Recently, I've encountered several blog posts advocating reading inside and outside your genre (Literary Lab, Magical Words). I subscribe to a number of magazines. Recently, The New Yorker has an article (Prophet Motive by John Cassidy) discussing the lagging economies of the Arab world and whether Islam might be the cause. I found the article fascinating because of specific things that cause non-obvious effects.
They discussed particular effects the Koran has on business:
- it prohibits Usury (riba), or the lending of money at unreasonably high interest rates;
- required two-thirds of a Muslim's estate be split amongst his heirs;
- and encouraged trade.
However, the article explains that political governance this curious business more than religion. The Ottoman Empire expanded few resources in provincial areas to invest in the future and therefore discouraged development. Islamic countries have had economic success. Turkey is the 15th largest economy and Egypt and Tunisia -- where there has been political upheaval -- have seen steady increases in their GDP. This latter point is curious since I thought economics was part of the problem in the Arab world.
Some of the complaints in the Arab world include: high food prices, unemployment, and corruption. The interesting point is that infant mortality has declined significantly in the last thirty years and has caused the high unemployment.
From the standpoint of world building, I'm really intrigued by two parts of this article. The first is the unintended consequences of inheritance. I doubt it was introduced to discourage industry, especially, at the time there was probably few businesses where this would matter. Effectively, religions and governments create rules and and then the world changes. Not all of these rules will necessarily fit well once the world has changed. Also, I seem to recall having read something about England or Europe and how the Industrial Revolution was partially powered by having too many children to inherit from their parents and therefore being forced to find other ways to make a living. However, I can't recall the exact situation but it's interesting in the way it plays with the same type of rules.
The second intriguing aspect was the effect of an increase in population on the economy. In particular, a swelling of youth resulted in fewer jobs being available for them. Ironically, the unemployment for college-educated twenty-year-olds is much higher than less skilled workers.
I've written one short story that explores economics and population and the effects this has on the world. Have you read or written stories that play with these themes?