Around the year 1530, the Inca state had reached its greatest expansion, covering roughly one million square kilometers. The economy flourished, and that without any money. Or perhaps exactly because of that?
The reign of the Inca
When tourists today travel to Machu Picchu, they usually have to go to Cusco first. This Peruvian metropolis nowadays offers little to indicate what splendor must have existed here in former times. Because Cusco was the capital city of the Inca Empire, and Machu Picchu was the legendary fortress high above in the Andes that was so well hidden that it was only rediscovered in modern times in 1911.
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Of course, there are still temples and terraces in the Inca style, there are works of art and descendants of the famous people. But if you want to buy souvenirs that are related to the Inca, you will need money – and that is something that this people did not have at all. But how did their economic system work? Was there no tax to pay to the state? Yes, there was – but in a different way, and the rulers of the Incas were quite generous over the centuries.
How the Inca conquered new territories
It all began with the rulers silently integrating newly conquered territories into the Inca Empire. In this case, this meant that the peoples were allowed to keep their languages and cultures, so that the empire became a multi-ethnic state. The establishment of a single currency would probably have required a violent dictatorship, because as soon as personal property comes into play, things become unbalanced, as countless examples from history have taught us. But instead, the Incas turned their empire into an administrative state in which meticulous records of agricultural resources were mandatory.
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But since any state can only survive if citizens pay taxes, the Incas had to come up with something. So what could be more obvious than collecting animal and vegetable foodstuffs as taxes? In addition, the citizens were required to sacrifice a certain share of their manpower to the state. But back to food – most of it was collected by the state and then redistributed among the population as was seen fit. All in all, the system worked perfectly fine for several centuries.
Did the Inca really had to money?
So money was frowned upon by the Incas, but not entirely. In the empire, people worked not only in agriculture and cattle breeding, there were also a few traders. And traders were indeed allowed to pay with money – small copper plates made in the Titicaca plateau. The merchants were allowed to exchange the coins for goods, probably also because it was too difficult for them to carry enormous bundles of goods along. Other than this, the motto seems to have been that money stinks – which in this case could well be taken literally. Because the traders received the copper from the Titicaca plateau in exchange for dried fish.