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While there are hundreds of thousands of planets in the galaxy my story is set in, only a handful of them are habitable, and over many millennia, each planet has more-or-less broadly coalesced around a single political entity. While this is not always the case (there are a couple states that control multiple planets or a full planet + pieces of others), I've decided to leave colonial and other possessions beyond a polity's main planet out of this for simplicity's sake. Based on the following brief info about each of them, which of the planet-polities of my galaxy would have the strongest and weakest economies?

ISHGA

Population: 35,593,970,000

Climate: Temperate (artificially controlled)

Geography: Ecumenopolis on an asteroid around the size of Callisto with the exception of a handful of designated wilderness and agricultural parks

Top 10 exports by value: Technology, manufactured goods, metal alloys, processed foods, pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, vehicles/starships, chemicals, asphalt, heavy machinery

ARYAVARTAN EMPIRE

Population: 12,344,100,000

Climate: Tropical with varied rainfall

Geography: Skews flat

Top 10 exports by value: Manufactured goods, rice, petroleum (crude), tea (leaves), textiles (processed), wheat, iron (ore), iron (ingots), diamonds, cotton

PLANET SQUID

Population: 11,400,000,000

Climate: Tropical with varied rainfall

Geography: Skews mountainous

Top 10 exports by value: Diamonds, precious metals (ore), petroleum (crude), rubber, lumber, coal, zinc, iron (ore), rice, palm oil

AUREAN DOMINATE

Population: 10,852,400,000

Climate: Varied but overall slightly warmer than Earth

Geography: Skews mountainous

Top 10 exports by value: Precious metals (ingots), precious metals (ore), manufactured goods, wine, wheat, cotton, rice, textiles (processed), olive oil, osmiridium (ore)

HAXAMANIAN EMPIRE

Population: 10,386,154,000

Climate: Varies from subtropical to tropical, skews dry

Geography: Skews mountainous

Top 10 exports by value: Petroleum (crude), manufactured goods, rice, textiles (processed), iron (ore), petroleum (refined), olive oil, wheat, iron (ingots), cashmere

AZTLANIAN EMPIRE

Population: 6,400,690,000

Climate: Tropical with varied rainfall

Geography: Mountainous

Top 10 exports by value: Basilosaur oil (crude), precious metals (ore), rice, soybeans, maize, obsidium, copper, dinosaur meat (frozen), rubber, lumber

JADE EMPIRE

Population: 5,662,500,000

Climate: Varied, mostly Earthlike but wetter

Geography: Skews flat

Top 10 exports by value: Manufactured goods, silk (processed), rice, lumber, silk (raw), textiles (processed), wheat, coal, tin, petroleum (crude)

NAVAYU/CAPUT TATIIUM

Population: 4,934,462,250

Climate: Cold, wet

Geography: Mountainous

Top 10 exports by value: Technology, manufactured goods, metal alloys, iron (ore), maize, iron (ingots), vehicles/starships, steel, lumber, heavy machinery

RINASCITAN EMPIRE

Population: 3,270,000,000

Climate: Varies from temperate to subtropical, skews dry

Geography: Skews flat

Top 10 exports by value: Manufactured goods, precious metals (ingots), iron (ore), wheat, wine, precious metals (ore), olive oil, marble, tin, iron (ingots)

KINGDOM OF ARTURIA

Population: 755,240,000

Climate: Cold, wet

Geography: Balanced but volcanically dead

Top 10 exports by value: Iron (ingots), Iron (ore), lumber, steel, wine, wool, furs, textiles (processed), tin, copper

ATLANTEA

Population: 619,419,100

Climate: Tropical, skews wet

Geography: Archipelago of extremely mountainous islands of varying size

Top 10 exports by value: Lumber, petroleum (crude), rubber, palm oil, iron (ore), osmiridium (ore), fish (frozen), coconuts, shellfish (frozen), manufactured goods

VIGAM

Population: 448,147,180

Climate: Cold, skews dry

Geography: Mountainous

Top 10 exports by value: Vigamian blue steel (ore), Vigamian blue steel (ingots), natural gas, honey/honeycomb, Goatweaver Tarantula silk (raw), swamp gas, chitin, shellfish (frozen), manufactured goods, tin

RYU 108

Population: 166,131,000

Climate: Cold with varied rainfall

Geography: Mountainous

Top 10 exports by value: Iron (ore), iron (ingots), steel, mammoth wool, lumber, furs, petroleum (crude), coal, tin, fish (frozen)

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    $\begingroup$ How can we extrapolate from these variables to economy "strength"? I am not even sure what economy strength means. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Aug 14 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ @The Weasel Saga's Are you sure you want to set the universe in an entire galaxy? It seems like it would be much more plausible, given the handful of occupied areas, if it took place in a smaller space. A local bubble of occupied space, a cluster of stars, around a black hole, etc. But if you say its an entire galaxy, and then give the example of only twelve inhabited bodies, that's a bit immersion breaking, especially if some are artificial habitats. $\endgroup$ Aug 14 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ @The Weasel Saga Still, a galaxy is waaaaay to large to have such a small amount of inhabited bodies. There are over 150 stars 20 light years from sol. And that only goes up at an exponential rate. And we're in a low density region of interstellar space. The entirety of your story could take place in a cluster 10 light years across and it wouldn't affect much. You could go even smaller. You could fit 20 star systems in an sphere with an diameter of 5 light years. $\endgroup$ Aug 14 at 18:42
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    $\begingroup$ @BrokenECLSSunit "a bit immersion breaking // if some are artificial habitats" Yep, definitely, if artificial habitats are available such as that required to make "an asteroid around the size of Callisto" habitable for a population of 35,593,970,000 .. then every single solid body without crushingly high gravity in your entire galaxy is de facto habitable .. every single one of them .. hell, empty space around a star is habitable with the tech implied by that ... so why are so few inhabited? .. that needs some serious explaining. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Aug 14 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ You seem to be going towards tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SingleBiomePlanet and maybe even tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PlanetOfHats - beware! Also, with technology to make interstellar shipping of bulk cargo (ores, common metals, staple food), they should be WAY beyond any normal scarcity-based economics. $\endgroup$ Aug 15 at 14:16

5 Answers 5

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Technological and Knowledge Economies are Superior to Extractive and Agrarian Economies

Take a look at this list of countries ordered in Nominal GDP. You will notice that the largest economies have extensive manufacturing capabilities and educated populations capable of producing the material and infrastructure that facilitate us having this online conversation.

Agrarian economies are substantially weaker and smaller than industrialized economies, so all of your planets based around agricultural exports would likely be economically marginal.

Take a look at this list of US States by GDP. It is dominated by knowledge economies and states with larger populations. In advanced economies you will see economic power intimately tied to population density. Your ecumenopolis world should absolutely dominate all others in economic terms!

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Impossible to tell from the data. That is, it is your decision ...

One might speculate that a world with a few hundred million people has a less developed economy than a world with a few billion people, but sufficient technology automation can do a lot.

If the main exports are in order, the worlds exporting mostly raw materials might be guessed to have a less developed economy, and those exporting technology a more developed one. But the order says nothing about the total volume of exports. The Jade Empire is a good example -- having silk show up that high is a bad sign, unless genuine, natural silk is prized even more than it was two millenia ago.

  • Key Factor: How friendly is the ecosphere?
    Ishga is an interesting point. Lots of people, lots of high-tech exports, but how much work do they have to spend on simply keeping alive and healthy on that world? No natural atmosphere on something like Callisto, so they will have a fully artificial environment. Could be that half their population are engineers and technicians, and 99% of those are life support engineers -- a profession mostly absent on the other worlds. Unless one of those worlds requires people to wear filter masks and go through decontamination airlocks whenever they venture out. That could actually be more bothersome than a clean vacuum.

  • Key Factor: How much open water?
    You list a climate and terrain description. Yet if you think of Earth, you have tropical and arctic zones, plains and mountains. The description makes sense if you read it as something like "on average, more hilly than Earth" or "on average, cooler than Earth."
    But a lot will depend on the volume and placement of water. Water can buffer temperature changes, it can evaporate to provide rain, etc. So convenient oceans will, again, reduce the effort to get things like farming and even mining done.

  • Key Factor: Age distribution.
    Lots of people won't give economic strength now if most are still at school, or already retired. Do the worlds have a good ratio between the active generation, the next generation, and the previous one?

Side note, giving six or seven significant figures for the population is probably overestimating their census bureaucracy.

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Supply and demand

The richest worlds will be those which produce the things everyone needs but few can produce themselves. What that is depends on your universe. When food is scarce in your universe, then it will be the food-production planets. When metals are scarce, it will be the mining worlds. If knowledge is scarce, it will be the tech worlds. If everyone is addicted to tea, it will be the only world which grows tea.

Except when business negotiations get... aggressive.

When one world has a superior military, then they might be able to dictate trade conditions to the other worlds. So they could economically exploit them and become immensely prosperous. This does not necessarily require open warfare. Just the threat of an invasion alone can be sufficient. "Remember when you think about this trade proposal: we could just as well invade and just take it".

And you also mentioned that there are further "colonies and other possessions". Those could be subjects to disputes which might occasionally turn violent. The military superpower(s) could tie their military intervention or non-intervention in those disputes to favorable trade agreements. So a strong military might help with economic prosperity even if there are no invasions of the major worlds and only small-scale skirmishes in minor systems.

However, building and maintaining a military which can project power on an interstellar scale already requires access to resources. What resources exactly are required in your world to do so and how feasible it is to substitute resources with access to superior technology or talented individuals is up to you.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yep - this one. Spice (for seeing the future possibilities when navigating) or Stroon/Anti-agathics from Cordwainer Smith/James Blish universes are a couple examples of difficult to impossible to synthesize organics that are in extremely high demand. Then there's all kinds of minerals and other items in vanishingly short supply in various stories - from extra-galactic wormholes to mineral based super-computers to whatever. Take your pick. Most others will eke by using the standard knowledge or skills hoarding approaches. $\endgroup$ Aug 15 at 18:47
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Note the quoted section is taken from another answer about economies that I answered previously. Some changes have been made from my original answer:

Level 1 is commodities and covers basic goods that must be harvested from the environment in some fashion to be used and are in a raw state. In a modern setting, there's generally five generic types, but the fifth one listed is very recent:

Agriculture - Your farms both mass harvest of plant based food stuff and live stock.

Fishing/Hunting - While generally only covering the former, I add hunting because that would be used back then too. Covers meat based foods that are caught in the wild rather than raised for the purposes of harvesting.

Forestry - You might slide hunting here, but this generally concerns the production of timber and depending on advancement paper.

Mining- Extraction of solid Mineral Commodities from the ground. Ranges from Gems to Coal.

Petrochemical - This one is more recent, developing around the 18 century and likely not to come up, it concerns the harvesting of petrochemicals such as oil and natural gases often used in energy sector, though these products have other manufacturing goods. Generally overlaps with Mining but covers non-solid state material.

The take away from this is that commodities are typically traded on markets in futures contracts and the consumer should not care about the source of production since the markets will usually have a standardized unit of product that is so indistinct that one should not be able to tell who produced one unit size vs. another. For example, Live Cattle is purchased on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange at a fixed price (in USD) for every 40,000 lbs (20 tons) sold. Per particular breed of cattle, nobody cares if it was raised in Texas, Montana, Brazil, or Scotland, ect. That breed is worth the price per 20 tons either way. Similarly, the London Metal Exchange (which is not as metal as the title would lead you to believe) sells Aluminum for a fixed price (in USD) per metric ton, and doesn't care where it was mined or if you pronounce the metal the right way or the bloody American way.

It should also be pointed out that if you look at the list, all but one commodity is part of a pretty basic foundation of civilization. People have been farming, fishing, mining, and wood cutting for as long as civilization has been a thing. Only petrochemical is relatively recent, an advent of the industrial age, has been a thing, but even then, since parts of this economy are making of chemical goods, it still might have some elements much further back. It should also be pointed out that until recently, most economies backed currency by setting it to the price of a commodity, usually a hard commodity such as precious metals. Japan is a notable exception as the Yen used to be backed by rice, a soft commodity (aka a commodity that will usually spoil or degrade). Modern currencies do not do this, but that's a different topic.

Level 2 is simple, yet is probably the biggest thing to deal with as it's the real mover and shaker of your economy: Manufacturing. Since commodities are raw items, you need to process them into goods people can actually use. Manufactures take your raw goods and turn them into things people need. Your factories, your smiths, your butchers, your bakers, your candle stick makers (not to mention your brewers, your crafters, your carpenters, your artisans, ect). Anything that you can't pull from natural resources, has to be created from them. In the modern world most of this is factory goods, but in medieval times these were often your tradesmen. Certain goods may need multiple layers of manufacturing... making a leather-bound book would require both a paper maker who takes the wood pulp (forestry) and a tanner who takes the cow hide (agriculture) and the thread spinner (agriculture again) in order to make a book. Because these cover a bulk of things bought and sold, and may result in making things that go into making other things (for example, people might not associated petrochemicals with food processing... but farms need it to fuel machines and most food need packaging which may use plastics to better preserve and market the product to the consumer.

Finally at level 3 we have service industry. This covers a variety of things best summed up as other economic aspects. Generally, these are the people who take the goods from level 2 and sell them to the consumer (grocers, pubs, book shops, jewelry stores) and can be the people in level 2 if they are taking commissioned goods or selling their own products (a farmers market). But it's more general than that as this is the level where instead of products, skills are traded. A lawyer, doctor, or a hired gun would fall here as well, as well as most government workers from the lowly bureaucrat to all the King's men (but not the Kings Horses; those are commodities). In addition, transportation of goods also falls here as well.

The problem with your lists hear is that you do not have a lot of information for economies (it's okay, lots of factors mean that fictional economies always have trouble imitating the real thing). It is probably to your benefit to list the economy's exports and explore some of the GDP(PPP) per capita of each planet (that is the purchasing power of an average person when adjusted for population). Population is rarely a predictor, as the country with the best GDP (PPP) per capital is Luxenberg (the 168th most populated nation in the world), but among the top 10 nations in this category most are either tax havens (service economies/government policy) or Oil/Gas Commodities. The U.S. is the third largest country by population, and is somewhere in the 8th-1th best GDP(PPP) per capita depending on your source, and is the only one that makes the top ten that is not a tax haven or commodity heavy extractor. China, the second largest overall economy in the world, is somewhere between the 75th and 82 strongest economy per capita... it's economic status is because it has nearly 3 times as many people as the U.S., not because it's people are as well paid as those in the U.S.

Similarly you have planets that range in size from an entire population spread that would rank it the eight larges nation on earth in terms of total population, all the way to one that is 5 times larger than the total populaiton of earth, in a space that is a fraction of Earth's size (which will likely lead to a lot of wealth overall, but per person would be very expensive to live).

It's better to start off deciding what real world economies you wish to emulate with these planets and then make a typical range of economic society (Star wars planets served story first and had economies that ranged in disparity as we saw more development (Tatooine and Coruscant both have their well to do and their poor, and likely for different reasons)

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Location, location, location

The contents of your empires are not as important as their connectivity. In our world, empires flourished based on how well it was connected to the rest of the world. Europe was the center of the largest contiguously populated land mass, thus allowing communication of innovations and development to propagate from a larger area to a larger area.

The speed of technological development is, by far, the most important factor in the productivity of a civilization. Each incremental step in history has needed to be propagated to wherever the next technological development will take place. In the ancient world, this was much, much slower, and blocked by things like the Ural mountains and the Sahara desert.

Thus, over time, each geographical area will grow in strength based on how amicable they are to accepting change, and how convenient transportation is between other areas.

So, to answer this, you need to draw a map, figure out what features of the galaxy would resist travel, and decide how much the cultures actually wanted to grow vs. being insistent ok repelling anything that might dilute their cultural purity.

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