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Old 01-11-2013, 06:39 PM   #1
Luke Bunyip
 
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Default Dwarven Governance & Economics?

Whilst we have been discussing what would be found in a dwarven settlement, I've been also musing about the economic and political structures which would appeal to dwarves. This post from Jason:
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Sleeping chambers? Tolkien never said where Dwarves lived. Do they each have a chamber? Do they buy and sell clusters of caves the way humans do with houses?
.... really highlighted it for me, in that property ownership is a fundamental aspect of any political framework.

My gut feeling is that dwarves will not have a strictly feudal political structure. By the same token, the top-down planned economy approach which has be a fundamental aspect of authoritarian socialist regimes doesn't seem to make sense either.

But, I do see dwarves as being hierarchical. Are they purely democratic? Mmmn, does really seem to fit for me. A plutocracy, where political influence is determined by the relative economic power of different guilds, appeals, but I have not really thought through how it would work.

The Nordic surname model, ie your surname is a derivative of your father's or mother's given name, implies that there is a importance on familial and extra-familial relationships.

However, I do not see dwarven society as having a large underclass, or a struggling working class. For me this implies a degree of publicly run enterprises, akin to the UK's NHS, Swedish public health and education, and my own experience, of public institutions here in Australia.

So, in summary:
  • I have no fixed ideas on what it should be in totality, just what it shouldn't be, and the elements it would contain;
  • Guilds would be important;
  • Clans would be important;
  • If you have nothing, you can always get free accommodation, free food, but with the requirement of providing unskilled labour for a minimum of 75% of your free time (leaves the other 25% for personal profit, education etc);
  • A similar arrangement could provide for the basic necessities for journeymen;
  • If you dig it at your own cost, you own it; and
  • It isn't quasi-socialist*. Capitalism** seems like a natural fit for dwarves.
*I am using this word to refer to Stalinism, Maoism, and their derivatives. For example, Australia is a wealthy capitalist country, with some very wealthy industrialists, including the richest woman in the world, Gina Rinehart, and provides public health, public education, public housing and public transport, without having a history similar to the afore mentioned, who could quite easily be characterised as tyrants.

**The contract in the Hobbit implies a legal structure which deals with commercial disputes
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Old 01-11-2013, 06:55 PM   #2
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Default Re: Dwarven Governance & Economics?

And please don't derail this thread with an emotive and tangential discussion about what exactly entails socialism, which for me just means that it could result in a requisite thread lockdown. Having ventured over to General Chatter over the years, I know that some of us have strong fundamental views on politics. I also know that I disagree with a number of some of those views.

BUT, I also know that there are singularly intelligent folk within the forum hivemind, and even if I disagree with some of you impart, you all have something which I cannot provide for myself, namely a different point of view.

So... to use a couple of cricket analogies, can you all please play straight bat, not play the man, and enter into this discussion in the spirit of the game.

If you have issue with elements of that which I have suggested above, great. Please offer alternative models, social structures etc, which make sense for the trope which encompasses all that is covered by the term 'dwarven'. In actual fact, I would be overjoyed if we could come up with a number of differing and slightly incompatible structures. If there is one thing which I associate with dwarves, it is strongly held beliefs and arguments.
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Old 01-11-2013, 07:13 PM   #3
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Default Re: Dwarven Governance & Economics?

The thought strikes me that the longer the life expectancy, the more viable an extended family approach to governance becomes.
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Old 01-11-2013, 10:50 PM   #4
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The thought strikes me that the longer the life expectancy, the more viable an extended family approach to governance becomes.
If Dwarves have long lifespans, then sons and daughters might have much more incentive to take their refusing-to-die parents to court and have them forcibly declared senile, so that they can inherit. Because presumably Dwarves experience time the same way we do, so for them it might be waiting 120 or 150 years for the old man to croak, rather than just a few dozen years after one has reached adulthood.

Rather than have a court system (in which declarations of senility may be won more on the accuser's social popularity than on the actual objectively measured intellectual decline of the accused), the Dwarves might have invented a custom to get around this. One option might be advance inheritance, where every 24 years, after the inheritor reaches adulthood, a sixth of the inheritance is given, so that in effect "economic death" occurs 144 years after the youngest heir has become an adult.

A problem with this is if heirs are sometimes many years apart. 24 years after the first heir is born, he gets his share, but then a year later another heir is born (maybe from the mother's second marriage), so what do you do then? Take back the too-large part that was given to the first heir? He might already have spent it! A custom where everything goes to the oldest heir might be best, but of course this leaves excess heirs at a severe disadvantage. Where do the Dwarves park those?
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Old 01-11-2013, 07:24 PM   #5
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Default Re: Dwarven Governance & Economics?

We have enough references to dwarven kings to think that something of the sort exists for dwarven society, though they may not be exactly equivalent to human kings. However, dwarves seem to assign greater prestige to those who make things (including weapons) than those who use them, and it's not clear just how inheritable political position is; a guild-based government, where promotion is dependent on demonstrated skill (if possibly assisted by nepotism) seems more likely than strictly inheritable positions, though a clan-based system also seems to appear (of course, you can easily have family businesses).

I disagree that dwarves wouldn't have a struggling working class, it's just that dwarven society is typically relatively wealthy overall, so a struggling dwarf looks like an average wealth human. However, I'm inclined to think that dwarves are big on idle hands being bad, and thus dwarven society encourages 100% employment, with makework projects if necessary (which accounts for a lot of pointless structures created by dwarves). Dwarves might well have a disadvantage or advantage that they have trouble just relaxing and doing nothing, a dwarf who's just sitting there will probably pick up a stick and start carving, or something.
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Old 01-11-2013, 09:03 PM   #6
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Default Re: Dwarven Governance & Economics?

Dwarven property law is indeed likely to be extremely well developed. I actually could see dwarven kingdoms as being a sort of companies: they are means of production as much as they are means of living. The "King" looks that way to the humans because the entire "kingdom", or project, is his hole in the mountain, in a property sense as much as a political sense.

Dwarves will need some way of deciding three dimensional property law. Mineral rights are probably swallowed up in that portion.

Dwarves have always been depicted as having a fairly classless society, with the exception of the king. I have also noticed that as soon as you remove other races for dwarves to trade with they don't seem to act like dwarves anymore. My theory (which I usually use) is that dwarves form a middle class of artisans and bankers with a slightly lower class of miners where ever they go. The issue isn't that dwarves are classless, its that they gravitate to a specific class in other people's structures.
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Old 01-11-2013, 09:22 PM   #7
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I'm going to suggest that Hilaire Belloc's discussion of "distributism" in The Servile State may be relevant to what you're looking at (and it seems to have been at least a small influence on Tolkien and Lewis). The idea of distributism is that you have a deliberate policy of enabling as many people as possible to be small property holders. Dwarves seem to be an intensely propertarian race, so this could fit them.

I'm thinking that mines might work somewhat along the lines of the old putting out system. You don't actually have "workers"; you have a mine developer who plans the operations, and you have dwarvish households that contract to work in a given min according to specifications. How much a household makes depends on its productivity.

But I suspect that at least the mining dwarves are likely to have something like the Freemasons—a mutual aid setup that insures against death, disability, and injury. Mining is a dangerous trade, after all.

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Old 01-11-2013, 09:51 PM   #8
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Default Re: Dwarven Governance & Economics?

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Originally Posted by Anthony View Post
I disagree that dwarves wouldn't have a struggling working class, it's just that dwarven society is typically relatively wealthy overall, so a struggling dwarf looks like an average wealth human. ... dwarven society encourages 100% employment, with makework projects if necessary (which accounts for a lot of pointless structures created by dwarves).
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Originally Posted by ericthered View Post
My theory (which I usually use) is that dwarves form a middle class of artisans and bankers with a slightly lower class of miners where ever they go. The issue isn't that dwarves are classless, its that they gravitate to a specific class in other people's structures.
These both work for me, and as well both of you seem to suggest something which for me sounds similar.
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Old 01-11-2013, 10:00 PM   #9
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Default Re: Dwarven Governance & Economics?

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I'm going to suggest that Hilaire Belloc's discussion of "distributism" in The Servile State may be relevant to what you're looking at.
Thanks Bill. I must admit, I was banking on a contrabution from you. I have learnt to appreciate the depth and breadth of your reading. Will definitely check it out, but on initial glance it is exactly what I was hoping to use as a basis for dwarven society and economics.

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The idea of distributism is that you have a deliberate policy of enabling as many people as possible to be small property holders. Dwarves seem to be an intensely propertarian race, so this could fit them.
I am reminded of the Byzantine limits on property ownership, in order to (AFAIK) hobble the political power of those with a large amount of cash.

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Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
I'm thinking that mines might work somewhat along the lines of the old putting out system. You don't actually have "workers"; you have a mine developer who plans the operations, and you have dwarvish households that contract to work in a given min according to specifications. How much a household makes depends on its productivity.

But I suspect that at least the mining dwarves are likely to have something like the Freemasons—a mutual aid setup that insures against death, disability, and injury. Mining is a dangerous trade, after all.
This definitely works for me. And it helps establish the family/extended family as an economic unit.
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Old 01-11-2013, 11:08 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Anthony View Post
We have enough references to dwarven kings to think that something of the sort exists for dwarven society, though they may not be exactly equivalent to human kings. However, dwarves seem to assign greater prestige to those who make things (including weapons) than those who use them, and it's not clear just how inheritable political position is; a guild-based government, where promotion is dependent on demonstrated skill (if possibly assisted by nepotism) seems more likely than strictly inheritable positions, though a clan-based system also seems to appear (of course, you can easily have family businesses).
Medieval guild systems were basically labour exploitation, where the apprentice spent most of his time doing manual labour, and very little time actually being taught the trade by the master craftsman. It follows from this that if the master is liked by his teacher, e.g. due to non-blood nepotism or being an actual blood relative, the proportion of teaching could be much larger and with much less exploitation, so that over the course of the guild-regulated apprentice duration, e.g. 7 years, many more Skill Points can be accumulated.

This would lead to classes or grades of apprenticeships. Normal ones are mostly exploitation, so the resulting journeymen have decent skill but nothing special. Favourable ones have a bit less exploitation, so the resulting journeymen got enriched by more SP during the time when they had young and flexible brains. And very favourable ones have little exploitation and thus the resulting journeymen are very skilled, and are likely to achieve great craftsmanship later in life.

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Originally Posted by Anthony View Post
I disagree that dwarves wouldn't have a struggling working class, it's just that dwarven society is typically relatively wealthy overall, so a struggling dwarf looks like an average wealth human. However, I'm inclined to think that dwarves are big on idle hands being bad, and thus dwarven society encourages 100% employment, with makework projects if necessary (which accounts for a lot of pointless structures created by dwarves). Dwarves might well have a disadvantage or advantage that they have trouble just relaxing and doing nothing, a dwarf who's just sitting there will probably pick up a stick and start carving, or something.
A vague idea I have is that food might be expensive in Dwarven society while manufactured goods are relatively cheap, compared to Human society. This makes sense if almost all Dwarves are Compulsive Craftsmen and if they import their food by trade with the above-ground world.

This produces a different picture of the underclass, compared to urban medieval Humans. The poorest Humans, in towns, are skinny because food is expensive, but they're also clad in rags and own no real requipment or homes. The Dwarven underclass might be very well supplied with decent clothes (woven by compulsive weavers), and small but still private homes (dug by compulsive diggers), and own nice eating utensils (made by compulsive smiths and potters), but be rather on the skinny side and slightly malnourished, because food is what's expensive.

They might also be strongly inclined towards grumpiness because they get all their fluids from water. Even if the water is from clean underground streams, they look with envy at their better-off brethren not because they can always fill their bellies with food, but because they can have several bottles of ale per day (keep in mind, alcohol is made from grain or other foods, so if food is scarce, so is alcohol).

If Dwarves who travel in Human society are also grumpy, it's because they don't like our booze.
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