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The base unit of currency in the Empire, the Imperial, is worth about five American dollars, though, due to their very different culture and technology level, this is not a straight conversion.
Imperials are used in three different ways: cash, tokens and credit. Cash is the most flexible, tokens have moderate restrictions, and credits are most rigid. Most sales can be a mix of methods - all merchants are required to honor cash and tokens.
Credit licenses are negotiated as a large part of an employees wages, along with housing and necessary travel licenses. A credit license denotes several things: the holder, the locations it can be spent, the value, the period and a reference number.
Only the holder of a credit license may spend it - it is not transferable and comes marked with the citizen's license identification code.
The credit license comes with a class associated with it, in the form of a shopping district name. This shopping district caters only to that class of shopping. For example, a low class citizen may have a credit license to a necessities bazaar. They may spend their credit only at that location, though within that bazaar, there are many different kinds of independent merchants. They would be able to buy simple food, basic clothing, necessities, and even cheap jewelry.
The credit license would have a value per tenday, or per month, indicated. This value would not be available for saving - what wasn't spent in that period of time would be lost, and the total would be reset for the following period.
As a credit license holder, a citizen would go shopping at designated locations. When they were ready to check out of an individual merchant, they would produce their credit license. The merchant may require a tattoo check to verify the identification of the citizen. The merchant records the transaction by reference number and provides a receipt. The merchants in a district pool their data (sorted by their reference numbers) at the end of each business day, at a shopping district office.
Shopping districts center around a central bazaar building, with individual spaces for rental to bazaar merchants. But the districts may also include smaller, independent stores in close proximity. Independent merchants who wished to be part of the shopping district would register with the district office, and display a sign indicating that they take district credit (each with a distinct name and symbol). Those merchants would take the responsibility for filing the paperwork and receive their funds, less a processing fee, from the shopping district periodically, rather than the customer. Although this is extra hassle and less profit than direct sales via token or cash, it can be well worth it for a merchant to receive the sales via credit license that they wouldn't otherwise attract. Restaurants may also join shopping districts. Inebriants and other luxury items may be available for cash sale in some stores, even though they are not eligible for credits.
Citizens are responsible for keeping track of their own credit balance, much like a checkbook. Going over their balance results in immediate loss of that amount from their next month's balance, and their transgression is often marked in merchants' books. (The merchant is paid the difference the following month, although the citizen does not have their full spending power.) Citizens with multiple transgressions are flagged for immediate check. These purchases are immediately filed with the shopping district office, rather than waiting for the end of the day, and are checked at that time to verify that the citizen still has the credit they claim they do. The merchants are permitted to charge a fee for this hassle, and usually do. The embarrassment of having to wait in public for the filing and check to be complete acts as an extra deterrent for going over their credit. If a citizen continues to have problems staying under their balance, they may even have their credit license revoked entirely. The merchant guild has free classes for credit management available to all citizens, and credit handling is a topic thoroughly taught in second form.
Most shopping districts stagger their credit periods, so there isn't, for example, a rush on the merchants at the very end of the tenday of citizens looking to squeeze the last credits out of their licenses.
Shopping districts are responsible for issuing and negotiating their own credit licenses, and they pay the licensing office to print them to prevent fraud. These are coordinated by the Mercantile Guild, which runs the shopping district offices.
Tokens are similar to credits, in that they can only be spent on certain classes of items. They are most commonly available in the "necessity class", and often given by the Empire to families in hardship as a subsidy to ensure that they receive the goods they need to survive and remain content. They are a little like food stamps, in that way, but are also available in "desire class" (better quality goods, decorated clothing) and "luxury class" (gourmet food, fancy clothing), as incentives for exceptional behavior and good citizenship. Each class of token comes in the following denominations: 1, 2, 5, 10, 15, 20 and 50 Imperials.
Tokens are larger than standard coins, though similar in shape, and made of ceramic, stamped with the Imperial denomination on one side and the class of token on the other. Desire and luxury class tokens are glazed with a proprietary type of glaze. The luxury class token glaze has recently been determined to be toxic, and there is some current political discussion about changing to a different glaze.
A 'broken token' must be redeemed at a licensing office (a lengthy process at the best of times), and the term is sometimes used for someone who takes more time and effort than they are worth.
Tokens do not expire, and are not restricted to a single individual, so they are commonly used for bartering on very low levels. They are not restricted to specific shopping districts, like credit licenses are. You can use more than one token at a time, can pay with a combination of token and cash (or credit), but cannot receive change for a token worth more than what is being purchased.
Imperials and higher are are printed with two layers of special paper, embossed and stamped with the denomination. Denominations included 1, 5, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and 100.
Below paper Imperials are coins, in values of tenth-Imperials. These coins are small, with a higher face value than mineral value, and made of cheap, plentiful metals. The lowest denomination are copper, the highest are copper on one side, a silver-nickel alloy on the other. When flipping coins to determine an outcome by luck, people say 'shiny side up,' and that's generally considered the lucky side. The 'shiny side' has the butterfly symbol of wealth, the other has the value stamped in relief, and each denomination is of slightly different size and weight.
Cash can be spent by any holder at any location. It can be hoarded, invested, gifted, or spent. It can be added to credit or token purchases.
Licenses from the government can only be purchased in cash.
A very basic banking system exists, which provides loans and pays interest on savings. Banks are very tightly regulated, and are not permitted to loan more than they have in investment. Interest rates on loans are not allowed to exceed 20% and interest paid on savings are not allowed to go below 5%. Many popular banks allow investor-lenders to choose the establishments which they wish their funds to be lent to.
Banks are intended as long-term investments - for extra cash after retirement, for example, or to save towards a particular license. One of the few remaining government taxes is on banking profit - they take 5% of the profit that a bank makes. Banks are managed by the school of economics.
Some general values:
A currently popular novel (cheaply bound), 2 Imperials
A trip across a city on a cablecar, 1 Imperials
A trip from one end of the Empire to the other, 250 Imperials
A marriage license, 10-50 Imperials, depends on status and number of previous marriages.
Very basic food for a month, 30 Imperials
A very basic, unlettered laborer would receive basic housing (a shared bathroom and kitchen with a private sleeping/living room), credit licenses in the amount of 50 Imperials per month, and a 5 Imperial monthly cash stipend.
A modestly skilled Guild apprentice would receive basic housing (private apartment with small facilities), credit licenses in the amount of 75 Imperials a month, with a stipend of 15 Imperials in cash.
A Science Leader working in government might receive lush housing, credit licenses to a high-end shopping district in the amount of 350 Imperials per month, and 75 Imperials in cash stipend.
Employers may also include other perks with their employment, such as desire or luxury tokens (largely as incentives), free cafeterias, or access to private baths and recreational areas. They are required to issue an employment license to every employee (this acts as a type of pre-paid income tax for the government), provide travel licenses to employees for the commute between their homes and their workplace (which encourages them to hire locally), and provide a retirement plan. Employment is intended to be long-term; people do not switch vocations frequently.
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