In OTL, a socio-economic system which has come to be labelled as "capitalism" dominates the world. Its main characteristics are
- private ownership of the means of production
- the vast majority works as wage labourers
- money is invested where it yields highest profits; production is generally aimed at maximised profit
It is generally acknowledged that this system began to unfold in Late Medieval Europe, especially in the Italian city states, was then adopted by absolutist monarchies in mercantilist and colonialist fashion, and encompassed all sectors of society since the advent of the industrial revolution, which is often seen as inextricably linked to capitalism.
But its roots lie farther in the past: in the widespread inequality in ownership. Primitive appropriation had happened for millennia and left the vast majority with nothing but very meagre personal property, while almost all land, treasures of the soil, manufactures, mills etc. belonged to a small elite. This process had already been completed in the Roman Empire at PoD. Arguably, it was one of the reasons of the social and political instability experienced during the late Principate, and the utter dependency it left most people in may have contributed to the success of redemptorist religious movement like Christianity and later Islam.
Alternatives have always existed and continue to exist, but only as marginal phenomena, footnotes in the economic history of humankind: centrally planned economies like those of the Inca, the Soviet Union or present-day Cuba, co-operative economies like those of medieval villages or present-day Mondragon, or property-less societies of hunters and gatherers. The historical hegemony of capitalism has induced many to believe that a developed economy is only possible as a capitalist one, or that all societies will ultimately adopt capitalist structures.
In this timeline, a series of social revolutions towards the end of Antiquity overthrows the system of highly unequally concentrated ownership:
- the Roman Revolution of the 260s abolished the equestrian and senatorial nobility, expropriated their latifundia and turned the productive compounds in the countryside into co-operatives controlled by the coloni and slaves who had formerly worked there (societates liberorum);
- the Mazdakist Revolution (490s-520s) overthrew the Sassanid Empire and turned much of the Iranian world into a collection of rural communes and urban syndicates, reproducing structures fairly similar to those of its Roman neighbour, only with a religious framework;
- Simonist Christian revolts, exported by the Imaziyen far South into Central Africa, overthrew divine kings and noblity in the entire Sahara and Sahel, creating theocratic communes.
In Rome and Eran, and to a certain degree also among their Gallo-Roman, Germanic, Slavic and Caucasian neighbours, a socio-economic system developed, which defined this timeline's path into economic modernity. Its three main pillars were
- legally protected co-operatives running the agricultural, mining and processing domains
- legally protected guilds organising the educated professions in the towns and
- ample public works in the domains of infrastructure and finance.
Apart from indigenous hunter-gatherer societies, this model faced two global competitors:
- a syndicalist capitalism, in which almost everyone is member of one or more "insurance societies", who indirectly control almost all the productive resources, channel investments, collect and reallocate profits. Such a system was practiced in Jewish and Christian societies, where interest was outlawed as "usury". The Sabaeans, Aksumites and Ostrogoths carried this economic model into much of Africa, Southern Asia, Atlantis and Caribia;
- centrally planned economy with powerful state governments who own all the land and the means of production, regulate all professions, allocate resources, set prices and wages etc. Such a system has been practised for more than half a century with sufficient success by various Empires of China and Nihon, communist republics in the Bengals, and several major Andean polities.
Thus, depending on where you live, your life will most likely not circle around issues like "loans", "wages", "employers", "unemployment", "boom vs. recession", "inflation vs. deflation", "pension funds" and the like. Instead, you are either initiated into a "collegium" or "societas" or something comparable, which comprises a great deal of your identity, and in which you not only work, but also live, celebrate, are taken care of in times of sickness or old age, participate in common management etc. Or, if you live in one of the state-controlled economies, you learn, take exams, and are allotted a place in the system, which not only comprises your job, but also your dwelling, your role in cultural affairs etc.
Change and innovation occur in this system, too, but they are slower. They rarely happen on the initiative and under the leadership of an individual. Instead, they result from collective discussions on the level of your autonomous corporation, resp. of the state.
Wealth is distributed relatively equally in all these societies, when compared to ours. It has almost no function as a means of social distinction. That does not mean that most societies in this timeline are egalitarian; they are not. Social distinction is based on membership in a renowned, productive, and vitally important social group, and on your engagement and the informal (or sometimes formal) authority ascribed to you in the management of common affairs of your group.