This is set in a traditional Isekai world with magic, medieval technology, and a feudal system. The protagonist wants to reshape a country to match his values, basically making the nation "good".

He wants to improve the lives of slaves until eventually ending slavery, improve workers' wages, decrease corruption, etc. His primary resource is a veritable infinite amount of gold with little else at the outset. What are ways he could gain influence over the country in order to change the culture and laws?

  1. Monopolize an industry, then leverage it to influence politicians and those in power. Economically taking over the food supply and threatening famine could be a drastic and powerful measure.
  2. Financially support politicians and get them to rely on the main character for that money. Finding ways to decrease their other income and/or buy up their debt could speed this up.

What are other creative methods? Would flooding the economy with gold be a way to cause hyperinflation? Could that be leveraged? Could debt schemes work? Could one invest in industries the king directly relies on giving leverage over the crown?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding! Good first query! A couple things you might want to consider: how do you reconcile the notion of "politicians" with a "feudal government & economy"? $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jan 21 at 22:32
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    $\begingroup$ Re: pressuring nobles with debt, remember the adage "Never threaten to cost someone more than it would cost to have you killed." Even the most overpowered protagonist needs to sleep sometime and there are countless examples of royalty in the real world either repudiating their debt (they've got an army after all) or even trumping up charges and having their creditors executed as a means of clearing their debt; see, for example, this: twitter.com/dhmontgomery/status/1130878517401595904 $\endgroup$ – GrumpyYoungMan Jan 22 at 2:05
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    $\begingroup$ On threats in general, remember that nobility is a exclusive club bound by bloodlines and strong familial ties and whose prerogative it is (in their worldview) to rule over commoners. No matter how much power/money your protagonist has, they are a commoner, a mere outsider, albeit a useful one. The nobles will band together against the protagonist if openly threatened, no matter how many past favors the protagonist may have given individuals among them. $\endgroup$ – GrumpyYoungMan Jan 22 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ Also remember that there's no police or justice system for the nobility and even the king only has as much power as those personally loyal to him can exert. Any of the nobles can cheat or attack the protagonist with little repercussion. (Honestly, the most likely outcome for the protagonist is that they are captured and tortured by someone until they give up their source of unlimited gold.) $\endgroup$ – GrumpyYoungMan Jan 22 at 16:01

The protagonist has unlimited gold but needs to parlay it into financial capital, social capital, and political capital in order to effect change at the national level. It might be useful to think of tactics as being split into the carrot and the stick.

The carrot (a.k.a. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_power) involves encouraging others to have the same goals as the protagonist and is more likely to win allies. This can include:

  • Indirect (e.g. doing things that make their domains more wealthy or powerful without their knowledge) support to nobles and local leaders who are sympathetic to the protagonist's cause. Unless there's a crisis or other urgent need by the recipient, direct support (e.g. gifts) will correctly be seen as attempting to buy influence and may backfire.
  • Find other nobles who are neutral to the protagonist and his cause but are enemies of his opponents and provide indirect support to make the neutral powerful enough to take down the opponent. (But bear in mind that nobles support each other; if the neutral later turns against the protagonist, they may find that they solved one problem by creating a bigger one down the road.)
  • Direct charitable donations or indirect support to religious leaders or religious orders whose ideals are close the protagonist's. Remember that religion is a profound influence in medieval times. Ideally, the religious organizations would openly declare slavery / corruption / etc. to be immoral. Again, beware of the appearance of giving out bribes.
  • Create deals or ties to the great merchant or banking dynasties and use that influence to carry out their goals. Having infinite gold means that business risk is eliminated, which is an unparalleled advantage.
  • Supporting organizations or individuals within them (e.g. guilds, chivalric orders, learned societies) who support the protagonist's ideals. If the protagonist can find the right person, they can even create new such organizations who have policies that are pro worker/anti-corruption as part of their charter.
  • Leading by example. The protagonist can navigate their way into de jure or de facto control over a region and demonstrate to the nobility that their policies lead to increased wealth / productivity from the population. The nobility might not care about morality or ethics but they do care very much about income.
  • Win influence by doing good works, e.g. creating orphanages, helping the poor, etc. A very common trope in isekai novels.
  • Providing technological boosts. Already discussed in other comments.
  • Become the supplier or manufacturer of something that can be provided to the domains of friendly nobles that gives them a military or economic advantage over their rivals.

The stick (a.k.a. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hard_power) involves coercion. Direct confrontation is likely to be disastrous as discussed elsewhere but covert options are plentiful such as buying up scarce resources their opponents need, financing sabotage against the domains of hostile nobles or hiring away talented people from them, financing espionage to expose corruption, financing covert attacks on slave trading organizations (no slave traders left alive = no more new slaves), financing propaganda or rumor campaigns to stir up public sentiment against corruption, organizing and financing slave escapes / revolts, etc. Covert means covert; discovery of coercive tactics by the protagonist's allies may turn them against the protagonist.

Whichever tactics the protagonist uses, they should not expect this to be cutely bloodless, as it is in isekai novels. Even if they're profiting on corruption, slavery, oppression, etc., a noble house is an extended family and will counterattack swiftly and viciously as a whole if their livelihood or prestige is threatened. All of the tactics above can be equally be used against the protagonists and their allies and they have the advantage of being long-established natives.

Some prerequisites also should be borne in mind:

  • The protagonist must give considerable thought into inserting themselves as a respectable member of society in a way that disguises/protects their source of gold, unless they want to spend the rest of their lives in a dungeon being a goose laying golden eggs for someone else's benefit. They might, for example, be denounced as an agent of a foreign power or even an agent of an evil deity. They cannot count on anonymity; medieval communities are small, the merchant/banking community is smaller, the nobility is even smaller still, and anyone spreading money around in large quantities is going to be remembered. One way they might launder their magically gotten gold is to pretend to be a merchant from a far distant land who negotiates or buys their way into an impoverished merchant house in their target kingdom.
  • Second, the protagonist needs intel, both through personal observation and a network of people providing reliable information on the state of the world. A traveling merchant may be a way to visit various cities to find out what the culture is like, who's in power, what factions exist, what their views are, what their strengths and weaknesses are, etc. as well as the views of the common folk on their lot in life and the reforms. (Your protagonist may be unpleasantly surprised to find that the commoners don't actually care much about reform on moral grounds unless they themselves have been victims.) As part of the travels, the protagonist will probably want to meet and make friends with other merchants and townsfolk of influence, both to build their intelligence network and future power base.
  • The protagonist and their allies need protection against direct attack. In isekai novels, this is usually fulfilled by the attacker being ridiculously powerful themselves or being protected by their, ahem, bosom buddies so to speak. Lacking either of these, hiring security / troops is an option for your protagonist but it's worth remembering that they work for a paycheck and therefore have no personal loyalty to the protagonist and won't fight to the death for them or can be bribed away.
  • In order to have allies to support, the protagonist needs to gain allies in the first place. This will require them to have absurd levels of political acumen and interpersonal skills to both proselytize their cause and determine who will support them and who just wants their gold.

tl;dr The protagonist is taking on a rather crummy task that requires them to be ridiculously overpowered, albeit in different ways than usual, and will probably take a lifetime or more to achieve.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the long thorough answer! $\endgroup$ – David Hobs Jan 25 at 18:48

If you monopolize any crucial industry in a medieval era, the king will send his nobles and army, and they will catch you and chop your head off. Particularly food. (And indeed, food is impractical because it's not cost-effective to ship it; the beasts of burden for anywhere not reachable by water eat more than they can carry very quickly. Locally grown food is HARD to monopolize.)

But it's still best to work in an industry because what you really need is to improve technology. It is impossible to greatly increase workers' real wages without increasing the goods they can buy with them. There is some leeway -- the Black Death increased wages by removing much of the labor supply -- but the post-Black-Death living standard is probably not high enough for your taste, and also it was wiped out by population increase.

Look for basic ways to replace hand labor with mechanical labor. Possibly you have magic automatons? Put them to work grinding grain, running spinning jennies, etc. Or use steam engines. Investigate the early Industrial Revolution and see what you can do. This will also substitute for unskilled labor, making slavery less economically useful

To suborn the nobility and royalty, it is best to offer this as improvements THEY can use, though there is the danger that they will want to monopolize it; it was not unknown for people spreading "trade secrets" to be threatened with death.

  • $\begingroup$ Very good points and helpful answer. Innovation a good way to gain economic influence, but it doesn't necessarily translate to political influence. Knowing what won't work helps, but I'm still interested in what will work, from the economic all the way to the political. $\endgroup$ – David Hobs Jan 22 at 1:30
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    $\begingroup$ Good answer, though I'd like to add that focusing on technology should also include agricultural technology as well; before an industrial revolution there needs to be an agricultural revolution to provide the food surplus to allow a larger population of non-farm workers. The querent should take a look at the British Agricultural Revolution and the tech & knowledge that triggered it as a starting point for their transformation of the isekai world. $\endgroup$ – GrumpyYoungMan Jan 22 at 1:50
  • $\begingroup$ @GrumpyYoungMan: Never underestimate the power of a decent plough! $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jan 23 at 18:42

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