Supposedly, the Galactic Imperium is feudal - economic resources, specifically land/planets, are held by noble houses who have relative monopoly over coercive force; and control of economic operations / resources is part of politics among the houses and in court. Houses have vassals and men-at-arms, or men-at-other-instruments - which do not seem to be working for pay, but rather being bonded permanently (unless they defect and run away maybe).

At the same time, there's an imperium-wide currency (the Solari), and spice melange has a monetary value.

Now, admittedly, I have not seriously read any of the books in a very long while, and I've not read the Brian Herbert novels at all, but - can someone provide an overview of what we know about...

  • What parts of the Galactic economy and social life are based on commodity exchange via money?
  • Who issues money?
  • What's the basis of the monetary system (backed by precious substance, debt based, arbitrary fiat etc)?
  • Are there large-scale non-noble-house Capitalists (= people who amass money and/or high-liquidity assets)? I'm assuming smugglers don't really count.
  • dune.wikia.com/wiki/Solari – Valorum Oct 11 '17 at 20:43
  • youtube.com/watch?v=PIAXG_QcQNU – Valorum Oct 11 '17 at 20:51
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    I don't think there's any grounds for saying men-at-arms and other staff are not working for pay. On the contrary, there are plenty of references to how expensive it is to pay for forces; one of the motivations behind the Emperor's actions in Dune is precisely that the Duke - who is relatively poor - has been able to train a small band of warriors to be hugely effective, negating the numerical superiority of other Houses. – Daniel Roseman Oct 11 '17 at 20:57
  • CHOAM surely count as capitalists. – Royal Canadian Bandit Oct 11 '17 at 21:07
  • @RoyalCanadianBandit: "Ownership" and Capitalist production is not the same thing. You had rich people and ownership before Capitalism. Here's a Marxist definition of Capital, which is mostly ok, except that it ties in to the Labor Theory of Value which I don't subscribe to. – einpoklum Oct 11 '17 at 21:44

Frank Herbert never really developed the economic model of the Imperium. On some levels, it appears to be a managed economy--for example, the Emperor decides who is responsible for certain fiefdoms that produce certain goods. This is the entire basis of the plot of Dune--that the Harkonnen governorship of Arrakis is being converted into an Atreides fiefdom at the Emperor's will, with the Harkonnen thus being given a motive to try to take it back by force with the Emperor's covert assistance. Having then conquered Arrakis, the Harkonnens were to have actually held the fiefdom going forward, not just a governorship.

CHOAM appears to be the only actual corporation, and it's basically a state-run enterprise. The Emperor, along with the Landsraad, determines who gets directorships, and the directors presumably determine what the CHOAM's vast enterprises will actually do. These directors are also always lords of the Great Houses, except that the Spacing Guild and the Bene Gesserit also appear to have seats. All legal commerce appears to be mediated at some level by CHOAM.

The Spacing Guild also has some degree of say, in as much as they could refuse to carry certain goods, or choose to interdict an entire system for what it deems misbehaviour. The Emperor and the Landsraad would presumably be a check on an abuse of this power, and thus we get a hint of the unstable political tripod talked about early on in the series.

It's never made clear if the Solari is a purely "paper" currency, or is commodity-backed (e.g. by spice)--that is, is spice essentially an alternate "hard" currency, or is the Solari itself a hard currency backed by spice, in the Corrino Imperium.

The Corrino Imperium has some kind of credit system, but we know that only by implication, in that the Atreides Imperium abolishes it and declares "cash on the barrelhead" as the only medium of exchange (Dune Messiah and God Emperor of Dune both reference this), to emphaisize Imperial authority. God Emperor of Dune also explicitly states that the economy of that era is strictly spice-currency based: "The only coinage bore a likeness of Leto's cowled face: the God Emperor. But it was all based on the spice, a substance whose value, though enormous, kept increasing."

Vaguer still is the economy of the Famine Times and the post-Imperium years of Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune. Even with Tleilaxu tank-grown spice, it's still a relatively rare commodity, and there's definitely an implication that it's still used as a medium of exchange, but the central authority is gone. In addition, the Scattering has no spice at all. While it's clear that there is an economy, its basis is left unspecified.

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    Indeed, CHOAM is a "corporation" with "shares" as a kind of vestigial use of this term. Anyway, it's funny that a peace-time economy - Leto II's - would abolish credit in favour of bullion. Did they have chattel slavery during Leto II's reign? I really need to re-read God Emperor of Dune. – einpoklum Oct 11 '17 at 23:47
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    @einpoklum it's not that odd considering that Dune has a highly distorted economy (single source of spice) and Leto II was seeking to control humanity along his Golden Path - abolishing credit and controlling the source of spice meant that he had effective control on the economy across the Empire. – HorusKol Oct 12 '17 at 1:38
  • @HorusKol: I'd say that it's sort of the opposite. I mean, if the money system is bullion-based than credit-based, that actually enables unmonitored transactions by the physical exchange of bullion. If most money were just records in the imperial archives that would be harder. Maybe. – einpoklum Oct 12 '17 at 7:47
  • @einpoklum Ordinarily, I'd agree with you. And in the Corrino Imperium, it's possible that many exchanges occurred on either a pure barter system or using spice as a direct currency, and hence, avoided scrutiny. In the first two stages of the Atreides empire, there might well been a similar grey market. During Leto II's Imperium, however, Leto's all-seeing vision made all true grey and black markets impossible. – Michael Scott Shappe Oct 12 '17 at 21:08

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