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Physical tokens of money and discussion of money and economics are considered vulgar and crass in this culture, yet there is a vast economic gulf between the very poor and the very rich. There is a large pressure to be able to maintain outward appearances at even great cost; otherwise, one would try to avoid being seen in 'cultured public' and to constrain their interactions to only other underworld lowest-class like themselves.

Just to be clear: there is money, and it's used often. Just not talked about or done 'in public'.

I imagine middle-class shopkeeping and merchandising professions would be looked upon with contempt and disgust, which would further divide the social classes. Additionally, little to no economic theory would be developed--again, reinforcing the current status quo.

However, what could the origins of this society be? What could some historical/cultural influences be which would cause this society to have developed?

E: a bit more information: Friendly 'gifting' (really a form of barter) plays a large part in day-to-day life. Commercial stores are typically built and placed to allow discreet entry and exit. Once purchased and paid for, the product will typically be delivered to the buyer's home address, where they will give a token gift to the deliverer, thus making it clear it's just another friendly exchange, nothing so dirty as a money-related transaction.

Many people do their own spending and moneykeeping--as much in the privacy of their own home as possible--but many more hire others, and rarely if ever learn the state of their own accounts.

But why could such a taboo develop?

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    $\begingroup$ This might sound more like a quip but still: the very condition you are proposing is likely to lead to the situation. Only when we do not discuss money and what it means — for the individual, the family, the community, the profession, the "class" — to have more or to have less, only then can gross inequalities arise. So I would say that the question answers itself: make it taboo to discuss money, and the differences will show up all by themselves. $\endgroup$ – MichaelK Apr 6 '16 at 6:37
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Assume a social system derived from feudal landholders. The most socially acceptable occupation is the (absentee) landlord of real estate worked by some sort of slave, serf, or sharecropper, or workers paid (almost) exclusively with room and board.

  • The only acceptable drink when one has guests is wine from the own estates. One doesn't buy what one offers as a token of sacred guest-right.
  • A vote in the government is dependent on being a landholder, not a craftsman or merchant. Voting privileges in the "senate" or "king's council" are lost when the individual also engages in trade.
  • The big estates are tax-free. Being seen as a tradesman would make the entire wealth liable for tax assessments. That means a small side business would be prohibitive -- either one has land, or one has a business, not both.
  • Handling money for purchases shows that the estate is not big enough after all. One does not buy from a blacksmith, one has a blacksmith on the estate.

Of course there would be a lot of double standards going on, and the estate manager needs a keen eye for accounts, but the estate owner pretends they don't matter. But then no reputable estate owner would manage his estate himself ...

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In feudal Japan, the ruling Samurai class did not sully themselves with handling money or discussing it, at least not publicly. They had servants to handle such sordid affairs. And it's notable that in that society, merchants were a lower social class than farmers; barely above the bottom-most, untouchable "eta" social class. In other societies, merchants are typically seen as having higher status than farmers, so clearly the Samurai attitude toward handling money affected the entire society's social structure.

What lead to the development of that? Well, I'm no expert in feudal Japan, but I think it's significant that the Samurai were encouraged to develop artistic skills, such as flower arranging and calligraphy. And I'm talking about the men, here! That suggests to me the ruling class considered themselves to be too refined, too much above the sordid business of economics, paying wages, and handling money.

No economic theory? Well, if you mean no equivalent of Adam Smith, and no modern economics (stock market, "fiat" money, corporations), then that certainly sounds plausible. But practical concerns would create some form of currency (coinage or the like) and the marketplace. Doing everything thru barter is simply too inefficient for any truly organized society. Even in feudal Japan, there were coins and marketplaces.

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  • $\begingroup$ But note that in China, under Genghis Khan, Marco Polo reported that ALL currency was fiat currency, specifically made from mulberry bark. It was backed by the coercive power of the Khan. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Apr 6 '16 at 4:16
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    $\begingroup$ Feudal Japan and Mongol China were very very different societies. $\endgroup$ – neph Apr 6 '16 at 4:40
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From /u/droomph:

You can see it today in America! (Although it's not as extreme as you're saying)

We have a strong divide in classes (despite what your conservative relatives would have you believe) and an aversion to discussion of money in the absolute.

Sure we talk about money, but that tends to be in the abstract, like "Computer scientists earn up to \$100k a year!" Instead of "Dave is a computer scientist and he earns \$105k a year." This leads to people not really incentivized to talk about pay and discuss pay raises with their employer, which further reinforces the system.

As well as that, we have a "suffering is noble" attitude inherited from Christianity and especially Puritanism so the rich don't really have moral reasons to change it and write off the evidence of suffering as "the exceptions" (due to the gap in between rich and poor limiting contact).

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From /u/DeGeorgetown:

This sounds a little bit like how Japan was. The samurai were the upper class because they protected the country. It was considered improper for one to handle money or show too much financial knowledge. The farmers were next on the totem pole because they produced, then the craftsmen because they created. The merchants were the lowest class because they earned money from goods others grew/created. Even though they were often richer than some in the samurai class, they were looked down on. It caused a lot of tension between classes. I remember reading about one merchant who had all his wealth taken away because he got too uppity and didn't follow the laws on what his class could wear.

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