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Anachronity
2019-08-15, 10:12 AM
One of the city-states in my campaign is a wretched hive of scum and villainy plutocracy, and an unsavory one at that. The lore goes that during the initial settlement of the island-continent, merchants struck it rich by lumbering the nearby jungle's plentiful supply of darkwood trees (the wood equivalent of mithril). The wealthy merchants would then retire to less monster-infested locales, where they established bloodsports and created a demand for exotic extravagances.

But the question I had was...
How does an actual plutocracy work? (what are the titles and honorifics and so on of people who hold their position due to wealth, and not some royal lineage? Are there any true historical examples or are all of them only de-facto plutocracies with other forms of nominal, heavily corrupt governance?)

EDIT: Additionally, I would appreciate any advice on convincingly portraying an organized crime syndicate in a fantasy world. This is 5th edition, so there's a bit less concern about magic immediately allowing anyone to determine on a whim whether or not a given individual is a ne'er-do-well.

sktarq
2019-08-15, 10:44 AM
There are a number of ways you could pull this off.

A ruling council...where the right to sit can be bought and sold.

Donations to "official" civic charities leads to a status that is a perquisite for high office

theocratic influence that sees wealth as a sign of divine favor...giving the rich a right to rule

have no civic means civic rule enforcement ...and thus no army/guard etc...so private armies are the order of the day...and thus if you want a say in how the rules are made you need a private army to help enforce those rules...armies basically agree to enforce each others rules in theory..when the sponsors of the armies meet to confirm/work out how to do this they ARE running the city.

have ruling council seats be based on the highest taxpayers...(as an example way to generate this idea: if at some point in the past a king agreed to an advisory council of merchants and said those merchants who pay the most taxes are most effected by his edicts and would thus get seats, Over time the council out-maneuvers/out-lasts other political power centres and eventually took over entirely)

otherwise it is basically the same as any other form of oligarchy

Thinker
2019-08-15, 11:56 AM
The closest to a functioning plutocracy you might find would be the merchant republics of medieval Italy. There, various families found massive success via trade networks that led to outside of Europe. This led to generational wealth that was used to buy influence in local politics. Before long, these powerful families were directly running the government and using the government to further their own wealth. Some common traits of these republics would be:

Three levels of politics: politics within the family, politics within the city-state, and politics/diplomacy with outside powers. Political rivals could arise from any of these areas.
Political assassinations, especially by poisoning
Public works to build the prestige and influence of families as well as to get citizens on their side
Humiliating rivals publicly, especially at festivals, parties, and other large gatherings
Rarely, open violence in the streets between factions
More rarely, alignment of rich families with outside powers to attack the city by force


You can view the Capulets and Montagues from Romeo and Juliet as being such families. Also, take influence from the Godfather movies or other pop culture about the mafia. You might also get inspiration from Westerns where there is a wealthy land-owner or powerful gang that comes into conflict with another one (like Tombstone).

Such games are well-suited to intrigue and deception.

Celestia
2019-08-15, 12:28 PM
{{scrubbed}}

Mark Hall
2019-08-15, 12:35 PM
The Mod Ogre: Please be careful about politics in this thread.

Gallowglass
2019-08-15, 02:09 PM
One of the city-states in my campaign is a wretched hive of scum and villainy plutocracy, and an unsavory one at that....

How does an actual plutocracy work? (what are the titles and honorifics and so on of people who hold their position due to wealth, and not some royal lineage? Are there any true historical examples or are all of them only de-facto plutocracies with other forms of nominal, heavily corrupt governance?)

So every Feudal Government is actually a plutocracy.

A plutocracy is "rule by the wealthy". All wealth is is having more resources than other people and in every feudal system the landlord (nobility) have the wealth and the commonfolk (serfs) do not.

European feudal system started as a pure plutocracy.

I consider this parcel of land to be mine
I develop the resources to fight off anybody else who denies that
I work and develop the resources of that land
I start making others do that work for me
I pass it on to my children and to their children
Continue until someone else takes it from my children's children.

In your fantasy world you are stating that a class of people who were NOT hereditary wealthy grew in wealth by establishing, dominating, controlling and exploiting a new resource. So now they are the new nobles.

As for what titles to use? Normally, in real life, when a merchant-class rose in power to the level of the hereditary nobility that already existed the craved the titles of that existing nobility as a status symbol. So they found ways to buy the titles of duke and earl and prince and so on. So the easiest solution would be to just use existing titles.

That's not really fun though, so if I was you i'd have them make up their own titles.

CEO
CIO
CSO
Manager
Superintendant
Supervisor

I would use corporate titles as a starting point

jjordan
2019-08-15, 02:09 PM
There are a number of ways you could pull this off.

A ruling council...where the right to sit can be bought and sold.
I've always liked this system for storytelling purposes. I had politicians raising money by representing constituents who contributed money used to pay the entrance fee. The fee had to be paid on a yearly basis. This was both their electoral and taxation systems.

jjordan
2019-08-15, 02:18 PM
But the question I had was...
How does an actual plutocracy work? (what are the titles and honorifics and so on of people who hold their position due to wealth, and not some royal lineage? Are there any true historical examples or are all of them only de-facto plutocracies with other forms of nominal, heavily corrupt governance?)
Plutocracies tend to cloak themselves in the clothing of other political systems rather than being out in the open. Checking Wikipedia will give you some excellent examples of historical plutocracies and the ways they worked. In general they are composed of powerful economic interests in the form of guilds/corporations that exert economic control over large portions of the economy and this gives them the power and wealth to substantially influence politics and social dynamics.

EDIT: Additionally, I would appreciate any advice on convincingly portraying an organized crime syndicate in a fantasy world. This is 5th edition, so there's a bit less concern about magic immediately allowing anyone to determine on a whim whether or not a given individual is a ne'er-do-well.Again, Wikipedia is your friend here. But a good way to think of organized crime syndicates is as a shadow feudal system. The guys at the bottom are granted territories and they pay tribute to the people above them who have larger territories and so on. They recruit people to work for them who fall into the broad categories of peasants (people who are largely unable to avoid working them), soldiers (the people who solidly work for them but aren't 'family'), and 'family' (the people who are the most privileged members of the group).

Psyren
2019-08-15, 04:29 PM
Golarion (i.e. Pathfinder) has a couple of plutocracies you could check out for inspiration:

Katapesh - The Bazaar of the Bizarre, Katapesh has one rule above all others: "Do as you will, but do not interfere with trade." You can buy anything there - from weapons and mercenaries, to rare items and components, to drugs and slaves, and the ruling council doesn't care as long as the dough keeps rolling in.

Druma - The Merchant's Paradise, this one has stronger religious overtones to it. The chief religion/philosophy there is a set of teachings called the Prophecies of Kalistrade - in a nutshell, they believe that if you follow their teachings and devote yourself to business dealings (rejecting most deities in the process), you'll amass vast wealth, and flaunting that wealth will cause you to become even more favored, thus gaining more wealth. It's a bit of a blend of meritocracy and plutocracy, since clearly anyone who has succeeded deserves to be wealthy and therefore deserves to be in charge of those who haven't, and anyone who can outwit a higher-ranked follower in a business dealing has the potential to surpass them. Followers of the PoK amass wealth but have more restrictions, such as foregoing more hedonistic pleasures, even refusing to touch anyone who doesn't also follow the Prophecies.

Some common themes between these two that you can leverage:

- Amassing wealth is the highest form of virtue, so long as you do so in a way that doesn't inhibit trade.
- Morality is either barely a concern or not a concern at all to what is considered legal, hence all the slaves and drugs.
- The letter of the law trumps its spirit - loopholes are both a common and expected part of business dealings.
- Crime that violates the letter is not tolerated; if you're going to steal from someone, you have to find a way to do it legally.

King of Nowhere
2019-08-15, 09:42 PM
the republic of venice was a plutocracy, with corruption being istitutionalized. the aristocracy (made of merchant families) would vote to elect the ruler of the city, and corruption was not only normal, but also legal and expected. basically, the place would go to the family who could afford to spend the most, while the lower nobility basically sold their vote to the highest bidder.

do notice that there is some meritocracy in that system: only the richest families could afford to buy the position, and that required they be actually good at trading.
a plutocracy can easily be rich and prosperous while its average citizen is not.

Satinavian
2019-08-16, 01:19 AM
So every Feudal Government is actually a plutocracy.

A plutocracy is "rule by the wealthy". All wealth is is having more resources than other people and in every feudal system the landlord (nobility) have the wealth and the commonfolk (serfs) do not.

European feudal system started as a pure plutocracy.Feudalism is about a pyramid of personal bonds and obligations and about promises of protection and force. It is a very different kind of thing.

Misereor
2019-08-16, 05:47 AM
But the question I had was...
How does an actual plutocracy work? (what are the titles and honorifics and so on of people who hold their position due to wealth, and not some royal lineage? Are there any true historical examples or are all of them only de-facto plutocracies with other forms of nominal, heavily corrupt governance?)

Plutocracy is usually a stage towards oligarchy. Plutocrats inevitably design systems to benefit themselves, and this can be in the form of hereditary titles, theocracy, magocracy, psionocracy, technocray, or straight out aristocracy. These will then usually move from class based oligarchies to person based oligarchies, and then to individuals with the ability (though perhaps not the inclination) to wield despotic power.

The Roman Republic is a good example.
Rule went from rich landowners -> who became the hereditary Patrician class -> the most influential of whom became the Senatorial class -> the most powerful of whom eventually became various constellations of Duum- and Triumvirates -> the winner of whom became Emperor.


Your setting sounds like it is in the process of moving from a Pecuniary to a Class based system.
All you really have to consider is what system you want your merchants to have decided best aids them in holding onto power. This may be as simple as issuing letters of marque, or it may involve complex systems of checks and balances, and propping up subordinate classes for legitimacy.

Zetakya
2019-08-16, 02:10 PM
Plutocracies are definitely not Meritocracies: if power depends on wealth, then keeping wealth in your (families) hands and out of someone else's in just good politics.

Plutocracy could be a late stage of a degenerate civilization that started out as a "anyone who works hard can make good" type Meritocracy but has devolved from that to entrenching power and wealth in the hands of those who are lucky enough to have been born in the right family.

Numerous historical examples and at least two modern day ones exist.

Segev
2019-08-16, 02:38 PM
One way to run a plutocracy that was openly so would be with a ruling council that has trappings of a republic, but wherein you literally just buy your seats. There are some number of seats. Pick any number that seems useful to you, or is a cool "significant" number (7, 13, 108). More seats means a larger overt aristocracy; fewer means definite rulers rather than a ruling class.

Terms on the seats last for some number of years. At least 1, probably no more than 10. Maybe they're even staggared.

When a seat comes up for re-election, it's not really an election: it's a bid. Everyone who wants the seat bids money, and whoever bids the most wins the seat. The money goes into the national coffers. The council or senate or whatever it's called then gets to be the body that proposes and passes legislation. Maybe there's a prime minister who is whoever paid the most for his seat.

There could even be multiple levels. A lower council with more seats, and an upper council with fewer, and wherein laws must pass both to go anywhere. So the lower council seats tend to be cheaper, just because there are more of them and thus there aren't as many bidding on them.

Beleriphon
2019-08-16, 05:32 PM
One way to run a plutocracy that was openly so would be with a ruling council that has trappings of a republic, but wherein you literally just buy your seats. There are some number of seats. Pick any number that seems useful to you, or is a cool "significant" number (7, 13, 108). More seats means a larger overt aristocracy; fewer means definite rulers rather than a ruling class.

A proper plutocracy has to have another means of operating though. It has to have the trappings of something else, since a plutocracy describes how a government is selected rather by the means by which it operates. A plutocratic republic is describes the selection of a government and how it nominally is supposed to function.

If its just straight up wealth buys power then that's anarcho-capitalism (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarcho-capitalism). Anything else is at least a plutocratic something. You could have a plutocratic absolute monarchy where the man with the most money is king. I think the best model though is the one you propose, a plutocratic republic. For real fun only citizen can buy a seat, and it costs lots and lots of money to be a citizen. Even if those born in the city to a citizen have to have their citizenship paid for. This means only the truest and most insanely wealth can pass anything of real value to their children.

Xuc Xac
2019-08-16, 09:33 PM
A proper plutocracy has to have another means of operating though. It has to have the trappings of something else, since a plutocracy describes how a government is selected rather by the means by which it operates.

Plutocrat is basically a political prestige class that lets you substitute gold pieces for a system's usual governing stat. For example, feudalism is based on Strength and Charisma, but a Plutocrat can just buy a bunch of mercenaries to fight for him without having to earn their loyalty. To make a de facto plutocracy, just start with any other system and then let people cheat by throwing money at it. To make a de jure plutocracy, just make wealth the basis of the system such as a democracy where you get one vote for each gold piece you contribute to the state treasury.

Khedrac
2019-08-17, 11:38 AM
Most plutocracy's probably claim to be something else, e.g. a democracy or a republic.

As I see it, plutocracies fall into two sorts - open plutocracies and hidden plutocracies.

An open plutocracy could be a city state that claims to be a democracy, but applies a high wealth/property check on who gets the vote.
Result - only the rich can vote but it is open about this state of affairs.

A hidden plutocracy could be the same city state, but instead of limiting the vote, candidates need to spend huge sums of money ensuring that people vote for them.
Result - only the rich can stand for election, but the state claims it is open to all.

Oddly the Star Empire (Kingdom) of Manticore in the Honor Harrington books by David Weber is an example of the first! Although it claims to be a functioning democracy (with a monarch who is more than just consitutional) there's a one-liner about anyone who pays more in tax than they receive in government aid is entitled to vote. This actually forms a wealth check on voters (we know that taxes were low, but we don't know how much state subsidies there are) - I don't think David intended this to be the result, but it is what he has wriiten.
Given a source of weath (the manticore wormhole junction transit fees) that requires minimal expenditure from the state this actually allows the government to jack up subsidies to people and hold down taxes to the point where they can deprive most people of the vote...
Since it is not obvious that there is a wealth check this one is a bit of a hybrid.

I can think of one fictional example that I believe is a straight plutocracy (i.e. not one pretending to be some other form of goverment).
In the Freehold novels by Michael Z Williamson, Freehold is a completely capitalist planet where the ruling minority have to buy their vote (which is very very expensive) - once they buy their seat they lose access to all of their own funds and are given a modest income to live on. Iirc they get their own funds back when they retire - subject to them being index linked to the economy while sequestered.

So, most plutocracies will claim to be some form of vote-based system (they work better than other governmental forms for this) but with an open or hidden mechanism for ensuring that control remains in the hands of the wealthy.
But you can invent yor own system which is a direct plutocracy, e.g.everything goes to a "public" vote, but each vote costs the voter so most people cannot afford to vote on most issues.

sktarq
2019-08-17, 03:16 PM
The thing is very few government system start off as plutocracy in our world...so they don't really have specific NAMES for roles in a plutocracy.

I mean if we take the above examples and replace "aristocratic councils" or "seats in a body of a republic" with "seat on the corporate board" it would make basically no difference. So just assume the running of civic institutions (defense, law, infrastructure, etc) is a business. Possibly a loss leader if you want to say that its purpose is to support the profitable businesses in town but also quite possibly a business that runs a tidy profit via taxes, tithes, fines, bribes, etc (I means isn't this how rulers normally afford all that bling?). So just treat it as a business...(with board room drama, takeover attempts, buyouts, etc)

But a company town-the owners control the money making apparatus and may even control the money itself (if they pay in chits)

Now there isn't much of change to say the company town's business is food production and you have bonded labor contracts and suddenly you are halfway to feudalism. Investor owned may be more council of boyars/republic of venice but a family owned business would be pretty classic medieval stereotypes.

Then again who can afford to pay the most people with pointy sticks rules is also kinda plutocracy. If society rates there to be no social stigma in working for whoever pays you rather than some social/identity bond. Bunch of merc's to enforce your will makes your word law...until the mercs end up taking over your business and we a halfway back to feudal Europe again.

But a ruling town council? if the seats are for sale that's a plutocracy...and a oligarchy...scale it up the Holy Roman Empire analogue...just with the electors being officially open to bribes....and when the Medici's basically bought themselves the papacy or cardinal positions that could be argued that is a plutocracy as much as theocracy...and in the Church of Waukeen could well be held up as a virtue.

then pretty much any oligarchy also "looks like something else" a lot of the time. The boundaries between most "government forms" is very blurry and subject to interpretation and propaganda

Another classic form, a "populist" twist the vote for sale model....landowners. Now often landowners of a favored (often "home") region may be the only ones who qualify. A member to be of the Roman Senate needed a certain amount of land in Suburbia (basically the Italian peninsula) at one point in time. US history? had to be a landowner to vote originally. Just make that land highly limited and its value will soon rise to the point only the rich can afford the franchise and you have a plutocracy....for even more fun have such people carry the title of "elector" just to mess with your players idea of democracy...but at that point the rulers are just the hired hand of the rich or the person most popular to the rich and everyone knows it...it isn't trying to present as anything else. Its just us 21st century moderns that try to describe in other terms first and foremost.

then again if you have a ruling power (say a "king", "head of church", "chairman of the board") who can just flat out sell other titles of power...you also have a ripe open plutocracy. Various historical empires sold the right to raise taxes in given areas, but would also just sell titles. These title holders would then be backed with the power of law...usually by the military force the ruling power could support selling those titles (but skimming off enough to be the richest person themselves)...This works especially well if when the holder of the supreme ruler title dies the highest office holders can bid to become the supreme ruler (plenty of real world inspiration here but dangerously close to politics and religion) by paying off the army or other potential bidders. Again we just associate most of the titles that we would use as connected with other forms of government and so would be labeled as "hidden" or "masked" plutocracies...but that is pretty much our language bias showing.

EDIT: and funny thing about money...basically the idea of currency to store value so it can be converted into other things later....its ability to convert into other stuff is a huge part of its point...so basically no matter what you base "power" off of money could in theory be converted into that thing unless something stands in its way....
bloodline? marry in for large dowry
military power? mercs
church or military status? buy position, raise your own army (seriously rich Roman families did this), sponsor new monestary/whatever with your heir/puppet in charge.
land? buy it or swap for it
ships for the defense of the island kingdom? build you own shipyard if you have to.

Beleriphon
2019-08-17, 03:59 PM
As a thought what if we had a plutocracy based on land ownership.

Here's my though: voting is tied to fixed land areas, maybe fixed concession in a county, or a county as a whole, larger or small whatever. One fixed land area gets one vote. Anybody can buy the rights to that land at any time by paying whatever the rate might be. That could be a single person, a business, the local peasants who live on the land, or the orc tribe that just moved in. Basically the body that controls the voting doesn't care as long as you have the coin to buy the vote. Most voting rights are pretty much fixed, the local rich guy has all the money and thus the vote for the area, but nothing stops somebody else from coming in and buying up the voting rights

Collected money is used by the collecting body to police the city/county with a standing army.

sktarq
2019-08-17, 04:43 PM
As a thought what if we had a plutocracy based on land ownership....
Collected money is used by the collecting body to police the city/county with a standing army.

Only problem is the last part....it assumes ownership reverts to the state again...otherwise the buyer is paying the previous owner and the state doesn't get paid. while this may be adjusted by stamp taxes or sales tax, the state couldn't rely on it for long term steady income. it could be more equivalent of a sale of stock. But would need land to do so on unlike stock being created out of legalese air...and has similar diluting effects on the power of all other current vote holders.

Max_Killjoy
2019-08-17, 07:12 PM
Only problem is the last part....it assumes ownership reverts to the state again...otherwise the buyer is paying the previous owner and the state doesn't get paid. while this may be adjusted by stamp taxes or sales tax, the state couldn't rely on it for long term steady income. it could be more equivalent of a sale of stock. But would need land to do so on unlike stock being created out of legalese air...and has similar diluting effects on the power of all other current vote holders.

Could the state charge a transfer of deed processing fee on each sale or inheritance of land?

Some interesting stories there when surprise, recently deceased parent was broke and didn't leave anything to cover the fee.

farothel
2019-08-18, 04:03 AM
One example that's already established in fiction is the Ferengi Alliance in Star Trek. Maybe not completely what you had in mind, but it can serve as a start or inspiration.

Segev
2019-08-18, 02:12 PM
One example that's already established in fiction is the Ferengi Alliance in Star Trek. Maybe not completely what you had in mind, but it can serve as a start or inspiration.

It's not a bad example in that it at least is one we all can look at in common, but unfortunately its actual implementation is...unclear. I like to chuckle at it as an interesting view of what a socialist THINKS capitalism looks like, but joking aside, there's an enormously intrusive government and you bribe and pay for every right, privilege, and position. In a lot of ways, it's a plutocracy-in-name-only, because people GET wealthy by being influential government types. They bribe their way into positions which get bribed and which give permissions to engage in certain kinds of business or accept certain kinds of bribes, and then they use their increased bribery-based income to buy increased positions.

The Grand Nagus is practically an autocrat, and his selection process is never fully defined. It's possible it's just a position you sell to your heir, or bequeath to him, making it essentially a monarchy.

In practice, it's a facist tyranny with monarchal trappings that cloaks everything in "business."

I think, in terms of aesthetics of a fictional government, what would most separate a plutocracy from any other kind of government is how much of the wealth of those who buy their way into power comes from ostensibly the private sector, vs. from being bribed, paid for, or given cushy deals in return for consideration in their positions in government. The more they ostensibly are businessmen who happen to be buying their seats of governmental power, the more of a "look" of a plutocracy it will have. The more obviously they're getting rich BECAUSE they're in power, and get it from being in the government, the more like other kinds of government it will overtly look.

This won't prevent the reality from being a corrupt mess, nor will it guarantee it, but it will control what it looks like on the surface. (In reality, any time a government has too much power, people will get rich by being in government. Money is, at that point, just another form of political capital.)

sktarq
2019-08-18, 02:45 PM
Could the state charge a transfer of deed processing fee on each sale or inheritance of land?

Some interesting stories there when surprise, recently deceased parent was broke and didn't leave anything to cover the fee.

Yup that would be a stamp tax. The ruling group that uses legal force (via military, police, courts etc) to back documents (like deeds and contracts) in many cases will only back recognized documents -which are noted by stamps or seals.

But land, especially land that is held for value other than the money that can be directly extracted from its use by people with outside wealth, would have a rather low transfer velocity and thus not produce much in revenue. And finally since the holders of these franchise land plots are the source of laws in this scenario - why wouldn't they just scrap that law and thus hold on their own personal power easier?

Max_Killjoy
2019-08-18, 02:58 PM
Yup that would be a stamp tax. The ruling group that uses legal force (via military, police, courts etc) to back documents (like deeds and contracts) in many cases will only back recognized documents -which are noted by stamps or seals.

But land, especially land that is held for value other than the money that can be directly extracted from its use by people with outside wealth, would have a rather low transfer velocity and thus not produce much in revenue. And finally since the holders of these franchise land plots are the source of laws in this scenario - why wouldn't they just scrap that law and thus hold on their own personal power easier?

If there's enough of a wealth disparity, the tax might be significant to most landholders, but not significant to those who've already climbed to the top.

It serves as a way of pulling up the ladder behind them and keeping everyone else from getting into the upper tier.

Mark Hall
2019-08-18, 03:13 PM
A somewhat similar example might be the Pueblo Corporate Council (https://shadowrun.fandom.com/wiki/Pueblo_Corporate_Council) from Shadowrun.

The PCC is both a government and a for-profit corporation. There are two kinds of stock... preferred, which lets you live in the nation (and reap a dividend if the government makes a profit), and residential (which carries voting rights). 1 share is 1 vote, but getting additional votes requires logarithmically more shares. I can't find the numbers (the NAN books don't seem to be handy), but it meant you had to spend a ton of money to get additional votes.

sktarq
2019-08-18, 06:58 PM
It serves as a way of pulling up the ladder behind them and keeping everyone else from getting into the upper tier.

I was generally figuring the cost of the land would do that already. Because you get issues with dealing non-stamped land holders. Yeoman and the like. And how you don't break their economic systems...
i generally figured "special" land and enough of it that is acts a limiting resource-the price then skyrockets...

And if you have to pay when you transfer to your heirs that just seems a new way to fall down the power ladder. And why would those with power give themselves that? Because also the stamp fee or taxes would be $$ not going to the seller if they did have to sell. Thus lowering the value of their assets to the holder without a bonus to the buyers.

Though in theory having a stamped deed vs that not technically being needed by normal people could act in a similar way to having limited land (where you had to have a villa in Rome, the princes quarter of Beijing, or near Versailles. But at that point is just a fee to enter power system.

oudeis
2019-08-18, 09:15 PM
I'm surprised nobody has brought up the influence of divine or infernal powers here. If the patron deity of the city is a/the god of trade, accruing wealth could be seen as proof of faithfulness and/or favor. A well-ordered economy with the powerful holding sway as would be seen as obedience to his/her dictates. I think any god that favored these traits would tend towards the lawful end of the spectrum, but I could see arguments for other alignments as well.

Great Dragon
2019-08-19, 09:53 AM
This is an interesting read.

For D&D-type games, I'm surprised that "Meddling Adventurers" hasn't been mentioned.

Sure, in the beginning, the PCs are "working" for someone in Power (Rich/Noble, Guild/Political, Religious, etc)

But, as they gain in personal power (class), they also can become more Famous and influential in their community (assuming they aren't Globetrotters 🤣).

To me, in a World where Adventuring is common, it doesn't make sense for those in Power to not have Class Levels as well as political positions (perhaps those NPCs without Classes are further up the ladder because they focused on gaining their position, instead of galavanting around the World). I won't list all the possible Class/position possibilities.

But, I think it can be funny where the PCs find out about the "Government" in much the same way they did about the BBEG's minion organization.


*****
Also, I like to think that valuable items/materials (mostly gold coins, etc) that are "found" in a Dungeon don't magically appear; they came from somewhere, and most likely from someone. Shinagines when these people show up demanding all (or at least most) of that treasure!
(Tolkien did a version of this with The Lonely Mountain: sure the treasure "belonged" to the Dwarves, but everyone that "helped" them expected/demanded a piece of it. And the "Allied Forces" only really worked together when two large forces of obvious enemies showed up. Without that event? I'm sure that they wouldn't stand around "debating" very long.)


*****
In a wealth-controlled nation, those in politics would make sure that these "Adventurers" either bought into their system, or arranged lots of "taxes" and "fees": as well as encouraging them to spend loads of money for Magic Items (and Crafters would most likely be members of a Guild, and part of the political system) to keep the PC's personal wealth to a minimum.

Doing these things could also keep Peasant Rebels from causing too much trouble (being at least as expensive as mercenaries to maintain, plus loyalty issues) and mostly being considered a type of Bandit. (mostly propaganda by those in power) Which can slow recruitment.

I have a few more ideas, but not sure how relevant to the subject they are.

Thanks for reading!

sktarq
2019-08-19, 01:07 PM
I'm surprised nobody has brought up the influence of divine or infernal powers here. If the patron deity of the city is a/the god of trade, accruing wealth could be seen as proof of faithfulness and/or favor. A well-ordered economy with the powerful holding sway as would be seen as obedience to his/her dictates. I think any god that favored these traits would tend towards the lawful end of the spectrum, but I could see arguments for other alignments as well.



theocratic influence that sees wealth as a sign of divine favor...giving the rich a right to rule



Golarion (i.e. Pathfinder) has a couple of plutocracies you could check out for inspiration:

Katapesh - The Bazaar of the Bizarre, Katapesh has one rule above all others: "Do as you will, but do not interfere with trade." You can buy anything there - from weapons and mercenaries, to rare items and components, to drugs and slaves, and the ruling council doesn't care as long as the dough keeps rolling in.

Druma - The Merchant's Paradise, this one has stronger religious overtones to it. The chief religion/philosophy there is a set of teachings called the Prophecies of Kalistrade - in a nutshell, they believe that if you follow their teachings and devote yourself to business dealings (rejecting most deities in the process), you'll amass vast wealth, and flaunting that wealth will cause you to become even more favored, thus gaining more wealth. It's a bit of a blend of meritocracy and plutocracy, since clearly anyone who has succeeded deserves to be wealthy and therefore deserves to be in charge of those who haven't, and anyone who can outwit a higher-ranked follower in a business dealing has the potential to surpass them. Followers of the PoK amass wealth but have more restrictions, such as foregoing more hedonistic pleasures, even refusing to touch anyone who doesn't also follow the Prophecies.

Some common themes between these two that you can leverage:

- Amassing wealth is the highest form of virtue, so long as you do so in a way that doesn't inhibit trade.
- Morality is either barely a concern or not a concern at all to what is considered legal, hence all the slaves and drugs.
- The letter of the law trumps its spirit - loopholes are both a common and expected part of business dealings.
- Crime that violates the letter is not tolerated; if you're going to steal from someone, you have to find a way to do it legally.
Now the Druma has religious overtones to it...
and Katapesh if you read its splatbook has rather strong outsiders of unknown origin/desires with very strong "not good" airs attached for infernal-like influences.


then again if you have a ruling power (say a "king", "head of church", "chairman of the board") who can just flat out sell other titles of power...you also have a ripe open plutocracy. Various historical empires sold the right to raise taxes in given areas, but would also just sell titles. These title holders would then be backed with the power of law...usually by the military force the ruling power could support selling those titles (but skimming off enough to be the richest person themselves)...This works especially well if when the holder of the supreme ruler title dies the highest office holders can bid to become the supreme ruler (plenty of real world inspiration here but dangerously close to politics and religion) by paying off the army or other potential bidders.
. :smallwink::smalleek::smallamused:
As for alignment...I wouldn't lean Lawful...everything from personal ability to write contracts, to if wealth is really what matters being able to cheat the system would have to qualify no?

Also I don't know why I didn't think of it before.....poke around EVE online if you dare for ideas...and what can go wrong.

jjordan
2019-08-19, 01:12 PM
Plutocrat is basically a political prestige class that lets you substitute gold pieces for a system's usual governing stat. For example, feudalism is based on Strength and Charisma, but a Plutocrat can just buy a bunch of mercenaries to fight for him without having to earn their loyalty. To make a de facto plutocracy, just start with any other system and then let people cheat by throwing money at it. To make a de jure plutocracy, just make wealth the basis of the system such as a democracy where you get one vote for each gold piece you contribute to the state treasury.This is probably the easiest way to address the issue and the best way of encapsulating it in game terms that I've seen.

Dienekes
2019-08-19, 02:33 PM
So every Feudal Government is actually a plutocracy.

A plutocracy is "rule by the wealthy". All wealth is is having more resources than other people and in every feudal system the landlord (nobility) have the wealth and the commonfolk (serfs) do not.

European feudal system started as a pure plutocracy.

I consider this parcel of land to be mine
I develop the resources to fight off anybody else who denies that
I work and develop the resources of that land
I start making others do that work for me
I pass it on to my children and to their children
Continue until someone else takes it from my children's children.

In your fantasy world you are stating that a class of people who were NOT hereditary wealthy grew in wealth by establishing, dominating, controlling and exploiting a new resource. So now they are the new nobles.

As for what titles to use? Normally, in real life, when a merchant-class rose in power to the level of the hereditary nobility that already existed the craved the titles of that existing nobility as a status symbol. So they found ways to buy the titles of duke and earl and prince and so on. So the easiest solution would be to just use existing titles.

That's not really fun though, so if I was you i'd have them make up their own titles.

CEO
CIO
CSO
Manager
Superintendant
Supervisor

I would use corporate titles as a starting point

That's not necessarily how it worked. Especially at the beginning and ends of feudal societies. The whole "I have land first then I develop the resources to fight to defend" it may actually be backwards. One of the (several) models for the start of feudalism has the band of warriors created first before the lands were parceled out.

A powerful war leader emerges, gets people to fight for them, uses those people to gain land and resources, then distributes those resources among the remaining warriors so long as they remain loyal to him. In theory, the lord can then take those lands back and redistribute them so long as he remains the most powerful military figure. Though of course as tradition and increased power of the other warriors that were once loyal to the central figure develops that becomes less likely.

Now during the height of a successful feudal state, it can look pretty much like a plutocracy. But that's largely because the keys of power: land ownership, was the premier method of acquiring wealth. But that's not unusual, for any political system. Those in charge gain wealth while they're in charge. Happens seemingly regardless of the political system in place.

But the comparison of a feudal society to a plutocracy also breaks down toward the end of a successful feudal societies existence. Going by European history, the rising wealth of the middle class saw a particularly interesting period in France where the richest merchants were actually much wealthier than their feudal lords whose lands had started acquiring more debt than they were creating wealth. But they were still not allowed from entering the established governing bodies. At least at first.

Anyway, to create a functioning plutocracy Xuc Xac has the right idea. But I'd look at systems that required a specific wealth standard to be considered a part of the political system. Or where the classes were divided based on wealth, with the only real means of increasing your class would be to gain wealth. Also bribing being a considered normal and accepted part of the political process. The tail end of the Roman Republic, while not -technically- a plutocracy* can give you a decent image of what one might look like.

*It was possible to increase your class through means outside of wealth. Though by the end doing so became increasingly unlikely.

The Pilgrim
2019-08-20, 05:12 AM
But the question I had was...
How does an actual plutocracy work? (what are the titles and honorifics and so on of people who hold their position due to wealth, and not some royal lineage? Are there any true historical examples or are all of them only de-facto plutocracies with other forms of nominal, heavily corrupt governance?)

Perhaps it could be useful for you to look at western liberal parlamentary systems of the early industrial revolution. Those countries were ruled by elective parliaments, but the right to vote was only granted to those who meet very harsh property prerrequisites. The right to be a candidate for public office was even more restricted. The rationale was that only those who had something at stake were legitimated to have a voice in the goverment, and particulary only those who contributed to the public treasury (that is, who paid taxes) were legitimated to have a voice about how to expend it. (Interestingly enough, in the US the requisite of presenting a poll tax for voting was only fully abolished with the 26th amendment in 1971).

The best example is the UK. After the 1832 reform act, that shifted power from the hereditary House of Lords to the elected House of Commons, only 20% of the adult male population had the right to vote. This decreased to about 14% by the sixties due to the demographic explosion, with the 1867 reform act increasing voting rights to 28% of the adult male population by decreasing the wealth requisites. They were again decreased in 1884 to allow voting rights to about 60% adult males, and were dropped altogether in 1918 in the same reform that allowed women to vote (albeit with property requeriments that were not dropped until 1928). As we are talking about male suffrage only, that means in the early XIX century less than 10% of people could vote in the UK, and under 30% could before as late as 1918.

In the US, voting rights during the same era varied wildy by state. In 1800 some had universal male suffrage while others had property requeriments restrincting the vote to about 6% adult males of european descent.

Other european and latin american countries provide a variety of additional examples on restricted voting rights by property. So a parlamentary system with voting rights based on demonstrable wealth and not family lineage, is something that has actually existed in the real world.

Another concept that you may find useful, is Sortition. The selection of public officials from the population chosen at random. This system was used in the Athenian Democracy precisely to avoid corruption, for them this was the more democratic system to elect the magistrates. Some western european cities in the XV-XVIII centuries also resorted to chosing the public magistrates by sortition, albeit from a pool resricted to citzens from the affluent class, to prevent both corruption and the city being torn apart in internal infighting for power among the powerful families. In particular, this system of chosing the public officials at random from the wealthy local families was widely used in the Spanish Empire until 1700 (promoted by the officials of the monarchy themselves, who were fed up on having to intervene to stop local family feud wars that were just thinly disguised struggles for control of the city).

Segev
2019-08-20, 09:57 AM
A combination of Sortition to select a candidate pool and then a plutocratic bid for those who have made it into the pool to be actually elected could be interesting. I'm not sure how effective, but interesting.

Essentially, anybody could throw money into piles linked to the randomly-chosen candidates, and whichever candidate got the most money behind his name winds up in the seat.

Beleriphon
2019-08-20, 06:35 PM
Could the state charge a transfer of deed processing fee on each sale or inheritance of land?

Some interesting stories there when surprise, recently deceased parent was broke and didn't leave anything to cover the fee.

I was more thinking the state takes back the lander upon death of the current owner and auctions it off and keeps the proceeds. Anybody can buy the voting rights by paying the previous owner's costs plus ten percent. The state allocates the original cost to the first owner, and keeps the extra. The first person can of course out bid the potential owner.

Another way to go is to only make voting right sales only available every five years when everybody has to buy them again. I'd make it expensive enough that each land block is de facto going to the last rights owner, but if they can't pay or they're dead then somebody else can step in. If the vote buying is at fixed intervals then a votes might be missing for years at a time if somebody dies shortly after they buy their voting rights.

Gallowglass
2019-08-21, 09:26 AM
First: I heart this discussion.

Most of the ideas for buying voting rights though, are going to fall apart within a couple generations without some kind of actual anti-monopoly regulations. Because wealth accretes rapidly into small numbers of wealth owners. Without anti-monopoly regulations, for example, we'd be living in the Rockefeller/Ford States of America. (That's History, not politics)

In our hypothetical plutocracy, the richest people would buy the initial voting rights, use them to shore up their own business interests and familial wealth-chain and make it so that they would never be able to be outbid again. Failing some outside wealth-source being spontaneously used to undermine their system.

So, you'd have to constitutionalize some kind of anti-monopoly weights and measures to keep that from happening, and to keep the super wealthy from buying proxy votes to get past the constitutional constraints.

Or else you end up in an institutional aristocracy within one, maybe two generations. (which, is I guess, what I was trying to say when I compared it to feudalism. Whatever. We own things, you don't. you work for us.)

To keep this an interesting premise, I like the idea of constitutionalizing no possible transfer of wealth through descendants and distributing wealth upon death in some impartialized manner that can't be easily circumvented. I like this because it creates an adversarial relationship between generations rather than a paternistic one. The current rich fear their children who have no reason to cozy up to them and every reason to force transfer through assassination. Lots of early deaths. Also it serves to "even the playing field" a bit to keep control from being monopolized which is a real concern.

I might even go a step further and suggest that governmental decrees bought and paid for by the current vote-buyers don't survive the death of their sponsors. A new law lasts only as long as the congress that passed it does.

Segev
2019-08-21, 09:42 AM
Gallowglass, while that's interesting, the "interesting"ness of it arises from a great deal of instability. And unstable governments just don't last more than a generation, if at all, because they lose support from the very people who run it.

The points about an entrenched aristocracy are absolutely true, however: give government the power to regulate and control business interests, and the wealthy will flock to government to keep their competitors from catching up and to ensure nobody can ever get the power to run their industries away from them.

If you want constitutional controls that will have limiting effects, they need to be on the actual powers of the government, no matter who "owns" it. Which is its own delicate bundle of "who enforces these limits?"

Max_Killjoy
2019-08-21, 09:47 AM
Gallowglass, while that's interesting, the "interesting"ness of it arises from a great deal of instability. And unstable governments just don't last more than a generation, if at all, because they lose support from the very people who run it.

The points about an entrenched aristocracy are absolutely true, however: give government the power to regulate and control business interests, and the wealthy will flock to government to keep their competitors from catching up and to ensure nobody can ever get the power to run their industries away from them.

If you want constitutional controls that will have limiting effects, they need to be on the actual powers of the government, no matter who "owns" it. Which is its own delicate bundle of "who enforces these limits?"

Yeah, can't get into it much more than that here, but for anyone interested, look up "regulatory capture" and "de jure monopoly". They're absolutely germane to the topic, but probably safest to read about rather than discuss here.

It's always a bit of a hirewire act.

jjordan
2019-08-21, 10:18 AM
First: I heart this discussion.

Most of the ideas for buying voting rights though, are going to fall apart within a couple generations without some kind of actual anti-monopoly regulations. Because wealth accretes rapidly into small numbers of wealth owners. Without anti-monopoly regulations, for example, we'd be living in the Rockefeller/Ford States of America. (That's History, not politics)

In our hypothetical plutocracy, the richest people would buy the initial voting rights, use them to shore up their own business interests and familial wealth-chain and make it so that they would never be able to be outbid again. Failing some outside wealth-source being spontaneously used to undermine their system.

So, you'd have to constitutionalize some kind of anti-monopoly weights and measures to keep that from happening, and to keep the super wealthy from buying proxy votes to get past the constitutional constraints.

Or else you end up in an institutional aristocracy within one, maybe two generations. (which, is I guess, what I was trying to say when I compared it to feudalism. Whatever. We own things, you don't. you work for us.)

To keep this an interesting premise, I like the idea of constitutionalizing no possible transfer of wealth through descendants and distributing wealth upon death in some impartialized manner that can't be easily circumvented. I like this because it creates an adversarial relationship between generations rather than a paternistic one. The current rich fear their children who have no reason to cozy up to them and every reason to force transfer through assassination. Lots of early deaths. Also it serves to "even the playing field" a bit to keep control from being monopolized which is a real concern.

I might even go a step further and suggest that governmental decrees bought and paid for by the current vote-buyers don't survive the death of their sponsors. A new law lasts only as long as the congress that passed it does.Revolution and conquest, in various forms, were historically the means by which such static systems were broken up. You might have a relatively peaceful revolution in which new-wealth rises up and takes the reins from old-wealth. You might have a more violent revolution where the opinions of the general population are inflamed. Conquest could come directly from outside in the form of invading armies or might be in the form of foreign interests supporting/directing elements of the local establishment in their efforts to supplant the effective rulers.

Gallowglass
2019-08-21, 10:36 AM
Gallowglass, while that's interesting, the "interesting"ness of it arises from a great deal of instability. And unstable governments just don't last more than a generation, if at all, because they lose support from the very people who run it.

The points about an entrenched aristocracy are absolutely true, however: give government the power to regulate and control business interests, and the wealthy will flock to government to keep their competitors from catching up and to ensure nobody can ever get the power to run their industries away from them.

If you want constitutional controls that will have limiting effects, they need to be on the actual powers of the government, no matter who "owns" it. Which is its own delicate bundle of "who enforces these limits?"

I was under the impression the point of the thought exercise was to build a potential "plutocracy" for use in a role-playing game. (Because that's the only authorized reason on this forum for talking about political theory) In which case the interesting bits are the important bits. And unstability is always interesting.

If I was building this plutocracy and trying to figure out "how can I make this so that it can last multiple generations without turning into hereditary aristocracy and without generating an inevitable collapse or overthrow" I would feel the need to make it so that new rich can rise within the system. For that to happen there has to be some convoluted controls.

If I have the wrong impression of the point of the thought exercise I apologize.

If the discussion is "how would a plutocracy work in real life". Well I find that less interesting. Because the answer is "by turning into a hereditary aristocracy after the first generation." Also, I think its against forum rules

Gallowglass
2019-08-21, 12:16 PM
That's not necessarily how it worked. Especially at the beginning and ends of feudal societies. The whole "I have land first then I develop the resources to fight to defend" it may actually be backwards. ...


I just want to point out that you misread what I wrote.

I wrote the starting point as:

"I consider this land to be mine." not "I have land."

I was very deliberate in writing it that way specifically to meet your scenario.

I didn't state that the land "was" mine. In fact, it most certainly isn't. Some other jerkwad thinks its his. So your warlord putting together his war band absolutely "considers" the land he's going to march in to to be his sovereign right.

But that's not important. I just feel like defending myself when I'm contradicted about something I didn't say.

Beleriphon
2019-08-22, 11:02 AM
If I was building this plutocracy and trying to figure out "how can I make this so that it can last multiple generations without turning into hereditary aristocracy and without generating an inevitable collapse or overthrow" I would feel the need to make it so that new rich can rise within the system. For that to happen there has to be some convoluted controls.

I think the easiest thing is that you tying whatever system to citizenship. Then the state sets up rules that say that make citizenship that can be purchased with cash, but is so expensive that even the richest family could only realistically only buy citizenship for one of its children, and then setup inheritance rules such that it always gets even split so at best one child can be a citizen due to family ties, but if another one becomes wildly rich and successful on their own they can buy it themselves.


If the discussion is "how would a plutocracy work in real life". Well I find that less interesting. Because the answer is "by turning into a hereditary aristocracy after the first generation." Also, I think its against forum rules

You've basically got the right idea. Wealth accumulates into families because the rules for inheritance basically say they do, if there were other rules, for example the state takes 90% of an individual's estate the other 10% being evening divided among the estate's heirs then we'd be less likely to have a hereditary aristocracy of any kind.

In the end a plutocracy just means that the rich people get to rule. It's just the method of choosing the rules is tied directly to the ability of said rulers to pay. The specifics of the form of how those people rule is whatever you want, I'm personally fond (I think I said this before) of a plutocratic republic. There's a governing body, voiting, and everything is very democratic.... if you happen to be super rich and can buy your way into to the government. The stipulation is of course that anybody that has the money to buy their way in can buy in regardless of whether they've lived in the place for 10 minutes or 1000 years.

sktarq
2019-08-22, 02:13 PM
So one of the issues that seems to be coming up is new rich vs the old rich protecting their riches and blocking the new rich to protect their power from replacement of dilution.

Now there is nothing wrong with that tension...it is a good reason for story hooks in an adventure building setup but we also want to promote the system believability so some ideas on rules or cultural norms that could support the system to being more open to newly moneyed buy ins...

If there is no limit to the number of individuals who can buy seats in the governing body. . . But nobody gets more than one vote...besides some rules to prevent straw votes (say nobody with debt can buy) new money would be new potential members for factions of voting blocks to fight over and would thus be seen as a resource... hell it would make sense to sponsor people for them to make big $$$ too so they can buy their way in later and join you in your voting block since they are already part of your patronage and social circle. . . So a good reason to sponsor adventurers.

That since anybody can buy there way in people who make a fortune elsewhere but are shut out of governance can move to your nation and will bring a large portion of the $$$ with them and are likely to spend and invest a lot in the area (and may be required to) thereby enriching the locals...

that sponsored new money somewhat weakens the position of the otherwise dominant central force that the plutocrats buy (non inheritable/transferable) titles from. This may be long term stupid as it weakens the system and stability the plutocrats rely on but can be an advantage today.

That new money individuals are useful and even necessary pawns in the games of the very highest games of the top plutocrats...