[MUD-Dev] re: Curtailing the 'Super-Rich Effect'

Travis Casey efindel at earthlink.net
Wed Apr 18 14:51:44 New Zealand Standard Time 2001


Wednesday, April 18, 2001, 3:31:24 AM, Matt Mihaly
<the_logos at achaea.com> wrote:
> On Tue, 17 Apr 2001, Bob McFakename wrote:
>> From: "Matt Mihaly" <the_logos at achaea.com>

[snipping a bunch that I don't have any interest in commenting on]

>> (i'm oversimplifying a bit, obviously - castles had millitary
>> purposes as well.)

> I'm not sure what relevance castles have to economic systems
> generally, but ok. It should also be pointed out that the castle
> itself and the land it was on was generally worth WAY more than
> anything inside the castle if you don't count the people (and
> oftentimes if you do count the people). I think maybe we talked past
> each other here somewhere.

It should also be noted that while a medieval lord/lady might "own the
land" from a practical point of view, from both a legal and a social
point of view, things were very different back then.  Time for some
vast generalizations about Christian Europe:

No human agency was considered to "own the land" -- the king or queen
held the land by divine right, and was God's steward for the land and
the people on it.  They in turn had great nobles who were stewards of
portions of the land, who in turn had lesser nobles, and so on.  In
return for the position of stewardship over the land, nobles swore to
support those above them, and were generally obligated to perform
certain services and give certain tributes to those above them (e.g.,
they might be obligated to provide a certain number of fully-equipped,
trained knights whenever their overlord might call on them to do so,
but not for more than a set amount of time in the year).

Now that was the legal theory.  In practice, getting rid of a lesser
noble who wouldn't fulfill his/her duties could be very difficult --
especially if that noble could forge alliances with other nobles.
While the nobles might not legally own the land, they often felt and
acted as if they did.

>>> If you wish to be rich and virtually eliminate your risk of losing
>>> your money, invest in the safest investment in the world: US
>>> Treasuries.

>> Thanks for the advice. How does it apply to a medieval economy?

> I have no idea. Again, I wasn't aware that we were talking about
> medieval economies specifically.

Do the same basic thing: throw your weight behind the government and
the church.  It's not quite as safe an investment, but nothing is
quite as safe, the times being what they are.

> Historically, and I am not an expert in historical taxation methods,
> sad to say, I believe that governments were generally restricted in
> the taxation methods they could employ by the information available
> to them. An income tax would have meant nothing as many if not most
> people didn't have an income. They lived hand to mouth. So, what was
> generally taxed was property, whether land or physical property. It
> was quite a game to try and hide your stuff when the tax man came
> around so that he'd assess you less taxes.

At the lowest level, rents and usage taxes were common.  Since the
peasantry generally didn't have money to speak of, these were usually
taken in kind.  For example, the lord might require that all of the
able-bodied peasant men spend one day a week working for him in some
capacity (helping do maintenance on the castle, working in the lord's
fields, watching his livestock, or even doing things like beating the
brush for him when he went hunting).  Often, the lord would own the
only mill in the area, and the mill would charge a percentage of your
grain in order to grind it for you.

Tolls were quite common -- toll bridges, toll roads, toll drawbridges
(i.e., any ship that wants to pass has to pay a toll), tolls for
entering a town, etc.

Towns tended to have a greater emphasis on money as a medium of
exchange, and were correspondingly more likely to levy taxes in the
form of money.  Establishing value was difficult, so taxes were
generally on a countable basis -- e.g., based on how many people a
family had, or how many apprentices a master had, or how many rooms an
inn had.

Like the lords, though, towns also often demanded service as a form of
tax.  For example, the town might require able-bodied citizens to
serve on fire brigades when needed, in the town militia when needed,
and on a rotating basis in the city guard.

(It was often possible to buy your way out of service taxes, either by
bribing someone or through official, legal means.  Thus, for example,
someone might have the option of serving in the militia when called or
of giving money -- which the city would then use to hire mercenaries.)

> Asking who owns the property is a difficult question, because
> ownership isn't a thing. It's a matter of perception. You can say
> you own a piece of property, but I can just as easily say I own
> it. How does it get decided? Whoever has the most guns on his side
> wins.

Or whoever decides to give up first loses.  :-) For example, while an
overlord might be able to raise a big enough army to pry a rebellious
vassal out of a castle, doing so would mean a long seige, during which
the overlord would be uncovering his *own* castle, possibly tempting
others to try to unseat him, and which would take a considerable
portion of the 90 days of military service he can demand in a year
from his other vassals, leaving him unable to call on them if another
need comes up later.

Which isn't to disagree, but just to point out that, while one side
may have the bigger guns, they may decide that what they're losing is
not worth the effort it would take to regain it.

> Why did I bring this up? Because it's necessary to answer your
> question. Does the city own all the properties? Well, I
> dunno. Depends on how you define ownership. It has the power to do
> with them as it will. But then, the US government has the power to
> do whatever it wants with any property in its border. Does it own
> the entire US? I dunno. Perspective question I'd say.

One thing to consider is that "ownership" consists of a lot of rights,
which can be subdivided.  Thus, one person may "own" an area of land
in that they can put a house on it, while another "owns" the mineral
rights to that land, and a third "owns" the water rights.

>From a legal point of view, the US government owns almost all the land
within its borders, but has sold some rights to some of that land.
The government does, however, retain certain other rights -- for
example, the right of sovereignty.  You cannot legally declare your
own nation within US borders, because that would be an attempt to
exercise the right of sovereignty over your land, and the US
government owns that right.

> In any case, the cities would, I'd imagine, simply raise the
> property tax on a non-producing property so that the owner had to
> pay up an equivalent amount to what he/she would be contributing if
> he/she had a productive shop.

Yep.  This is the approach that medieval governments generally used --
if you can't afford to pay back whatever obligations you incurred by
accepting the land, your overlord has the right to remove you and
install a new tenant.

--
       |\      _,,,---,,_    Travis S. Casey  <efindel at earthlink.net>
 ZZzz  /,`.-'`'    -.  ;-;;,_   No one agrees with me.  Not even me.
      |,4-  ) )-,_..;\ (  `'-'
     '---''(_/--'  `-'\_)   


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