mining economy

If you could press a button that would give you a great deal of money, but it would cause someone you don’t know in a distant part of the world to die, then you would have a good model for how our current economy works.
—  Cecil Palmer, Welcome to Night Vale episode 105: “What Happened at the Smithwick House”

i hate when adults make fun of u and ask if u bought ur jeans with all the holes in them…. why don’t u go fix the holes in our economy robert

A more realistic and thoroughgoing Marxian approach to the question of imperialism in our age, drawing on the fundamental parameters of classical imperialism theory while taking into consideration changing historical conditions, needs to center on capital accumulation. Here the crucial fact is the shift of manufacturing industry in recent decades from the global North to the global South. In 1980 the share of world industrial employment of developing countries had risen to 52 percent; by 2012 this had increased to 83 percent. […] What needs to be explained, however, is that despite this tectonic shift of industry to the periphery, the basic conditions of center and periphery continue in most cases to hold. This is manifested in the seeming inability of countries in the global South, taken as a whole—and leaving out Greater China (including Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan Province)—to catch up economically with the nations at the center of the system.

[…]

Economically, the outward movement of generalized-monopoly capitalism is propelled primarily by the competitive struggle for low cost position via global sourcing of labor and increasingly scarce raw materials, and the monopoly rents that all of this generates. The result, as we have seen, is enormous cost savings in production for individual monopolistic enterprises, generating widening profit margins, which, coupled with more traditional forms of tribute, leads to a continual inflow of imperial rent to the center of the system. The full extent of extracted surplus is disguised by the enormous complexity of global value chains, exchange ratios, hidden accounts, and above all by the nature of capitalist GDP accounting itself.

[…]

The phase of global monopoly-finance capital, tied to the globalization of production and the systematization of imperial rent, has generated a financial oligarchy and a return to dynastic wealth, mostly in the core nations, confronting an increasingly generalized (but also highly segmented) working class worldwide. The leading section of the capitalist class in the core countries now consists of what could be called global rentiers, dependent on the growth of global monopoly-finance capital, and its increasing concentration and centralization. The reproduction of this new imperialist system, as Amin explains in Capitalism in the Age of Globalization, rests on the perpetuation of five monopolies: (1) technological monopoly; (2) financial control of worldwide markets; (3) monopolistic access to the planet’s natural resources; (4) media and communication monopolies; and (5) monopolies over weapons of mass destruction. Behind all of this lie the giant monopolistic firms themselves, with the revenue of the top 500 global private firms currently equal to about 30 percent of world revenue, funneled primarily through the centers of the capitalist system and the core financial markets. As Boron points out with respect to the world’s 200 largest multinational corporations, “96 percent…have their headquarters in only eight countries, are legally registered as incorporated companies of eight countries; and their boards of directors sit in eight countries of metropolitan capital. Less than 2 percent of their boards of directors’ members are non-nationals…. Their reach is global, but their property and their owners have a clear national base.”

[…]

The responsibility of the left under these circumstances is to confront, in Lenin’s terms, the “contradictions, conflicts, and convulsions—not only economical, but also political, national, etc.”—that increasingly characterize our era. This means fostering a more “audacious” global movement from below in which the key challenge will be the dismantling of imperialism, understood as the entire basis of capitalism in our time—with the object of creating a more horizontal, egalitarian, peaceful, and sustainable social-metabolic order controlled by the associated producers.

John Bellamy Foster, “The New Imperialism of Globalized Monopoly-Finance Capital” (2015)
The Machinery of Evil: Angband

In comparison to the more ragtag, disorganized orc led armies of the later Ages, Angband is an impressively effective force that is strong enough to withstand centuries of near isolation and self-sufficiency under constant siege. This suggests to me an extremely organized and structured system acting as its backbone.

I don’t think there were the modern kind of taxes or wages because I doubt there was a free market economy that needed those things to drive it. Angband is essentially a state built to fuel an army and I doubt that dark lords care much about the desire of their minions for luxury goods. So I think the most likely system was a command economy, where central planning makes all the economic decisions about how to use and distribute resources. For example, your orc will never have to worry about the cost of his helmet, because the dark lords arrange the production and delivery of all his equipment in exchange for labor at mining, farming, soldiering etc. as a specialist. Higher ranking orcs or beings probably get a bigger share of the resources and better stuff as an incentive to move up the ranks as much a possible. So there’s still a definite status system and ‘wealthier’ orcs.

Of course this opens up a host of problems too. This system takes an incredible amount of knowledge and planning to carry out, and if you don’t get the right number of helmets or chickens you need, you may end up executing rioters or having poorly equipped soldiers who lose battles. Not to mention you have to police the system rigorously for graft, theft, cheating, corruption, misreporting surplus, plain incompetence etc. Having a command economy also requires the creation of an enormous entrenched bureaucracy to organize and implement decisions made at the top.

Naturally this means that no currency is necessary, eliminating the cost in wasted metals and labor. I think that they might have created a currency later on for the sole purpose of trade with the Evil Men of the East, but I find it equally likely that Angband adopted one of their Eastern allies’ currency as long as the standard was valuable metal weights. Their chief trade goods were probably knowledge and high quality processed goods rather than raw materials anyway. This eliminates the problem of inflation internally, but not of scarcity.

Now, if you’re an orc and want a bit more than your regular rations or a nice present for your mother’s birthday, you’re going to have to barter for it.  Your options for getting trade goods are limited. You can steal a little extra from what you produce as a farmer, smith, miner etc. but this might get your head chopped off. You can save some of your rations and trade that, but this can be dangerous if you don’t have enough left for yourself or trade away vital items like armor, underwear etc. You can trade services for goods like ‘I’ll sharpen your knives if you give me your shiny stone.’ But your best option for getting trade-able items is loot taken from enemies. Angband didn’t have taxes, but you probably had to tithe a portion of your plunder to the dark lords and possibly your commander. I’m thinking that a footsoldier got to keep one-tenth, a general one-third or some kind of system like that was in place but there was probably a lot of fighting over the best items between individual orcs too.

How do you keep a vast underground army supplied with food and materials? I think Angband’s production and food problems are solvable with a truly ridiculous amount of forethought and planning, pinpoint precise control of workers and a healthy amount of magic. The dark lords would need a huge amount of food, far more than could be gained through raiding; somehow crops had to be grown to feed armies, and animals had to be raised for meat and goods. Angband must have had enormous underground farms for surface plants created through the laborious process of building plant beds, bringing in soil, and creating light and air shafts. But they also might have cultivated fungi, mushrooms, moss, roots and other edible plants that naturally grow in or near caves. Pre-siege they might have had some small scale agriculture on mountain terraces and foothills and pastured sheep or goats on the side of mountains.

Post siege they had to rely on animals that could be raised underground. Orcs probably ate little meat. Those animals would have been far more valuable for the other products they could provide, like hides, fat, or horn. Eggs or milk would be more likely, depending on availability. Bats, bugs, worms, larva, spiders, proteus salamanders, and cave crabs are natural cave creatures that might be deliberately raised as food. Fish in underground lakes would yield the double benefit of food and vital water reservoirs. Their primary meat animal would probably be pigs because they eat anything and can be intensively farmed. Dogs are also scavengers so they might also be eaten for food or raised for fur. Chickens can be cage-raised in battery farms, and they also eat almost anything, so they seem likely. Sheep and goats come from wild mountain dwelling ancestors, and would have been valuable for wool and hair and milk, but I’m doubtful they could be fed enough from Angband’s resources to be worthwhile to keep. Cows are a definite no; they just are too big for underground living and not efficient enough to be regular food animals. Horses are valuable as riding animals and it is seems likely a small number were kept for commanders, messengers and scouts.

Outbreaks of disease and contamination have an easy answer: never ever ever keep all of your animals/crops/drinking water in one place/field/reservoir. If you loose one herd to disease you can isolate it and save the rest; the more separate herds you have the smaller the loss. Potential disease vectors, like corpses, have to be disposed of immediately. Genetic bottleneck is no problem if you carefully manage your herds; scientists estimate the entire population of founding taurine (non-humped) cattle was around eighty for example; low genetic variation does not necessarily mean low fitness. If stores dropped catastrophically low, trade with Evil Men or raiding could have filled the shortfall until production could be restored.

Waste management and containment would have been vital for the health of Angband’s occupants and the viability of its economy. Mines and farms are kept running though forced labor by prisoners; no one lives who does not work. Everything has to be recycled - food and metals especially. Even the corpses of prisoners and orcs are eaten. Water supplies may not have been easy to find and would have to be kept clean and uncontaminated by mineral leeching. They would have to find ways to get rid of toxic trash that couldn’t be recycled. Environmental contamination would have been a real problem, given the volcanic atmosphere and the amount of volatile metals around. Some types of environmental contamination could have been avoided through good, ruthlessly enforced waste containment measures as well.  Magic may also be a good option here.

Were Angband’s ore deposits rich enough to support centuries of war? I’m honestly a little fuzzy on the geologic requirements for the creation of metals, but I’m going to handwave this one. If Melkor can make entire mountain ranges, then I’m going to guess he can guarantee an ample supply of minerals and metals for Angband’s forges. (Plus volcanic soils are incredibly fertile which helps with the food problem. The Polynesian islands are capable of supporting agriculture only because of soils made of volcanic ash deposited by wind, fun fact.)

My general explanation for the ability of Melkor’s war machine to support itself actually relies on a bit of headcanon. Sauron managed to escape the ruin of Utumno because of an extensive underground tunnel system that existed underneath it. I like to think that this is something Melkor and Sauron continued and expanded in their next stronghold once they saw how useful it was. However tall the mountains towered above the plain, below them Angband lay many times greater and deeper. Perhaps not just the entire plain, but whole mountain ranges were honeycombed with tunnels that stretched their fingers all the way back to Utumno’s vaults.

They may be evil, but Melkor and Sauron must have been terrifyingly competent.

samir amin cleanses u of ur shitty third worldism

The first conclusion to be drawn, which is on the directly economic level, is the existence of unequal exchange, meaning simply the transfer of value. […] To say that the theory of unequal exchange means that “the workers at the center exploit those at the periphery” is meaningless, since only ownership of capital makes exploitation possible. (This also implies accepting a mechanistic relation between standard of living and political attitude, and so reducing the dialectic of the infrastructure and the superstructure to direct economistic determination.)

[…]

Unequal exchange means, rather, that the problem of the class struggle needs to be looked at on the world scale, and that national problems cannot be treated as mere epiphenomena accompanying the essential problem of the “pure” class struggle. It means that the bourgeoisie of the center, the only one that exists on the scale of the world system, exploits the proletariat everywhere, at the center and at the periphery, but that it exploits the proletariat of the periphery even more brutally, and that this is possible because the objective mechanism upon which is based the unity that links it to its own proletariat, in an autocentric economy, and which restricts the degree of exploitation it carries out at the center, does not function at the extraverted periphery.

The constitution of a world system, with the characteristics that this possesses, has not only made possible the development of socialist trends at the periphery, but has also shifted the principal nucleus of the forces of socialism from the center to the periphery. It is a fact that transformations in a socialist direction have broken through only at the periphery of the system. To deny this is to deny the changes that have occurred in the world system, ultimately to deny the existence of a world system, and to forget that the periphery, integrated into the world system, has been very largely proletarianzied.

Samir Amin, Unequal Development (1976)