Post-Scarcity Economy

The Singularity has arrived! Technology has advanced to the point that practically anyone can have practically anything for practically nothing. Often involves Nanomachines or other forms of Matter Replicator. In other words, A Wizard Did Itwith SCIENCE! Put more charitably, complete automation via advanced AI or similar contrivances.

Bonus points for those cases that deal with the fact that some things are still intrinsically scarce because of their very nature. The ability to effectively infinitely replicate any commodity does not mean everyone can have a house just like Fallingwater, the front row seat to a particular concert, or the authentic, original Honus Wagner tobacco card.


  • To the Stars has this with Earth, with replicators being commonplace, although there are "allocs" for luxury items like non-synthesized restaurant food or berths on space-going vessels. Averted, however, on the other planets in humanity's empire, which still use a capitalist system. The main character, from Earth, is therefore quite confused when deployed to one of these planets and is bombarded by things called "advertisements". To the fanfic's credit, it's mentioned that the twenty-year-and-still going war is causing resources to be drained faster, resulting in an economic shift back towards a capitalist model. Professions which used to be performed for free pre-war are beginning to ask for donations, and students are re-thinking their career choices when they could previously chase whatever dream they wanted regardless of productivity. This is understandably troubling for many Earthborn who are unused to the idea of scarcity, especially for the basics.

  • In Ralph Williams' "Business as Usual, During Alterations" aliens give humanity a pair of devices that can duplicate anything that can fit on one of the two pans, including another duplicator, and somebody figures out that the pans can be replaced with aluminum sheets of any size. A department store manager attempts to deal with it by first marking all prices down 90%, then refusing all cash transactions and issuing credit cards to customers. As duplicators spread across the planet industry shifts from mass production to innovation.
  • Gianni Rodari's story Planet of Christmas Trees features a planet on which all work is done by robots and machines and everyone has access to any resources the want, to the point where entire castles are built just to be smashed by people who need to work off some frustration. Also It's Always Spring, every day is Christmas, and the government has grown unnecessary.
  • The Midas Plague by Frederik Pohl features an unusual situation where there is too much production. People are expected to work less and consume more; and the ratio of possessions to social standing is completely inverted. For some reason, probably comedy, the thought of simply reducing production is considered unworkable.
  • The set of novels starting with "The Uglies" by Scott Westerfield had Cities which seemed to be this. The Pretties (read: 16-2x year olds) could have nearly anything they want just by asking for it. We find out later in the first novel this is true, but not solely because of the highly advanced technology the society has. In fact, the last novel of the series called "The Extras" deals very well with the fallout when one of the Pretties' "enhancements" is fixed with the Brain Rain. Said change caused a huge, permanent sea-change that required the society to have a type of currency (based on reputation and work you do) to limit resource usage.
  • Robert Anton Wilson's Schroedinger's Cat trilogy studies a number of Alternate Universes, including a Utopian one, where a manual laborer who invents a way to automatize his work will get a high standard of living for lifetime, and everybody else in the same business gets a comfortable one, as machines multiply the production rates, allowing a part of the surplus to be used this way, since capitalism requires consumers in order to function. The system has its problems to a careful reader — one would imagine that people would cry foul when major parts of the formerly working class populace get free lunch without doing anything, while others continue to toil at least until someone in their ranks manages to mechanize that particular industry, as well. Still, the people who have jobs that can't be automatized are depicted as the lucky ones, since permanent vacation isn't all that it's cut out to be, and as a result adult education flourishes.
  • John Ringo's Council Wars series applies before the war. Society and Technology have made it so that everyone gets a ration of power each day, more than enough to provide for a comfortable lifestyle. There is a small scale economy in the background, with some luxury goods produced and traded, but it's hardly essential to the setting. This lasts perhaps 100 pages into the book, before things go straight to hell.
  • John Ringo's Troy Rising The Glatun, the friendly galactic race, have 30% of their population permanently unemployed. Nearly everything they use is created by fabbers which are run by AIs and use only raw materials (or can be supplied with old scrap) and Helium-3 to run. The only scarcity in their economy is Helium-3 yet the high unemployment is repeatedly cited as evidence that the Glatun are headed towards disaster. To add to the oddness humanity eventually builds a Helium-3 mine that is said to produce so much it could power the entire galactic arm. One imagines that the 70% of Glatun who are employed are only keeping what's built running in the field.
  • Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom: Cory Doctorow's Bitchun Society has eliminated scarcity (by way of free energy and universal assemblers) and death (by way of brain uploading and cloning). Exchanges of the remaining scarce goods (those that require human labor, especially human creativity) are mediated by "Whuffie", which is a digitally-compiled estimate of your reputation in the eyes of the whole world. The problems with such an economy slowly become clear as the novel progresses, but the concept proved popular enough with real-life anarcho-communists that Doctorow felt the need to explicitly spell out why it's a bad idea.
  • Accelerando by Charles Stross:
    • The novel chronicles the creation of one straight through the singularity. Protagonist Manfred Macx is one of the first people on Earth to realize that in such a world the best way to get truly rich is to help other people achieve great goals and become rich. In Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise the most valuable resource in the universe are the entangled quantum dots that enable faster-than-light communication and which have to be transported slower than light. After that the most valuable things are information and creativity. There are particularly odd things such as the market for reputation in Accelerando... exactly what a valuable reputation is was not explicitly defined in the novel, but Manfred was kind of the template for how it might work. In short: as physical production becomes easier, there is less value in (easily-automated) labor and more in creativity/novelty and initiative. A person with a valuable reputation is someone worth investing in — their work will give you back valuable ideas, access to valuable resources, or simple entertainment. It's like an elaborate amalgam of a stock market, venture capitalism, and one's social media followers.
    • It also mentions "Economics 2.0", the foundation of the society of the post-scarcity transhuman intelligences formed by modified uploaded humans and AI. It apparently isn't possible to understand nor engage in Economics 2.0 without your conscious mind being altered to the point where you are quite clearly no longer human, which also handily avoids the need for the author to explain what such godlike beings might trade in, or why. It's somewhat implied that the superintelligences are trading in lesser intelligences for control of creativity and novelty, but the characters observe from indirect contact with the remnants of other post-Singularity societies that they end up autocannibalizing as the superintelligences use (and use up) one another in their ever-more-complex economic interactions.
  • Strugatsky Brothers' Noon Universe has a classical post-scarcity society which they explicitly called communism. That gave them all kinds of trouble with the authorities, as their take on what communism should look like (decentralized, technology focused) was radically different from the party line. Similar elements were actually common with most Soviet Sci-Fi (indeed, it was actually required that writers depict the future as being communist, because the government thought it would "inevitably" be the case) but they fleshed it out to such an extent that it unnerved censors.
  • In Stanisław Lem's Observation on the Spot one of the countries Ijon Tichy visits on Entia is Lusania — a thorough deconstruction of post-scarcity utopia, where everything is done by nanomachines and people cannot hurt each other, but because of that hardly anything has any real value anymore. Many Lusanians long for the "simpler life" others have.
  • The Culture by Iain M. Banks is a post-scarcity civilization managed by super-A.I. known as "Minds", they might be described as "anarchist hippies whom you really don't want to piss off."
  • The Long Earth's premise is that there exists an infinite amount of parallel universe Earths, each with the common characteristic that mankind never evolved there, leaving its mineral, animal and vegetal resources untapped... and the way to access them is ridiculously simple, portable and has its schematics posted on the Internet. The economy quickly collapses due to the enormous amount of resources brought in (except iron, which can only Step in oxidized form, i.e. in blood or as rust) and unskilled workers leave en masse for objectively better lives, while governments start having problems when people realize they only need to Step a world or two away to be out of reach of any policies they don't agree with and Start Their Own. Just about everyone gets the idea to head for places known to contain gold on Earth without considering what it will do to the economy. Travel and resource production is slow, as Stepping occurs one Earth at a time and Teleportation Sickness affects almost everyone, but colonies are quickly founded more than a thousand Earth deep.
  • In Walter Jon Williams's Implied Spaces, powerful AI can control quantum fields with enough precision to create just about anything one can imagine, including pocket universes. Just about the only place any scarcities remain is in pocket universes dedicated to games and historical re-creations, where artificial scarcity is part of the rules.
  • In The Naked Sun, the planet Solaria had eliminated social inequality by only having a twenty thousand population, later reduced to 1,200. There are ten thousand robots per person.

Live Action TV
  • The TNG era of Star Trek (depicted in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager) has the Federation as Post Scarcity. This is played inconsistently as the Federation still has restaurants and shops on Earth, still has family run businesses and still conducts trade. It's been stated that real cooking with real food is always superior to replicated food (though only subtly) and historical scarcity of items still seems to require some monetary transaction.
    • The Klingons seem to still have a monetary economy, and it's shown that they have a preference for eating their food while it's live or uncooked, which replicators cannot do. Economic Careers however are frowned upon and seen more as a necessary evil. Financially ruining a house into dishonor is abhorred.
    • Ferengi society however, is all capitalists all the time and finds little they don't charge (want to sit in the waiting room? There's a fee and it's per minute!). Ferengi culture is so oriented to trade and monetary concerns that even the Federation and the Klingons have adopted some of their economy to conduct trade deals with the Ferengi.
    • Voyager takes place in a part of the galaxy where replicators weren't readily available to the locals, so they often found that offering replicated but otherwise scarce goods could help... but having the damn things was such a game breaker locally that their initial troubles revolved around other aliens wanting them.
    • Since replicators can produce nearly anything the Ferengi and nations that trade with them use Latinum, a metal that's liquid at room temperature and can't be replicated, as currency. Usually transported pressed into bars of replicated gold that's worthless by itself.

Tabletop Games
  • Warhammer 40,000
    • The Eldar used to have an economy like this. Their technology had advanced to the point where all work could be done by machines and everything necessary could be easily produced, eliminating scarcity and the need for labor. It didn't end well, as their society eventually slipped into decadence and resulted in the creation of the Chaos God of Squick, annihilating the majority of the Eldar in the process.
    • This was also implied for much of humanity during the Dark Age of Technology, which coincided with the latter years of Eldar supremacy. Using Standard Template Constructs, it was possible to build almost anything from local materials, from basic farming equipment and habitats, to highly sophisticated feats of engineering like tapping magma for industry and power generation. This also included sophisticated but flawed artificial intelligences, which later rebelled.
  • Eclipse Phase
    • Habitats operating under a "New" economy don't use money, instead most items are produced by public nanofabricators that are supplied with raw materials by robot miners, and everyone who contributes a few hours of "community service" each week is allotted enough resources to feed six people each day. Anything that can't be nanofabbed or requires more resources than a person is allotted (services, implants, spaceships, earth relics...) are either bartered for or obtained as favors from one's social network, which assign "rep" scores to people based on their actions. The Titanian Commonwealth has a variant where the government quantifies people's economic output as "kroners" that are invested in microcorps which do anything that nanofabs can't and give their employees rep.
    • There are also habitats with "Old" economies that ban nanofabricators and "Transitional" economies that have money and public nanofabricators which can only be used to produce goods without electronics or rare elements (like food and "plebian" clothes).
  • Nova Praxis manages to couple a post-scarcity reputation economy with corporate feudalism. Nanotech "compilers" enable anyone to subsist on a basic level but the Houses and their subsidiaries hold patents on most designs or keep them secret. Also, the Rep system is run by the Coalition government which is run by the Houses so they have their corporate Rep scores permanently set to 11 meaning that working for them is one of the fastest means of raising your own Rep.

Video Games
  • Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising takes place in a world where Nano Machines can create anything from dirt, and created a post-scarcity world where money is no longer used. The villains consist of The Remnant of the old guard, seeking to tear down this system and reinstate scarcity so they can reclaim their old power and influence.

Web Comics
  • In Schlock Mercenary, Cindy, a six-hundred year old warship AI, claims she's seen society cross into "post-scarcity" three times and every time people discovered another basic commodity they didn't have enough of.

Web Original
  • People who live in the civilized empires of Orion's Arm can easily go their entire lives without ever having to work, Archailects can provide anything they need and much of what they want for free. The most common professions are those concerned with raising the next generation, either through parenting or by altering non-sentient species so that they become intelligent enough to join galactic society. The NoCoZo is the biggest exception, being dominated by a number of Mega Corps.
  • In the Para Imperium verse Nano Machines can produce most commodities, but there's still a monetary economy because four things are still scarce: production of magnetic monopoles used in interstellar travel is a state secret and requires a Dyson Sphere, entangled particles and telepath pairs used for FTL communication have to be physically transported for decades, novelty is immensely valuable to people who've lived for centuries, and services are always in demand.
  • 17776 is set in a distant future without death, birth, or aging. They have the machinery to automatically fabricate anyone's physical needs, so boredom is the only real danger anymore. Some people continue working their old jobs just to have something to do; others play football games that can last for centuries or longer. How the economy works is never examined in any detail — but there is a bizarre scene where someone orders a meal from Burger King, and the restaurant gives her $20 with it.