Image from Juan Ochoa

Commerce is defined as a transaction (i.e sale and purchase) of a commodity (i.e goods and services). Any exchange of currency for a product, service or information is considered an act of commerce. While the style of these transactions has taken many forms over the timeline of Terragen civilization, this basic definition still holds true even today.

Among other factors, technology can have a direct effect on the nature of commerce. The speed at which delivery of a commodity can be made is vital to the end profitability of the transaction. For example while even primtech allows for global transactions - the silk trade of old earth with evidence of intercontinental commerce as far back as -3039 a.t for instance — e-commerce, as found in the information age, allowed global transactions to occur in real time. After the advent of nanofabrication the idea of products as commodities began to diminish. Because the finished goods no longer needed to be stored or shipped, the cost of doing business was reduced. This had the effect of reducing the purchase price, and increasing the consumer's ability to make more purchases. As a tertiary effect it also served to satiate a consumer's need for immediate gratification, which also promoted additional transactions. There is a misconception that nanofabrication accelerated the speed of commerce, as e-commerce had before it. This usually stems from confusion regarding the differences between similar terms like business or trade. Trade is merely a subset within commerce, the silk trade previously mentioned above for example, and business is the vehicle by which commerce is conducted. The reality is that nanofabrication increased the volume of commerce (number of transactions) while e-commerce had accelerated the speed at which these transactions (sale and purchase) occurred. During this era fortunes were won and lost at a previously unheard of rate. The window of opportunity with new technology went from months to days — or even hours — as competitors were no longer bound by distribution networks to move their products on a global scale.

As is often the case with new technology, many hailed the idea of nanofabrication as the end of economic scarcity — this would have spelled the end of commerce as we know it, but this was not to be the case. Nano-fabrication did change the form of commerce. Especially in the early years, nanofabricators could not create everything one might need, and the many things they could create required raw materials. The increased demand on these raw materials created a subsequent increase in their cost — a simple matter of supply and demand. In some cases members of the populace would use the nano-fabs to disassemble goods, allowing the raw materials to be recycled. This became a distinguishing factor of wealth. Those who could maintain larger pools of feedstock, could maintain their possessions longer than those with lesser supplies. Nanofabrication did not eliminate economic scarcity, it simply altered the commodities that were considered scarce.

Commerce continued at a rapid pace until the Technocalypse of the 6th century nearly wiped out Terragen mindkind. As civilization recovered during the 900's in the form of the First Federation, commerce recovered with it. This led to the resurrection of the megacorporations whose power dominated the commercial environment for the next 1200 years.

It was during the early interstellar era of the 12th century that technology began changing the face of commerce yet again. Terragen life found itself spread across a myriad of planetary systems, each divided by the vast distances of interstellar space. This ended the days of near instant transactions as even e-commerce was limited by the speed of light. Physically transporting materials became impractical for all but the wealthiest consumers, and was reduced to only the rarest of commodities. A side effect of this isolation was a reduction in the import reliance seen among planetary, or single star system societies. No colony could expect to survive if it relied on outside resources. A fact that further reduced the need to transport materials between the stars. Information did continue to flow during this time, in the form of templates and other new designs, but the nature of commerce had reverted to a form akin to that of the days of Marco Polo. While mindkind expanded out from Solsys, the megacorporations acted decisively in order to secure their positions. Many remembered the lessons of the early federation period. Each understood that control of resources and new technology was vital to maintaining their hard earned power structures. By routing new technology through their various dispersed companies, it was possible to extend the life expectancy of any new developments, and therefore increase their profitability.

Although limited in scope, commerce in material commodities was still required. While these may have been limited to the occasional collectors items, artworks or unusually rare raw materials, the need still existed. The cost of conducting such a transaction can be calculated by examining the variables:

Cost equals (1 + I%)^2T * Fr * P * Fc

I% equals Possible return if the fiscal resources were invested at home.

T equals Time to complete one leg of the trip (years)

Fr equals Amount of fuel required per kg of payload (kg)

P equals Amount of payload (kg)

Fc equals Cost of fuel per kg

  • This formula does not account for any of the normal costs one might expect in day-to-day business. Examples would be the value of the ship, the crew (or other personnel) and/or other overhead that may exist outside the trip itself.
  • Information transported by ship has a mass during transit by way of the storage medium within which it is contained.
  • Certain godtech devices such as void motes can also alter the overall formula. Void motes for example have a specific cost of production and an expected life expectancy. Therefore the cost of their use is simply a matter of knowing that production cost, and what percentage of their life expectancy will be used for the trip in question.
In 2038 technology changed the face of commerce yet again. With the development and distribution of comm-gauge wormholes the stars were accessible once more. Combining the millennia old technology of nanofabrication with this enhanced ability to communicate, e-commerce came into its golden age. Now suppliers could be in contact with their clients with only minor delays. Information transactions, not unlike those seen during the early nanotech era, once again dominated Terragen commerce.

The 2100's ushered in the age of the archailects, and brought with them a host of changes to the methodology of commerce. As a cultural / political force the archai spelled the end of the megacorporations dominance of commerce. In fact it was this direct threat to their power that caused many of the megacorps to develop the associations that would later become the NoCoZo. Following closely behind the arrival of the archai, the appearance of traversable wormholes in 2110 continued the flow of change. For the growing number of systems connected by the Nexus, travel times were reduced from years to months. Although still not as fast as simple information transfer, these traversable wormholes did drive down the cost for desired specialty items and materials.

Today commerce within the Terragen sphere is a complex affair. Every empire / polity has some form of currency, although the cultural mores within each have a dramatic impact on how that currency is utilized. Within these mega-markets are a variety of sub-markets based around sub-cultures, each adding to the complexity of successful transactions. While a vast amount of commerce is conducted via the Known Net and nano- / bio-fabrication, even today not all systems are connected to the Nexus. This is especially true as one approaches the Outer Volumes. For those systems lacking wormhole connectivity the cost can be very high, as they are always on the following edge of culture and technology. In the modern galaxy wormhole connectivity can be used as a tool for applying political pressure. A system in political disfavor can find itself suddenly isolated, and subsequently its economy in disarray. Despite the challenges, with a little care and planning the galaxy is still teeming with opportunities for the commercially minded.

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Development Notes
Text by Chris Shaeffer
Initially published on 28 November 2007.