszmv Nov 14 '19 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ When the portuguese found out how to extract salt from seawater it wasn't so hard to acquire anymore. It takes one smart guy to destroy a salt-based economy. $\endgroup$ – Renan Nov 14 '19 at 15:49
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Token for a commodity

Early Babylonian currency would likely be a good example - I'm not an expert in that area, but as far as I understand, their early currency was tokens issued by the communal temple-granaries that essentially said "you can get 1 [weight-unit] of grain from the granary" and which were usually obtained by handing over grain to the common granary for long-term storage. And that's it - those tokens were used for trade because (a) they could be, they were convenient; (b) they didn't depreciate; and (c) they were 'liquid' because most people either needed them or had use for them, as that stored grain was consumed daily by everyone.

This situation seems somewhat similar to what you describe, so reading up more about how that historical situation worked (I'm likely missing some important nuances) could be useful.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think this is the best answer. A more elaborated explanation on how this model wss used in eatly economies is given by Marx in The Capital, but it's all in the same spirit. $\endgroup$ – Renan Nov 14 '19 at 16:01
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It may interest you that the ancient Egyptians seemed to use loaves of bread and jars of beer as accounting units. We have a number of inscriptions that say things like "give Bob 50 loaves of bread and ten jugs of beer". While low amounts might actually be paid in bread and beer, presumably large amounts were then converted into other commodities or valuables.

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I believe that for a society as small as this, you can introduce a system of community supplies. Let me explain and let's see if this system works.

In the village there is a large community hall (or a set of halls at multiple places) maintained by the council, this community hall is like a shopping/free center.

All the goods produced within the village, all grains, vegetables, fruits, wood, basically all the basic necessities are stored within these centers. No one is allowed to keep more than 3 days of supply of these things for themselves at home, every single such item must be hoarded at these places.

Now, every member of the society is entitled to have a defined quantity of these supplies for them at free of cost, say a bowl of rice or wheat per person per day, either 1 apple or 3 bananas per person per day, you get the idea.

Doesn't matter if the person is a farmer, or teacher or the council member, he gets only that much for free. This will give rise to a situation of lazy people, who thinks if they are getting supplies for free, then why work, to avoid this, a work-attendance register is maintained, and people who work as determined by the council will get the supplies.

Now the next one is a bit complex and quite unique. People are willing to do some extra work in there free time for the betterment of society, or some simple barter. For instance, If I can make good chairs, I make them and donate them to community hall or maybe for some extra bananas, and someone who requires chair (and strictly those who need them), can take it from the hall, for free (It works on trust basis). Or I can barter my chair for some fine carpets made by you in your free time, or for some exotic berries that you got from your last adventure in the mountains.

According to this system (at least theoretically), as no one needs to eat more than they can, inflation may not occur for the basics of life. For the exotics, people can barter for as long as they want.

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Could a centralised bank system work for your society? Then each citisen could trade using a cheque-like system, stating "I owe you 12 credits for this pair of high heeled-shoes you made for me."

With these, you could just write out a cheque to whoever you're buying from, they give you the bread then at the end of the day/week/month, the baker brings all of the cheques they received to the central "bank", and however much they are owed is added to their account.

That way, the central bank still operates as the main power and can control what ressources are available and how they're distributed, as they would have during the communist era.

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The Wörgl, a currency tied to labor

The basic idea of this currency is that you make a cheap paper note with an official dated stamp, and the currency is tied to labor time. So, if you spend eight hours fixing my fence, I pay you eight Wörgls. You also establish general exchange rates for basic commodities, but since most people work with their hands, the idea that the currency is tied to the time they work is easy to grasp.

The reason for the stamps is that the currency loses value quickly: maybe full value for two weeks, half value for the next two weeks, then they're worthless. This is to prevent hoarding, and to make sure that people are continuously making themselves useful. This and other similar local currencies were developed during the Great Depression, so they wanted to make a currency that would facilitate a working economy better than barter, but avoid the hoarding and speculation that led to the depression in the first place.

Most of this information is drawn from the book 'Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus' by Douglas Rushkoff

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    $\begingroup$ The Worgol is good for preventing speculation, but does a poor job of promoting the growth of businesses and specialized labor. Since the council is trying to encourage economic diversity, they would need a currency that maintains value long enough to encourage longer projects. For example, if a small business is contracted to build a house,they need a significant down payment to secure the materials and tools they need to get started, but no worker could ever save up that down payment if their savings rapidly loses value. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica Nov 13 '19 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ Worgol keeps the proletariat poor by having thwm focus just on short term needs. They won't be able to acquire the means of production with just that. $\endgroup$ – Renan Nov 14 '19 at 15:58
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Honestly, you do not need a "currency" if your using Mi'ta tax system (a form of tax where one's tax is payed in labor to the government). As you are requiring the tax to pay provide labor to the government in liue of any other currency (you have none of that) or commodity tax (i.e. the government requires so commodity for your production of commodities). Since you're requiring a set time of service to the common good, your tax is a tax on labor (labor is a commodity) and for every 14 billable periods in a week, someone is required to work a percent of billable periods for a community service. Societies like this are rather rare and really, only one significant civilization used this system, the Inca, but they also imposed a Commodity tax on agriculture (and Mi'ta was only for physical labor like construction or military service and then only issued to males and only when required.).

In Inca society the Emperor (Sapa Inca) was seen to have a duty to improve the lives of the people by using tribute offered through fuedal exchanges to re-invest in projects to improve communities. Agriculture levies were stored in government storehouses to be used for armies and in time of greater need, while Mi'ta labor was used both to ensure the army had the manpower and develop the infrastructure (including the roads, store houses, and terraced farms that would then be worked by the laborers). While there is evidence that the Incas did have currency (in the form of Ax Monies, ax shaped metal trinkets that seemed to easily denote a value of some kind and may have contained religious significance) and their are some arguments that their complex accounting system might have also been a currency (though no one really knows what the hell the knotted values denote as a standard unit of measure), there is little evidence that they used these measures for internal trade, but rather external trade.

Your next problem is your choice of commodity is a perishable good that's easy to counterfeit. For a council that is aware of inflation, this is ridiculously stupid on their part. The reason why counterfeiting currency is such a huge deal is that inflation occurs when there is too much currency is available while there is too little demand for it. Almost every currency is limited by it's issuer's control over the product, and save for feudal Japan, almost all societies used a mineral/metal commodity as opposed to a agriculture commodity because the latter is super-easy to counterfit. It literally grows on trees. Japan got away with it because Japan is actually agriculturally limited due to it's terrain, so rice was basic enough to back coinage as a value.

It's also important to understand that a currency is not a commodity, but a physical representation of a difference in value between two distinctly nonidentical things. To use the common phrase, money is literally comparing apples to oranges:

Suppose you're a farmer and you have a bushel of apples and you want to trade with your neighbor for a bushel of oranges. Both sides want a fair deal and you insist that you can't give a whole bushel of apples because you need to keep some for rakes so you can grow more apples. But your neighbor doesn't want to give you a bushel of oranges because he needs rakes to make more oranges too. The logical solution is to trade rakes for apples and oranges. Suppose you use 5 rakes to produce a bushel of apples, and your neighbor used 4 rakes for a bushel of of oranges. You can offer to give the farmer 4 rakes for his bushel and you will give him five bushels for a rake. Now you're rakes are currency as they can show a difference between two things that are literally apples and oranges (and if you realize you have to change your apples into rakes before you can change your rakes into oranges, so you make a promise to by bushels of oranges at a later date when you can get your apples turned into rakes, congrats, now you have a futures market).

Now this is increadibly simple because you have to ask how do you value rakes to apples? And the metal in the rake and wood in the handle? And the manufacturing speed of rake production? And the rake maker wants a chicken dinner. The problem of the barter system is that comodities exchanges are difficult without some common base item. To solve this, a market may standardize one unit of commodity to another (Like how we said apples equals rakes), but since rakes require metal and wood to make, you need to standardize rakes to metal and wood, and as the product is broken into constituent parts, the product can be removed as you now have a basic commodity exchange developing and the more basic a product comes, the more you can get to a currency commodity: a commodity that is ideally simple in it's base parts, finite or reliably replacable, standardized in size, and universally important to a wide group of consumers. Like I said, Rice was this for Japan in that it could represent useful land. There was a finite supply of rice producing land, you could reliably produce rice, you could put it into standard measuring containers, and everyone needs to eat food (and it's cheap food at that) so it back the Yen, giving it purchasing power. The Yen it's easier to carry 500 yen ($5.00) than it is to carry 500 yen worth of rice. In Europe, where there was more reliable farming land, they used precious metal (Gold, silver, bronze) because metals melt with high heat and could cast into numerous shapes. In fact, most coins weren't just representation of the value of a precious metal but actually contained the exact value of metal. A Spanish Dollar (aka a Piece of Eight or Peso) was worth it's weight in silver because a Dollar was made by molding silver into a circle shape. It was very much literal.

And why we still care about the Piece of Eight is that it's the first world currency because The Spanish Empire was involved in so many economies all over the world, including the Americas and Far East Asia. Nations without access to reliable metal sources could accept Pieces of Eight and then melt the coins and mint their own money... this practice still exists in the form of Pegged currencies where a nation will not use a commodity to give value to their currency but will control the ratio of their currency with respect to a very important currency of another nation. Post-World War II Japan switched the Yen from it's backing, cause it's commodity production had been destroyed, to keeping it in a one to one ratio with the USD (and today it's more reliable in a 1:100 to USD... but it's not really pegged).

These days this is controlled by buying back their own currency or selling the currency backing it and why we have exchanges. No major currency uses metal backing but is fiat (The USD is the dominate world currency and is commonly pegged to because of this. The USD is backed by "The Full Faith and Credit of the U.S. Government" which has a reliably stable ecconomy that since World War II dominated the world economy. You don't have to deal with the U.S. economy at all... but it's rather hard to do. This is why the U.S. now favors economic sanctions as a punishment before war, as your currency might not be pegged to USD, but other important markets are... and they won't take your monopoly money because the U.S. won't buy it with it's dollars, so they won't buy it with there Dollary-doos... which means you can't trade your goods because you can't get a reliable exchange for them and with enough time, even your own people will abandon you and your policy that caused this problem because they can't feed their families. It takes longer than a war, but the plus side for the bigger market is they don't have to send droves of people into your nation to get killed and are more than happy to watch your government collapse from within.

For a TL;DR version, don't use commodities for a currency, but rather think of a currency as a coupon for free commodities from the government supply. One unit of currency should be worth some unit of measure of beans. Inflation occurs when there is more supply of currency but the commodity supply is stagnet, thus the demand for currency weakens while the demand for product does not. The product makers can then charge more for the product because they can get more currency... but everyone else can as well. Typically centrally controled markets tend to respond by mandating product prices be controlled... but really they need to stop issueing currency and release more of it's backing power to get the ratio of available currency to product back into something nice. This is what causes most hyperinflation scenarios and currency collapses, such as Venezuala's ongoing economic troubles, and North Korea's currency nearly getting placed by the confectionery treat of Moon Pies as the population's preffered medium of exchange (and De Facto Black Market Currecy). Yes, a pastry was a more reliable currency than a North Korean Won.

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