Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wide, Wide World

When I decided to create an economy for my world, I did not sit down with a real hot cup of coffee and scratch out some notes about which places would produce what: “Let’s see, France and Italy will have a lot of wine, Russia has some trees, India has indigo…” However long I could have gone at the system that way, it would never have been what I needed. I wanted a comprehensive system, something that would include virtually every product in use and its availability. More than that, it had to give a price for those products…a different price for each location where that object would be purchased.

This last, of course, was the major bitch in the project. If we establish a geographical location for the production of materials, it stands to reason that the distance from that geographical location is going to have something to do with the material cost.

Before I could get into that, I needed a source: a comprehensive tome that would list off the locations where objects were produced, so that an estimate could begin. Of course, there was no need for me to be arbitrary about it—the planet earth is filled with books about what is produced and where (part of the benefits of running a system on this planet)…but a consistent one, ah, there’s the rub.

I grew up with an encyclopedia that was purchased the year my parents were married, in 1958. It’s interesting that encyclopedias produced at that time were focused primarily on history and geography, unlike encyclopedias today that are focused on science and social science. I was lucky enough to happen upon a duplicate of that set, the Colliers Encyclopedia, printed in 1952. There are some fascinating idiosyncrasies about a set of facts volumes printed during the Korean War—when space travel was not conceived of, when Libya had no oil production, when Vietnam is still a part of the French colony of Indochina.

Most important to me, the encyclopedia has articles on literally thousands of geographical locations: cities, provinces, plateaus, vales, rivers, lakes, mountain ranges, seas, forests…and each article includes, as was standard at the time, a list of what that particular location produces economically.

Or, at least what it did in 1952.

The age of the book is its best feature—the closer to Renaissance period Europe, the better (my world operates in circa 1650). Of course, there are numerous listings for the production of automobiles, turbines, electrical cable, steel, uranium, radium and so on. For these things I read wagons, windmills, rope, pig iron, mithril and adamantium (the last two are a bit cute, but at least I’m not deciding where they’re found). I make other substitutions as needed.

Very often, the encyclopedias make more than one reference to a particular place in terms of its production of a particular item. For example, I have 7 references to the Island of Elba off the coast of Tuscany for its production of iron ore. As I make my way through the encyclopedia, I make note of each of these references; statistically, it is fair to argue that seven references would mean that a location produces seven times as much as another location, say Val d’Aosta, which has one reference.

Not always true, I know. But I dare anyone to find as complete a listing.

My “trade tables” as they are now, do not include most of Africa, any of the New World, or Western Europe. This has taken some time to accumulate the data. Altogether I have 19,400 references for areas stretching from the eastern half of Germany and Italy to Japan. More than 400 of those references are “iron ore”…so Elba’s seven have a relevance to the local area of Italy, but they would have very little effect on prices in Turkestan or China.

Because the encyclopedia is an independent source, the substance of those things produced vary widely. Some of the more obscure and profound references I have found, many of which I’ve been forced to look up, have included ozokerite, vogla (for which I could not find an English site), catechu, artyk (for which I could find no representative site at all, though it is a building stone used in Azerbaijan and Armenia), kumis, kenaf, asafoetida, perilla seed, brocade, teff, bear paws and sea slugs. These are things I would not have come up with on my own—even the spellchecker doesn’t recognize most of them. Altogether, there are more than 600 different products, which I group together into 279 commodities and services.

Why 279? Because these are what I have been able to find additional statistics for: specifically, production statistics. I began years ago with two books, the United Nations Industrial Statistics Yearbook (1988, earliest one I could find) and the Food and Agricultural Organization Yearbook (same year, for consistency). These two books provided me with a considerable volume of statistics…not as complete as I would have liked, but it was a considerable start.

The numbers, of course, did NOT correspond to 1650. Obviously we produce considerably more pig iron per population than was ever produced in 1650…and there are NO statistics for that period.

And this is the point when an assumption must be made? No, this is when more research is required.

I tore into every book on the Industrial Revolution and the economic development of Europe and the world that I could find, including quite a few very boring published theses. I have yet to find any clear figures…and for some time the numbers floated around as I compared data between what I was reading. I settled on a rough division of 500 between the late 1980s and the mid-17th century. That is, world production of anything would be approximately 1/500th of the present…adjusted individually for various products as evidence allowed. It has not been perfect—but as I pointed out yesterday, neither is the census. Doesn’t mean it lacks practicality.

It has made it possible for me to get a sense for the value of a product with my having as little arbitrary influence on that number as possible. I can, if questioned, “show” my work and challenge others to improve it.

Please…improve my work. I’m trying to do it myself, all the time.

That’s enough for now. I’m enjoying this, so I may post later today, and probably tomorrow.

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