The Downfall of Avarica (Balance and Fairness : The Principles of Shalirion)
By Kurt Rellians
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The Downfall of Avarica (Balance and Fairness : The Principles of Shalirion)
( from the generally prosperous years before the barbarian invasions from Animar )
The Councils of Shalirion had long followed business principles which aimed to strengthen and support society, rather than to spoil it. Cromilil was no exception, and it had made the whole city prosperous and happy together. The rich were not rich at the expense of the poor or of their rivals, but all had prospered together. Business competition was encouraged and was normal, but not to the extent that rivals were driven out of business. No one sought to beggar their rivals. Businessmen or women who drove too hard a bargain, or treated their workers too harshly were ostracised. Their reputations were besmirched and citizens refused to deal with them.
The House of Chanceleord had been growing for many years and was comfortable and successful. They made good profits, but not at the expense of Chanceleord’s Shalirionite morality. The concept of fair prices kept suppliers, and rivals in healthy existence, and fair wages kept employees in a fair living. The Council of Cromilil believed in the concept of ‘economic balance’ and the principles of ‘fair trading’. They worked alongside other city councils to keep trade fair for all. Competition was allowed, but there were areas where prices or wages were regulated. Taxation was an essential part of the ‘balanced system’.
For example: when an employer tried to make too much out of his or her workers, either in low wages, overlong working hours, or bad treatment such as bullying or unnecessarily dangerous work expectations, then the ‘balance’ was upset. Employees would naturally drift away to more reasonable employments or demand restoration of the balance. In this way abuses were often overcome. Because most of society believed in the balance, they demanded its continuation and the people effectively ensured that employers followed the balance.
Chanceleord told Alos, his son, about a city of Shalirion, Avarica, where men had become too greedy. New laws of company legislation had been enacted in which companies could invest massively to make profits. If they failed they would not have to pay their creditors everything they owed. Only what was invested in the company would be due to creditors, not the personal belongings and monies of participating shareholders. They could wind up the company without personal worry. This remarkable legislation allowed companies to overreach themselves. Some grew massively, but tended to treat their workers badly in the greed of their shareholders. Others failed recklessly and failed to pay their creditors. It was a useful experiment, but one which had seemed to create greed, misery and unhappiness for various people who were victims of one sort or another. The Imperial Council intervened after a long time, suggesting these rules were dislocating the natural order of economics and business, but not before the economy and harmony of the City had collapsed in a series of collapses and panics, which revealed the rot inside.
Chanceleord had gone with others from Cromilil, and from other cities, to see what could be done for Avarica. The ‘greedy city’ had borrowed from lenders elsewhere in Shalirion when the Council of the city had found itself unable to pay its debts. Those debts to the institutions which had sought to help them were not going to be paid now as Avarica’s economy collapsed completely. The well being of other parts of Shalirion was threatened.
They rode into the city in carriages. The unemployed stared at them from behind curtains or from the streets, sitting or standing on the streets, which many now called home, as Avarica’s harsh property laws and rental practices would rather see its citizens homeless and its properties vacant than see the rules protecting the interests of its richer citizens who still remained solvent weakened. The rich and still solvent stayed behind shutters, while mobs of unemployed people banged on their doors, asking for their jobs back, or for mere food, which had always been plentiful before.
The Council itself was bankrupt! Not enough businesses were paying taxes, and not enough citizens were earning money or earning enough to make any headway in paying the interest on council borrowing. Businesses and individuals found ways of avoiding paying taxes, while others had suffered in the fierce competition and gone bankrupt themselves, unable to pay their taxes, and throwing themselves on the Council’s mercy. There was not much mercy to be had; their coffers were dry!
The merchant bankers of Avarica had been gripped by the fever for higher income, more wealth. For some years they invested eagerly in every project they could persuade themselves might be profitable. Instead of being content with lending their own money they had desperately borrowed all the money they could, to invest more in more businesses.
Latterly the confidence of the city merchants had diminished in sudden panics, as people realised many of the ambitious projects were unlikely to turn a profit, or that they might not be able to afford to pay the interest on their borrowings. The values of both businesses and houses had become highly priced in the booming city, but both were very overvalued. A fall was bound to come, but the greedy citizens of Avarica little expected how severe that fall would be. As the values of businesses collapsed so did confidence in investments. The panic to sell while values had not yet dropped far intensified, compounding the severity of the fall.
The rich of the city struggled to make the payments on their property purchases. Having overextended themselves in investments or property many of them lost rights to their precious properties. Avaricious lenders, keen to amass money so they could pay off their own debts demanded repossession so they could find other ways of keeping the money flowing in. Citizens, in droves, found themselves kicked out and onto the streets. Landlords offered extortionate rents instead, all trying to grab as much money off each other as possible, not caring much about what effect their greedy demands might have on the citizens around them. As Business Houses closed their doors citizens lost their jobs. Unable to pay their rents many of them found themselves out on the streets. In desperation many citizens rounded up what possessions they could and packed them on carts, leaving the city and throwing themselves on the mercy of relatives in other towns and cities, or kinder people in other parts of Shalirion.
The High Council of the land of Shalirion and the Empress herself had asked for the expertise of the citizens of other cities and regions to come to Avarica, to advise the City Council upon how to restore economic and social order to the city. Concerned and important people came from all over the Kingdom to study the disaster which had befallen, and to work out how to put it right. It was clear that no mere sorcery was going to be able to solve the disaster that had befallen here.
Nowhere else in the Empire had economics spun quite so out of control. There were many who suspected dark wizards to be at the heart of the disastrous malaise, but the advisors and representatives who now entered the city knew well that the malaise had been caused by the greed and human folly of many of the leading and upright citizens of the city. Chanceleord and his fellow councillors from Cromilil and other cities had plenty of ideas from the rules of their own cities to prevent such an economic debacle from happening.
Chanceleord spoke before the councillors of Avarica, a reduced number as some had fled the failing city, and some were in disgrace. There were some councillors who now languished in the local prison accused of financial crimes and false expense claims by the city police, acting on the instruction of the current reformed council of the city.
“If the principles of fairness and balance are applied I am sure Avarica will once again be restored to the prosperity of the rest of our land. It is because you erred from sensible principles of caution and fairness that you have fallen so badly. Greed and jealousy, disregard for the poor and for fellow men have been encouraged and taught in this wayward city. Is it any wonder that you came to disaster.”
A councillor of Avarica, greying and full of cares, looking tired and weary in his eyes, spoke up from amongst their councillors. “No, I suppose we have erred from the balance. We thought we could have everything! We saw our paper money growing and thought nothing could stop us. But the values in our stock markets and our business forecasts and our property values were not real. Our expectations went ahead of reality. Some of us made much money out of each other, but we have almost completely destroyed our city.
“What can we do to restore it?” they asked.
“We will have to think more about this question,” said another councillor of the city. Do we go back to values from 10 years before for property as a starting price, with rents held at similar period levels? How do we restore companies and banking houses to the position they were in before. Many have gone bust. They no longer exist; their money no longer exists. Only the ghosts exist in those offices and warehouses. Even our workers and citizens are not here any more. Some are ill and starving, others have lost wives and lovers, children or sold themselves into unhappy occupations in order to repay their debts. Many are now bonded to employers until they have repaid their debts, slaving in unpleasant and unreasonable bondage without the protection of laws which might save them.
“Like rats many have fled the city. There is little left, but a new breed of entrepreneur, now sensing a future, return to the city, like vultures, to buy cheaply what has not yet fallen into rack and ruin, at knocked down prices, so they might sell these decayed assets to other Houses in other places or perhaps resurrect them in future times to serve a hoped for resurgence.”
Another councillor from a city not far from Avarica, which had not shared its downfall, but had witnessed its ruin at fairly close hand, and observed its broken and shattered refugees, stood to speak, bitterly and with tears of despair in his eyes. “Perhaps the city should be declared at an end. It could stand as a monument to the shame of its past, and as a warning to the rest of Shalirion, that the Empress will never again allow this arrogant excess to despoil her people. The Rules of Balance and Fairness, which apply everywhere else in our land, will now be enforced wherever incautious and bold citizens attempt to overthrow them.”
“Your idea may appear to have some merit,” advised Chanceleord, “but why should we not allow the rebuilding of your society. If these rules of Balance and Fairness, which exist in most of Shalirion, are applied and adhered to, as in history, gradually the shoots of rebirth will appear here and in time a sensible economy will reassert itself. The citizens will return and so will prosperity!”
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A morality tale for our
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