While they are merchants, they have their ways of dealing with the horrors and problems of the long distance trade. If A and B now open trade, each may concentrate on producing the item which it produces more efficiently; A will produce thingummies and B widgets. The letter of credit also insures that all the agreed upon standards and quality of goods are met by the supplier. We preempt her for you, they lose thrustdown. Whatever pair your opponent held on the flop just got demoted to a worse pair. For a second barrel to work, the turn card should be bad for your opponent's range. This suggests some of the difficulties inherent in interstellar commerce and government.
Mediocre Hand Likely
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Brand new sales price R Normal retail in-store R75, The poor crave them. The rich kill for them. Sure, this small bag of peppercorns is not a Cap of Underwater Breathing or a Potion of Heroism, but it can buy them. This bag is better than gold. Can we indulge in Halfling curiosity? The ruins have been ruins for thousands of years. When the Wizard and the Bard sided with the Thief, the Fighter caved.
We will follow you on your so-called mystery. And then we will head to the ruins and discover some real secrets. One bandit carried small, empty sacks smelling strongly of pepper and a letter of free passage on this road between the Lord of this land and the True and Free City Republic. From the look of the site, the goblins jumped the bandits while they were camping and cooking. Of course, the goblins ate the well-seasoned and peppered steaks.
They took the letter. Further along the road by another two days and the Fighter made noise about ruins and secrets the party discovered the overturned carts, dead horses, and bodies of the traders. The sacks were empty. But the Halfling Thief found a manifest of good and prices.
Prices higher than the party could command for spelunking and murder expeditions. We, adventurers, root through ancient cellars and dig through old ruins, risking our lives and very souls, to haul out chest after chest of easy gold. We cheerfully hand that gold to rich merchant and wizard guilds in return for armor and baubles and magic.
Lords wrest that gold from guilds by taxation. Then, those Lords send that gold down this road east in return for this.
The Free-City Republic stank. For all its glamour architecture and glorious history, humans demi-humans pressed together in the streets with little sanitation and less space. They climbed over each other for space on this tiny island nation.
The temple entrances reeked of urine where supplicants voided themselves before climbing the steps. Merchants dumped their garbage into the streets.
They were rarely seen but always felt. A Republic in name only, the immensely rich ruled this plutocracy with an iron fist in a velvet glove. They were more interested in their constant wars with the other Free City Republics ruled by other Transmuter Bankers than the daily government rhythms and wrapped themselves in bureaucracy.
Down on the streets, enormous customs houses squatted among the warehouses while armies of armed customs agents took their due.
Long ships with short triangular sails bobbed in filthy waters while moored at a mile long dock. Thousands of merchants and porters unloaded their wares into a market of uncertain prices and taxation. Purchasing agents bartered loudly with street merchants for their Lord. Bails of cotton and linen. Cases upon cases of rare and precious magic reagents.
The Halfling Thief thrust her arms into a barrel of peppercorns, worth more than the land she was hired to serve, and drew in a deep breath. She asked how much. It might be a bad day. Pirates, horrible and wealthy, plied the profitable waters offshore.
They preyed on lightly armed merchant ships and took their cut by force. Smugglers and a far flung powerful Thieves Guild made good use of sewers to avoid the customs house and the hated head tax. This is the terminus. I want to find the source of the peppercorns. We should press onward. But when she turned around, the Fighter was gone. He found his source of endless money, booty, magic items and glory far beyond mere run down ruins in a backwater country.
He left to fight the pirates of this sea until he conquered them all and they acknowledged him as their King. He took the Ranger with him as backup. The Fighter wanted to make it a buddy movie. Once, it made its wealth by shipping grain north into great open markets of hungry cities.
Now, by conquest, it shipped its grain south to less discerning and wealthy consumers. Its sand stone walls told stories of ancient battles and grand Kingdoms and the magnificent adventures of Murder Hobos long dead. Centuries ago, this city ruled Empires. Centuries hence, its power forgotten, it would be shriveled, an open air theme park for tourists pretending to experience its grandeur and power.
This city was fated fade, remembered for its art and music but not for its heroes and power. Its sewers infested with monsters and converted to adventuring dungeons. Its marvelous temples turned into adventuring ruins with dark secrets for rich rulers to plumb. Thus was the power of trade. Far more powerful than any army, religion or ruler, trade builds empires binding together humans and demi-humans under one banner. And trade lays them to waste. The old city was still a vibrant trading force.
Its power had not completely leaked out its walls. The great camel caravans came in through the east gate. The merchants unloaded and made transactions with rapacious middle men. Dockworkers loaded precious cargo by the ton on the long ships and sent them west to the Free Cities to feed their endless wars. The tax men with their thugs roamed among the merchants taking their due for an Emperor thousands of miles away.
The open air markets were full of peppercorns. Comprehend Languages and Tongues helps with travel negotiations between cultures. Without the Fighter and Ranger, we were vulnerable to bandits but if we traveled down the river instead of overland and with other caravans we could make it east to the peppercorn source.
Overland trade, we learned, was phenomenally dangerous. Outside, in the desert, banditry was tribal. If we flew the wrong colors, we would be forced to give bribes at best and attacked at worst. The Thief turned to the Cleric but the Cleric was gone. Taken by the mash of cultures and nations passing through this trade city, she was determined to proselytize.
What better place to create converts than a trade nexus between Empires? Her God would grow. What is better than a big, fat, well-loved God? The great oceanic trading city was made of magically bound sand. Enormous limestone and coral fortresses towered over a sprawling dock reaching across the horizon. Houses five stories high stood over packed market-filled streets. Impossibly thin golden minarets topped bright white temples of a strange God.
Uncut rhinoceros and elephant horn of pure ivory. Gold stacked in bars. Huge towers of wax for candles and supplies. Enormous bushels of grains. Plates and bowls of purest white. Cloth so smooth it barely caressed the skin. Ambergris, pulled from the bellies of murdered whales, and fragrant incense. Magic items with strange and new properties. Elaborately crafted magical weaponry and armor dyed bright colors and adorned with ostrich feathers.
Endless shelves of rare magical reagents and jewels. Slaves, driven to open air slave markets, by the thousands. Fragrant spices, including the peppercorn, heaped in enormous baskets in huge open air stalls. An unimaginable bounty from the nexus of trade. The Halfling Thief, with extensive help from Tongues and a bit of prodding with Detect Thoughts, asked about the origins of peppercorns. Did they come from this land?
Is this the terminus of all our gold, our sweat, our tears, our hard work? We bring great bushels of grain and these strange animals to the market. We supply incense and skins. We send wax and wood. The peppercorns come from the far east across the ocean on the other side of the monsoon winds. They come here on the bottoms of boats. See, the Westerner Agents will give us all their gold for the peppercorns we import at great cost. Farther than the horizon, the merchants said.
Farther than the sun and moon. But you can follow them, if you wish, on our boats held together with coconut twine and adorned with great lanteen sails. Board one of our great trading dhows and follow the rising sun. There, you will find the peppercorns where they grow wild and abundant on enormous vines.
That is where your golden money flows, Halfling. Your source of infatuation, madness, and black gold lies over the sea. A sailor on the open ocean has only one true companion: Wizards help to keep the skies clear. Clerics of the storm and sea provide grace to the voyages. Past the shore pirates are not a threat but the sea itself kills. But even with prayers and spells, many voyages are lost with all hands.
A trip across the sea was much more dangerous than a dungeon crawl through ancient ruins looking for lost secrets. But on the other side of the ocean, what secrets we will find! The Halfling Thief turned to consult the Wizard about the voyage but the Wizard was gone.
Dazzled, the Wizard no longer had to crawl through filthy dungeons and dangerous ruins to learn new secrets. He had a lifetime of research here where spells came to him from all points of the world. He simply waited for it to be unloaded off ships from distant lands. I asked the Halfling Thief if she was prepared for this journey. Our Fighter, Ranger, Cleric and Wizard were gone. We were all that was left. The voyage was long and dangerous.
Who knew what we would find on the other side? This one follows peppercorns over sea instead of over land simply because the sea route has fewer major stops. The influential Ajuran Sultanate of Eastern Africa is a huge, often unmined source for adventure and exploration.
An easy way to get players out of their Western European adventures and into somewhere like that is to simply… follow the peppercorn. And they are deadly—to anyone who tries to invade their territory. Use poison darts and mantraps. Anyway, we have no choice but to advance. Food— Almost all aliens had an innate curiosity about off-world food, especially if they lived in a rugged country on a near-starvation diet.
And of all Terran foods there was one in particular which the Combatants always carried with them, one grown only on their native world, which most extraterrestrial life relished. Intersystem Traders had been trying to export it for years. But the Terrans had ruled it a military supply and so controlled its production—keeping it for the troops and a few of their favored alien friends.
As a bargaining point it had been too precious to destroy back at the last camp. Their ration of it must be lashed on one of the carts he had helped to drag. He should ask the Medico for a supply. Ornaments—the veterans had stripped their wealth from the dress uniforms. Each man would carry his own in a waist treasure belt.
Kana must beg for the showiest pieces. Well, no time to lose. Neither Mic nor Rey owned anything worthwhile. But there was the whole camp to canvass. Kana dropped his blanket wearily and started off on his task, his first quarry being the Medico.
Crawfur heard his plea and then detached one of the small boxes from the nearest cart. When Kana left the group he had the packet of sugar , the sunstone, a chain of Terran gold about a foot long, a ring made in the form of a Zacathan water snake, and a tiny orb of crystal in which swam a weird replica of a Poltorian lobster fish. Therefore Kinnison donned his light armor and was soon busily harvesting broad-leaf, which, he had been informed, was the richest source of thionite.
He had been working for only a few minutes when a flat came crawling up to him, and, after ascertaining that his armor was not good to eat, drew off and observed him intently.
Here was another opportunity for practice and in a flash the Lensman availed himself of it. Having practiced for hours upon the minds of various Earthly animals, he entered this mind easily enough, finding that the trenco was considerably more intelligent than a dog. So much so, in fact, that the race had already developed a fairly comprehensive language. And since he was ideally adapted to his idly raging Trenconian environment, he actually accomplished more than all the rest of the force combined.
Since food was the only logical tender, Kinnison brought out from his speedster a small can of salmon, a package of cheese, a bar of chocolate, a few lumps of sugar, and a potato, offering them to the Trenconian in order.
The salmon and cheese were both highly acceptable fare. The morsel of chocolate was a delightfully surprising delicacy. He also ate the potato, of course—any Trenconian animal will, at any time, eat practically anything—but it was merely food, nothing to rave about. Knowing now what to do, Kinnison led his assistant out into the howling, shrieking gale and released him from control, throwing a lump of sugar up-wind as he did so. The trenco seized it in the air, ate it, and went into a very hysteria of joy.
This was an entirely new idea to the native, but after Kinnison had taken hold of his mind and had shown him how to do consciously that which he had been doing unconsciously for an hour, he worked willingly enough.
In fact, before it started to rain, thereby putting an end to the labor of the day, there were a dozen of them toiling at the harvest and the crop was coming in as fast as the entire crew of Rigellians could process it. And even after the spaceport was sealed they crowded up, paying no attention to the rain, bringing in their small loads of leaves and plaintively asking admittance. Finally, however, he succeeded in getting the idea across; and the last disconsolate turtle-man swam reluctantly away.
But sure enough, next morning, even before the mud had dried, the same twelve were back on the job, and the two Lensmen wondered simultaneously—how could those trencos have found the space-port? They have a sense of perception a psionic ESP sense that is not fooled by the fabric of space being warped like an amusement park mirror , Tregonsee, about the same thing, I judge, as yours—perhaps even more so.
I can converse with them a little, of course, but they have never before shown any willingness to cooperate with us.
I was forgetting that many races do not use it at all. Starch is so much tastier and so much better adapted to our body chemistry that sugar is used only as a chemical. We can, however, obtain it easily enough. But there is something else—you can tell these trencos what to do and make them really understand you.
Also, I can let you have enough sugar to carry on with until you can get in a supply of your own. In the few minutes during which the Lensman had been discussing their potential allies, the mud had dried and the amazing coverage of vegetation was springing visibly into being. So incredibly rapid was its growth that in less than an hour some species were large enough to be gathered. The leaves were lush and rank in color or a vivid crimsonish purple. Kinnison did so, and the trencos worked for Tregonsee as industriously as they had for Kinnison—and ate his sugar as rapturously.
He then paid off his now enthusiastic helpers, with instructions to return when the sun was directly overhead, for more work and more sugar. And this time they did not complain, nor did they loiter around or bring in unwanted vegetation.
They were learning fast. Averted, in its strict form. Played straight in a loose form, in which certain worlds are known for certain of their mostly unique products, for example:.
For the Worlds as a whole, that would be Conclave Imperial Core , where the Conclave of Galactic Polities sits and attempts to bring some order to the chaos, with all the associated politicking, corruption, intrigue, and scandal you might expect. Qechra Imperial Core , a corporate conlegial colony world completely overtaken by autoindustrialism, with a manufacturing capacity of holy crap how much!? Yes, in the sense that there are more than a few worlds that take pride in exporting their local specialist products, from specialist flowers to unique local booze.
No, in the sense that just about every world, or at least system, can manage to feed itself locally, and there are no worlds absolutely dependent on their imports of agricultural products, or mighty grain-ships ploughing the spacelanes. The closest you get to this are the systems in any given constellation which house the long-range gates to other constellations, and thus are about as close as anything gets to being bottlenecks.
Also, to a lesser extent, the six systems out in the fringes where the IN keeps the mobile naval bases for its sextant fleets. Most notably, Seranth Imperial Core is the largest and most prosperous tradeworld the Empire, or even the Worlds, have to offer.
Nepscia Galith Waste is infamous throughout the Worlds for its red market. Litash Dark Sea was even more infamous for both that and acting as a major pirate center, before it got strangelet-bombed out of existence. Alice looked over the waist-high safety wall, then backed away from the edge. But a bird — hmmmm. Think I've got a sampler head left. If it can eject the card. Willing to stake half your bandwidth with me if I can liberate it? He hated to think how much it must have cost to haul those milligrams of entangled quantum dots across the endless light years between here and Turku by slower-than-light starwisp.
Once used they were gone for good, coherence destroyed by the process that allowed them to teleport the state of a single bit between points in causally connected space-time.
STL shipping prices started at a million dollars per kilogram-parsec; it was many orders of magnitude more expensive than FTL, and literally took decades or centuries of advanced planning to set up. But if it could get them a secure, instantaneous link out into the interstellar backbone nets The reason trade exists is that different groups are efficient at doing different things.
For example, let us say there are two countries, A and B. A takes 15 man-hours to make a widget, but only 5 to make a thingummy. B takes 5 to make a widget and 15 to make a thingummy. Suppose each country produces as many thingummies as widgets, and each has man-hours to allocate. If A and B now open trade, each may concentrate on producing the item which it produces more efficiently; A will produce thingummies and B widgets. Since a thingummy costs A 5 man-hours, it can produce 20; similarly, B produces 20 widgets.
They trade 10 thingummies for 10 widgets, since each wants as many thingummies as widgets. The final result is that each country has 10 thingummies and 10 widgets and each is twice as well off as before. Indeed, trade is even in the best interest of both when one party has an efficiency advantage in both products, because trade will allow him to shift production into areas where his efficiency is greater.
One problem not taken into account in the above analysis is the cost of transportation and other barrier costs, such as import and export duties which raise the cost of doing business with another group. But all we collected in years of fringe-running was a reputation. The cargoes we carried never made a fortune, but they created rumours. The stories we could tell about ourselves were impressive, and contained enough truth for later voyagers to confirm that we might actually have done what we said.
Lapthorn liked people to talk about us. After the fringe, I tried to come back into the really big markets, in search of a killing. Guns, cosmetics, jewellery, and drugs were all hot markets, with constant demand and irregular supply. Anything in which fashion rules instead of utility is a good market for the trader — and that includes weaponry as well as decoration and edification. I reckoned that we had the initiative to dig out the best, and I was right, but times had moved on while we were out on the rim with the dropouts, and we failed at the other end — the outlets.
We couldn't get a fair price, with the middle-men moving into the star-worlds in droves, quoting the Laws of New Rome, and the ordinances of wherever they happened be, and never moving their hands from their gun butts. It was enough to sour anyone against life in the inner circle. I began to sympathise with Lapthorn's dislike of the human way of life. But it was useless. The little people seemed to take an excessive delight in cheating us and leaning on us because we were known.
The other free traders talked about us. We were the best, by their lights. But we weren't system-beaters. We weren't equipped for dealing with that kind of problem, we had no alternative but to return to small trading, alien to alien. Lapthorn wasn't sorry, of course, and my sorrow was more for the evil ways of the world in general than for our own small part in the human condition. My associates have noticed—how shall I put it?
Place of origin, dates, labels, ability to travel in free fall, what wines go with what foods. I find it annoying and expensive that some of my ships must move under constant acceleration merely to protect a wine bottle from its own sediments. Why can they not simply be centrifuged on arrival?
We preempt her for you, they lose thrustdown. They lose thrustdown, they lose the batch. They lose the batch, all the belters out of Ipsy Station want your heads to decorate their candles. How badly do you want to harsh the local color? The main mechanism for trade is what is called "Arbitrage" , the practice of taking advantage of a price difference between two or more markets.
In this context it boils down to "buy cheap and sell dear" , that is, purchase goods that are cheap at Planet A, then transport and sell them at Planet B where the goods are expensive.
The money you make selling at Planet B, minus how much you spent purchasing at Planet A yields your gross profit. Subtract from that your transport expenses and other expenses and you'll find your net profit if any.
There is also the problem of price convergence. The profit is from the price difference between the two markets.
The difference tends to shrink over time, which eliminates the profit. Sometimes the market at your destination becomes saturated as the manufacturers of Beanie Babies found out , sometimes the supply at the origin dries up like petroleum. A trader would like a nice simple two-planet set up: But all too often one of the planets does not cooperate, such as when planet Bravo desired Alfan Aphrodisiac Apples, but the vegetarian Alfans look upon Bravo's major export with horror.
The key to solving the problem is Triangular trade. The trader has to find a third planet, one that wants to import Bravo's export, and which exports something that Alfa wants.
The main historical example often cited is despicable, since one of the "trade items" is slaves. This vile period in history is euphemistically called the " African Diaspora ". Triangular trade or triangle trade is a historical term indicating trade among three ports or regions. Triangular trade usually evolves when a region has export commodities that are not required in the region from which its major imports come.
Triangular trade thus provides a method for rectifying trade imbalances between the above regions. The particular routes were historically also shaped by the powerful influence of winds and currents during the age of sail. For example, from the main trading nations of Western Europe it was much easier to sail westwards after first going south of 30 N latitude and reaching the so-called " trade winds "; thus arriving in the Caribbean rather than going straight west to the North American mainland.
Returning from North America, it is easiest to follow the Gulf Stream in a northeasterly direction using the westerlies. A similar triangle to this, called the volta do mar was already being used by the Portuguese, before Columbus' voyage, to sail to the Canary Islands and the Azores. Columbus simply expanded the triangle outwards, and his route became the main way for Europeans to reach, and return from, the Americas.
This gives the sky merchant a grasp of economics rarely achieved by bankers or professors. He is engaged in barter and no nonsense. He pays taxes he can't evade and doesn't care whether they are called "excise" or "king's pence" or "squeeze" or straight-out bribes. It is the other kid's bat and ball and backyard, so you play by his rules — nothing to get in a sweat about By the Law of Supply and Demand a thing has value from where it is as much as from what it is — and that's what a merchant does; he moves things from where they are cheap to where they are worth more.
A smelly nuisance in a stable is valuable fertilizer if you move it to the south forty. Pebbles on one planet can be precious gems on another. The art in selecting cargo lies in knowing where things will be worth more, and the merchant who can guess right can reap the wealth of Midas in one trip. Or guess wrong and go broke The trade routes for a two-way swap show minimum profit; they fill up too quickly.
But a triangular trade — or higher numbers — can show high profits. Landfall had something — call it cheese — which was a luxury on Blessed — while Blessed produced — call it chalk — much in demand on Valhalla Work this in the right direction and get rich; work it backwards and lose your shirt.
I walked on the other side of Uncle Q. He looked down at me curiously from time to time, a kind of bemused half-smile stamped on his face. Bulk fertilizer to Barsi, frozen food from Barsi to here. The Dwarves, who have strained relations to the High Elves but not with the people flying castles, exchange the holds of Elven textiles for Dwarven magical weapons and armor. The Murder Hobos at home pay premium price in silver for Dwarven magical weapons and armor which they use to murder various indigenous demi-humans for more silver.
Around and around the Flying Castle goes, taking a markup at each step, and selling to those who want things and buying oversupply. This is not limited to Elven textiles and Dwarven magical weapons — Flying Castles trade in rare and precious magic items and spells, spices, other textiles, rare food stuffs, inventions, technology, finished goods, and beings from far away continents.
Problems crop up in the otherwise tame and civilized triangle trade when two nations both want a monopoly in one rare and valuable good. For example, both Flying Castles wish to sell a high performing rare Elven mithril armor crafted only by one tribe of Elves living on a distant and nicely tropical island. Controlling that good — and the island — and monopolizing it allows one nation to reap the profits while the other nation to pay sky high and price-controlled prices.
The potential profits are huge. In go the swords and mercenaries. One might think the Elves on the island making armor would have something to say about all this.
But to have a say, they need to get a Flying Castle. Right now what they have are coconuts and really nice hammocks. The Elves are out of luck. Here the nations do what nations do. They do enter into far off hostilities. They ship fireball-throwing cannons instead of cotton thread. And they get into a hot shooting war over islands and Elves. The document serves essentially as a guarantee to the seller that it will be paid by the issuer of the letter of credit regardless of whether the buyer ultimately fails to pay.
In this way, the risk that the buyer will fail to pay is transferred from the seller to the letter of credit's issuer. The letter of credit also insures that all the agreed upon standards and quality of goods are met by the supplier.
Letters of credit are used primarily in international trade for large transactions between a supplier in one country and a customer in another. The parties to a letter of credit are the supplier, usually called the beneficiary, the issuing bank, of whom the buyer is a client, and sometimes an advising bank, of whom the beneficiary is a client. Almost all letters of credit are irrevocable, i. In executing a transaction, letters of credit incorporate functions common to giros and traveler's cheques.
It serves several purposes in international trade, both as transit information and title to the goods. A legal document between the shipper of a particular good and the carrier detailing the type, quantity and destination of the good being carried. The bill of lading also serves as a receipt of shipment when the good is delivered to the predetermined destination. This document must accompany the shipped goods, no matter the form of transportation, and must be signed by an authorized representative from the carrier, shipper and receiver.
The roads were bad and in poor repair. Ocean routes were treacherous. Brigands and pirates lurked in parts of the trade route far from any help. Distant nations treated merchants with disdain at best and as rich people to rob at worst.
And every single landowner along the trade route felt that they had a right to extort whatever tax they could get out of the trade caravan. To fix these problems the medieval merchants found effective solutions, the most effective being the concept of a Merchant Guild. These were association of of traders. Guilds could invest the member's fees in such things as improving road conditions and suppressing pirates and brigands.
Lighthouses were erected at dangerous points, to prevent merchant shipwrecks. The guild would negotiate treaties of commerce with foreign nations, protecting the liberty and security of guild members sometimes the guild could even get an agreement for foreign troops to travel with a trade caravan. And while a single trader could not do much about landowner's imposed taxes, a huge guild could negotiate from a position of power.
Negotiations with a landowner would result in a Merchant Guild charter, where guild members would pay a fixed sum or an annual payment for right of passage. You can see how these concepts can be re-used in an interstellar trading future, the situations are much the same. The flip-side of course is that the guild members have to pay their dues to the guild, and obey all the guild regulations.
Members cannot engage in any type of trade forbidden by the Guild charter, fines were imposed on members who broke the rules, and guild members had to aid and support fellow guild members in times of trouble.
If a guild member was killed, the guild would care for any orphans thus tragically created. Guilds also supplied health insurance, funeral expenses, and doweries for girls who could not afford them. Naturally the guilds became quite powerful. Independent traders would find it difficult to compete. In a village, local craftsmen also found it difficult to compete with the Merchant guilds, which lead to the rise of Craft guilds in self-defense.
Eventually the merchant guild members delegated all the actual traveling and trading jobs in their profession to employees, and instead sat comfortably at home while their factors did all the hard work. In Andre Norton's novels the "Free Traders" are independent interstellar merchants owning little more than their starship. Often they are victimized by the megacorporation trading companies, who are too big for an individual free trader to fight.
In the novel Moon Of Three Rings apparently the free traders have formed a Merchant guild called the "Legion", which collectively is powerful enough to defend the members from the megacorps. A trading post or "factory" is where a merchant or the merchant's factor carries on the merchant's business on a foreign planet. The trading post exchanges imported trade items for valuable local goods.
In some cases a trading post and a couple of warehouses can grow into an actual colony. The trading post merchant or factor is responsible for the local goods logistics proper storage and shipping , assesing and packaging for spacecraft transport. The factor is the representative for the merchant in all matters, reporting everything to the merchant headquarters. The longer the communication time delay between trading post and headquarters, the more trustworthy the factor has to be.
Factors may work with native contract suppliers, called a comprador. Also interesting is how the rise of the 17th century Dutch seaborne empire was due in part to their superior utilization of wind energy in the form of their breakthrough cargo transport, the Fluyt ship. Unlike other cargo ships of the time, the Fluyt was not designed to be easily converted into a warship. It was pure merchant vessel. This means it was cheaper to build, carried twice the cargo, and needed a smaller crew.
It could also operate in much shallower water than a conventional ship, allowing it to get cargo in and out of ports other ships could not reach. The only trade route Fluyts could not be used on were long haul voyages to the East Indies and the New World, because Fluyts were unarmed.
If you are a science fiction writer or game creator, these ideas should start the wheels turning in your mind. It may be instructive to read a couple of history textbooks on the topic of Merchant Guilds, and look over the Nicholas van Rijn stories of Poul Anderson.
While a trading post can be on a remote planet at the frontier of a long space route, a Transport Nexus will probably be more centrally located. A trading post planet might be the only source of some valuable luxury good exotic gem stones, unique liquor, native artworks so it can be located on Planet Sticks in the Boondocks Cluster.
By way of contrast, transport nexuses are centers of commerce and will be "strategically" located. Its path roughly described a bent and swollen, meandering, broken ellipse along the edge of the rift and then out and across it and back again. A closer examination might reveal that the trail of the convoy was actually a series of lesser arcs tracing through the spiral arm, then turning reluctantly out into the darkness of The Deep Rift, with one scheduled stopover at the forlorn worlds of Marathon, Ghastly, and George, then across The Great Leap and into the lips of the ghostly streamer known as The Purse on the opposite side, then around The Outbeyond, down toward The Silver Horn, and finally turning home again, leaping across at The Narrows and then down through The Valley of Death to The Heart of Darkness, then a sudden dogleg up to a place of desperate joy known as Last Chance, before finally sliding into The Long Ride Home and a golden world called Glory.
The Silk Road Convoy was the oldest of all the caravans on the route. It was not the largest fleet on the route, but it was definitely the richest and most prestigious. The convoy followed the path of an ancient exploration vessel. Colonies had followed the vessel.
Traders had followed the colonies. The trade had evolved over the centuries into a trade route called The Silk Road. Eventually, due to the twists and vagaries of luck and history and fate, it became one of the most profitable routes known in the Alliance. At any given moment there might be as many as thirty different caravans scattered along its great curving length—but only the original Silk Road Convoy was entitled to bear the name of the trade route.
This was because the partnership which had grown up with the original Silk Road Convoy also owned or controlled most of the directorships of the Silk Road Authority.
The Silk Road Authority was larger than most governments. It held three seats in the Alliance and controlled almost all of the trade, both legal and otherwise, within the ellipse of its influence. The Authority had major offices on every planet within thirty light-years of the primary route. Every merchant ship in the arm paid a license fee for the privilege of traveling the route and booking passengers and cargo through the offices of the Authority. Some ships, like the notorious freebooter Eye of Argon, preferred to travel alone.
Others paid for the privilege of traveling with a caravan. The caravans were near-permanent institutions. Imagine a chain of vessels nearly three light-days long, islands of light strung through the darkness.
The caravans provided service and safety—and safety had lately become a primary consideration for star travelers. Because of its name, because of its age and its prestige, the Silk Road Convoy was considered the safest of all. Too often in history a mercenary force has disappeared a moment before the battle; switched sides for a well-timed bribe; or even conquered its employer and brought about the very disasters it was hired to prevent.
Mercenaries, for their part, face the chances common to every soldier of being killed by the enemy. In addition, however, they must reckon with the possibility of being bilked of their pay or massacred to avoid its payment; of being used as cannon fodder by an employer whose distaste for "money-grubbing aliens" may exceed the enemy's; or of being abandoned far from home when defeat or political change erases their employer or his good will.
A solution to both sets of special problems was made possible by the complexity of galactic commerce. The recorded beginnings came early in the twenty-seventh century when several planets caught up in the Confederation Wars used the Terran firm of Felchow und Sohn as an escrow agent for their mercenaries' pay. Felchow was a commercial banking house which had retained its preeminence even after Terran industry had been in some measure supplanted by that of newer worlds.
Neither Felchow nor Terra herself had any personal stake in the chaotic rise and fall of the Barnard Confederation; thus the house was the perfect neutral to hold the pay of the condottieri being hired by all parties. Payment was scrupulously made to mercenaries who performed according to their contracts.
This included the survivors of the Dalhousie debacle who were able to buy passage off that ravaged world, despite the fact that less than ten percent of the populace which had hired them was still alive. Conversely, the pay of Wrangel's Legion, which had refused to assault the Confederation drop zone on Montauk, was forfeited to the Montauk government. Felchow und Sohn had performed to the satisfaction of all honest parties when first used as an intermediary.
Over the next three decades the house was similarly involved in other conflicts, a passive escrow agent and paymaster. It was only after the Ariete Incident of that the concept coalesced into the one stable feature of a galaxy at war. The Ariete, a division recruited mostly from among the militias of the Aldoni System, was hired by the rebels on Paley.
Their pay was banked with Felchow, since the rebels very reasonably doubted that anyone would take on the well-trained troops of the Republic of Paley if they had already been handed the carrot. But the Ariete fought very well indeed, losing an estimated thirty percent of its effectives before surrendering in the final collapse of the rebellion.
The combat losses have to be estimated because the Republican forces, in defiance of the "Laws of War" and their own promises before the surrender, butchered all their fifteen or so thousand mercenary prisoners.
Felchow und Sohn, seeing an excuse for an action which would raise it to incredible power, reduced Paley to Stone Age savagery. An industrialized world as Paley was is an interlocking whole.
Off-planet trade may amount to no more than five percent of its GDP; but when that trade is suddenly cut off, the remainder of the economy resembles a car lacking two pistons.
It may make whirring sounds for a time, but it isn't going anywhere. Huge as Felchow was, a single banking house could not have cut Paley off from the rest of the galaxy. When Felchow, however, offered other commercial banks membership in a cartel and a share of the lucrative escrow business, the others joined gladly and without exception.
No one would underwrite cargoes to or from Paley; and Paley, already wracked by a war and its aftermath, shuddered down into the slag heap of history. Lucrative was indeed a mild word for the mercenary business. The escrowed money itself could be put to work, and the escrowing bank was an obvious agent for the other commercial transactions needed to run a war. Mercenaries replaced equipment, recruited men, and shipped themselves by the thousands across the galaxy. With the banks' new power came a new organization.
The expanded escrow operations were made the responsibility of a Bonding Authority, still based in Bremen but managed independently of the cartel itself. The Authority's fees were high. In return, its Contracts Department was expert in preventing expensive misunderstandings from arising, and its investigative staff could neither be bribed nor deluded by a violator.
For a ship moving at near light-speed, time dilation requires that in terms of your subjective, shipboard life span, the voyage won't be much more time-consuming than, say, one of Francis Drake's pirate raids. This brings us to problem number three: Assuming there are adequate ships and places to go, and the crew's lifespans aren't a problem, why would fleets of expensive vessels be launched to go there? That's another way of asking the Big Question, and we'll spend the rest of this essay trying to answer it.
But before continuing, let's be sure we're all together. I suspect that the Big Question may have taken some of you by surprise.
After all, there are abundant examples of terrestrial, trans-oceanic trade, which at first glance seem to provide models for interstellar commerce.
For example, the Japanese import raw materials to their resource-poor islands, transform the materials into automobiles, send the finished goods across the Pacific, and sell them in the United States—and they make a lot of money doing so. Couldn't the same kind of thing work among the stars? The times and distances and therefore the costs involved are not analogous—not even close. The distance to the Sun's nearest stellar neighbor is approximately five billion times the distance from Japan to California.
Therefore, the model of transoceanic trade is virtually useless. It's often been assumed that there would be interstellar freighters and ore ships based on the trans-oceanic model, but is this assumption realistic? Consider the importation of raw materials to the Earth.
Sure, resources might vanish from the Earth or become unimaginably expensive, although this is doubtful. Still, we won't be using starships to import raw materials. We can always mine the asteroids, or Jupiter's moons. They're millions of times closer, and therefore far cheaper. So unless there are minerals out there we've never dreamed of, and that we can't synthesize closer to home, we can forget about interstellar ore boats.
It's not raw materials that we'll lack in the solar system, it's cheap labor. But the cost of labor on Earth would have to be incredibly high to justify an interstellar flow of manufactured goods. It's conceivable, of course. We can easily imagine a future political setup the post office scenario in which all nations on Earth are so bogged down with artificially high labor costs and archaic work rules that the "cheapest" Earth-made automobiles would cost, relatively, what a Rolls Royce costs now.
But ask yourself—would even that kind of economic insanity justify an interstellar transportation system, with a or year Earth viewpoint transit time? The unions would take care if they were clever that terrestrial prices never got so high that the interstellar freetraders would have a competitive advantage. Even if Earth was devastated by war a common science fiction scenario , we could rebuild our factories faster than we could import finished goods from the stars.
So we need to assume a really amazing manufacturing advantage that would make goods from the stars so valuable as to be worth the cost—and years of transit time—of shipping them to Earth. Some goods are unique—like the products of newly created technologies.
Ah, but would new colonies develop such technologies? And even if they did, there's always the risk of industrial espionage; and anyway, by the time the products got to their distant market Earth , would they still be state of the art? A dozen years of transport time can dull a product's competitive advantage. Besides, absent a new terrestrial dark age another common SF scenario , interstellar shipments are going to be pretty much a one-way street.
Earth will have technologies the new worlds need, at least in the early stages of our interstellar expansion. They the colonies will need goods from Earth, but not vice versa. In marketing terms, they're going to be like the natives of Bangladesh—we know they're out there, and they want what we produce, but what's in it for us? The problem for an interstellar merchant is finding something Earth can buy from the new worlds.
Well, what can the new worlds export? It'll be a long time until the new worlds are out-inventing Earth. All their technology will be old stuff, made with machines they took with them. But even old technology can be unique if it involves secret processes. Sure, but does Coke's secret formula justify the cost of interstellar freight? What else have they got? Persian rugs are regionally specific, labor-intensive products.
Havana cigars and French wines require special climatic conditions. Extraterrestrial analogs of such items could be traded. But it would take a lot of future Picassos, cases of Coca-Cola, bottles of Chateau Betelgeuse, Oriental carpets, and interstellar stogies to support a galactic merchant fleet. There's the possibility of Dune-like spice, or Star Trek's dilithium crystals, or some other wonder goods—but we can't count on their existence.
For the moment, let's ignore this problem, and arbitrarily assume that something, say automobiles, will be worth shipping from one planetary system to another. This the Toyota scenario is our biggest, wildest assumption so far, but let's play with it for a while, and see how it goes. If you were a star-faring merchant considering the purchase of a shipload of cars from, say, Epsilon Eridani, which is almost 11 light-years away from Earth, how would you know what market conditions were like on Earth?
It'll take you 11 years actually By the time you got that reply, the information would be 11 years out of date. Perhaps Marco Polo could operate like that, but things were somewhat different then. Instead, imagine that Earth is always broadcasting its needs, so you touch down on a manufacturing planet circling Epsilon Eridani which we'll call "EE" and you get the latest info 11 years old from Earth—"Hot market here for cars from EE. Now you start thinking like a merchant.
What kind of mark-up could you expect that would justify buying a starship-load of cars and tying up your capital or paying interest on a loan for the dozen years you would need to get those cars to your destination? I said a dozen years, because your ship will certainly be slower than the communications system.
Bear in mind that you'd be making an investment in goods that might very well be obsolete when they finally arrived. And if Earth is dominated by strong labor unions as they would have to be to make scarce, extraterrestrial labor a bargain they'll have a full range of protectionist legislation to keep out cheap imports.
And what kind of import duties would you have to pay in order to clear your cargo through Earth customs? The only way your venture could work is if you could know, a dozen years in advance of your arrival on Earth, what your sales price and other costs would be. It's possible for that broadcast of Earth's needs to be some kind of continuing offer, containing price and terms, and by acting on it you could be assured of selling your cargo at those prices—even though your cargo would be a dozen years old when your ship arrives on Earth.
That would require an automobile dealer on Earth to commit himself, years in advance, to pay a healthy price for cargo he hoped would be arriving—some day. Maybe his broadcast offer would say, "Irving's Interstellar Imports needs cars, as of the year Will pay 30 Heinleins each, plus all import taxes, if they get here by the year that's 11 years for Irving's offer to get to EE, and 13 more for the goods to be produced and sent from EE to Earth. This offer guaranteed by irrevocable letter of credit from Bank of Terra.
The "offer" would have to be officially registered somewhere at EE, and if you accepted it, that too would be registered, so the next interstellar entrepreneur arriving at EE wouldn't duplicate the order. Irving only wants cars, not million. A message would then be sent to Earth saying that the goods were on the way. Would that do it? Perhaps, if there were strict laws that made that kind of deal a binding contract, if the Bank of Terra were still in business when you arrived, if there were no currency depreciation, and perhaps a thousand other things.
Maybe a local branch of the Bank of Terra on EE would use that broadcast offer as collateral, and make you a loan equal to the cost of your cargo and the cost of the loan, plus some profit.
Then you pay for the cars, leave the profit on deposit with interest compounding and you head for Earth to deliver your cargo to Irving. The bank should do quite well, too. The loan is secure it's backed by the Bank of Terra on Earth, and your ship is insured by Interstellar Lloyds. Your profit deposit is going to sit on EE, waiting about 24 years until you return. With a loan portfolio and a deposit base like that, interstellar banking should be a super-profitable industry.
When you arrive on Earth with your cargo in good condition, the Bank of Terra on Earth broadcasts to its branch on EE that everything's fine, and you can withdraw your funds.
We've just described how a "letter of credit" works today in international trade. And observe, future bankers, that it can take decades for funds to clear. That's one hell of a profitable float. Faster-than-light communications would probably be a banking disaster! Now you dash back to EE, most likely with an outward bound cargo arranged in the same manner.
That sounds like it could be workable, but does this Toyota scenario make any sense? Would an automobile dealer on Earth or any other interstellar destination offer to pay for a shipload of cars or whatever which wouldn't arrive for two dozen years?
It's unlikely, but not impossible. So our terrestrial auto dealer only has to put up a small deposit now with the Bank of Terra to have the payment guaranteed in 24 years.
And, if the deposits come from his customers, the auto dealer isn't even investing his own funds. The only risks are structural ones—the bank may fail, the laws may change, the currency may depreciate, there may be war, plague, and so on. But these are risks that could be faced, and gladly—if the lure of huge profits were there. It makes even more sense if the customer doesn't have to wait 24 years, which is possible. His car is waiting for him, all paid for. Of course it's an old-style car, but that's OK.
He's technologically like Rip Van Winkle. Unlike Rip, he's still young, but he's hopelessly out of date, and not trained to use new vehicles. We're assuming rapid technological progress, remember? Interstellar travelers need old-style goods and probably live in behind-the-times communities with their contemporaries so the years of transit time your cargo requires turns out to be a desirable feature.