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    Orc in the Playground
     
    Mobius Twist's Avatar

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    Jul 2009

    Post Interacting factors in a plutocracy: build your own conflict

    This is dealing with a low-tech fantasy world, but theoretical applications can go all the way up to your Shadowrun-esque corps as well.

    A central commercial hub (big city, whatever this means for your world) is situated on an easily-traversed plain with relatively secure roads.
    Lack of water-based access means that no one nation gets advantage in speed or transport; everyone has to cross the same territory to get their goods to market.

    The founders of the city were retired adventurers; they had the means to drop initial investment funds into the pot to get the enterprise going and attract the market forces that kept the whole thing going. It helps if there's something financially unique to export from the area. The ruling council was comprised of the adventurers, but over time (as they died of old age or got bored), the people in charge of key contributing industries or trading chapters would join and keep the whole thing going.

    Internal politics are evolved from initial founding of the city. As with most plutocracies, the expectation is two-fold: One is obligation, and the other is privilege. The obligation is that to hold the seat, one must contribute significant funds into a pool from which basic services are provided to keep operations running. The privilege is to make decisions that directly benefit you and undercut competitors in the same industries, such that you possess monopolistic power.

    If a council member is not able to meet the obligations, the seat is offered for auction (at prices accessible to almost none) and the cycle continues.

    What does this mean for everyone in positions of wealth, but not power? There are above-board methods of gaining advantage, such as you might see in typical corporate setups (bribes, shareholder buyouts, market competition) and the shady stuff where PCs might get involved: corporate sabotage, assassination, fomenting labor rebellions and consumer uprisings, etc.

    This does not preclude a certain segment of the market to offer specialized/artisan services that are inaccessible through major market leaders, either. If an artisan weaponsmith makes two super-special-awesome +5 swords a year, that hardly keeps her going regardless of markup, while a broad-market weapon producing leader might have a contract to supply all city guards and militias with your basic PHB steel short swords and capture the rest of the market share with ease. If demand for bespoke +5 daggers suddenly springs up dramatically, sure, the artisan crafters might all get buyout offers, but until then it's a wasted effort for no appreciable gain.

    What makes this system work and become self-perpetuating? If everyone is selfishly greedy, how would any "greater good" hard decisions get made? Two things come to mind: Either the founders codify delivery of certain public goods/services with the intention of continuing to attract new wealth-seeking population to the city as market losers cycle out, or there's a constant pressure on the city from the outside (e.g.: hordes from the East) that requires investment in things like basic security and infrastructure so that the society is strong enough to resist the threat.

    Next up: Thoughts on the seamy crotch of shadowy evil.
    "With sufficient thrust, pigs fly just fine."

    -RFC 1925

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    Orc in the Playground
     
    Mobius Twist's Avatar

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    Default Re: Interacting factors in a plutocracy: build your own conflict

    CRIMINAL ENTERPRISE:

    Let's discuss the two words of "criminal enterprise" in separation.

    Criminality implies doing something that is prohibited. The degree of prohibition and scope of activities prohibited flows generally from the people in power and what sort of things they need to defend themselves against in the present or near future. A plutocratic system will rarely focus heavily on investment in long-term processes that don't also aid immediate needs and goals. As such, if the vast majority of criminal activity is "whatever goes against the needs of the ruling class", we'll end up having a very fluid system of crime that sees the ebb and flow into and out of legitimacy with the changing of the ruling class.

    Enterprise, being an organized operation implies a lot of the same centralized control structures that one sees in a legitimate business. Only the income streams and partnerships happen to be of questionable legality. This, as with the above, assists an organization from rapidly transitioning between "legal" and "illegal" when the winds change.

    Examples: Baker's Guild systems that demand specific proportions of wheat in anything that's declared a "bread" will see a black market for rye bread and oat cakes (or inedible garbage fillers) spring up for people who suddenly can't afford to eat even basic bread to survive.
    Brickmaker on the ruling council creates a non-compete clause for the region and causes counterfeit bricks to flood the market from outside the region, all imitating (badly) the maker's mark stamped into the legitimate brick.

    Both of the example businesses above could rapidly legitimize and compete in an open market the moment the rule is no longer enforced or in effect.

    ---------

    As with all governments, however, some legacy systems may exist that centralize government control over the less-palatable aspects of society. A number of Player Character classes lend themselves well to shadow operations that need subtlety, infiltration, exfiltration, and elimination of targets without being caught.

    For those classes, the DM may well choose establish a semi-criminal enterprise that operates within the government, but outside of direct control of the plutocrats, i.e.: an intelligence agency. Whether this is a leftover pursuit of one of the founders (a rogue or shadow monk may be responsible) that grew into an agency, or a necessary evil that got built up over time is up to you; the end result is the same: the ability to operate outside of the bounds of established legal statutes with specific goals in mind: stability of the established community, reduction or elimination of growing threats to the status quo, and development of a controlled external threat to keep everyone inside the city's legitimate structures working together for fear of being toppled from without.

    The PCs don't have to be willing participants in such an agency; they can easily be manipulated patsies instead. In fact, part of a campaign may be unraveling political shenanigans that they were initially manipulated into causing unwittingly.
    Last edited by Mobius Twist; 2021-01-26 at 11:05 PM.
    "With sufficient thrust, pigs fly just fine."

    -RFC 1925

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    Orc in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Interacting factors in a plutocracy: build your own conflict

    RELIGIONS:

    At least one religion in the region should support wealth pursuits as a virtuous goal, ala Prosperity Gospel. The best way to ingratiate it into the population, even the failed entrepreneurs and the "gave up" segment, is to incorporate (pun not intended) it into daily subsistence survival. I suggest an agriculture deity, home-and-hearth deity, or some other aspect of comfort, succor, or sacrifice.

    Having a religious representative buy into the social structure by using believer tithes/donations to buy their way into the ruling council gives the religion both a sticky quality throughout society as well as a motive to keep the swindle going.

    This also provides hooks for the adventurers to act on behalf of the church to root out competing cults and send their cleric to found new outposts of the god in regions as-yet-unexplored.
    Last edited by Mobius Twist; 2021-01-26 at 08:19 PM. Reason: Add Header
    "With sufficient thrust, pigs fly just fine."

    -RFC 1925

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Goblin

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    Default Re: Interacting factors in a plutocracy: build your own conflict

    Quote Originally Posted by Mobius Twist View Post
    What makes this system work and become self-perpetuating? If everyone is selfishly greedy, how would any "greater good" hard decisions get made?
    Corporate entities. By corporate I'm referring to large groups of people who each contribute to the cost of putting one of their members into a seat. This distributes power which, in turn, makes government more stable and less likely to enact dictatorial decrees. It will also tend to reduce the number of actual plutocrats on the council as the corporate entities will make it harder for these individuals to participate.

    I'd suggest that the number of seats is not finite but open to anyone who can meet the base price and will commit to meeting their share of other expenses. So if the operating expenses for the year exceed the revenue raised by the annual subscription cost of council seats the members are responsible for their share of the costs. This allows for a lot of political maneuvering, including council members leaving their seat because they don't want to pay.

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    Orc in the Playground
     
    Mobius Twist's Avatar

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    Default Re: Interacting factors in a plutocracy: build your own conflict

    Quote Originally Posted by jjordan View Post
    Corporate entities. By corporate I'm referring to large groups of people who each contribute to the cost of putting one of their members into a seat. This distributes power which, in turn, makes government more stable and less likely to enact dictatorial decrees. It will also tend to reduce the number of actual plutocrats on the council as the corporate entities will make it harder for these individuals to participate.

    I'd suggest that the number of seats is not finite but open to anyone who can meet the base price and will commit to meeting their share of other expenses. So if the operating expenses for the year exceed the revenue raised by the annual subscription cost of council seats the members are responsible for their share of the costs. This allows for a lot of political maneuvering, including council members leaving their seat because they don't want to pay.
    I'm curious why power distribution is something the people in power would want. This isn't broadly a system for public good - it's an opportunistic system of self-interest that happens to provide services for the broader population only as a side effect of doing well for themselves. I would expect having fewer other equals to influence (or bribe) would make it easier.

    This also creates an incentive to control the number of seats - perhaps majority approval is required to open a new one, usually driven by the desire to build a bigger reserve for specific actions (like funding an army for an expansion push), balanced against having to share the power and introduce another player into the power game.

    I do agree that incorporating a representative on behalf of smaller players (perhaps all sharing a industry and thus a common goal) is likely to take place. Whenever a seat goes up for auction, after all, the opportunity exists.

    You also bring up an interesting concern - musical chairs. I buy my place in the council, pass some beneficial rulings for me and my funders, and then ditch before the next round of bills comes due. There may have to be constraints in place on how you can leave - such that even holding the seat for a short time causes you to forfeit funds or assets to cover a full year of responsibilities.
    "With sufficient thrust, pigs fly just fine."

    -RFC 1925

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Goblin

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    Mar 2019

    Default Re: Interacting factors in a plutocracy: build your own conflict

    Quote Originally Posted by Mobius Twist View Post
    I'm curious why power distribution is something the people in power would want. This isn't broadly a system for public good - it's an opportunistic system of self-interest that happens to provide services for the broader population only as a side effect of doing well for themselves. I would expect having fewer other equals to influence (or bribe) would make it easier.
    Power distribution would be what prevents the plutocracy from turning into a dictatorship or anarchy. It's the hedge against power accumulating at either extreme, not an investment in the public good.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mobius Twist View Post
    You also bring up an interesting concern - musical chairs. I buy my place in the council, pass some beneficial rulings for me and my funders, and then ditch before the next round of bills comes due. There may have to be constraints in place on how you can leave - such that even holding the seat for a short time causes you to forfeit funds or assets to cover a full year of responsibilities.
    I would imagine that the council seat comes with an annual fee and then the seat holders are responsible for covering operating expenses for actions and that some seat members might resign, rather than cover expenses for a proposed action. I imagine this would be fairly rare and probably come with penalties (can't occupy a seat for a year afterwards?).

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