Money in Post-scarcity economies

Money in post-labour/post-scarcity economies of the Terragen Sphere

Post-Scarcity economics
Image from Arik

Compared to the scarcity economies of the Pre-Information age, as well as many midtech and below civilisations of the Terragen Sphere, hi- and ultratech civilisations represent unique environments for developing post-scarcity economies and monetary systems. Whilst some economists and historians argue that 'post-scarcity' is a misnomer as some commodities are unavoidably scarce („original‟ artefacts over mass-produced, specific lands over habitat space etc) the fact remains that any post-scarcity civilisation will have an abundance of matter and energy simply through their ability to grow at negligible cost (See Outgrowing the Bill, below). This creates a situation whereby the economics of distributing abundance dominate over scarcity economic principles.

Surprisingly this abundance in of itself would not result in much of a change in newly post-scarcity economies if it weren't for the manner by which this new paradigm is usually gained. Most post-scarcity economies become so through the development and adoption of artificially intelligent labourers (see expert systems, slaved/dedicated AI) resulting in the formation of a post-industrial based economy. It is this combination of material and labour abundance that results in a necessary metamorphosis of monetary systems in post-scarce civilisations.

With the wide availability of dedicated inexpensive non-sophont labour many formerly traditional modosophont occupations are no longer viable in the face of the competition. Ironically without changing monetary paradigms the majority of sophonts in post-scarcity economies can find themselves far more impoverished than under the previous systems. This article outlines common characteristics of post-scarcity economies followed by a list of approaches to monetary systems that have been developed by civilisations once they become post-labour, post-scarcity, post-industrial economies.

Common characteristics of post-scarcity economies

Autonomous industry

Almost all post-scarcity economies arise after technological development allows the creation of autonomous industry (also called self-reping industry). A key factor in the definition of autonomous industry is that it is capable of almost exponential growth once constructed. Such developments involve high-tech scientific breakthroughs in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence that allow the creation of lights-out automated factories (autofacs) stocked by presapient bots and run by dedicated AIs. Specialised autofacs can be combined into larger, more sophisticated autofac complexes (autocomplex) capable of performing all primary and secondary sector of economy tasks and (depending on sophistication) almost all tertiary and quaternary sector tasks.

Once an autocomplex has been constructed all it takes is a single order and the autocomplex will assemble the necessary workforce and components to mine and refine the required resources before assembling a second autocomplex. As science and technology develop autocomplexes tend to be replaced by varieties of sophisticated autofabs that are diffused throughout the infrastructure of the civilisation in question (ranging from domestic to more than solar system scales). The zero-labour requirement of autonomous industry allows and causes a variety of interesting and unique characteristics in post-scarcity economies, the biggest of these being...

Outgrowing the bill

When faced with very expensive undertakings (e.g. megaprojects) post-scarcity economies have unique mechanisms for dealing with the cost. When faced with a project that will require a significant fraction of the economy to be committed for a significant amount of time a post-scarcity economy can opt to grow their industrial base to reduce the relative cost of the project, thanks to outgrowing the bill post-scarcity economies are able to embark on projects that cost many times their total economy for negligible cost!

For example: terraforming a planet requires a constant planetary scale industry capable of undertaking multiple megaprojects in tandem and coordinating trillions of intricate processes. An example of how this could play out: a civilisation (hosting a post-scarcity civilisation) plans to terraform a planet and that this will cost 50% of their industrial output for several centuries. Instead the civilisation can assemble and transport to the planet an industry seed at negligible cost. This industry seed (a compact, ultra-versatile, ultra-durable autofab whose size could be measured in centilitres depending on the sophistication) can go on to grow an industry to perform the terraforming far greater than that of the original industry in the home civilisation.

This 'outgrowing the bill' is extremely common, almost all mega-(and above)-projects feature some combination of current industry commitment alongside new industry growth. In some civilisations this solution is offered to individual civilians who desire an item/service far beyond their means. Restricted industry seeds can be granted to the individual along with the rights for the required matter/energy to grow the level of industry required to grant their wish.

Steady state economics

The majority of post-scarcity economies develop towards steady state economies compared to the continuous growth economies common in scarcity economies. This is due to the fact that if post-scarcity economies grow at their full speed eventually local resources may become depleted thus increasing the strictness of supramonetary approaches and leading back towards a scarcity economy. It should be noted however that the resources available to a post-scarcity economy are huge (potentially multiple solar systems worth of matter and energy) so population growth is not the biggest issue. Rather steady state economic principles are often put in place to prevent overconsumption or greed that may lead to economic collapse (See Uncapped Personal Resources, below).

Large scale transmutation

Sufficiently advanced civilisations can construct and maintain deep well industrial zones (DWIZ) allowing for large scale transmutation of elements. This simplifies a lot of the scarcity still apparent in post-scarcity economies. The scarcity of limited elements is usually mitigated in post-scarcity economies by increasing industrial commitment to prospecting, mining and refining scarce elements. However the increased complexity of the logistics of such operations in addition to the longer time scales needed to acquire the elements can (sometimes greatly) push up the price of commodities requiring these elements. In some civilisations instead of/as well as price increases additional supramonetary approaches to scarce commodities may be employed (see below).

Other solutions can include a greater commitment of intellectual resources from the quaternary sector of the economy towards redesigning technologies to operate with less or without the scarce elements.

Time

No matter how efficient or advanced a post-scarcity economy is there will always be a time limit to how fast commodities and services can be provided often referred to as the "wait-time". For many items wait-time is an insignificant factor to the consumer (most everyday items can be provided for in minutes), however if the wait-time is deemed to be an issue often logistical management of commodity provision includes mechanisms for quickening supply. For example; if a household autofab is asked to provide a complex/large item it may be quicker for a neighbourhood or industrial autofab to fabricate the item and transport it to the consumer. Importantly depending on the system this service may be provided for free or the consumer may have to pay extra, alternatively (or in tandem) civilisations may employ social capital metrics to determine access to wait-time reducing facilities.

Ultratech and Gift-tech

Complicating issues of scarcity in post-scarcity economies is the prevalence of technologies requiring transapient and higher minds to create. Ultratech is defined as technology which has been developed and designed by transapients but can be used by modosophonts. Those transapients who chose to provide ultratechnology may offer their services for free (though on an ad-hoc basis), do so for payment (generally through supramonetary approaches) or may even gift a society with an artefact capable of making ultratech products on demand (such as monopole breeders). Gift tech of archailect levels are rarely given for payment or as producers of further gift tech (though in the latter case there are examples of megacorps, governments and powerful groups receiving gift tech artefacts capable of making more). How different societies handle ultratech and gift tech can vary greatly, however often in post-scarcity economies with a high transapient population dedicated systems exist to provide ultratech as a normal part of automated industry.

The role of money in post-scarcity economies

The following is a by no means exhaustive list of just some of the varied approaches post-scarcity economies take to personal resource management. Indeed civilisations may adopt some of these methods and combine them into a useful economic system (the largest point of variety is in supramonetary approaches) All methods described aim to deal with how sophonts can gain access to autonomous industry when there are no necessary professions for them i.e. professions where the sophont is intrinsic (e.g. celebrity personality) rather than professions where tasks need to be performed (e.g. manufacture).

Money as legal tender

In some cases a newly formed post-scarcity economy tries to continue its scarcity monetary system. There are two common systems by which this older paradigm is adapted to new situations.

Plutocratic economies
As the transition from scarcity to post-scarcity occurs wealth concentrates and society stratifies as jobs are increasingly automated faster than the workforce can retrain. Those possessing non-automated professions and those owning or possessing control over the developing automated industries accumulate vast wealth at the cost of the majority of society, the number of non-automated jobs grow vanishingly thin as further adoption of AI workers continues. Once true post-labour/scarcity has been achieved the social setup of the civilisation can resemble neofeudal states led by the owners of the automated industries under which the rest of society lives at the behest of the rulers. The method of by which non-plutocrats obtain money in such systems are varied, ranging from ad-hoc charity or an adoption of a system(s) outlined in this article.

Such systems are often awful for those who do not rule as their wealth and existence is entirely dependent on their favour with the rulers of the fief. Sometimes however systems such as this take on a more utopian ideal with the rulers taking the role of caretaker, more often than not this occurs when the rulers are transaps. In the Sophic League the Gaianists employ an inverse version of neofeudalism whereby the Alphas run the automated industries whilst everybody else spends their time in contemplation.

Patent, property and service economies
More common than Plutocratic economies, in a Patent, Property & Service economy (PPS) when a civilisation makes the transition from a scarcity to post-scarcity economy individual sources of income can be protected through extensive intellectual property laws. Similar to a plutocratic system the wealth of a society stratifies as automation increases however in a PPS system people are encouraged to develop a portfolio of unique products/technical designs, land for rent and unique services. Examples of the latter include providing social commentaries, sensorium beaming and entertainment.

Thanks to this approach control of autonomous industry is not enough to propel an individual or group into a fiefdom; instead sources of wealth are more distributed. PPS systems strongly encourage shared portfolios to create companies and organisations for which wealth is divided up amongst those within. It is rare to find an individual whose personal portfolio is strong enough to provide them with wealthy income, even when these individuals do exist they quickly look to combine in an attempt to avoid income loss for when new patents or services make theirs obsolete. PPS systems are particularly common in regions where public ownership or state governance of industry is strongly opposed to.

Elimination of money

In some civilisations all monetary systems are abolished, instead if a sophont wishes for something they only have to ask for it and public automated industry provides it. Amonetary systems usually adopt one of the following approaches;

Uncapped Personal Resources
In an Uncapped Personal Resources (UPR) system there is, in theory, no limit to how many resources an individual can consume. Whilst this is technically true more often than not such civilisations undergo intensive and extensive memgineering for moderation to prevent individual sophonts consuming large percentages of the local systems matter and energy.

Alternatively supramonetary systems may be in place to regulate consumption, for example members of the Negentropy Alliance can only receive luxury items if they demonstrate that the item is not frivolous or wasteful and the desire for said item is morally correct. In spite of this there are rare accounts of perverse civilisations consuming vast resources to sate the appetite of the residents. These societies were quickly stopped by their neighbours through force or covert memgineering or in some cases underwent economic/Malthusian catastrophes. The remnants of such civilisations now exist as Cinder systems.

When it comes to non-scarce commodities and services (land, original artefacts, services from sapient beings etc) there are multiple supramonetary mechanisms that civilisations have developed to deal with this including but not limited to; social capital metrics, net-assisted barter transactions and Neo-Geoism philosophies (see below).

Capped Personal Resources
A civilisation with a Capped Personal Resources (CPR) based economy affords each individual a set amount of resources for life to do with what they wish. This amount is decided by the total available resources available to the civilisation minus the amount of resources necessary to maintain and develop infrastructure divided by the population number. In theory this could grant individual sophonts significant fractions of a star system's mass and energy, for example: a star system with the equivalent mass of Sol-system (excluding Sol itself) contains roughly 2.5 yottatonnes of matter and has a sun that releases 386 yottawatts of energy. If just 1% of this was available for a population of 1 billion sophonts each would receive 25 terratonnes of matter and 386 terrawatts of energy.

In practice the types of civilisations utilising a CPR system rarely employ one CPR zone but a myriad of smaller CPR areas. This is due to the logistical challenges of mining and transporting matter across interstellar distances, accessing most of this mass inconveniently locked in planetary bodies in reasonable times and the problems of wealth dilution with population growth (i.e. the timescales involved change the economic landscape). Instead it is far more common to find CPR systems in individual habitats; this allows individuals to get the most out of the resources within a hab. If an individual finds they need more resources they can be encouraged to recycle what they already have used, if the general consensus amongst the population is that individual wealth should grow the hab can look to acquire more resources from elsewhere.

Money as resource allocation

A common occurrence in newly formed post-labour/scarcity civilisations is for conventional media of exchange to become allocation units (credits). Similar to amonetary systems allocation approaches rely on public automated industry and implement a system by which people receive a share of the resources. Generally such economic systems utilise one of three approaches (with great diversity in how these approaches work in practice);

Blinded Distributed Utility Credit
In Blinded Distributed Utility Credit (BDUC) systems non-scarce items (mass, energy, bandwidth, computation, data, expert systems) can be purchased with credits. Every sophont gets an equal allocation of credits regardless of who they are and what their social status is, hence the term 'blinded' (exceptions can include minors and criminals depending on the
system). Allocations can either be renewed after a certain amount of time e.g. 1 megacredit per sophont per week or given in terms of resource unit allowance per second e.g. 100g/s, 1MW etc. Such systems are usually designed to ensure that sophonts would have a hard time spending all of their credits even living luxuriously. If trends change so that maxing out allocations becomes quite common there may be a motion to grow the civilisation's automated industry so as to increase allocation. Some components of this system include;

  • Individuals as part of a hobby can design products and upload the templates for free (perhaps receiving social capital, see below) to online template catalogues, utilising their allocation others can download these templates and have them assembled. If an individual cannot find what they want/need from the catalogues they can simply have an expert system design a bespoke product. This template may then join the catalogue for others to use.
  • Loans for items costing multiple allocations worth of credit, these loans can then be repaid through a reduction in allocation for a required time. The maximum size of the loan and time allowed for repayment differ from civilisation to civilisation.
  • Banking systems allowing for allocations to be saved by individuals. May include caps to individual wealth to prevent individuals accumulating vast resources necessitating constant economic/industrial growth and storage of mass/energy. Because of this civilisations tend to use either a loans and excess approach or a bankable system.
  • Excess systems for sophonts who do not want a loan (perhaps because such a loan would take lifetimes to pay off). Civilisations utilising such systems pool together all or some of the unspent credits at renewal time, this excess is then used to pay for requested commodities made by individuals from a first-come-first-served list (some civilisations have a cap on how much can be applied through excess).
  • Collaborative projects allow groups of individuals to combine resources towards a shared goal. Such projects are common for luxury public facilities (e.g. recreational parks) and are usually initiated by an individual lodging a petition that is automatically sent to all those affected by the project. The proposition usually includes a detailed plan of the project including a financial plan (can be put together by the petitioner or by expert system based on petitioners desires) documenting how big a loan each member must take out and/or how much will be applied for through excess (and possibly an application for government funding).
For non-scarce items including land, services from sapient beings and unique artefacts different BDUC systems employ different supramonetary approaches to scarce commodities (see below). For this reason blinded credit is rarely swapped between individuals.

Base Rate Distributed Utility Credit
Whilst in blinded systems all individuals have equal credit allocations, in Base Rate Distributed Utility Credit (BRDUC) systems there is a standard allocation known as the 'base rate' that can be increased. The simplest way that this could be achieved is for one individual to pay another for a non-scarce good or service. Because of this societies adopting BRDUC systems often encourage rare and odd crafts or skills, such civilisations tend to lean toward a more artistic and varied culture.

A more common method of building on the base rate is for some type/combination of supramonetary approaches to scarce commodities to directly influence the amount of extra allocation an individual receives (see below). For example, if utilising a social capital metric the amount of extra allocation an individual receives can be directly proportional to their social capital score.

Components of BRDUC systems are quite similar to that of BDUC, a key difference is that if the former utilises a social capital metric for determining extra allocation high score individuals will often form groups to work on collaborative projects allowing for shared social capital. The multiplying effect that this action can give can make individuals very wealthy above the base rate. This is not true of all BRDUC utilising civilisations however, in some it is rare for individuals to ever receive extra allocation (or even desire it). In the Mutual Progress Association members of the Scrabo Prior clade commonly top up their base rate with extra credit by periodically displaying adverts on their tattooed skin.

Metric Determined Distributed Utility Credit
Far removed from blinded approaches the allocation distributed by a Metric Determined Distributed Utility Credit (MDDUC) system is exactly proportional to whatever system of supramonetary approaches to scarce commodities the civilisation in question utilises. Unlike a BRDUC system utilising social capital metrics an individual of a MDDUC system receives no base rate allocation.

The effect of this is to hugely increase the incentive for collaborative groups as a means of increasing allocation. Indeed in most MDDUC systems competition amongst competing groups can be exceedingly high with fortunes being made and broken all the time. Such systems are breeding grounds for corporations and minor houses looking to rise to the dizzying heights of wealth available to the megacorps and Great Houses.

Supramonetary post-labour approaches to scarce commodities

As previously mentioned post-scarcity economies only get rid of the scarcity of matter, energy and (via the paradigm shift of artificial intelligence) labour. Whilst this allows individuals living under these systems to gain fantastic personal wealth there are always some things that are scarce; key examples being specific land (non-specific land is not scarce as new habitable space can be manufactured) and unique artefacts. In addition to this some societies have in place mechanisms for adjusting access to automated industry. Summarised below are a few popular options that have been developed by post-scarcity civilisations.
Social capital metrics
Utilising ubiquitous monitoring and processing technologies the interactions of individuals can be observed and evaluated. Commonly this manifests as autonomous systems operating in a sophont's personal processors/DNIs/subroutines that rate the actions of other individuals so as to give everyone in the society a social capital score. An example of this could include one sophont rudely pushing past another, this could result in the latter sophont autonomously (i.e. subconsciously) rating the former a number of negative points. Conversely one sophont stopping to help another could result in the latter sophont autonomously rating the former a number of positive points. The score of an individual can then be used to determine access to scarce commodities such as land. Some components of social capital metric systems include;

-Certain thresholds of social capital score required to apply for residence in certain areas. In addition the higher the score the more land available to you.
-Upon designing and releasing a product people subconsciously rate it, the more extensive your portfolio of popular products the higher your score.
-The use of intelligent rating systems to decide on the legitimacy of a rating (to prevent discrimination leading to conformity and repetitively rating a friend to boost their score) and the fairness of the score awarded (to prevent different people awarding the same action a different score).
Many civilisations utilise not just one but a multitude of metrics. These scores can then be amalgamated, taken as separate ranks or even organised into combinatorial scores (i.e. when displayed as a Venn diagram multiple metrics can overlap or negate each either). Whilst uncommon there are circumstances where changing social capital scores in one metric can automatically alter scores in another, for example; scoring high with one company's metric may lower their score in rival company‟s metrics.

Net assisted barter transactions

With regards to unique goods and services transactions can occur through complex barter systems. Under this system individuals can use expert systems and sites on the Known Net to seek out owners of unique artefacts/services and enter negotiations for a trade. Exotic-artefact barter merchants frequently trade and acquire for an extensive collection. Whilst it is often difficult for individuals with nothing to trade to enter the market once they possess something unique or offer a service they can quickly find themselves trading up the ladder accumulating a wealth of artefacts, land and favours. Often individuals can acquire a mercantile expert system (through any of the post-labour/scarcity monetary systems listed above), give it a set goal and wait whilst their portfolio grows and shrinks on its way to acquiring what they want. The expert system does this by; attempting to spot chains of coincidence of want (e.g. by swapping a painting for a map, a map for a ring, a ring for a promise of service and a promise of service for the goal item) and attempting to acquire items that boost the portfolio's value.

An example of this would be to give the mercantile expert system the goal of acquiring any original work by a specific artist, the expert system may then keep track of all available artefacts as well as the items that the owners of these artefacts are seeking. In a complex series of rapid trades the expert system can engage in countless transactions before finally completing its quest. The amount of time this takes can greatly vary, sometimes sophonts are lucky and find that their mercantile expert system has managed to trade its way to acquiring the desired artefact seconds after being set the task. On the other hand in the Current Era there are still expert systems that have been pursuing their task since the first nanotopias of the Interplanetary Age.

Neo-Geoism philosophies

Quite removed from other supramonetary approaches Neo-Geoism philosophies hold that no individual can own unique artefacts, instead they can only lease them for a certain time whilst meeting certain criteria. An example of this could be that to own a section of specific land an individual must first prove worthy (possibly through achieving specific social metric scores)before being given the land for a set period. For unique artefacts such as artwork an ideology of public ownership can act in a similar manner, by this artefacts are kept in museums until such a time that a sophont proves themselves worthy enough to possess it for a set amount of time.

Disruption Rating

Most societies have in place regulations and stipulations governing how one sophont's behaviour can infringe on other sophont's freedoms. Disruption Ratings are fairly simple ideas that aim to regulate what a sophont can do by altering the cost of their desired expenditure. For example; if a sohont wishes to use their allocation to build a new home the plans can be submitted for Disruption Rating (usually determined by a specialised AI such as an Aibitrator). If their plans are considered to be greatly disruptive to their neighbours or society at large the cost may be increased, other supramonetary requirements may be set, the project may be denied or stipulations may be put on the project such as requiring its disassembly after a period of time.

Correspondingly some Disruption Ratings may reduce the cost of the project or even grant it for free (or reward) if the level of disruption is shown to be negative. An example of this could be a sophont applying for a project that would use their allocation in a way that benefits the community.
 
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Development Notes
Text by Ryan B

Initially published on 19 January 2012.