Life as a trader is pretty satisfying, though it's obvious to me that the game doesn't actually want me to play it that way. The reason I think this is because the game doesn't give you certain vital tools to coordinate your trade empire. There isn't a ledger to track your transactions, nor are there graphs or charts to allow you to compare commodity prices over time. It's just a mess.
It strikes me that this might be somewhat realistic. When you think of medieval-style merchants, you don't really imagine that they did much data-driven market analysis. But then, it also occurs to me that maybe this is just lazy thinking on my part. The ancients may not have had a lot of our advantages, but they were just as smart as we are. It's likely they had very clever ways of tracking profit and loss.
So I looked it up. It turns out the bar, line, and pie graphs were all invented by a guy named William Playfair, in the late 18th - early 19th centuries. I'll admit, this came as something of a shock, because I never heard of the guy. I was expecting, when I typed my query into the search bar, that this would be one of those things that people turned out to be using for quite some time, and then only centuries after the fact would scholars be interested in tracking its origin, and by then they could only make a guess based on the earliest known samples. But it turns out that it can all be traced back to this one guy, who signed and dated his work.
Which I guess means that Mount & Blade is at least semi-realistic when it comes to its data presentation. It turns out that a virtually modern system of double-entry bookkeeping dates back to at least 13th century Italy, but then, that raises the question of what Caldaria's level of technology is supposed to be. I would have thought that the presence of crossbows meant it was relatively advanced, but apparently those have existed since around the fifth century BCE. I guess I'm just learning things left and right here - complex mechanical weapons have existed for thousands of years, but simple graphs are younger than the United States of America.
If I were the cynical sort, I'd say this perfectly encapsulates mankind's priorities, but I'll just limit myself to observing that Mount & Blade: Warband's priorities fall more or less in line with these relative technological developments.
Oh, and my experience with running a virtual trade empire - it was a lot of risk for relatively small profit margins, and you probably spent five minutes on the road for every 1 minute trading, which I guess means it's a good medieval merchant simulator, if not a great economic one.