12. Prices in towns.
It should be known that all markets cater to the needs of people. Some of these needs are necessities, foodstuffs, for instance, such as wheat and barley; 111 corresponding foods, such as beans, chick-peas, peas, and other edible grains; and wholesome foods such as onions, garlic, and the like. Other things are conveniences or luxuries, such as seasonings, fruits, clothes, utensils, mounts, all the crafts, and buildings. When a city is highly developed and has many inhabitants, the prices of necessary foodstuffs and corresponding items are low, and 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. No doubt, then, 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. There are three reasons for this. First, there is much need (of them), because of the place luxury occupies in the city on account of the (city's) large civilization. Second, 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. Third, 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.114 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