Economics to Politics
Management: While my opinion of the show is positive overall, this essay, by no means, is meant to serve as a comprehensive review, but rather, as an articulation and analysis of some of what I feel is this series’ most integral and interesting themes. This essay, in particular, takes from Episodes 8-10 of Spice and Wolf and Episode 1 of Maoyuu Maou Yuusha.
Calculus courses and statistical computations don’t come easily on me, and you can’t pay me enough to retake another year on physics. Needless to say, I’ve never been big on math, and one of the reasons I prefer studying the social sciences is because of my admittedly petty aversion to number crunching. I prefer studying the humanities partly because I loathe numbers. I had a dream once where I was attacked by numbers.
It seems somewhat contradictory then that I invested all this time learning about the breath and depth of political science if a major, if not the major component understanding political science is understanding economics. Economics, after all, is typically characterized by myriad accounts of large and every changing numbers lining across stock market monitors.
I’m admittedly apprehensive of the complicated numerical calculations I may inevitably have to force myself to rote and, eventually, cognitive memory, but understanding the fundamental waves of economic currents doesn’t actually require a complicated understanding of numbers. I mean, economics use numbers, but they’re only important for general comprehension in so far as they demarcate the relative values of concepts such as the magnitudes of rates of flow in trade, the concentrations of disparities in assets, and the prices of goods and services for examination. From these comparative studies, we get headings and directions, trends and patterns that, boiled down, are often ultimately the result of politics.
The variety in anime has produced two good examples that demonstrate the interconnectedness of politics and economics: Spice and Wolf and Maoyuu Maou Yuusha.
Though not strictly defined by numbers, some economics concepts need some explanation. Economics can be roughly divided into two general fields: microeconomics and macroeconomics. Microeconomics deals with the localized environment of economics, the behavior of individuals and organizations in reaction to events that perpetuate or challenge the status quo of the local market. Macroeconomics deals with the overall environment of economics, the trends and patterns of economic activity derived from the sum of microeconomic transactions.
Within both of these fields, economics, including in both Spice and Wolf and Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, is generally dictated by two basic principles: supply and demand and the rational actor model. Individuals and organizations react to periods of stability or fluctuations of instability in the supply of goods and services from suppliers, and the demand of goods and services from consumers. Reactions are based on the paradigm of a rational actor. In the marketplace, suppliers and consumers are generally benefit heavy and cost averse in terms of profit, the most net gain of money or capital for the supplier, and the least net loss in both money and quality for the consumer.
Wolf, Microeconomics, and Politics
Spice and Wolf is about journeys, literal and romantic, and microeconomics. On their journey to the North, Lawrence Craft and Holo work together to make money along the way. Lawrence is a traveling merchant, in addition to escorting his wolf-goddess companion to her homeland, is striving to dream to save enough capital to built a large shop and settle down. But at the very least, he has to make sure he and Holo doesn’t starve and freeze to death. The details of his trade consist of him purchasing a stock of one good from one area and selling said stock in another area for profit. He seeks to maximize that by purchasing his goods at the lowest price he can negotiate to while selling his goods at the highest price he can manage, keeping his reputation as an honest and reliable merchant in mind lest he spurn the potential more profitable business than he would be otherwise allowed to presently make.
The details of the example begins in Episode 8, “Wolf and Virtuous Scales.” Lawrence and Holo, working together, manage to negotiate a seemingly handsome deal with a merchant who tried to trick the two out of parting their pepper supply using a rigged set of scales and spiked drinks. Rather than being paid money up front, Lawrence decides to double dip on numerous sets of armor and weapons at seemingly low prices, driving himself in presumably temporary debt using credit. Credit, earlier explained, is a means to protect a merchant’s capital from highwaymen on the road. A merchant’s entire life’s savings, understandably, tended to be attractive targets, and being robbed of it is, understandably, ruinous to a merchant’s livelihood in the event that that merchant’s life was spared. However, using credit is effectively a type of loaning, and money loaned must be money paid. Lawrence took more value out of military equipment than he had in personal assets, with the expectation that he would sell his stock in the next town fairly quickly and make more than enough to cover it. The demand for armor and weapons, after all, was fairly stable.
Except in reality, the demand for armor and weapons had crashed some time ago. The demand for these goods were sustained by an annual campaign called the Northern Expedition, a military excursion to the North called by the Church to reclaim land from the pagan faith. The Church called it off, and the armor and weapons market consequently collapsed. Unlike the up-to-second monitors that line the interiors of stock exchanges, seismic political events of that nature are carried around through word of mouth, mainly via meet-up with merchants.
The merchant that attempted to deceive Lawrence earlier knew of the Church’s decree. In failing with his initial deliberate attempt to cheat him of some, he inadvertently, but ultimately, succeeded in swindling Lawrence out of so much more. Lawrence exchanged a valuable good for one that was practically worthless. To make matters worse, that deceitful merchant sold his debt to a fairly large and influential regional trade guild.
Lawrence was brought into deep debt. He couldn’t claim to have been cheated to this association since it would seem that he was reneging on repaying his debt. There was no way to prove he had been swindled. Actually reneging on his debt and fleeing would damage his credibility to the extent that he could never make a living as a merchant again due to word spreading. Trading associations have great strategic incentive to participate in denouncing and even hunting down fugitive debtors to prevent a domino effect of debtors, one after the other, defaulting on their loans. The normative economic regime of lex mercantia, or “merchant’s law,” had to be respected for the sake of the wider system of medieval commerce. Taking responsibility for that debt by doing hard labor wasn’t much attractive an option either. Years of back-breaking labor in a coal mine where the mortality rates of workers are fairly high. To avoid that fate, Lawrence struggles for the remaining part of the arc trying to earn money quickly enough to get out of debt.
— Macroeconomics and Politics. — I… Refuse?
Maoyuu Maou Yuusha is also about journeys, literal and romantic, and macroeconomics. In any other show, Yuusha, or the Hero (literally the Hero), and Maou, or Demon King (literally the Demon King), would have in a confrontation that would have stereotypically played out with the just and righteous Hero besting the big bad Demon King in a lethal armed struggle and saving the good human nations from the evil demon hordes. Episode 1, “– You will be mine, Hero. — I refuse!” has her explaining that it’s not as simple as that. The fact that she’s female in this seeming dichotomy rather than male challenges that. What also challenges that is that she’s not that powerful herself. She’s powerless to stop Hero from killing her if he so chose, and powerless to stop the war between humans and demons, even if she so wished.
And she does wish. She wishes for the war to finally conclude and for humans and demons to coexist and prosper from each other without war being a precondition, to see climb and see the other side of the hill no one has yet to see, but she lacks the political power to bring that to fruition. Even as the Demon King, she can’t accomplish a satisfactory end because the respect for her authority isn’t absolute, and the way to achieve an end herself is to acquire absolute and tyrannical power, something she is simultaneously unable and unwilling to do. It’s this reason, among many others, that she explains to Hero that killing her won’t bring the peace he wants. The powers that be, both demon and human, are to blame. And why do the powers that be, both demon and human, want the war to continue?
Humans and demons do coexist and prosper mutually. They do so because of war, however. They don’t coexist peacefully, and because of that, none of the benefits accrued from war are distributed without vast inequity and bloodshed. And it’s not just a matter of private companies profiting from war proceeds. For instance, whole human-ruled kingdoms, whole human-governed political systems, profit from the status quo.
The world and continent human-kind is native to is geopolitically divided into Northern and Southern Kingdoms. The Sourthern Kingdoms suffer from harsh winters and poor soil, so for the longest time the southern commonfolk have consistently faced poverty, starvation, and cold. That changed when their lands became the front lines of the war effort, when the Southern Kingdoms were bolstered with badly needed supplies from the Northern Kingdoms due to an alliance of convenience where the Southern Kingdoms act as fleshy a bulwark for the Northern Kingdoms against the demon hordes. The Northern Kingdoms demand security and the Southern Kingdoms demand food provisions and military equipment. The Northern Kingdoms benefit from the relative safety, economic business, and political hegemony, and the Southern Kingdoms get to not starve, albeit at the price of constant blood-letting. Economic transactions occur, but the trade’s hardly fair, and hardly sustainable, considering the Southern Kingdoms can lose only so much bodily fluid before succumbing to blood loss.
Politics to Economics
Economic conditions affect people, and people react to these conditions. These conditions can be negative, and people, as a result, try to overcome them in the present and anticipate and circumvent them in the future. To do so, however, requires understanding the cause of these economic conditions, which often happen to be political in nature.
Lawrence learns powerful lessons in managing risk and keeping a vigilant ear to current events to avoid future crises. However, there isn’t much Lawrence can do to alter the politics of the Church in his favor. Hero learns from Demon King that changing the political status quo of war to peace, a status quo that’s maintained because of the current economic paradigm by altering prevailing economic incentives. Encouraging the Southern Kingdoms to become more self-sufficient in procuring their own sustenance. Weaning them from economic dependence on the Northern Kingdoms and transforming the system, rather than killing individual people, promises better dividends.