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In a generic fantasy world, there exists an island community in which the inhabitants are freely provided food, board, and entertainment. Their only use for traditional coin is to trade with passing ships for curiosities and the like. Instead, the islanders use secrets, favors, and information as currency amongst themselves.

As I understand it, the functions of currency are as follows:

  1. Medium of exchange - must be accepted as a way to facilitate trade.
  2. Store of value - must hold value over time.
  3. Unit of account - must have a measurable value.

Which poses a few problems. Information isn't truly transferable, and the value of each secret would decay as it spread. Some secrets would be valued differently by different people. If a bartering system would work better, what would that look like?

In short, is an information-based economy feasible? Here are a few ideas I've had so far:

  1. Truth spells would likely be integral to prevent the spread of fraudulent information.
  2. The island's culture could focus on the importance of curiosity or knowledge.
  3. The island itself could have a long and storied history, with new secrets being uncovered fast enough to offset the natural spread and value decay of information.
  4. Certain secrets might have magical or memetic properties that cause them to be forgotten as soon as they are shared.

This is my first question, so I apologize for any faux pas I may have inadvertently committed.

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    $\begingroup$ Do the islanders sell each other things or is it only an exchange in secrets? As in can I exchange my secret for a tangible good? $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Apr 20 '20 at 20:53
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    $\begingroup$ If there is one thing that I learned while working with IT is that anything can be metrified. Even if people would value the same secret differently, they could agree on a scale. Then whether a secret is worth one or a hundred of a currency is a matter of banter. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Apr 20 '20 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ I'd be worried about those secrets running out - there is only so much knowledge and new information to be gathered. Over time those "secrets" would turn into plain gossip. $\endgroup$ – Jan Dorniak Apr 20 '20 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Bellerophon Yes, secrets can be exchanged for physical goods as well as other secrets. I'm not sure of the etiquette here; should I edit my post to clarify? $\endgroup$ – Conquistador Apr 20 '20 at 22:01
  • $\begingroup$ Cryptocurrency is based on exchange of information. A "magic blockchain" would do the trick here. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Apr 20 '20 at 22:47
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well in short yes, in long continue reading. so you want information to be like a currency where people trade information, there are flaws but they can be solved. let's start with the flaws:

  • information will degrade value over time depending on the community size
  • types of information will be more valuable to some people than others
  • the information itself will further degrade over time
  • information is unpredictable

There is no way to fix these but you can workaround some of the problems. what you should do is add in some sort of magical item that can store information, maybe these could be given to others and then they can access the information this will get rid of information itself degrading, then make a marketplace of information for people to use it and help mitigate the effects of information value being different to other people and it being unpredictable and having a larger community information will spread slower and make it so new information comes sooner than old information loses its value.

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Hermetic magic has historically had a concept of true names. Every logical piece (not just the rocks of Castle Finn, but even the castle itself) of a thing could possess a true name unique to it. These secrets, when gleaned, were the key ingredient to any potent magic intended to work on the target. And, over time, these names could change as the concept of a thing (cool = good; cool = cold) evolve and overlap.

I imagine your Islanders have a bustling trade in true names. The currency is too precious to share with outsiders.

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Not likely.

Information as a currency isn't an entirely foreign concept, however I would question the viability to actually support the society, or really the need for it. I honestly can't see this not turning into a culture built entirely on gossip, regardless of "truth spells". It takes very little to turn any lie into either a near truth, or possible truth. It then becomes very easy for others to simply take what they heard as truth, even if they don't actually know. Simply starting a phrase with "I might speculate..." would allow someone to basically make up whatever they want, and the listen could then repeat "I heard...". Neither party is lying, they are simply wrong. This way, incorrect information can easily be widespread and accepted as truth, even if it isn't.

Likewise, I could easily see disastrous affects in the event that incredibly important information is withheld for value, rather than reaching the appropriate party. Suppose a fisherman sees a fleet of warships heading for the island, but refuses to tell anyone unless they give him something else of great value first. Nobody would be likely to make the trade, and even if there was some magical way to value a secret before sharing it, only the wealthy would be able to make the purchase.

That brings up another point of how to value information. Nobody can know if someone else already knows a secret or if that secret holds any value to that person. If you have some magical way to value the secrets beforehand, what are they valued against? Secrets can't function as fiat money, because they literally lose all value, therefore they have to have something backing them of material value, at which point why not just use that as money? The only alternative I could imagine might be valuing them against themselves, like "this 1 secret is worth 5 of your secrets", but then how do you facilitate the exchange in a way that doesn't hold the risk of bankrupting someone? If I am trying to purchase a secret that is with 30 secrets and I give 29, but my last secret is already known (therefore worthless) I just lost all currency, because I had to divulge the other 29, and received nothing in return. Also, that makes almost every exchange into a means to blackmail. If someone has one massive secret, and I want to ruin that person, I simply have to attain that secret in some way myself, and then freely share it with everyone else, making it worthless to them.

My final point is that if all their food, board, and entertainment is freely provided, what use would they even have of for any currency? What else could they need/want? If it is anything that comes from foreign places, they would just continue to use the currency from those places.

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