Money, Money, Money

A longer-than-fits-in-the-margin response to a comment on the last post:

How do you make money, the symbol of exchange-value, properly match the actuality of exchange-value?

Have a fully backed currency (eg gold) and do really nasty things to anyone who so much as thinks of the possibility of maybe theoretically devaluing (read: cheating) it.

Not only no, but hell no.

What is a currency? Well, it’s a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a store of value, each of which has its own requirements. To function as a reliable store of value requires, inter alia, that its value remain stable across time.

This has generally proven problematic for both fiat and commodity (i.e., including “backed”) currencies. But first, let’s look at what that definition actually means. A single unit of currency is nominally a quantum of exchange-value, representing 1/[money supply]th of total exchange-value. So what’s total exchange-value?

Answer: total exchange-value is the production of the entire economy denominated in that currency; all the goods and services which people are willing to trade for using it.

To be a reliable store of value implies that what yesterday’s unit exchanged for today’s unit will also exchange for, and that tomorrow’s unit will exchange for what today’s unit exchanges for. To make this happen, ceteris paribus, the money supply must precisely track total exchange-value.

(There are obvious complications in accounting for this, inasmuch as it should, for example, avoid changing the value of money due to secular expansion and contraction of the economy, but should not attempt to compensate for, for example, decreases in prices due to, say, increased resource availability or improvements in total factor productivity. Which is to say, you have to carefully separate authentic shifts in value from those which are merely caused by your own scarcity mismatching. But let us assume away these complications for now.)

This is problematic for fiat currencies partly because figuring out total exchange-value is a hard problem (we do it, for example, mostly by looking at long-term price changes after the fact and applying a bugger factor by eyeball), but mostly because governments find it very hard to resist the urge to screw around with monetary policy. And inflation is awfully convenient if you get to keep the seigniorage, since it essentially functions as a stealth asset tax.

Aurifer was built to solve the former problem; the latter one? Well, that one is hard unless you happen to have people who really, really love money to put in charge and prevent it from being debased.

This is really problematic for commodity currencies, though, because you can’t control the money supply at all. What you have is what you get, and the value of your currency wanders all over the map just like the price of every other commodity. As Robert Houghton mentioned in the previous post’s comments, the experience of the Spanish post-Mesoamerican conquest is instructive, as their gold-glut-driven hyperinflation is the perfect go-to example for “but though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy”.

Which is to say: properly-managed fiat (which isn’t really fiat at all, because it is backed by something, just something abstract – which is what really backs all currencies, in the end – but I digress) may not be the best game in town for a reliable store of value, it’s just the only game in town.

Electronic currencies can be messed with, and the only reason the Eldraeverse gets away with it is because the guys obsessed with things like the rule of law, property rights and such also just so happen to be the top dog.

Technically, the Empire gets away with it because they just so happen to have the aforementioned money-lovers and a friendly fiscal god, not to mention the real check-and-balance, a free market in currencies rather than a de jure or de facto state monopoly.

The rest of the Worlds may, and indeed does, vary.

(We shall avoid making jokes about the volatility of the one mercury-based currency out there, or the stability of those based on (radioactive) power metals.

But we shall take a moment to note that the ergcred goes into crisis with every new power-plant megastructure that comes on line, the Bantral labor-hour [back when the People’s State was a going concern] traded externally for rather less than Chthonic Railway tokens, the linobir bloodnote’s worth depends on which clan issued it and what they’ve killed recently – as is its physical makeup, more often than not – the gAu’s value is inversely proportional to distance from the Core Markets, and the Kameqan thal is worth EXACTLY WHAT LORD BLACKFALL SAYS IT IS.)

IRL, gold will probably do just fine if the population keeps growing to keep pace (roughly) with the amount of gold out there (don’t forget, hardly anything reacts with / corrodes it). The Eldraeverse is often just a tad more utopian however.

Though mind you, the energy cost of stripping a planet / solar system / whatever of all its gold is going to be pretty high, perhaps even to the point where it’s not cost-effective to do so. The highest figure I’ve seen for gold on Earth is ~2.5 million tonnes (the lower figures are under 10% of that however), discounting the estimated 20mt in ocean water (GLHF filtering all that though)… combine that with the likelihood of finding much gold in asteroids (probably low, assuming denser asteroids tend to form / hit planets earlier than lighter ones), and there may not be THAT much [insert rare metal here] available.

This turns out not to be the case.

The best estimates I’ve seen for mined gold through all human history is on the order of 180,000 tonnes, with the USGS estimating that there’s maybe 50,000 more to mine, with some awaiting discovery on top of that. Not counting currently unexploitable sources like ocean water or mining the planetary core.

Let’s look at one particular example right here in our solar system: 16 Psyche. That particular asteroid is a nickel-iron metallic (i.e., probably chunk of the core of a protoplanet), and as such is much higher grade ore for both iron and all the other metals amalgamated into it than anything that exists on Earth now, and probably ever. It’s also about 120 miles across.

The iron alone is worth about $10 quintillion, before we even start looking at the gold and other precious metals. Ain’t no population can fuck fast enough to keep pace with that.

(On one hand, I might be stacking the deck a little since 16 Psyche is by far the biggest metallic asteroid out there. On the other hand, it’s a quintillion-dollar motherlode of the kind of ore that makes smelters do the dance of joy that is sitting right there, right now, just waiting to ruin incautious commodity traders’ whole decade, and there’s no point in pretending it ain’t.)

tl;dr When I wrote that the Age of Space was accompanied by the price of gold dropping to around where the price of iron used to be, and the price of iron zeroed out, I wasn’t just pulling numbers out of my ass.

(In-‘verse, when they want to drive this point home to people from peripheral worlds, they take them to see Celestial Mechanics, ICC’s main gravity tractor. The one that uses about 10% of Earth’s entire historical gold production – or a little over twice the total US gold reserves – neatly divided into kiloton slugs, as ballast.

This is assuming they didn’t get the point when some scruffy free trader filled his hold with exotic native handicrafts in exchange for the spare set of trimming weights that’d been slopping around the ship’s locker since ever, for a cool 10,000% profit margin.)

Fully backed (and crypto-) currencies are also nice in that nobody has central control over them when it comes to policies like printing money. Oh sure, you could have built up a secret stash of gold/BTC/etc, but that’s not nearly as easy as typing a few numbers into a computer to create new money. Plus, someone might (a) realise this, and factor your secret stash into the market prices, (b) steal it, or (c) destroy it (insert Bond reference here ).

That same quality, though, makes them lousy stores of value, because without the ability to match the money supply to the total exchange-value, you end up with either inflation, or deflation, or worse, both. Cryp has its virtues in terms of fiscal stealth, and as an investment, but it sucks as currency, because it fails one of the major purposes of the stuff.

Finally, stuff like gold has the handy trait of working at much simpler tech levels, for want of a better phrase. If that Carrington Event fries an eldrae colony’s electronics and they’re out of touch for a year (I’m sure they have fancy solutions, but it’s the principle not the specifics I’m concerned with), gold will still work just fine.

The solution is called “use the coinage as coinage without verifying it for the moment”. It’s not like the Empire wasn’t using gold, etc., coinage for centuries before anyone invented practical electricity.

But they were also aware that what gave that currency its value wasn’t the metal, it was the little engraving saying “By Our Imperial Word, One Esteyn”. Now that’s a promise you can take to the bank.

But it turns out that creating a liminal hyperintelligence that indwells your currency such that it can regulate its own value from a fiscally omniscient perspective works modestly well

I’m just a bit dubious about how this might work across anything more than planetary distances. Surely lightspeed lag would cause problems if this currency is seeing a lot of use? “Fiscally omniscient” sounds iffy to me.

There is FTL communication available, note (see “tangle channels”), but the important thing to make this work is that the instance-syncing can keep up with the speed of economic transactions. Where there’s light-lag, Aurifer’s instances updating each other is slower, but so is transaction clearing, so it can still keep up.

The Lover of Money

“How do you make money, the symbol of exchange-value, properly match the actuality of exchange-value? Every civilization struggles with that, except the ones who give up and treat the mismatch as an opportunity to steal from the future… But it turns out that creating a liminal hyperintelligence that indwells your currency such that it can regulate its own value from a fiscally omniscient perspective works modestly well. Once people come to terms with the notion of spending tiny particles of god, anyway.”

Rilia Cheraelar, Economist Excellence,
on Aurifer, the Fiscal Mind

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Troubles

So I just scribbled down some notes on the physical representation of the exval, the Accord on Trade’s exchange currency:

Exval notes are denominated in powers of two, from 20 through 27. Of these, the 1 exval and 2 exval notes bear a line-work drawing of the seal of the Conclave of Galactic Polities, and a stylization of the opening paragraphs of the Accords, respectively, while the 128 exval note bears a similar line-work drawing of the Conclave Drift itself.

The five middle notes, however, the 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 exval notes bear designs representing and selected by the five Presidium powers, although in the same line-work style; and to avoid giving any sense of precedence or priority, which design is applied to which note is rotated for each printing, although the dominant background color is not. (The confusion this causes among visually-oriented users of the exval’s physical currency is widely considered an example, among libertists, of how politics prevents us from having nice things.)

…you can pretty much blame the Leagues for that, incidentally. (The Empire taking the position of “oh, ffs, give us the one, we know that we’re awesome and that this argument is petty”, the Photonic Network having no use at all for physical currency, and the Echelons, while not immune to the lure of this sort of thing, being quite prepared to chill at least to the point of abstaining.)

But the really big political argument at the time was in the League of Meridian, over whether they wanted the sixtyfour (the highest denomination, value- and hence status-wise) or the four (of which there are the most around and thus get your design seen, whereas the sixtyfour is about as rare in use as the $50, or maybe even the $100).

…at least it kept the Senate and Congress of the League Assembled out of trouble for a couple of weeks.


A Little More Blegging

And now, an uncomfortable word from the author:

Here’s how it is.

Not to go into undue detail, but we’ve had kind of a difficult few months ’round here, with various unanticipated incidents and expenses, including some medical-type expenses, which are unfortunately proving quite a painful strain on the budget.

I’d like to start by thanking my existing patrons for keeping up their contributions and helping make this strain somewhat less.

But I’d also like to take a moment to say to other readers that – well, if you’ve been considering becoming a patron, or buying a book, or suchlike, this would be a really good time for it, and I’d appreciate it very much.

Thanks for listening.


Trope-a-Day: Screw The Money, I Have Rules!

Screw The Money, I Have Rules!: The subject of any of a few thousand plutarch fairy tales concerning the nature of money as a symbol, and the worthlessness of a symbol without the things that give it meaning.  (The Market Liberty Oversight Directorate, in particular, is particularly harsh on anyone whose approach to money or markets is harmful to said money or markets.)

(And given the very long lives most plutarchs can expect to have in a universe with immortagens, everyone understands that they’re playing the indefinite-iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, in which the winning superrational strategy is not to defect.)

Okay, This One *Is* A Bleg

Much as I hate to make one.

But it turns out that being an SF author anywhere but the Amazon Top 100 Sellers isn’t actually all that lucrative (who knew?) and that self-employment ties up much of your capital in product (who knew?) and that, well, sometimes the nature of an entropy-based universe and a scarcity economy means that shit happens and leaves you having a very, very broke couple of months (who knew, amirite? I demand to see life’s manager!)

In short, Your Humble Author needs to raise some cash, and would prefer to raise some cash in a way that doesn’t mean he has to take a whole bunch of time off from being Your Humble Author.

So, if you don’t already have a copy of Vignettes of the Star Empire or The Core War and Other Stories, and you would like to have one, or for that matter if you do but would like to give one to a friend, let me just say that now would be a great time for me, and hey, if you want a signed copy, I can do that for you for Amazon price plus further postage. Just leave a comment so I can contact you and we’ll sort it out.

Apart from that, if you’re enjoying what you read here and you haven’t seen my Patreon, let me point you at it. I do enjoy and intend to keep writing, and I am appreciative of all my readers, but, well… writers (and their dogs) have to eat, y’know?

Moar please?

May I have some more?

And as such I will be super-extra-appreciative of those readers who’d like to appreciate my writing in cash, belike. (Or, if you can’t or don’t want to sign up to a recurring deal, I have a PayPal link over on the right, too. And y’all will also be much appreciated.)

Trope-a-Day: Piecemeal Funds Transfer

Piecemeal Funds Transfer: Played straight, as the original trope suggests might be the case, with certain non-mainstream anonymous/secure cryptographic currencies (known as “cryp scrip”, or just “cryp” for short), in which each currency unit is its own cryptographically signed token that must be processed individually and sequentially to do the transfer.

Trope-a-Day: No Paper Future

No Paper Future: Played mostly straight.  And there aren’t many data rods around either, except in specialist applications; ubiquitous wireless networking, and the slate (i.e., future-iPad-analog) replace them more or less completely for routine applications.  (And no, unlike Star Trek, no-one has a stack of slates on their desk.)  Of the paper documents that do exist, most of them are smart-paper that can electronically edit itself or become other documents or its own appendices.  Actual paper tends to be a mark of the very traditional on special occasions.

(Actual paper books are a little more common than random paper documents, but even they are collectors’ items.  That said, there are entire bound books made up internally of smart-paper, so you can keep a bookshelf in your house which can change to contain whatever books you need from your (bigger) e-book library essentially on-demand. [Incidentally, as an author’s note, you have no idea how much I want this technology.  Really.  You don’t.])

Money-wise, it’s similar.  While there is still metal coinage and paper money – well, plastic-silk money – around, virtually all transactions are done digitally across the data network.  The physical currency exists nearly exclusively for certain types of anonymous transaction, traditionalists, and eccentrics.

Trope-a-Day: Morally Bankrupt Banker

Morally Bankrupt Banker: Subverted; most Imperial bankers (especially those from Gilea & Co.) are very, very moral people.  By the eldrae’s rigidly propertarian standards, and with total dedication to the Principle of Money and the sacred trust that is his fiduciaries’ wealth, which isn’t necessarily the kind of fluffiness most people think of when they say “morality” in this context, but is also very distinct from not having any.

Money, What Does It Look Like?

So, this is something that I posted to one of the worldbuilding lists I’m on, for sundry reasons, and so I thought I’d post it here too: if you’ve ever, at various times in the past when I’ve mentioned money, or at least physical money, wondered just what it looks like – well, now you know.


Despite the modern prevalence of virtual, digital currency, the Empire still issues ‘paper’ notes and coins. The current issues are designed to be difficult to counterfeit, to be long-lasting, and to be convenient to carry. This physical currency is produced in three media: coins, bills and certificates (a.k.a. super-bills). For these purposes, the standard unit of currency is the esteyn, divided into twenty-four lumenis, each divided into twelve selenis each (288 selenis to the esteyn). There is also a larger denomination, the arien, equal to six esteyn.

Each esteyn coin, bill, and certificate is imprinted with the legend, “By Our Imperial Word, One Esteyn” (or whatever the denomination happens to be). Most people leave it there, but were you to go to the Exchequer and ask, “Ah, what word exactly?”, what they would tell you is that the guarantee is that what Yesterday’s Esteyn would buy, Today’s Esteyn will buy, and what Today’s Esteyn bought, Tomorrow’s Esteyn will also buy; that is, that it’s a reliable store of value that doesn’t have an accidental or deliberate inflationary or deflationary trend to it.

Each of these possesses a unique digital signature embedded within the medium; a v-tag – designed to only be operable at short range to prevent thieves from using it to detect concentrations of money – can return the unique signature of each currency unit, including its denomination as well as its serial code, when queried, and each unit can also be checked for validity against the Imperial Banking & Credit Weave.


Coins are used for all denominations below and including the arien. These coins are struck from a proprietary coin-metal alloy by the Office of the Mint; this alloy is extremely hard and readily takes tinct, and contains signature trace elements designed to be unique to Imperial coinage. The coins themselves use size and predominant color to indicate denomination, and incorporate the standard currency v-tag and embedded anti-counterfeiting technologies.

Each coin contains a delicate line-work etching of the Imperial Couple (in whose reign the coin was minted; there are usually a dozen variants in circulation at any one time) on the obverse, with their names and titles encircling the portraits in elaborately scrolled cursive text. The value of the coin is given at the base of the portraits in simple figures, and by a series of raised dots in the upper right quadrant.

The reverse of the coin is marked with a number of different designs, depending upon the coin’s denomination, as listed in the table below (primary denominations are tinted); note, of course, that these represent the current mintings and historical coinage may differ. On the milled edge of each coin is inscribed the Imperial motto, “Order, Progress, Liberty”.

Denomination Color Design
= ¼ selenis
= 1/48 lumenis
= 1/1152 esteyn

Brass tinct. An upraised hammer.
= 1/12 lumenis
= 1/288 esteyn

Copper tinct. A single ripe peach.

= 2 selenis
= 1/144 esteyn

Copper tinct. Sword and rifle, crossed.

= 4 selenis
= 1/72 esteyn

Copper tinct. A stylized atom design inside a laboratory flask.

= 6 selenis
= 1/48 esteyn

Copper tinct. An ékaláman (Eliéran wyvern) in flight.
= 12 selenis
= 1/24 esteyn

Silver tinct; gold inlay on the sun. Crescent moon and sun.

= 2 lumenis
= 1/12 esteyn

Silver tinct. A portrait; traditionally that of someone whom the Imperial Couple wish to honor for some act of note. This portrait is frequently changed, often as frequently as four or five times per year, and so double-lumenis of many different issues circulate together.

= 4 lumenis
= 1/6 esteyn

Silver tinct. A harp and quill.

= 6 lumenis
= 1/4 esteyn

Silver tinct. A pattern of interlocking cogs, ringed by lightning.

= 12 lumenis
= ½ esteyn

Silver tinct. The Borromean rings, traditional Imperial symbol of order, progress, and liberty.
= 288 selenis
= 24 lumenis
= 1/6 arien

Gold tinct. The fundamental unit of Imperial currency, the esteyn bears the Imperial Star alone.
= 120 lumenis
= 6 esteyn
White-gold / platinum tinct. The “constellation” formed by the stars of the original Thirteen Colonies along with the eldrae homestars.



Imperial bills, used for denominations of one arien (also minted as coinage) and greater, are constructed of a special plastic silk laminate that remains clean and has a very long use life. Bills are almost impossible to tear, won’t burn, and incorporate a large number of anti-counterfeiting technologies because of their unique method of manufacture. Plastic silk fibers are combined under high temperature and pressure and extruded as a rectangular bundle of great length. The differently-colored fibers form the pattern of the bill, not printed on but actually made a part of the structure of the bill. The bundle is then sliced to paper thickness, and a unique 14-character code and v-tag microtransponder is added for uniqueness. Bills are issued in denominations of six, twelve, twenty-four, seventy-two, 144, 864, 1728, and 20,736 esteyn.

The bills have been standardized at 2½ x 6 inches. They can be bulky in large enough quantities; a thousand bills stand two inches high and weigh one pound. Value is denoted by background tint color, face printing, and tactile impressions. Each bill has a portrait of the Imperial Couple in the left two-thirds of the obverse, the remainder of the space being taken up by the promise of value from the Exchequer and associated signatures, including the Imperial word. The design of the reverse varies, as indicated by the following table:

Denomination Color Design
Es. 6 / Arien

White Gilea Cheraelar, founder of the Invisible Exchequer and major figure in early Imperial banking, stands outside Worth House holding a merchant’s scale.
Es. 12

Blue The skyline of Calmiríë, centered on the Imperial Palace, with cranes on the wing above it.
Es. 24

Green A portrait of Sung Iliastren, the Father of Science, working in his alchemical lab.
Es. 72

Red Stane Vitremarvis, inventor of the Stannic cogitator, working at the console of one of the original “brass brains”.
Es. 144

Purple Calria Adae-ith-Adae and Airin Muetry-ith-Mirari, first sophs to land on the moon Seléne, standing at the base of the ladder of Silverfall Four.
Es. 864

Gold-yellow Symbolic representation of the process of nucleonic fusion that goes on in stars.
Es. 1728

Gold-yellow A portrait of Imogen Andracanth, inventor of the traversable wormhole, with a stargate in the background, through which a starship is currently making transit.
Es. 20,736

Gold-yellow A portrait of the economist Períne Cyprium-ith-Elethandrion, superimposed upon a fully-loaded Tyrnííché-class megafreighter.



Certificates resemble bills of denominations higher than 20,736 esteyn, but are a standard 4 x 8 inches, with extensive anti-counterfeiting technologies embedded in them. They are rarely circulated and are used primarily for bank to bank transfers, along with letters of credit, bearer bonds, and other negotiable instruments.

Trope-a-Day: Fictional Currency

Fictional Currency: First, see Global Currency for the most widespread of these: the Imperial esteyn, the Accord exval, the Rim Free Zone’s ergcred, the universal-if-useless gAu, gAg and gPt, the information-currency finality, and so forth.

Then there are the Empire’s internal currency (for all practical purposes, sets of denominations of the esteyn, but they were independent currencies once): the Cestian bright, the Selenarian imperator, the Veranthyr oakworth, the Cimonië kal, the mechanician-scrip cog, the Melchar pyracie, and so forth.

And the independent currencies of all the various polities of the Worlds and beyond: the Voniensan hourly (which is not, they insist, not a currency), the tennoa reiutil, the codramaju biopoint, the Magen croluyn… and many others as yet undefined.

Trope-a-Day: Global Currency

Global Currency: Played straight, twice, and arguably more often.

The first of them is the Empire’s esteyn, acceptable everywhere in it and existing in the interests of internal free trade.  It’s a quasi-fiat currency, managed by the Imperial Board of Money and Values to avoid either inflationary or deflationary tendencies to provide a reliable store of exchange-value.  It’s acceptable anywhere the Imperial writ runs, in quanta from the micro-esteyn to the mega-esteyn, and is denominated in a truly remarkable range of values as well as its official ones, inasmuch as to simplify the transition, most of the local currencies which formerly existed were redefined as new denominations of the esteyn.

(The management is done on the basis of an energy/cycle index, these days, modified for secular productivity changes due to innovation.  It used to be done on the basis of a rather broader basket of commodities, likewise modified, but the advances in nanofacturing and automation technology have thinned it quite considerably, in consequence.  Also, while technically it’s done by the IBMV, in practice, in the modern era, most of the day-to-day work is done by a massively-distributed AI which extends itself all through everywhere there is an economy and keeps track of those statistics which it needs to know to make things work.)

The second is the Accord exval, an interstellar exchange currency between and supported by the signatories to the Accord on Trade, and managed by the Conclave and the Galactic Trade Association on their behalf – or rather by their tame AI – to be valued at the real-time floating average value of the currencies of each of the members.  (This makes it rather more volatile than the esteyn, both because many members prefer to hide or play silly-bugger games with their actual economic numbers, and because enough of its members are AI-phobic enough that the GTA’s AI is nowhere near as intelligent or self-directing as the Empire’s Fiscal Prime.  Some people evidently find it hard to turn control over to a machine that’s smarter than they are.)  The exval is not, for the most part, a real currency – it’s money of account and exchange currency, used to optimize cross-polity electronic currency transfers and make it easier to track the real values of foreign-held assets – and to let working spacers and tourists know what the actual prices of things are as they spend (most polities that receive any amount of tourism, and just about all the starports/startowns, dual-label goods in local money and Accord exvals; which one gets the round number and which one floats tends to vary by location).

There are a number of other currencies of general acceptability; the venerable gAu, gAg, and gPt can be traded anywhere, although you need so damn much of them given modern mining technology and its effect on the value of the underlying metals, it’s hardly worth bothering anywhere off Hicksworld.  The energy (usually antimatter) backed, fully convertible, ergcred is sometimes seen, especially out towards the Rim Free Zone.  A few of the higher-infotech societies out there occasionally talk up the virtues of the finality – and use it between themselves – backed by irreversible computational operations, but have trouble selling it to people of less infogeekery.

Fantastic Measurement Systems: Some Notes

Copied and pasted from the G+ comment thread on this trope-a-day, as I deem it worth repeating for other interested parties:

Jasper Janssen:

I assume there is lots of vocal arguing about why don’t you simply adopt a straight duodecimal system, get with the program man, it isn’t 5145 any more!

Actually… no, not really.

This all ties back to one of the fundamental psychological differences between Homo sapiens and Eldrae alathis . Namely, that our brains are literally hard-wired to generate error signals when we see other human-shaped things disagreeing with us. We’re programmed right down at the meat level to tell other people that They’re Doing It Wrong, or to suffer mental stress when other people Tell Us That We’re Doing It Wrong.

The eldrae don’t have that innately, and while they have a scientific understanding that some minds can be wired that way, they don’t really grok the urge.

The powers-of-12 system was invented by the Fellowship of Natural Philosophy (the largest and oldest of the scientific branches) because it was useful for the sort of things they do. But it never occurred to them that they ought to go out and tell everyone else that they were doing it wrong. Sure, they published it for anyone who wanted to use it to use, but that’s about as far as it went.

And even if they had , the Edifacient Sodality of Bakers and Pastrywrights (say), would just have come back to them with, “Okay, so, show me how this will lead to better pie?” As far as they’re concerned, they’ve got a perfectly cromulent system of units already, optimized over literally hundreds if not thousands of years for the purpose of helping them turn assorted ingredients into delicious pastry. They’re smart, rational people; they’ll listen to practical arguments for adopting it, but they don’t feel any urge to change just for the sake of it, because they’re Doing It Wrong, or because there’s a One Right Way to do it, and were you to make that argument to them, they’d still be waiting for your point after you were done.

(As a not unrelated psychological quirk, they find the parallel existence of multiple ways of doing things natural in a way that we don’t. Even the most rabid individualist running on human hardware has to silence or otherwise deal with that little nagging inner voice that wants to conform with the group. We define ourselves, as humans, largely by reference to other people.

They… really don’t. The dominant inner voices an eldrae is listening to concern themselves with devotion to ideals – which they call estxijir – and to their brilliant, shining, unattainably perfect Platonic ideal of themselves – and that one’s valxijir. Notions, on the other hand, like conformity or relative status games don’t form part of their psychology, and even social identity per se barely gets a look in. Those are concepts both alien and, for that matter, deeply creepifying.

All of which alien minds are alien foo is background to say that the competitive-standards, This Is The Way Of Progress, All Right-Thinking People silent arguments for, say, metrication bounce right off people who see measurement systems only as tools to be used to help them immanentize their awesome, when relevant and best for the task at hand, and not as signifiers of anything at all.)

So, practical arguments (“Makes better pastry! For Great Excellence!”) work. (And, indeed, there are branches which advocate various systems for various things on those grounds.)

Coordination / specific consistency arguments work – everyone understands why the Spaceflight Initiative declares that everyone contracted onto one of their projects will compute trajectories, etc., in the powers-of-12 system and otherwise use Lorith-Llyn Engineering Units.

And some de facto standards exist – when Llyn Standard Manufacturing, ICC, declares that they’re calibrating all their components in Lorith-Llyn Engineering Units, the majority follows suit because it’s just common sense to be compatible with the 800-pound gorilla in the field.

But absent something like that, no traction is there to be had.

Jasper Janssen:

I did say duodecimal, not decimal — nothing wrong with factors of twelve per se. What bothers me about the outlined system is the spurious factor of 2 you introduce by using a 24 there. That makes calculations needlessly difficult when they have to cross that boundary, which is particularly annoying if you have a (monetary) system that goes from macro to micro with all nice and regular duodecimal factors and that one factor of 2 in there.

And conceptually, it also makes it not a power of twelve system, which itches my brain.

Oh, just the money , right. I thought you were talking about weights and measures systems in general (which, aside from the strict powers-of-12 system used for scientific purposes, includes all manner of irregular factors around the same base units).

Well, that started out that way for much the same reason that many non-decimal currencies here did – when setting up the esteyn way, way, way, way, way back in history, it turned out that 1/144th of it was an inconveniently large penny-equivalent unit. 1/288th, on the other hand, was just right , and in practice, since most people just had to worry about the selenis being 1/24th of a lumenis most of the time (an esteyn being a big chunk’o’money), that’s why the difference is where it is.

(There’s also a factor of 6 further up – 6 esteyn = 1 arien – but an arien is almost purely money-of-account used under certain specialized circumstances, like guineas, so.)

Why didn’t they duodecimalize it later?  Well, three reasons:

(a) The size factor of the penny-equivalent unit still applied. Es. 1/144 was too large. Es 1/1728 was way too small. And just as in the weights-and-measures systems that are focused on non-scientific functions, people want to use units scaled to be optimal for their common usage.

It’s not optimal from the point of view of centralizing standardization, etc., or mathematical purism, but – since the people who run the monetary system are the people who have money-focused estxijir and they think it’s optimal from the point of view of how people actually use their cashy money – fitness for purpose kicks both of those in the face and does it its way;

(b) I’m actually pretty sure the “easy calculation” aspect never came up in their context, simply because their society – for a variety of reasons too lengthy to go into in this comment: genetic, demographic, economic, religious – achieved widespread literacy and numeracy both somewhere around the early Bronze Age – so by the time people might have been mooting the idea of duodecimalization, it simply wouldn’t have occurred to anyone that handling these irregular factors wasn’t already about as don’t-consciously-think-about-it mathematically trivial as it could get;

and (c), it being a free society and all, anyone who found it useful (some accountants, the Guild of Numbers, difference engine Stannic cogitator programmers, etc.) was perfectly at liberty to write currency amounts as a single number of esteyn with a duodecimal point in it if they wanted to. And thus, they did.

And as per (b) above, people generally considered it intuitively obvious that something priced as four-and-ten cost Es. 0.46.

Trope-a-Day: Fantastic Measurement System

Fantastic Measurement System: Well, yes.  Both for money (the esteyn, to match base-12 Imperial mathematics, uses the 288-system: 12 selenis to the lumenis, 24 lumenis to the esteyn, and also goes down so far as to include special units for micropayments and up so far as to include units convenient for major bank transfers – particularly important since there’s not a standardized international clearing mechanism, making correspondent banks, letters of credit and currency transfers matters of some importance);

And for everything else.  The time measurement system has already been mentioned (see Alternative Calendar), but of course, there’s also the Imperial System (sic) of general measurement, notable for basing its core units on the Planck units, and permitting them to be scaled up and down using the equivalent of SI prefixes, or their base-12 equivalents, for scientific purposes, but also including traditional units (after the fashion of the traditional US or Imperial systems) based off the same core units for convenience in non-scientific situations, including a variety of craft- or task-based units which bake sensible basic assumptions, safety margins, etc. right into the measurement system.

If this sounds complicated, it is; their point of view on that amounts to, essentially, “cope”.