Economics in my Fiction
A correspondent points me at a blog post with the intriguing title "Sci-fi needs economists." Neither of my novels is science fiction, but both of them are speculative fiction—sf, of which sci-fi is a subset. And both of them reflect, in varying ways, the fact that they were written by an economist. It occurred to me that some readers of this blog might be interested in how.
The protagonist of Harald is a leading figure in the Vales, a semi-stateless society loosely based on saga period Iceland. The Vales are allied with the kingdom of Kaerlia, from which they were settled a few centuries back, and with a third, non-geographical polity, the Order, a female military order very loosely based on the Templars. I do not find an order of women warriors terribly plausible from a historical standpoint, but I like it as a plot device. The three are allied against the Empire, a larger, expansionist power loosely based on Roman, Byzantine, and Abbasid models.
One form in which economics appears is the central problem that Harald faces—how to raise and support an army without either taxation to hire troops or a feudal system with liegemen obliged to fight for him. Although his purpose is defensive warfare, the model I was thinking of was offensive—the Norse armies that ravaged Britain. As best I can tell they were, in large part, not national armies but entrepreneurial projects. Harald is not in a position to offer his people land, but he can offer them loot—loot captured from Imperial forces he defeats and, more important, ransom paid by the Empire to get back their captive soldiers. That, plus excitement, glory, the opportunity to train under the best general around, and a patriotic desire not to have their homeland conquered, have to suffice.
One implication is that Harald has to be very stingy with the lives of his men; if too many of them get killed or injured in this campaign, nobody may show up for the next one. Hence he specializes in what his daughter refers to as "Father's set piece battles—everything important settled five minutes before it starts." The objective, always, is to put the opposing force in a position where it will have to surrender; his favorite method is logistical, creating a situation where if the enemy do not surrender they will die of hunger or thirst.
The same issues arise on the other side, although not quite as obviously. The Emperor has legionaries who are professional soldiers paid by taxes, and auxilia, mercenary forces from inside or outside the empire to fill roles that the legionaries do not. From the standpoint of each individual commander, it is the legions, the elite heavy infantry, that really matter. While losing auxilia is a bad thing, you can always hire more; as long as the legions get safely home, the army has not been defeated.
The problem, as becomes clear in the final campaign, is that you cannot always hire more. Having gotten quite a lot of auxilia killed in earlier campaigns, the Empire finds mercenaries in short supply, not because most of them have been killed but because the ones who are alive would prefer to stay that way. The economic constraint.
My second novel, unlike the first, is an actual fantasy with magic. Its initial theme was the fantasy equivalent of the central planning fallacy. If readers are interested, let me know and I will be happy to expand on that. I am a little worried that, like many authors, I may be more interested in talking about my books than other people are in hearing about them.