More than a few times, I’ve commented on how important it is for a fantasy or science fiction writer to understand basic societal economics if that writer wants to portray a workable and realistic fictional society. In recent years, more and more writers have become clearly aware of this, and their books reflect this. More recently, however, the comparative absence of finance and banking has struck me, yet some form of banking, whether it be counting houses, money-lenders, or the like, has existed in virtually every human civilization that became sophisticated enough to have iron tools. Any form of wide-spread trade requires at least a rudimentary financial system, and a financial system allows what one might call an oligarchical concentration of power and wealth, which in turn feeds intrigue and scheming.
One of the problem with portraying stock exchanges and banks is that few writers really understand them enough to portray just how much they can multiply either evil or good…or how quickly they can turn what seems to be good into total disaster. And, of course, the usual depiction of the banker/financier ranges from Shakespeare’s Shylock, to Dickens’s “early” Scrooge, to Mr. Potter in Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, to, more recently, the bankers and brokers in Wall Street and The Wolf of Wall Street. The problem with such one-sided depictions is that they actually understate the impact finances and financiers have on society and government.
The key role a financial system plays in any economy is to provide liquidity, because without liquidity transactions and trades become almost impossibly difficult.
I recently read an incredibly detailed massive fantasy epic, one that depicted almost all aspects of society – traders and their formal and informal associations, rulers and their bureaucracies and sycophants, military types, barbarians, entertainers, crafters, laborers, merchant princes, even authors – but not any financiers or bankers, despite a welter of trade and conflict between adjoining lands. A great story – but I kept wondering what financial structure was behind it all, and why the bankers, or their equivalent, didn’t put the brakes on some of the idiocy, because successful bankers do tend to be conservative [except in today’s USA], sometimes foolishly so.
So… for better or worse, don’t forget the bankers… or their equivalents.