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Economics 40k

The economic systems and dispositions of the races of the Warhammer 40k universe.

“Nervos belli, pecuniam infinitam”
“The sinews of war are unlimited money” – Marcus Tullius Cicero 106-43 BCE

In the nightmare universe of Warhammer 40K we focus primarily of the military endeavors of the many races which struggle with each other for dominance over the galaxy. The very foundation of this struggle, however, is a basic struggle for survival. Every race fundamentally needs to procure enough food and materials to be able to provide the basic requirements for life for the members of their race before they can look to the provisioning of their militaries. For some races, the struggle for survival is all that matters. The Tyranid race has no concept of money, trade, or production and in fact has no concept of what an economy is, nor do they require it. As a unified collective under the Hive Mind, the only concern of the Tyranid race is to find biological matter and consume it, a compulsion that has become so strong it has driven them across the vast gulfs between galaxies and stars. The Necrons and their C’tan masters have long lost the need for an economy as every living Necrontyr was transformed into a warrior of living metal, their struggle for the provisions of life are long over. Their C’tan overlords seek only to consume the electro-magnetic energy of the sentient races of the galaxy, and as such they produce nothing and have no need or want of an economy. The other major races in the year 40,000, humanity, the Tau, the Orks, and the Eldar, all seek to procure a sustained living from the worlds and natural resources of the galaxy and as such they each have systems of production and distribution of goods, and therefore they each have economies although all are very different from each other. The military might of each of these races is entirely dependent on their ability to produce the machines and tools of war. In fact, the war for the galaxy is the war for the resources of the galaxy which are required for these races to expand their populations and survive. As a war for survival, the battle for the galaxy is primarily an economic one, and so an understanding of the economies of the galaxy is important in understanding how each race wages their wars. This paper will describe the economic strategies followed by four of the six major races of the Warhammer 40K world.

The Imperium

The sheer economic power of the great Imperium of Man is unrivaled in all the galaxy. On a million worlds, countless farms and factories produce the lifeblood of humanity, but the economic behemoth that is the Imperium is utterly complex and inefficient. Nearly every planet is expected to contribute to the defense of the realms of man in some way, no matter how small. The twin juggernauts of the Imperial Guard and the Imperial Fleet require mind bogglingly large amounts of fuel, food, ammunition, weapons, money, raw materials, and manpower to continue operation, and these requirements increase exponentially in times of war. Even the fearsome Adeptus Astartes are entirely dependent on the factories of the Imperium to provide them with ships and equipment, without which they would be worthless. In addition to the fighting forces of man, the massive beaurocracy has its own requirements. With such vast amounts of resources produced and distributed, the Imperium of Man performs economic miracles on a daily basis, as sometimes the Imperium cannot even describe how their economy manages to function, only that it does. This is the legacy of Malcador, the Emperor’s regent and the first Master of the Administratum, probably the greatest organizational mind ever to exist.

Although very complex, there is a specific design behind the Emperor’s economy. The Imperial economy functions on four distinct levels. The first and most basic level is the planetary level. Every world in the Imperium is ruled by a planetary governor, a single autocrat who has free reign to rule their feifdom as they please. In return for the right to rule their planet, they must obey and enforce Imperial law, protect their planet from the enemies of the Emperor, and most importantly meet their Imperial Tithe requirements. The Imperial Tithe is different for every world, and could include anything from raw funds to food to weapons to starships and repair facilities, and is paid to the Officio Munitorium wing of the Administratum. How they choose to carry out these duties is, in general, left entirely up to the planetary governor and their extended family, called the Imperial House. With this type of organization, the economic systems of most planets are determined by the ancient pre-Imperial culture of the world and the direction of the Imperial House. However, the economic goals of certain worlds produces a predilection for a certain type of economy.

Agri-worlds that specialize in grains and vegetables have a tendency to follow a feudalistic type of economy, where large tracts of land are owned and managed by noble families and the land is worked by serfs or slave labor. These land owning families pay their tithes to the Imperial House who then uses that for their own costs, funding the PDF, and to pay the Imperial Tithes expected of them. Any crops not taken for the Imperial Tithe are the property of the noble families and are free to be sold or traded at their will. Many planets in the Imperium largely consist of vast oceans that teem with sea life, and as land is at a premium they are commonly used as agri-worlds. Vast fleets of fishing vessels roam the seas catching and processing any edible sea life they can, filling their holds before going back to port. Many times these fleets are owned and run by noble houses and crewed by serfs or slaves as on farming worlds, but they are also commonly owned and operated by various historical clans and tribes, or operated by guilds under contract to the Imperial House. They pay their tithes to the Imperial House and what is left is theirs to sell or trade with as they please. Still, on other sea worlds the Imperial House owns all of the vessels and controls the entire economy of the planet. Meat is a valuable commodity in the Imperium, and on some planets a kilogram of meat can cost a fortune and only the wealthiest Imperial citizens can afford it. Meats are gathered from two kinds of planets, safari worlds and herd worlds. Safari worlds are largely undeveloped worlds teeming with life where individual trappers or groups of organized hunters hunt animals for food and any other valuables that can be extracted from them. Some animal skins or teeth or organs have special properties that make them quite valuable. Hunters on these worlds are fairly clannish but infighting is rare. The Imperial House on these planets generally function as either merchants, purchasing all the meat gathered by the hunters and selling them to other worlds, or as facilitators, organizing grand meets where hunters and merchants can get together and haggle and then taxing the transactions. Because of the unpredictability of production of safari worlds, Imperial Tithes are generally very low. Herd worlds are planets given entirely over to vast herds of meat beasts such as cattle or buffalo, or even gigantic sauropods. Many of these worlds are feral worlds with low technology levels that are dependent entirely on cattle culture, and others are significantly more high-tech utilizing walking robots to herd and protect their beasts. Even in the most technologically advanced herd worlds, social organization is based around clans and tribes, with each clan owning their own herds and periodically raiding the herds of other tribes to expand their own. The Imperial House on these planets commonly acts as merchants, purchasing or trading for cattle that they then sell and tithe, and acting as peace brokers between the clans.

Mining worlds are vital to the Imperium as vast amounts of metals are required for warships and munitions. The Administratum is very hands on with its mining worlds, as many of them are airless rocks and all mining worlds require strict organization of resources and rationing to function. Mining worlds have massive mining facilities and produce raw metals in vast quantities that require a constant stream of ships to carry to other planets to be refined and utilized. The Imperial Tithe on these worlds is severe, many times consisting of the entire production value of the planet. Mining worlds are very strictly communist with the Imperial House controlling every aspect of life, workers being little more than slaves receiving the provisions of survival for labor. What little ore mining worlds are left with after the required Tithe is sold to nearby worlds in return for food, air, water, equipment, weaponry, and slaves and servitors as mining is dangerous work.

The majority of the worlds of the Imperium are civilized worlds and these vary as widely in social structure and economic organization as they do in culture. Each of these worlds have their own mining and agricultural operations, and unlike many worlds they refine their own natural resources and turn them into finished product. The Imperial House on these worlds either owns all of the means of production and rules the process in a communistic fashion, or owns and operates their own facilities for producing what is required of them in their Tithe. Most civilized worlds use a capitalistic economy, where businesses, farms, mines, and factories are owned by families, houses, or guilds. They pay taxes to the Imperial House and the rest is theirs to trade or sell at will. A very few civilized worlds operate under a type of socialism, although this has little bearing on the economic organization of the world. The means of production are still privately owned and the Imperial House takes what they need for the tithe through taxes. Although in the strictest sense it is illegal, many planetary governors utilize the mutant population of their planets as cheap or forced labor, isolating them in slums and ghettos and working them much harder than the rest of the population. The civilized worlds are the backbone of the Emperor’s economy as they require very little in the way of resources from off world and yet produce more than enough to pay their required tithes and provide for sufficient development. Another boon they provide is the foundation for the mercantilism and free trade of the Imperium that encourages development, increases quality of life, and provides vital commerce for taxation by the Imperium.

Prison worlds are run entirely by the Administratum and have no ruling families to oversee them. Instead penal worlds are ruled by an Administratum agent called a Warden, who with their staff presides over even the minutest aspect of life on the planet. Prison planets are almost entirely populated by convicted criminals, all for minor crimes as those who commit any serious offence in the Imperium are put to death. These prisoners are used as forced labor, working fields, mining raw materials and refining them, producing technical equpment and weaponry for use by the armed forces of the Imperium. Life as a prisoner is rough and dangerous, because many times the most valuable resource on a penal world is the prisoners themselves. Prisoners are used in medical experiments, forced into military service, given over to the Adeptus Mechanicus to become servitors, or sold as slaves. The entirety of a penal world is offered up to the Officio Munitorium, so the Tithe does not apply. The cheap labor and products are vital to the Imperial war effort and penal colonies serve another purpose. Many penal colonies have been created on new nearly uninhabitable worlds as the first step of the Imperium’s colonization strategy.

The lynchpin of the Imperial economy are the hive worlds. Inhabited by hundreds of billions of imperial citizens, the raw manufacturing power of a hive world is incredible. Most commonly a hive world has already been stripped of natural resources and so everything that a hive world utilizes is brought in from nearby worlds. Food is brought in and sold from agri-worlds. Raw materials are brought in from mining worlds and then used to construct the many tools and machines necessary for the Imperium. The economies of such worlds are the most complex of any world in the Imperium. Normally it takes the form of a feudal system, created by a hierarchy of contracts and subcontracts. A good example of the economy of a hive world is Necromunda. The society of Necromunda is organized around several houses. The world of Necromunda is controlled by the Imperial House Helmawr, who is responsible for enforcing law and providing the heavy tithe exacted from all hive worlds. Their tithe consists of money, conscripts for Imperial Guard and Imperial Navy service, and vast quantities of weaponry, vehicles, and ammunition for the Imperial military. House Helmawr acquires what they need for themselves and for the tithe through contract with the noble houses of Necromunda: the Greim, the Ulanti, the Ty, the Ran Lo, the Catallus, and the Ko’Iron. These noble houses are financiers and merchants, who make their money by making loans and investments in the lesser houses, importing food, water, air, and fuel and selling them to the lesser houses, and trading all across the sector. The lesser houses of Necromunda; Cawdor, Escher, Goliath, Van Saar, Orlock, and Delaque, are under contract to the noble houses to provide certain materials for them in return for payment. The economic battle upward for these lesser houses is an impossible one as their contracts with the noble houses run them at a deficit, and so warfare between the houses is clandestine but ever-present.

There are some worlds that are separated from the Imperial economy. Cardinal worlds, Space Marine home worlds, Inquisition strongholds, and listening posts are all directly under Imperial control and their contribution is not an economic one. The populations of Cardinal Worlds are entirely devoted to the praise of the Emperor and the maintenance of the shrines and cathedrals on the world. They are funded by mandatory contributions made by pilgrims and further supported by the Eccesiarchy using funds raised on other worlds. Space Marine homeworlds are mostly feral worlds and are left to fend for themselves, producing nothing for the Imperium other than recruits for the Space Marine chapter that makes its home there. Inquisition fortresses are funded by tithes directed by the Officio Munitorium, and listening posts are largely the wards of the Adeptus Mechanicus.

Forge worlds are the colonized worlds of the Priesthood of Mars and as such are a separate empire unto themselves, but the forge worlds have a major part to play in the Imperium. The Adeptus Mechanicus is a separate empire from the Imperium and as such is only allowed to trade with the Administratum. Rogue traders have license to trade on forge worlds, but all other Imperial merchant families are forbidden. As a part of the ancient treaty between the Emperor and Mars the Imperium provides the forge worlds with food, water and raw materials, and in return the Adepts of Mars provide machines, ships, and tanks to the Imperium and provide the Techpriests needed to maintain and operate these machines. Forge worlds are organized by beaurocracy, and at the head is a single techpriest who rules over the planet as autocrat. As they are united by their goals, a forge world is best described as a communist economy as there is no currency and techpriests and servitors alike are paid in rations.

The next step up is the sector and sub-sector level. The large scale organization of the Imperium is very feudal, with certain worlds owing fealty to other worlds of the Imperium. Sub-sectors are organized around a vital planet, usually a hiveworld, and the other worlds in the sub-sector are subservient to the major world. The Imperial House of the hub world has some control over the worlds in its sub-sector, but only militarily in organizing the defense of the sub-sector against invaders and pirates. The prominent merchant families of the area are normally based on the hub-world and then send their fleets of merchant vessels from planet to planet all throughout the sector. Merchant houses gain the right to trade on the various worlds of the Imperium through treaty and although their network of treaties stays largely inside their sector, primarily because of the limitations of warp travel, those houses prominent enough to sign contracts with the Navis Nobilite will forge treaties with worlds outside of their sector. These merchants are lifeblood of the Imperium, carrying vital supplies such as food and water to hive worlds that require it and then carrying technical equipment and other goods to agri and civilized worlds, all for profit of course. As a part of their treaties though, they are under the fealty of the sector-lord and can be pressed into service of the sector fleet in times of dire need.

The highest level or organization are the five major segmentum that comprise the Imperium. Although these are largely concerned with military organization, it is here that the buck stops. The Imperial Tithe eventually finds its way to each of the segmentum hubs; Terra, Hydraphur, Cypra Mundi, Bakka, and Kar Dunaish. The Imperial Houses of each of these planets are the lords of the entire segmentum, with the exception of Mars because that is an Adeptus Mechanicus world. Each segmentum is largely independent and the Imperialis Command Decoriatum determine how the Imperial Tithes are to be utilized and distributed. Of course a portion of these Tithes are bound for Terra, but the vast majority of it stays in segmentum. Understanding the Imperial economy at this level would be impossible, as each segmentum contains hundreds of thousands of worlds all interconnected by a web of ancient trade treaties and merchant trade routes.


The Eldar are an ancient and complex race, and although similar in appearance to a human, their desires and motivations are entirely beyond human comprehension. The Eldar race has divided themselves into three major cultures in the wake of the fall of their civilization, and each follows a different economic and social organization.

The Craftworlds were originally space borne factory complexes, created as the Eldar culture was approaching its fall by a conservative sect of Eldar. The Craftworlds have kept the same economic organization for ten thousand years, as the way of the Craftworld is a moral imperative for the Eldar who live within them. Craftworlds are organized around the truest form of communism, much like the Kibbutzim that existed in early 20th century Palestine. All property is held in common, and even children are raised in a crèche not knowing who their parents are. The Eldar of the Craft have no currency and when they do trade with aliens, rogue traders, or other craftworlds, they do so on the basis of equivalent trade based on need. The majority of the population of a craftworld is devoted to basic labor in manufacturing and producing food, and they rotate their jobs periodically so that all the Eldar don’t specialize in one function and fall to the Eldar’s predilection to obsession with perfecting that one duty. For the most part, however, Craftworlds are self-sufficient and produce what they need for their own survival themselves, distributing it equally without internal trade.

The Dark Eldar follow the ways of the Eldar race at the time of the fall, and they are feudal and capitalist, however their entire economy is driven by their pursuit of pleasure and power. The entire foundation and focus of the Dark Eldar economy is slavery. The slaves that the Dark Kin take in raids are used for the manufacturing of the tools of war required for their raids, and the raw materials for the construction of these weapons are also acquired on raids from any of the races in the galaxy, including their food. As they steal what they need to live, most of their slaves are used for pleasure, and are considered like cattle. Slaves are traded mostly to seal pacts between Kabals and Wych Cults, Haemonculi, Hellions, and Mandrakes, or alliances with other Kabals in the Dark City. Those that have outlived their usefulness in workshops are tortured, their souls eaten, or slaughtered in gladiatorial pits for amusement and political pandering.

Exodites have chosen to follow a simpler way of life than other Eldar, avoiding Slaanesh by returning to the ways of their race long before the fall. Exodites have a cattle-culture and every facet of their lives has to do with herding and caring for their food beasts. They have reverted back to a barter economy, where food is traded to craftsmen for their skills and products. The simplicity of their economy is a cornerstone of their society as they believe that complexity would lead to damnation and the victory of The Great Enemy.


Tau society is focused around a strict caste system and directed by their Etherial caste towards a higher philosophical goal. In itself, the Tau are very communist, having no currency and distributing resources created by the Earth Caste to the members of the other castes as they are needed. The Earth Caste is entirely responsible for the food and equipment that the Tau need to survive, and the production of trade goods that they use to solidify relations with other races. The Air caste is responsible for moving goods from planet to planet, and the Water caste is responsible for brokering trade agreements with other races. Such trade is always done on the basis of equal trade and sometimes based on necessity, but the Tau will commonly trade even if they don’t require anything simply to establish relations with neighboring cultures. Much of their resources go as payment to mercenaries in their hire such as the Kroot and the Nicassar or the Demiurg.


For a race commonly called simple and blunt, the Orkoids have a fairly complex economic structure, but it is colored by the Ork’s bluntness and warlike psychology. The basic form of currency for the Orks is an Ork’s tooth. However, unlike the Imperial Credit, the Ork Toof doesn’t denote any particular economic vaule, but rather it is a coup point. It is assumed by Orks that teeth are acquired by killing another Ork and prying their tusks out of their corpse, or perhaps overpowering another Ork and prying them out while they’re still alive. Tusks are a sign of an Ork’s virility as a fighter and no Ork would willingly remove their own tusks. In a society that values strength and martial prowess above all else, proof of ones own skill in battle is as good as currency. The more Teef an Ork has the more social clout they have and the more feared they become. Starting a good sized collection of Teef is a good way for any Ork to work their way up the social latter, from Boy to Nob, and Nob to Boss. Were all Orks equally intent on combat then Teef would simply be a decoration, but some Orks focus their attentions elsewhere. Mekboyz, Mad Doks, and Weirdboyz all provide vital services to Ork warbands, but their services are not free. These specialist Orks provide their services to any Ork that has enough Teef to pique their interest.

Teef are just one of the many things that Orks use for trade. Orks that have been isolated from any races but Orks for a long time tend to only have Teef to trade, but when they have it the technology or other races is far more valuable to any Ork. Orks commonly loot the battlefield, taking wrecked enemy vehicles and discarded weaponry. However Ork pride, or sometimes Ork intelligence prevents them from making use of much of this equipment as it is. Much of this looted equipment finds itself in the hands of a Mekboy who will perform custom conversions for a price, usually spare parts, other weaponry, or Teef. Once a group of Orks manages to get off world and ships of their own Teef are no longer the main currency and they generally switch over to a more direct barter economy, but Teef are still used as coinage when equivalent trades are difficult to make.

As an Ork Waaaaaagh spreads and conquers worlds, they invariably enslave the populations they conquer, using them in the same manner that they would use gretchin. Although a horde of Orks can conquer a planet, their sensibilities do not lie in administration and husbandry. Human slaves are doomed under Ork rule. Orks will force their slaves to make weapons and wargear for them, fix and create vehicles, or even build starships, but like grotz Orks will often eat their slaves or kill them just for a laugh. For the period that they are alive, though, slaves will be bartered as well, just like Gretchen slaves are bartered when no other slaves are available.

It is quite an irony that as an Ork culture evolves from feral savagery into space travel and galactic imperialism their economic system becomes increasingly less complex. Feral Orks, which are normally small in number and technologically simple, follow what would be as close as you could call Orky Communism, creating according to the needs of the Ork colony and sharing. As the society grows larger and becomes more advanced they develop into a type of tribal capitalism, and eventually a full free market economy. The most technologically advanced Orks, ones with starships, and the most socially complex, the Ork empire, eventually base their economy on piracy and slave taking and minimalize their use of currency in favor of pure bartering. However, as the Orks lack the administration and organization skill required to base their economy on large scale agriculture and industry and organize a governed economy, piracy and slave raiding become the only viable economic options. This is the exact opposite of the economy of the Imperium. Whereas humans must have an economy so they can wage war, Orks must wage war so they can have an economy.

Posted by on June 15 2005. Filed under Fanfiction. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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