Part 12

The Prices in towns

January 27, 2022

12. The Prices in towns

All markets cater to the needs of people.

Some are for necessities:

  • foodstuffs like wheat and barley
  • foods, such as beans, chick-peas, peas, and other edible grains
  • wholesome foods such as onions, garlic, and the like.

Some are for conveniences or luxuries:

  • seasonings, fruits, clothes, utensils, mounts, all the crafts, and
  • buildings.

When a city is large and highly developed, the prices of necessary foodstuffs and corresponding items are low. The prices for luxuries, such as seasonings, fruits, and the things that go with them, are high.

When the inhabitants of a city are few and its civilization weak, the opposite is the case.

The reason for this is that the different kinds of grains belong among the necessary foodstuffs. The demand for them, therefore, is very large. Nobody would neglect (to provide for) his own food or that of his establishment for a month or a year.

Thus, the procurement of (grain) concerns the entire population of a city, or the largest part of them, both in the city itself and in its environs. This is inevitable.

Everybody who procures food for himself has a great surplus beyond his own and his family’s needs. This surplus is able to satisfy the needs of many of the inhabitants of that particular city.

The inhabitants of a city have more food than they need. Consequently, the price of food is low, as a rule, except when misfortunes occur due to celestial conditions that may affect (the supply of) food in certain years.

If people did not have to store food against such possible mishaps, it could be given away entirely gratis, since it would be plentiful because of the large civilization (population of the city).

All other conveniences, such as seasonings, fruits, and whatever else belongs to them, are not matters of general concern. Their procurement does not engage the labor of all the inhabitants of a city or the largest part of them. Then, 112 when a city has a highly developed, abundant civilization and is full of luxuries, there is a very large demand for those conveniences and for having as many of them as a person can expect in view of his situation.

This results in a very great shortage of such things. Many will bid for them, but they will be in short supply. They will be needed for many purposes, and prosperous people used to luxuries will pay exorbitant prices for them, because they need them more than others. Thus, as one can see, prices come to be high.

Crafts and labor also are expensive in cities with an abundant civilization, for 3 reasons:

  1. There is much need of them because of the place luxury occupies in the city on account of the (city’s) large civilization

  2. Industrial workers place a high value on their services and employment, (for they do not have to work) since life is easy in a town because of the abundance of food there.

  3. The number of people with money to waste is great, and these people have many needs for which they have to employ the services of others and have to use many workers and their skills.

Therefore, they pay more for (the services of) workers than their labor is (ordinarily considered) worth, because there is competition for (their services) and the wish to have exclusive use of them.

Thus, workers, craftsmen, and professional people become arrogant, their labor becomes expensive, and the expenditures of the inhabitants of the city for these things increase.Foodstuffs in small cities that have few inhabitants are few, because (these cities) have a small (supply) of labor and because, in view of the small size of the city, the people fear food shortages. Therefore, they hold on to (the food) that comes into their hands and store it.

It thus becomes something precious to them, and those who want to buy it have to pay higher prices. (Oh the other hand,) they also have no demand for conveniences, because the inhabitants are few and their condition is weak. Little business is done by them, and the prices there, consequently, become particularly low.

Customs duties and other duties that are levied on (foods) in the markets and at the city gates on behalf of the ruler, and that tax collectors levy on profits from business transactions in their own interest, enter into the price of foodstuffs.

Prices in cities, thus, are higher than prices in the desert, because customs duties and other duties and levies are few or non-existent among (the Bedouins), while the opposite is the case in cities, especially in the later (years) of a dynasty. 113

The cost of agricultural labor also enters into the price of foodstuffs. It is reflected in these prices. 11 4 This has happened in Spain at the present time. The Christians pushed the Muslims back to the seacoast and the rugged territory there, where (the soil) is poor for the cultivation of grain and little suited for (the growth of) vegetables. They themselves took possession of the fine soil and the good land.

Thus, (the Muslims) had to treat the fields and tracts of land, in order to improve the plants and agriculture there. This treatment required expensive labor (products) and materials, such as fertilizer and other things that had to be procured. Thus, their agricultural activities required considerable expenditures. They calculated these expenditures in fixing their prices, and thus Spain has become an especially expensive region, ever since the Christians forced (the Muslims) to withdraw to the Muslim-held coastal regions, for the reason mentioned.

When they hear about the high prices in (Spain), people think that they are caused by the small amount of foodstuffs and grain in the country. This is not so. As we know, the (people of Spain), of all civilized people, are the ones most devoted to agriculture. It rarely happens among them that a man in authority or an ordinary person has no tract of land or field, or does not do some farming. The only exceptions are a few craftsmen and professional people, or fighters in the holy war who are newcomers to the country.

The ruler, therefore, includes in the allowances these men receive, rations consisting of the grain they (need) for food and for fodder. The reason for the high prices in (Spain) of the various kinds of grain is the one we have stated.

The Berber countries are in the contrary position. Their fields are fine and their soil is good. Therefore, they did not have to procure anything (from outside) in order to be able to cultivate agriculture, which is widely and generally practiced there. This is the reason for the cheapness of foodstuffs in their country. God determines night and day. 115

13. Bedouins are unable to settle in a city with a large civilization (population).

This is because luxury increases in a city with a large civilization. The needs of the inhabitants increase because of the luxury. The demand for luxuries make those luxuries customary, and thus come to be necessities.

In addition, all labor becomes precious in the city, and the conveniences become expensive, because there are many purposes for which they are in demand in view of the prevailing luxury and because the government makes levies on market and business transactions. This is reflected in the sales prices. Conveniences, foodstuffs, and labor thus become very expensive.

As a result, the expenditures of the inhabitants increase tremendously in proportion to the civilization of (the city).

A great deal of money is spent. Under these circumstances, (people) need a great deal of money for expenditures, to procure the necessities of life for themselves and their families, as well as all their other requirements. The income of the Bedouins, on the other hand, is not large, because they live where there is little demand for labor, and labor is the cause of profit.

Bedouins, therefore, do not accumulate any profit or property. For this reason, it is difficult for them to settle in a big city, because conveniences there are (many) 116 and things to buy are dear. In the desert, (the Bedouins) can satisfy their needs with a minimum of labor, because in their lives they are little used to luxuries and all their requirements. They are not, therefore, obliged to have property.

Every Bedouin who is attracted to city life quickly shows himself unable (to compete) and is disgraced. The only exceptions are such (Bedouins) as have previously accumulated property and obtained more of it than they needed and therefore achieved the amount of tranquility and luxury that is natural to civilized people. They, then, may move to a city, and their condition, as regards customs and luxury, can blend with that of its inhabitants. This is the way the civilization of cities begins.

14. Differences with regard to prosperity and poverty are the same in countries as in cities

The condition of the inhabitants in regions that have an abundant civilization and contain numerous nations and many inhabitants is favorable.

They have much property and many cities. Their dynasties and realms are large. The reason for all this is the aforementioned great amount of (available) labor and the fact, which we shall mention later on, that it brings wealth. A great surplus of products remains after the necessities of the inhabitants have been satisfied.

This surplus provides for a population far beyond the size and extent of the (actual one), and comes back to the people as profit that they can accumulate, as we shall mention in the chapter on (the ways of) making a living and the explanation of sustenance and profit. 118

Prosperity, thus, increases, and conditions become favorable. There is luxury and wealth. The tax revenues of the ruling dynasty increase on account of business prosperity. Its property increases, and its authority grows. It comes to use fortresses and castles, to found towns, and to construct cities.

This 119 may be exemplified by the eastern regions, such as Egypt, Syria, the non-Arab ‘Iraq, India, China, and the whole northern region, beyond the Mediterranean.

When their civilization increased, the property of the inhabitants increased, and their dynasties became great. Their towns and settlements became numerous, and their commerce and conditions improved.

At this time, we can observe the condition of the merchants of the Christian nations who come to the Muslims in the Maghrib.

Their prosperity and affluence cannot be fully described because it is so great. The same applies to the merchants from the East and what we hear about their conditions, and even more so to the Far Eastern merchants from the countries of the non-Arab ‘Iraq, India, and China.

We hear remarkable stories reported by travelers about their wealth and prosperity.

These stories are usually received with skepticism. The common people who hear them think that the prosperity of these peoples is the result of the greater amount of property owned by them, 120 or of the existence of gold and silver mines in their country in larger number (than elsewhere), or of the fact that they, to the exclusion of others; appropriated the gold of the ancient nations. This is not so.

The only gold mine about whose existence in these regions we have information, lies in the Sudan country, which is nearer to the Maghrib (than to any other country). Furthermore, all the merchandise that is in their country is exported by them for commerce. If they possessed ready property in abundance, they would not export their merchandise in search of money, and they would have altogether no need of other people’s property.

Astrologers have noticed this and been amazed by the favorable conditions and abundance of property in the East. They came and said that the gifts of the stars and the shares (of good fortune) were larger in the nativities of the East than in the nativities of the West.

This is correct from the point of view of the correspondence between astrological judgments and terrestrial conditions, as we have stated. 121 But astrologers give us only the astrological reason. They should also give us the terrestrial reason.

The (terrestrial reason) is the large extent and concentration of civilization in the eastern regions, as we have mentioned. A large civilization yields large profits because of the large amount of (available) labor, which is the cause of(profit).

Therefore, the East enjoys more prosperity than all other regions.

This is not exclusively the result of the influence of the stars. Our previous indications have made it clear that the influence of the stars cannot produce such a result all by itself. The (existence of a) correspondence between astrological judgments and terrestrial civilization and nature is something inevitable.

The relationship between prosperity and civilization may be exemplified by the regions of Ifriqiyah and Barca (Barqah). When their population decreased and their civilization shrank, the condition of their inhabitants decayed. They became poor and indigent.

The tax revenues from (the region) decreased. The property of the dynasties that ruled there became small. Formerly, the Shi’ah (Fatimid) and Sinhajah (Zirid) dynasties had enjoyed a well-known prosperity and large tax revenues. They had been able to spend a great deal and pay large allowances.

This went so far that, most of the time, money was brought from al-Qayrawan to the ruler of Egypt for his needs and important business. The property of the dynasty was so extensive that Jawhar al-Katib carried with him, on his expedition to conquer Egypt, 1,000 loads of money from which he paid the salaries and allowances of the soldiers and the expenditures of the raiders.122

The region of the Maghrib was inferior to Ifriqiyah in ancient times. Still, it had no little (wealth). During the Almohad dynasty, its condition was favorable and its revenues abundant. At this time, the Maghrib has gone down in this respect because of the decrease and shrinkage of civilization there.

Most of the Berber civilization (population) there is gone, and has obviously and palpably become inferior to what it used to be. Its condition has almost become similar to that of Ifriqiyah. Formerly, its civilization had extended from the Mediterranean to the Sudan country between the longitude(s) of as-Sus in the far West 123 (in Morocco) and Barca (Barqah). Today, all or most of it is a waste, empty, and desert area, except for the coastal regions or the hills near it.