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Post-Scarcity Economy

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"Sergeant, I've watched society cross into 'post-scarcity' three times now. Each time it happened we discovered a new basic commodity we didn't have enough of."
— The several-hundred-year-old AI Cindy deconstructing this trope, Schlock Mercenary

The Singularity has arrived! Technology has advanced to the point that practically anyone can have practically anything for practically nothing. Often involves Nanomachines, 3D Printers, or other forms of Matter Replicator. In other words, A Wizard Did Itwith SCIENCE! Expect a lot of Artistic License – Physics.note  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.


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    Fan Works 
  • 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.

  • Accelerando:
    • 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. There are particularly odd things such as the market for reputation; it's not explicitly explained exactly what a valuable reputation is, 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.
    • Also mentioned is "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.
  • In Ralph Williams' "Business as Usual, During Alterations", an unknown person/people 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.
  • In The City and the Stars, life in the city of Diaspar is supported by advanced technology under the control of the Central Computer.
  • Council Wars 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.
  • The Culture is a post-scarcity civilization managed by super-AI known as "Minds". They might be described as "anarchist hippies whom you really don't want to piss off".
  • The Bitchun Society from Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom 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 author Cory Doctorow felt the need to explicitly spell out why it's a bad idea.
  • In The Eschaton Series, 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.
  • In Heaven's River, humanity has been settled on multiple worlds by the Bobs and has formed the United Federation of Sentients (they have Subspace Ansible but not Faster-Than-Light Travel). They have autofactories that can produce pretty much anything inorganic using 3D printing and the resources of an entire star system. Bob, who's been out of it for a while, wonders how the other Bobs are paying the humans for certain services. Will explains that all the human worlds have adopted the PAM, portion of autofactory minutes, as a universal currency. The value of a PAM directly depends on the number of autofactories in existence, which discourages the construction of new autofactories, as it would lead to PAM devaluation. Basically, the humans have chosen to turn away from what is essentially this trope and retain a capitalist economy by enforcing scarcity.
  • Discussed in one The History of the Galaxy novel when humans discover that hostile alien machines possess Matter Replicators. One guy says that the technology must never fall into human hands, as it would mean the end of interstellar society, not to mention The Federation. There would be no need for interaction between planets, and interstellar economy would disappear overnight. There will be no need for common defense either, as each world would be able to produce a fleet in a short time. It would also lead to chaos, as this could allow a planet to wage war on anyone for any reason (which doesn't make all that much sense, as physical goods aren't the only thing that planets could trade: artworks, inventions and services are all things that could, in theory, still be traded).
  • In 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.
  • Keeper of the Lost Cities: In the elves' society, everyone receives a huge "birth fund" equivalent to around 5 trillion human dollars. As Della explains it, "Money is something we have, not something we need. No one ever has to go without." Since they're so long-lived, they work just to fill the time and for the joy of it.
  • Land of Oz: Oz doesn't use money (at least once Ozma comes to power), and food is plentiful. Meat even grows on trees. L. Frank Baum goes into detail about this, stating that no one works more than half of their day and can devote the rest of their time to leisure, no one is forced into a job they don't want to do, and food produced by farmers is taken to the Emerald City and divided evenly among the population, free of any charge. However, as Ojo and his uncle know too well in The Patchwork Girl of Oz, you do have to be near enough to where the food is to benefit from this, and if you live in too remote of an area you can still go hungry (but at least you can't die).
  • 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 My 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.
  • 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.
  • In Midnight Robber, most of the human worlds, including the planet Toussaint where the book starts, have automation which frees people from the need to work. Some, like the Pedicab Guild, insist on doing so anyway, but for the most people, arts and leisure are the main activities. This leaves Tan-Tan and her father Antonio totally unprepared for life on the remote Penal Colony world of New Half-Way Tree, where hard work makes the difference between life and death.
  • The Murderbot Diaries has a multi-planetary society called "Preservation Alliance" in which everyone is guaranteed everything considered essential to life: food, housing, medical care, education, and access to a futuristic Internet called the 'feed'. In direct contrast is the "Corporation Rim", a region of the galaxy controlled by corporations in which everything is owned by someone and everything has a price.
  • Nancy Kress's short story "Nano Comes to Clifford Falls" examines the dangers of the transition period. The small town of Clifford Falls is one of the last places in the US to receive the nanomachines which can produce nearly unlimited quantities of food, clothing, entertainment, and other necessities of life. Unfortunately, while the machines can produce pipes, they can't install them. And what incentives can you offer a plumber who has all his basic needs met? (He's probably busy plumbing his new mansion, created a piece at a time from the nanomachines.) Hazardous jobs like police and firefighter start to become dangerously understaffed, and eventually, people who understand the continued need for some good old-fashioned work are forced to band together for mutual support and aid.
  • The Noon Universe has a classical post-scarcity society which is explicitly called communism. That gave the Strugatsky Brothers 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 the Paratime series, Home Timeline lives lavishly on resources from thousands of parallel timelines.
  • 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 they 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.
  • Post-Self: Reputation networks are mentioned as existing in the System as a means of regulating the processing power available to uploaded individuals, with forking one of the more expensive activities in the early days of the System in the 22nd century. However, by the 24th century, the System is run on a dedicate space station and barely anyone cares about reputation metrics, with some uploads forming entire clades of forks.
  • Robot Series: The Spacers have postitronic robots to supply their every need. This has resulted in a general loss of social cohesion and toxic individualism — for example, scientists jealously guard their discoveries rather than sharing. In The Naked Sun, the planet Solaria has taken this to its logical extreme by only having a twenty thousand population to share the resources of the entire planet, later reduced to 1,200. There are ten thousand robots per person.
  • Robert Anton Wilson's Schrödinger'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 a 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.
  • 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.
  • The Uglies novels have Cities which seem to be this. The Pretties (read: 16-2x year olds) can have nearly anything they want just by asking for it. We find out later in the first novel that this is true, but not solely because of the highly advanced technology the society has. In fact, the companion book Extras deals very well with the fallout when one of the Pretties' "enhancements" is fixed with the Brain Rain. Said change causes a huge, permanent sea-change that requires the society to have a type of currency (based on reputation and work you do) to limit resource usage.
  • In Wizja Lokalna, one of the countries Ijon Tichy visits on Entia is Lusania — a thorough deconstruction of a 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Orville:
    • The Planetary Union apparently has one, given there is no money anymore and a more primitive planet is referred to as being still capitalist.
    • Expository dialogue explains that the members of the Union created a pact to cooperate and develop an interplanetary society and economy that didn't rely on money and financial transactions for the exchange of goods. This meant that when Matter Replicator technology was developed, the Union already had a post-scarcity economy in place so no one was tempted to exploit it to subjugate others. When the Union attempted to share replicator technology with a capitalist planet, the rich and powerful sought to monopolize it and maintain their power, setting off an uprising that resulted in the planet turning into a radiated wasteland in a matter of years.
    • Because there's no money or material scarcity within the Union, the economy runs on reputation, skills, and knowledge plus the willingness to use them. This means people have value, in a non-slavery context, and they seek to learn new skills, gain new knowledge, and build reputations so they may attain jobs and positions they want and share what they have with the rest of society. For instance, Ed Mercer was a career-driven officer in the Union fleet who worked hard and was slated for command of heavy cruisers on exploratory missions. However, a bad divorce saw his job performance suffer and his chances of ship command disappear. It took Kelly Greyson using her own personal capital to persuade the admiralty to give him command of a mid-level ship, a good position but below the one Ed is actually capable of. In command of the Orville, Ed comports himself admirably and leads his crew through death-defying challenges. This rebuilds his reputation so that he becomes trusted with sensitive tasks that have serious ramifications with Union diplomacy and security.
    • Something similar is explored somewhat obliquely in the second season: Gordon Malloy, known as an ace pilot, decides he wants to be more than just that and applies for command responsibilities. Kelly's initial reaction could be considered a "wait, you in command?" reaction, there's the implication that if he goes for command and doesn't do well, it will devalue his personal reputation because he will be going from a "Great Pilot" to a "Below Average Commander".
  • The 24th century 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. It is explicitly stated a few times across the various shows that the Federation does not have money, with Picard explaining that they now work to better themselves rather than to accumulate power and worldly possessions. However, this concept hasn't been fully explained, only that Replicators have allowed basic conveniences to be given to all Federation citizens:
    • Earth is depicted as a utopia that still has shops and restaurants. It's suggested that replicated food is serviceable but there is still a market for hand-made cuisine, both for the experience and from tradition. When you get into outer regions some Federation citizens (most notably Vash) do resort to crime, apparently in an effort to buy a standard of living outside the Federation superior to the one enjoyed within the Federation.
    • The Federation conducts trade with non-Federation civilizations and charges rent for shop space on Deep Space Nine. This seems to suggest that the Federation does buy and sell goods as an organization. On Deep Space Nine, Jake flatly states that as a Federation citizen, he does not have any money, yet he's seen frequenting non-Federation shops. Starfleet officers are also seen gambling and reference making purchases with "credits". It's unclear if the Federation provides credits to citizens to make purchases when living around non-Federation establishments but doesn't consider credits to be money.
    • The Ferengi have are depicted as a capitalist-focused society and use latinum as a currency, a room temperature liquid that cannot be replicated and is preserved with gold plating (often specified as gold-pressed latinum, the gold itself is pretty but comparatively worthless). After several decades of social, sometimes militant, hostility to each other the Ferengi are friendly enough with the Federation that they are in talks to join. How their society will mesh with the economy of the Federation isn't clear, though Deep Space Nine has mentioned that Ferengi are still experts on bartering and resource management, and as service agreements and handshake favors have their own value, they do find a niche next to Starfleet officers who have no concept of money.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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).
  • The lorebook of Hc Svnt Dracones clarifies that with molecular printing any scarcity in the setting is entirely artificial and anyone who manages to secure a Geomat and an asteroid is set for generations. It's just that the Mega Corps running the Solar system don't want that cutting into their profit margins and try to suppress it.
  • Lancer: The Core worlds of Union, those with easy access to the Portal Network, largely consider the concept of an "economy" in solely historical terms. Unfortunately, worlds in the Diaspora are not so well developed, and the Union Economic Bureau was forced to develop a currency enabling trade with them.
  • 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.
  • Explicitly averted in Starfinder, in which the dominant economic system is specifically explained to be regulated capitalism and that this is backed by the major god Abadar. Additionally, while there is enough material for basic needs to be easily met in most places, people want better stuff (the bigger gun, better armor, nicer ship, fancier vehicle, cool apartment, latest computer, amazing high-tech necrograft...) and that creates scarcity. An example would be the protective clothes and armor that are ubiquitous in the setting. There are free public charging stations to ensure your gear is always ready to ward off the basic hazards, and common protective gear able to stand up to the void of space or other common local conditions are so ubiquitous as to be virtually free. However, as a Player Character, get ready to get on a treadmill of scrounging for credits to make sure you have the latest armor to stand up to the threats you are facing at this level, because it will be obsolete and too weak by the time you gain two more levels.
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising takes place in a world where Nanomachines 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.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic: Zakuul is presented as essentially one of these in Knights of the Fallen Empire: in the Hive City of the Spire, droids handle most labor and service jobs everywhere but the undercity and the swamps where criminals and rebels are exiled. However, this leaves a lot of Zakuulans who don't serve in the government or military terminally bored. The post-scarcity society starts to break down as a consequence of the war with the Republic and the Sith Empire: in Chapter X, the Player Character helps an anarchist named Firebrand, a.k.a. Imperial Agent companion Kaliyo Djannis, sabotage Overwatch, the organization that runs the Spire's droids. Firebrand was initially helped by rebellious young Zakuulans who thought it was all a fun game, but had a collective Heel Realization after realizing Firebrand was dead serious.note 
  • Stellaris: Egalitarian empires have access to the "Utopian Abundance" living standard, which increases pop happiness at the cost of increased Consumer Goods upkeep.

  • Discussed in Freefall, which takes place on a planet that is in the process of being terraformed, with only twenty thousand adult humans. There is enough of basically anything that any random human can have pretty much anything they want at any time. Of course, that's only possible due to the willing support of over four hundred and fifty million robots — if you count them as citizens, then the scarcest resource is actually humans (because robots want to serve humans, and there just aren't enough of them to go around). At one point, Maxwell Post decides to help prove robot sapience by having robots speak to every single human on the planet personally. There is no sign that this was even a large fraction of the tiny number of robots who ally themselves with him.
  • 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. (Funnily enough, one of the "post-scarcity" items is... cookies. Schlock likes to raid the kitchen, and the last ship was able to produce them on demand...)
    • One resource of particular scarcity is Post-Trans-Uranics (PTUs), high-density synthetic elements used to construct matter annihilation reactors ("annie plants") and extremely energy-intensive to produce, especially without gravity manipulation which requires annie plants. Multiple arcs of the comic center around the struggles over Precursor PTU stockpiles.

    Web Originals 
  • 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.
  • The Homestuck Epilogues claims that the civilization founded by the heroes at the end of the main comic is post-scarcity, thanks to SBURB technology such as Alchemizers having been brought over. Despite this, people are still depicted as working, and the state of the economy is a big plot point.
  • 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. There's still plenty of people who work, though, with some common professions being raising the next generation (either through parenting or by provolving non-sentient species) and Terraforming. The NoCoZo is the biggest exception, being dominated by a number of Mega Corps.
  • In the Para Imperium universe, Nanomachines 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.