Saturday, June 15, 2013
Today on Facebook I saw a photogallery with the question "Benefit yard sale for tornado victims or viking invasion?" This year part of my tiny television intake was the entirety of the series Vikings on the History Channel. In one dramatic scene the anonymous denizens of the hero Ragnar Lothbrok's tiny fishing hamlet were slaughtered by a jealous king. I wondered if the vikings had a functional equivalent to the benefit yard sale subsequent to such an attack. One extraordinary fiscal dynamic present in the plot of Vikings is the interface between the belief and precious metals economy. Both the king and the usurper, Ragnar, believe that living according to the practices and ethics of nordic mythology and traditions would either please the gods (which might elicit favor) or directly benefit themselves in the afterlife. For Ragnar this means being both valiant and brutal on the battlefield while seizing treasure from foreign lands. For the king this means seizing the booty of Ragnar's successful raiding expedition and burying it so that he will have wealth in the afterlife. I am fascinated by imagining the way the belief structure of the characters actually would effect an economy. When the rich bury precious metals, the law of supply and demand dictates that it should increase the value of unburied instances of that resource, therefore favoring the poor who presumably are more concerned with a more immediate (and therefore verifiable) set of concerns which can be addressed with silver coins. The "benefit" to the "economic" wealth of poor vikings is however illusory because while the market value of each silver coin they hold is greater (after part of the market supply is removed), some of the supply has, in fact, been removed. Abstract or symbolic currency can assume a market value which is inverse to real value which is illustrated (in our example) by the destruction of silver coins. The burying of the coins is fundamentally destructive, yet it increases the market value of other coins. I cannot seem to recall the part of my economics classes where they taught us that markets can encourage the destruction of goods. In another episode of the series a raiding party led by Ragnar seizes the religious symbols of a Christian monastery, in the name of Odin, because Odin favors the brave with a special heaven (Valhalla) for those that die on the battlefield. The belief vs. reality conversion for the prior sentence would take too long to discuss but we can at least make some net observations. Of imagined value, market value, and real value, real value apparently has the lowest entertainment value.