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Cost of Living in Ankh-Morpork
From Discworld & Terry Pratchett Wiki
This is an article that began in the "discussion" pages of the Curry Gardens entry, which attempts to piece together what the everyday costs of living are for a typical Ankh-Morpork citizen. It's just got to be too big for its original page and has spilled over into areas which are not, strictly speaking, to do with spicy Klatchian foodstuffs or the purveyors thereof.
This is a honest attempt to analyze the everyday economics of the Discworld and to assess how well it all fits together, using wages and costs quoted in the books. My intuition is that it will all come together, with a bit of tweaking, in surprising ways that TP never consciously intended when he thought he was plucking figures out of the air to add background detail to the life of the city. Consider the first section, based on the given costs of a curry at the Curry Gardens, compared to the known take-home pay of a lance-constable in the Watch, using Roundworld equivalent costings as an analogue. It all fitted, spookily well..
If the starting salary for a Watchman is $30 a month, we can assume this is a dollar a day.
Somebody on a £200 a week takehome pay in Britain is effectively earning £40 a day. (Let's assume £40 sterling equals $AM1)
A curry and rice meal from my local takeaway is around £5. This equates to the 10-15 AM pence quoted in the text.
£5 = 12.5% of that £40 daily pay.
The "mean" value between 10p (unnamed meat curry) and 15p (curry with named meat) is 12.5 pence.
So the watchman going to the Curry Gardens for a takeaway at the end of a shift is also paying, on average, 12.5% of his daily pay on that basic curry and rice meal... (unless he's Fred Colon and scrounging it for free}
I wonder how far other comparisons of this sort would work out? --AgProv 21:31, 12 June 2007 (CEST)
Hmm, as the new book Making Money deals with the finance and economics of Ankh-Morpork, it might be interesting to expand this discussion on the everyday economics of life in A-M and see if it all fits together. I suspect it will, in some surprising ways that TP never consciously intended. Look at the way the Mappe of A-M came together without any need to rewrite the books, as if on some level somebody had already drawn it, and it just needed to be pulled off a shelf in the Reference section of L-space...--AgProv 01:19, 28 September 2007 (CEST)
What do various levels of occupation attract by means of remuneration?
Watch Lance-constable: $AM30 per month (prior to deductions and claimable expenses).
A "sliding scale" applies for higher ranks:- $AM40 for a Sergeant $AM50+ for officers.
The Postmaster General, by contrast, is paid $AM80 per month, with food, uniform, and accommodation provided gratis. As this remains his substantive job, we should assume he remains on this pay scale while on detached service at the Royal Bank.
In Maskerade, the Director of the Opera is on $AM40 per month. At the same time, Seldom Bucket offered to raise Walter Plinge's pay to six, no, seven shiny dollars a month!! Walter was therefore on a monthly pay of five, or less, dollars, as general hand and unskilled worker? (This equates neatly to the 50p/ten shillings a day, earned by the unskilled labourer at Hobson's).
Trainee singers and dancers are on "very little" (described as "less than you'd get for scrubbing floors") but get board and lodging thrown in for free. However, bonus payments are given of up to five dollars per performance if there is any sort of risk of being killed on stage, or in recompense for the trauma of seeing a fellow cast member die in the line of Opera.
A senior journalist on the Ankh-Morpork Times such as Sacharissa Cripslock was being paid two dollars a day, plus expenses and bonuses, by the end of The Truth. Sacharissa's bonuses included access to a massive wardrobe of ball gowns and her expenses included the cost of taking them in. Other journalists and staff writers were either on piece rates or a dollar a day basic.
Domestic servants: When Tiffany Aching, aged thirteen, leaves the Chalk to train as a witch in Lancre, the cover-story used by the Witches is that she is going into domestic service as a Maid. Tiffany notes they have gone to some trouble to get the wage rates and working conditions sounding right. Tiffany is agreed to be worth, because of her prowess with cheese, four dollars a month, her own bed, one day off per week and a week's holiday at Hogswatch. The text notes that three dollars a month would be underpayment, and five dollars a month just that suspicious bit too generous.
Heretofore, in Making Money, was paid fofty dollars a month as Cosmo Lavish's private secretary. However, as Lavish was insane, this may be atypical. An alternative picture - given that Lavish, in his "I am Vetinari" insanity, called his secretary Drumknott, suggests he is making a fetish of matching the wage Vetinari paid his secretary.
A top fashion model such as Juliet Stollop begins at $AM25 for a single appearance. Glenda Sugarbean reflected that this is more, for a couple of hours work, than she receives in a month as a senior cook/manager.
(At this point another consideration to be taken into account is taxes, as Samuel Vimes is on record, in a room full of rich tax-evaders, as saying he pays his. What are the City taxes and how are they assessed?)
In Reaper Man, we hear of the wranglings between the University and the Patrician as to whether the city's per capita tax applied to wizards. This tax is explicitly described as $AM200 per head, payable in four quarterly instalments of $AM50. Several problems emerge instantly when analysing this. For instance, Topsy Lavish implied that the majority of poorer people in Ankh-Morpork are on incomes of $AM150 a year or less for all expenses. (This estimate is supported in Unseen Academicals, when Glenda Sugarbean reflects that a pair of high-end fashion boots from Shatta cost $AM400 - Glenda notes this is about the average yearly income for a full family in her part of town). A tax of $AM200 would be impractical (and uncollectable?). Also, in a city of a million people, this implies Vetinari would have an annual taxable income of $AM200,000,000. This is hardly in-keeping with the air of a great city, fallen from grace and poverty-stricken, that he very carefully projects when asked for money. This also places a very optimistic gloss on the willingness of AM citizens to pay tax! (Reference Carrot's patient memory-jogging session with the Dwarf bakers in Men at Arms). Not to mention the City's ability to collect, which Vetinari concedes at the end of Making Money is in urgent need of review.
One would suspect that a City poll tax exists, but is very carefully gradated to reflect ability to pay - i.e., an institution such as the University, perceived to be rich, pays more for its fully graduated wizards than, say, for non-teaching staff or students. It may even be charged with collecting this on behalf of the City and handing over an agreed lump sum (the text of Reaper Man implies this). In which case other informal "honesty-box" arrangements may exist with other Guilds and institutions.
The "general headings" for most peoples' expenditure, post-tax and deductions
Rent and accommodation
(including "utilities" - cost of staying warm and lit indoors). Generally rent - not much of a mortgage market in A-M?
In Going Postal, the three members of the Smoking Gnu "rent" accommodation at the Post Office for $AM3.00 per week. As this was to provide Tolliver Groat and Stanley Howler with some sort of subsistence income in lieu of pay they were not receiving, the assumption could be that Groat, a man who had to be worldly-wise in this respect, was charging the going rate plus some "silence money" on top, as he sensed the Gnu were not completely legitimate.
Food and drink
How do people eat? We've already done a comparison on the cost of a takeaway and found it costs roughly the same proportion of daily pay in Ankh-Morpork as in Manchester. But food bought in and cooked at home?
We know one elim will buy one very small potato. So a full penny - sixteen elims - might buy enough potatoes for a meal for one, perhaps two? (Assuming "small potato" might equate to "Jersey New" - ie, about half the size of a golf ball, at their biggest).
In The Fifth Elephant, we discover the cost of a plucked and prepared chicken ready for cooking is $AM1 in the city. This fits, as historically chicken has always been something of a luxury meat: it's only in the last thirty years or so that poultry prices have dropped to the extent that it has become an everyday commonplace. (Comedian Spike Milligan recalls that in the 1930's, Christmas dinner was the rare treat of chicken. His family couldn't afford turkey and most weeks of the year they couldn't even afford chicken). A chicken would have been kept for the ongoing resource it provided in the form of eggs, and it would only have gone into the pot right at the very end of its life.
Out in the countryside, the availability of chicken increases and prices drop to 10 pence per bird.
In The Truth, an unspecified weight of butchered rat fillets costs two pence. This must be a substantial weight, as the blood content is more than ample to satiate the primal urge of a vampire on the brink of renouncing Temperance. As rat is a relatively cheap meat, (and as far as we know eaten only by Dwarfs) would other available meatstuffs take their price cue from the "rat standard"?
It's interesting that the going rate for unbutchered fresh rat carcasses is three for two pence (from the litany of grumbles made by Wee Mad Arthur, rat-catcher) and prime fillets taken from choice areas sell for as much as an entire carcass.
In Feet of Clay, we can infer the cost of Ecstatic-One-Hundred-And-Fifty-Minutes (getting the whole of a packed Drum incapably drunk up to and including sale of pints of gin) was $AM25, less three pence in change.
According to the goblin Regret of the Falling Leaf, one can purchase a Special Reserve Cognac from Quirm for AM$60 from Horrids on Broadway, although there is a two-for-one deal at the Twister Boote's bottle shop in the Shades- although the latter does have a slight taste of anchovy. This is surprisingly expensive, especially by Shades standards, but it is to be presumed that anything foreign is worth the extra money.
Also from Feet of Clay, there is the throwaway line that a dollar buys a loaf of bread - this is ridiculously expensive for a staple foodstuff. Perhaps this is a case of TP pulling a figure out of the air to illustrate a point about relative affluence - ie, gnomes and pictsies can earn as much as a human, but require far less in the way of food and in any case can make a home from a hollowed out stale loaf (of dwarf bread? Must be like a prefab made out of breezeblock). Maybe TP did the same not as actual cost but as illustration of the principle involved when defining the Sam Vimes "Boots" theory of economic inequality - in this, the cost of a pair of boots is also pitched unfeasibly high, as has been noted.
Historically, clothing was always more expensive in previous centuries, viewed as a higher proportion of one's weekly income. The individual would own less clothes but pay more for them.
In Maskerade, the cost of a bespoke, haute couture, ballgown is given as $AM 300-500. This is hardly representative: in The Truth, Sacharissa Cripslock considered $AM40 would be the price for a dress you wear at a ball given by Lady Selachii and she couldn't afford that kind of money. On the other hand, William de Worde's sister would be shocked to find anyone could spend as little as forty dollars for a dress. Similarly, the disgusting and loathsome Crispin Horsefry, surely the Disc's first proto-Yuppie, spends $AM100 on a single shirt - because he can, not because the shirt is in any justifiable sense worth $100. A pair of really expensive fashion boots for Dwarfs costs $AM400 from Shatta.
In Men at Arms, we learn of the Sam Vimes Theory of Economic Injustice: a really good pair of boots might be bought for $AM50. However, on a watchman's pay, even an officer's, he might struggle to get a "cheap" pair for $AM10....
The cost of a new gentleman's suit, with a spare pair of trousers possibly thrown in, is quoted in the early pages of Reaper Man as being $7. (As Ridcully points out, though, this is on the cheap side).
But then, there's always the Shonky Shop, for items of clothing that look nostalgically back on the days when they were merely second-hand...
Lu-Tze, in Thief of Time, informs us that Mrs.Marietta Cosmopilite, in accordance with the koan "Wrap up warm, or you'll catch your death", will do bespoke long johns, described as double-knit combinations, silk on the inside, then three layers of wool, with two handy trapdoors for $AM6 a pair, as he's an old and valued customer. However, she apparently can't turn a heel worth a damn. No prices are yet quoted for the products constructed for ladies who need to watch their figures, those who are perhaps more pint glass than hourglass, by Burleigh and Spoke.
No state schools - therefore school fees for all children.
- Contingencies: I'm assuming there is neither an NHS nor a welfare state in Ankh-Morpork. This heading might cover doctors' bills/general medical, dental (such as it is)
Some occupations, such as Watchman, come with free medical care, in the form of an Igor, and occasional recourse to Dr. Lawn where this is needed. Assassins have a retained Doctor at their Guild, but Assassination is an occupation that might be considered that of a self-employed professional, or providing a pocket-money second income to a gentleman who is already well provided for and would be expected to meet his own medical expenses privately.
Like officers in certain upscale Army regiments, who are expected to be gentlemen of independent means, the official pay would just be small change and very few would rely on this alone for some sort of a living income. This last point is borne out in Monstrous Regiment, where it has been calculated that the official salary of a very junior officer (in the Borogravian Army at least) is approximately seven AM shillings per day (subject to rates of exhange and the fact that the Borogravian currency is considered to be "fiat money" by the rest of the Disc's banking experts). This is a pay of AM$28-30 per month - on a par with an Ankhian Watchman, and surely not something an officer and a gentleman should be expected to live on alone!
(Economics Note: "Fiat Money":- Money whose declared value is unsupported by the usual sort of economic indicators, ie high GDP, balance of payment surplus, gold and currency reserves, desirable export goods. For instance, the old Soviet Union unilaterally declared the exchange rate of the rouble to the dollar was 1:1, where had the Soviet currency been allowed to find its own worth on the capitalist money markets, the true exchange rate might have been 60:1. By decree - fiat - , the Soviets artificially inflated the worth of their currency sixty-fold, but could only really enforce this where the Russian writ ran - the Warsaw Pact states, North Korea, Cuba, and any luckless visitors to the USSR who had to exchange at the official rate. When you know what you're looking for, Borogravian money in Monstrous Regiment is a fiat currency - worth its face value only where this can be enforced, and because the Duchess has decreed it to be so. Fiat currencies are usually the last brute-force method of maintaining some sort of economic stability and staving off final collapse when all else has failed, or an economy has been fatally wounded by internal collapse, prolonged war, or consistently faulty economic assumptions. Regard modern Zimbabwe, inter-war Germany, or Nazi Germany in the last couple of years of WW2, having unaccountably made all its neighbours into implacable enemies and needing to pay the fabulous costs of total war.)
In Men at Arms, the cost of a month's education at the Spiteful Sisters of Seven-Handed Sek Charity School is given as $AM2.00. Therefore yearly fees at a typical school - i.e., one accessible to ordinary people – might be no more than $AM24 per year.
What do you do with your free time?
A box at the opera is $AM50 per performance, but the stalls will be cheaper.
A Twopenny Upright is slang for a very basic service from a Seamstress, although it is very likely that while the term remains in current slang, the basic service costs a little bit more than that. Perhaps a broad-minded researcher could locate a price list?
Mrs Evadne Cake provides two levels of mediumistic intercession with the future and the next world. Tenpence buys you what she sees. A dollar pays for what actually happens.
Or would saving in a "funeral club" count as a deduction prior to receiving bulk residue of pay?
A wider picture is provided in The Compleat Ankh-Morpork: the short route from Sator Square to Dolly Sisters is charged at 2p. It is not unreasonable to suggest multiples of 2p are charged for progressively longer distances.
The night bus from Ankh-Morpork to Sto Lat charges a single fare of two dollars fifty pence.
Troll taxis (effectively a sedan chair attached to the back of a troll) are charged at approximately double the cost of a bus journey over a comparable distance, although fares into the Shades are surcharged because of the graffiti problem. The Compleat Ankh-Morpork
The accepted salary threshold, below which a person is deemed too impecunious to be able to afford the sort of personalised, indeed bespoke, service, offered by the Assassins' Guild, is $AM10,000. Those earning below this yearly income may sometimes come to the notice of the Guild, but many assassins won't bother getting out of bed for small change of this nature. They are certainly thought of as only just being able to afford the Guild's services, if their income is at, or only just exceeds, this level.
In fairness, the cheapest inhumation on the Guild books is the contract out on Corporal Nobby Nobbs of the Watch. Including the mandatory 50% Guild Tax, this stands at $AM1.00. (This is only nominal, as no self-respecting Assassin would work for so little, especially if it involves a high risk of being shouted at by Sam Vimes.)
Lord de Worde believed that anyone earning less than $1,000 per year was by inference a member of the criminal classes.
In The Truth, Otto Chriek expresses a desire for the top-of-the-range Agatean "Akina" iconograph, which has the equivalent of an SLR lens (the demon has a telescopic seat allowing him to get right up close for really fine detail), together with other buzzers and flashing lights. This is $AM180.
A bag of fertile soil from one of Harry Kings compost heaps is 10p; but you have to bring your own bag.
The perfume from Quirm, Cedar Fragrance Pour Hommes, is available for AM$15 a pop.
Information to be added
We should diligently extract examples of given wages and costs from the books, list them under expenditure and income, and see if they stack up.--AgProv 12:02, 7 November 2007 (CET)