In the present day, petty crimes like speeding, trespassing, and jaywalking in a dangerous area are punished by fining the infractor some amount of money. This is usually a deterrent because being forced to give up your money means that you'll be more limited in your ability to obtain your needs and basic wants.

But what happens when you commit such a crime in a post-scarcity society in which money is no longer necessary to obtain your needs and basic wants? It seems to me that speeding (or at least crimes of equivalent severity) would still need to be punished in some way, but would not be severe enough for jail time or similar punishment that would presumably still be available in a post-scarcity world.

So that we have an operational definition, let's describe a post-scarcity society as:

A society in which all a person's needs are freely met and there are no limiting factors in achieving these needs (e.g. energy is virtually unlimited). Basic luxuries are available without cost such that the majority of people's wants are easily obtained.

The model of a post-scarcity society that I have in mind is Star Trek in which money is not used (at least not by the Federation), any food you want is instantly dispensed by a replicator, energy is virtually unlimited, and holodecks let you have virtually any experience (I've always imagined that on earth they are as common as a movie theater). You can't obtain your own Enterprise so your wants are still limited, but the majority of a person's wants are certainly within grasp.

However, post-scarcity Star Trek doesn't provide any answers for what might replace a fine since the usual recourse for a crew member misbehaving is a black mark on their Starfleet record (which might lead to demotion). However, that punishment won't apply to Joe Schmoe who is not in Starfleet and is speeding while visiting Risa.

So what sort of punishment would replace fines in a post-scarcity society?

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    $\begingroup$ Comments deleted. Comments are to seek improvements to the post (e.g. by asking questions, which ideally should be answered by edits). Please take discussions to Worldbuilding Chat. Thank you. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Feb 27 '15 at 4:53
  • $\begingroup$ Is it possible to impose scarcity in your world? (E.g., you must have a valid ID to use holodecks, which can be confiscated as punishment.) Or is everyone post-scarcity all the time? $\endgroup$ – Chris Hayes Mar 2 '15 at 6:56
  • $\begingroup$ Some things will always be high valued and scarce. Attention and social status for instance. If you can be outed and shamed for your actions your social status lowers. That would still be true in some world without money ( if that would ever happen ). A new currency would then be likability and social status. Many people already work a lot more than they actually would need to buy what they want financially because they fear the social consequences of unemployment. $\endgroup$ – mathreadler Jan 20 '16 at 16:23

20 Answers 20


What about community service hours? You could even make the punishment fit the crime in some cases.

If the person is found guilty of jaywalking, make them to spend their days off as a crossing guard.
If the person is found guilty of littering, make them to pick up trash on the side of a highway.
And so on...

This kind of alternative sentencing is already becoming a little more common in some juvenile and misdemeanor courts in the US.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting idea, but do you really want someone who's just shown their disregard for the basic idea of proper street crossing to be in charge of making sure others do it safely? $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Feb 25 '15 at 11:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Zibbobz The OP specifically says The model of a post-scarcity society that I have in mind is Star Trek $\endgroup$ – 458 Feb 25 '15 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler you don't get it. Making the litterer be responsible for keeping the street clean is the best way to get the person to stop littering. It works for kids, it works for adults as well. $\endgroup$ – Gabriel Fair Feb 26 '15 at 2:37
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterMasiar No, community service is a real punishment, but you only do it because the authority gives you only one alternative, imprisonment, which is generally considered less desirable. Offenders don't want to do either. But given the choice, they usually choose community service, though somewhat artificially, because failing to appear for community service is an offense of its own, contempt of court, which would give you more jail time. And judges are real dicks about contempt of court. I've heard of getting months for missing a court date or something. It's like AWOL for the army. $\endgroup$ – 458 Feb 26 '15 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ In a post-scarcity society there is no need for people to work as crossing guards or litter collectors, presumably because we have robots to do that work. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Apr 14 '16 at 17:17

If you live in a post-scarcity society, it won't cost you anything to just throw the guy in jail. And honestly, even if your society is full of immortals, time will always be a commodity.

Also, even if it's post scarcity, there will still be regulation (no, Timmy, you can't fabricate a nuke until you've finished your vegetables). If someone breaks the law, maybe they can only eat nutrition cubes for a few days, or their daily supply of clothes will turn pink for a week. There would be ways around this, but it'll be enough of a hassle to make people think twice about committing petty crimes; after all, post-scarcity society is going to get used to things being really easy.

There are other answers on this site about how a post-scarcity society is impossible (if I find them, I'll edit in some links); perhaps you can read them and get some more ideas.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the pink clothes :-) (and for a good answer, of course) $\endgroup$ – Burki Feb 25 '15 at 12:04
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    $\begingroup$ In the US some jails are moving to pink uniforms as a deterrent to recidivism. $\endgroup$ – apaul Feb 25 '15 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ This same type of punishment even has its own book written in 1850. $\endgroup$ – user1975 Mar 2 '15 at 3:32

I've come up with:

  1. Pain
  2. Execution
  3. Imprisonment
  4. Withhold certain resources
  5. Humiliation
  6. Forced labor
  7. Banishment

If it can be administered relatively quickly after the crime was committed, Pain, is probably the single most powerful motivator to the human psyche. A post-scarcity society is not necessarily a non-barbarous society. Something simple, like jaywalking, can be punished by a quick lash or two across the arse. More serious crimes can be more lashes and be across the face. If they are particularly barbarous, they might target other more sensitive areas, like the tongue, eyes, or genitals with other methods that might involve pins, chemicals, vices, etc. Considering all the inventive torture methods we've come up with in the past, short bursts of such things as punishment would probably be very effective.

More heinous crimes, like murder and arson, can be punished by execution. Losing your life is always undesirable. In the Star Trek episode Justice we are shown a post-scarcity world that punishes all crime by execution, including accidents (and some how Wesley weaseled out of his due justice there). Even jaywalking can be punished by death on some worlds. (There is a philosophical conundrum for a society of immortals. Is any crime worth what is essentially an infinity of life? Perhaps if you took an infinity of life wantonly, then it is reasonable to demand an infinity of life in return. A bit off-topic, but interesting.)

But in an enlightened, Star Trek society, pain/execution is never an option. Imprisonment is. No body wants to be locked in a small room for a full day, just for jaywalking. Nothing to do and no one to talk to. Just sitting there, being punished by sheer boredom and uselessness. More serious crimes can call for anything from two days to life imprisonment.

An enlightened society might also choose to withhold certain resources. In Star Trek, for example, you get transporter credits. Some crimes can be punished by limiting those or removing them entirely for a while. A less enlightened society might think something like hunger will curb your appetite for crime.

Humiliation can also be a powerful motivator. A black spot, a scarlet letter, a branded tear, etc. can all go a long way to preventing crime (though it seems like it would be ineffectual for repeat offenders). A post-scarcity society could force you to wear a certain kind of hat, a color of shirt, or post your face everywhere with the word "twat" as the caption. There's a lot of clever things you can do here that just might remind you of Mom and Dad.

Forced labor might also be effective. People don't want to be told to do anything, especially if it happens to be very disgusting or boring. An enlightened Star Trek society might make people do community service with all the holograms. Something stupid like scrubbing the whatchmacallits with a hundred copies of the Doctor from Voyager. That sounds like a pretty horrible punishment to me. A barbarous society might send you to the mines or somewhere else where injury and mistreatment is likely.

A final option is banishment. This might be viewed as barbarous or enlightened depending on context. It's always an option to tell offenders to go pound sand and never come back.

Combinations of these can be very powerful. There is a synergistic effect. For example you can combine imprisonment and humiliation by putting offenders in stocks without clothing for a day. Then all the little kiddies can replicate rotten tomatoes and hurl them at you, which might add a slight element of pain. Today's society often combines imprisonment and forced labor (i.e. community service). A post-scarcity society can imprison you and let you go hungry for a few days. Beatings were/are a regularity in typical prisons in barbarous times. In fact, there's much evidence to suggest that jailors were the first torturers.

  • $\begingroup$ I think in paragraph 4 you mean "replicator credits" not "transporter credits". $\endgroup$ – Philipp Feb 25 '15 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ I believe in Voyager, they established "replicator rations" because of their situation. In DS9 Sisco explicitly mentions that he used up a months worth of "transporter credits" during his first week at Star Fleet. Either way, the principle is the same. $\endgroup$ – 458 Feb 25 '15 at 8:37
  • $\begingroup$ Re Humiliation: a tattoo on your forehead that fades over time - long-lasting for serious crimes. The sort of crime could be expressed too (e.g. by color). $\endgroup$ – user3106 Feb 25 '15 at 9:13
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    $\begingroup$ Caning suggested, but not implemented, for traffic offenses in Malaysia: corpun.com/myj00312.htm#12402 $\endgroup$ – Paul Feb 25 '15 at 11:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Paul I'm under the impression that caning is a common punishment in Singapore. It is usually done publicly too. $\endgroup$ – 458 Feb 25 '15 at 17:56

There are a lot of options available to you in such a world. During my thought-sessions on communism and driving (this'll make sense in a second) I've come up with some ways to punish misbehaving citizens.

In a post-scarcity economy you can reward citizens who work for the good of the public, and put marks against those who break minor rules and generally make an arse of themselves. This could prevent them from getting the opportunities that they want or downgrade their food, clothing and possessions or limit their access to the goods that aren't freely available (like holidays to other countries, bigger TVs, nicer cars etc.). It would also have the effect of shaming the individual, which is the second part.

I've pondered on a roadnet that assumes that people have access, either by device or directly by thought, to a sort of rating system, where good drivers are upvoted, and bad drivers are downvoted. Rather than relying on poor drivers getting caught speeding or pulling other nonsense in the middle of the road (you've seen it happen), anyone present could just downvote their driving in a category, with a comment beside it. Votes that aren't confirmed by other people fade quickly, while if 100 people downvote an action, it'd probably be permanent. This is eminently applicable to your world, as people could vote up or down on the actions of others, so if a child misbehaves both their parents, and potentially any onlookers, could downvote the child's actions, bringing temporary shame to them. Minor criminals could have state mandated downvotes, which carry much more weight, or last for a long time. Everyone viewing that person's "profile", would be able to see this mark, and know that the person has committed a minor crime, in a way that really can't be done today.

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    $\begingroup$ It's basically a sistem like StackOverflow but for the general behavior of the citizens. I do like it. $\endgroup$ – STT LCU Feb 25 '15 at 7:53
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    $\begingroup$ The current SO system works only because there is no huge incentive to circumvent it (and still some people do). In your case the situation is different, and that in my opinion would not work - ultimately you would have to implement something like a trust metric, that has a drawbacks in itself (particular disadvantages depend on the system in question, to give an example, imagine that 51% of humanity could deem the other 49% "wrong" and that they should be killed or enslaved or whatever). $\endgroup$ – dtldarek Feb 25 '15 at 9:38
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    $\begingroup$ @dtldarek: a web of trust model could work. Basically, it allows you to give more weight for votes from people you already trust. If there are any significant discrepancies between someone's weighted and unweighted score, that warrants further attention. Social search engines already works like this, except that the scoring system are held by a single company rather than being independently verifiable. $\endgroup$ – Lie Ryan Feb 25 '15 at 11:46
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    $\begingroup$ @dtldarek That's exactly how democracy works. The only thing that helps circumvent that is the abstract term "minority rights". $\endgroup$ – 458 Feb 25 '15 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ If you can downgrade someone's food, TV and vacation you are NOT in post-scarcity economy. You just proved that such society cannot exist. $\endgroup$ – Peter M. - stands for Monica Feb 26 '15 at 18:19


Why do we punish crime? To discourage repetition of the problematic behaviour. So why do we need to discourage the behaviour? Because it's harmful. So (if you want a properly-managed society) you need to have punishments that are appropriate to the scale of the harm caused by the infraction.

Let's ignore speeding (which is more difficult because there's a risk of killing) and say the crime is littering or petty vandalism. What's the cost to society? Zero! In fact, if a robot will be along to fix whatever you did immediately, littering might not even become distinguishable from waste disposal; not even recognised as a problem because it's easier to just view it as the "interface". So there's no reason to punish someone for either of these: the action they take isn't actually hurting anyone, and they'll get bored and stop doing it long before the robots do.

So a post-scarcity society would likely see a tremendous reduction in the number of actions that are actually viewed as being crimes. How big the reduction depends on the society's capabilities and which actions are "free", but anything involving petty property damage pretty much has to be covered by definition.

This can also be extended to cover various nuisance or personally-damaging behaviours depending on how much freedom and economic clout individual citizens have. Speeding may cease to be harmful, and thus a crime, if it becomes conventionally accepted to wear your power armour while on the road (because you can't hit someone hard enough to kill them; a victim not wearing their armour would be seen like a motorcyclist not wearing a helmet today). Noise pollution is a non-issue if the neighbours all have their homes surrounded by a Cone of Silence. And so on. You'd see a lot of areas where the responsibility of the state gives way to personal responsibility, because state intervention is completely unnecessary.

There's also a middle-ground option where the state itself doesn't necessarily impose punishments, but private citizens might while you're in their territory and thus under their overall control. e.g. to steal an example from Iain M Banks' Culture series: in the Culture, murder isn't really "illegal" as such because there are no laws, but a confirmed murderer will be escorted everywhere by a "slap-drone" (security robot) because what are they going to do about it? when they're in an area under the authority of someone with the ability to dispatch security robots on a whim, or denied entry to that area altogether. State intervention is unnecessary in this case because the private citizen is perfectly capable of heading off any future damage on their own. (This ignores the operation of the justice system that determines guilt, but that's a separate question.)

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    $\begingroup$ There's a lot of sociological/psychological claims that I think might need to be backed up. I remain unconvinced that wanton action that is immediately non-harmful is also not harmful over the long term. It is my opinion that wanton vandalism is often escalated to other violence. Interesting point about liter being the new waste disposal system, however. $\endgroup$ – 458 Feb 25 '15 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ Just because it's not immediately harmful, doesn't mean it isn't vulgar, and still worthy of punishment. There are a lot of things that we prefer people not to do, but they don't actually harm anyone. $\endgroup$ – Rowanas Feb 26 '15 at 8:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Rowanas a) I don't find it plausible that a society would keep that kind of attitude up - or even be able to keep it up - for very long. Every tradition has a practical root somewhere, and unless identifying an activity as vulgar has an objective benefit somewhere down the line, people absolutely will stop doing it. b) Society already doesn't work like that in reality (in practice we tend to avoid punishing harmless offences and there's a big controversy over the few that remain on the books). $\endgroup$ – Leushenko Feb 26 '15 at 8:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Leushenko I would argue that that's not entirely correct. We have a vast number of traditions and superstitions that, even if they had a basis at some point, are now just nonsense that we hang on to because... it's tradition. While some minor laws are ignored in modern society, we'll still fight tooth and nail over ones that aren't being actively enforced (marijuana use, for instance, where our local police will never bother to catch the dozens of students sitting on Cathedral Green with weed, yet the students still campaign for it's legalisation) $\endgroup$ – Rowanas Feb 26 '15 at 9:33
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    $\begingroup$ Take for example, @Rowanas, the duplicity in American society to allow alcohol sale and consumption but not marijuana. Objectively, alcohol is probably more dangerous and easier to abuse. Except that it seems Alcohol is far more popular and weed outlawing was slightly motivated by racism (it was very common among only Mexicans in the 1930's). The point being that I agree with you; there's plenty of laws that were not practically motivated. $\endgroup$ – 458 Feb 26 '15 at 20:49

Reputation can always be damaged. The crime of jaywalking has two parts to it. First is the danger of being hit by a car. With ubiquitous surveillance the law should have no questions about who did what and the driver gets away clean. The jaywalker may get dead. Second is the waste of everyone else's time showing down and dodging him. For that, give him a black mark on his reputation from each driver he inconvenienced.

Women he dates will see that he doesn't care about other people and puts his own convenience above others.



A post-scarcity society means that the society is able to fulfill the needs of all people without needing to restrict access to goods. It doesn't mean that they must fulfill the needs of all people and that they cannot restrict access to those goods.

Lack of scarcity may feel natural in such a society, but it is possible to withhold it for various reasons, including as a punishment.

If everyone has access to ample amounts of varied entertainment, it can be withheld from some people - think about a parent saying that a kid can't use TV or computer as a punishment; in their household TV availability generally isn't a "scarce good" but it can be made scarce if needed.

If food isn't scarce in an economical sense - people can get any amount of delicious food they want - then still someone can be put on the historical prison diet of bread and water as a punishment.

There are many other ways, targeting every wish and desire that people commonly have. In a post-scarcity world, scarcity may feel as a strange, strict but effective punishment.

  • $\begingroup$ If we accept the premise, I think this is the right answer. A society that is capable of producing unlimited amounts of food and clothing and whatever could still tell one particular person that they are not allowed to have this food and clothing or whatever as punishment. Ultimately he could be banished from the society completely and so get none of it. (But as I say in my own answer, speaking of a "post-scarcity society" is to economics as speaking of creating energy from nothing is to physics. It violates the basic laws of science. If interpreted literally, it's impossible.) $\endgroup$ – Jay Feb 27 '15 at 15:31

Post-Scarcity does not mean the same thing as post-luxury. A society can provide an individual with all of their needs, but not necessarily all of their wants, and this is a distinction that is important to note when writing your fictional universe.

Say a person commits a petty crime in a post-scarcity society. That person's needs can still be provided, but entertainment, comfort items, and luxury food items can be withheld from that person.

A severe enough crime could even lead to them being relocated to a less luxurious living arrangement (since presumably living arrangements are also post-scarcity), and jail is still an option in post-scarcity society, restricting a person's freedom as punishment. A severe enough infraction may even carry a death sentence, as it does in our current non-post-scarcity society.

These latter more severe punishments you'll notice are similar to the ones we already have - that's because fees and fines are in place to take away the things that a person would buy with that extra money, so instead of taking away the money, a post-scarcity society would simply take away those things, either by not providing them to the person, or seizing any that they already have.


Expounding on apaul34208's answer: TIME

Even in a post scarcity economy, there is still a universally scarce resource and that is time. Basically you need to make them "pay" with their time. Community service is an obvious cost in time, but so are jail and, depending on the individual house arrest.

If you wanted to get creative, you could punish them with costs to some specific "variety" of time. You could force them to stay at their job for X hours longer, isolate them from their family for some amount of time, etc. As long as it costs them something that can't necessarily or easily be recovered. Heck, maybe the cop that pulled you over for speeding just keeps you sitting on the side of the road for an hour or two.


If we follow the model laid out by Star Trek, many forms of crime would be virtually non-existent. This is not to say that there will be no crime, but perhaps society would be by and large lawful.

Competition tends to bring the worst out of people. This competition doesn't even need to be for basic human needs. Have you ever seen what happens when someone cuts in line at a Black Friday sale? They would probably get maimed by an angry mob. A TV isn't a basic need, yet people are willing to get in a fist fight over one. If everyone there suddenly got a free TV, then the whole situation would be completely ameliorated.

The motivation for committing certain types of crime will be greatly diminished in a post-scarcity society. In our current society, there are limited resources, and they are not even close to being distributed equally. There are people who can have anything they could possibly want on command, while there are others with almost nothing at all; and have very little opportunity to better themselves. There is also a huge disparity in the quality of education in the world. There is also a huge illicit drug culture that is incredibly violent.

In a post-scarcity economy, all people would have the opportunity at having a quality education. The amount someone is educated directly correlates to their willingness to commit certain forms of crime. At a very young age, people could be taught a strict moral code which forbids them from doing harm to other people.

Most violent crimes committed today are by people who are mentally disturbed. Perhaps if these people had gotten the help they needed, they would have never resorted to committing heinous crimes. Without scarcity, it would be less likely that these kind of mental help cases fall through the cracks. There would be much better ways to track an individual's progress in school and in other activities. These kind of behavioral issues would most likely be able to be caught early. There may also be some kind of therapeutic drugs or other treatment which will cure people of mental illnesses.

There are many other ways to punish someone without levying fines. Fining people, even in today's society is a poor form of punishment. These fines are a very unequal form of punishment because it affects people differently based on their income. Fines don't attempt to fix the problem. They just act as a deterrent.

People will most likely not be immortal in this society. In Star Trek, people still died of old age. Technologies would exist to greatly improve the quality of life for elderly people, and extend their lives much longer than their natural lifespan. But, eventually nature would eventually win and technology would not be able to cheat death.

Imprisonment would still likely be a penalty. Because people would have finite lifespans, and suffer real losses by being imprisoned, this would still be one of the harshest penalties which could be imposed. However, prisons would probably be much different in a post-scarcity world. There would likely be more effort to actually rehabilitate a person so they could be returned to society than they are today.

Corporal punishment and public shaming could also be employed. The embarrassment of these kind of punishments would be enough of a deterrent to prevent all but the hardest of criminals from committing crime.

  • $\begingroup$ "Most violent crimes committed today are by people who are mentally disturbed." I don't think so. most violent crimes in the US, anyway, are caused by drug turf warfare and people operating cars irresponsibly. $\endgroup$ – Tony Ennis Mar 1 '15 at 15:56

All punishments works because of one of the two reasons:

  1. It indirectly inflicts discomfort by taking away one's privileges
  2. It directly inflicts discomfort

Money is a reward of privilege that one gains by doing a favor that is considered good by someone else, which can be used to exchange for the favor from someone else. A fine takes away some of that privilege. In comparison, other kinds of punishments, like imprisonment or community service takes away one's privilege of liberty, death sentence takes away one's privilege of life.

Corporal punishments and public humiliation, on the other hand, directly discomforts the punished by including pain and shame. Public humiliation can be in the form of publishing news stories about the criminal, or branding the criminal with a publicly recognizable mark. Some types of indirect punishment may also have inevitable public humiliation, for example, striping of one's ranks is privileged taking punishment, but it necessarily includes public humiliation as the new rank must necessarily be published to a large number of people.

A post scarcity society would offer a large amount of privileges to its members as a basic right. Punishments in a post scarcity society would revolve around taking away these privileges. Maybe a minor crime can be punished by taking away one's privilege of privacy, by requiring the punished to wear a tracking device. Or reduction in the quality or quantity of the goods normally afforded as basic rights. Guilt tripping can also be effective for certain people by inducing guilty conscience.

Membership in a post scarcity society is also a privilege, which can be taken away, in the form of banishment. People banished from a society is no longer bound by the rules of the society, but also receives none of the privileges its members had. Banishment may include physical ejection, but that is not necessarily required, if the society has an easy way to distinguish between members and non members.

A post scarcity society does not necessarily mean a society without money though. A post scarcity society usually means that all basic needs can be satisfied at no cost. This means things like basic food, clothes, house, education, transport, etc are free. Money can still exists in post scarcity society to regulate non basic needs, which are categorized as luxuries.


In some ways, a post-scarcity economy are like stable tribes. Another comparison would be the Internet of the early 1990s.

In those cases, the worst punishment would be banishment or removal. Lesser punishments would be shunning or denial of access to something either permanently or for a period of time. For example, if someone is caught stealing, having no shop in a village do business with that person for a week or two may be a lesson.

However, there is a point where the issue becomes less of a punishment than to protect others from an individual. If there is someone who is unable to function in a society, causing others extreme harm, then removing them from a society is less to teach the offender a lesson, but to protect everyone else. Banishment is one way, but if the individual is going to just go on his own and be a bandit, preying on people, it may take more drastic action like putting someone in a criminally ill asylum so they are not on the streets trying to harm others.

None of these are perfect methods, and all can (and have been) severely abused in the past. However, a strong sense of community and belonging can result in misbehaviors requiring far less effort to be corrected, for example, the fear of a night in jail may be just as much a deterrence in a society where reputation is valued compared to the fear of 5-20 here in the US.


The notion of a post-scarcity society shouldn't be seen as one where everyone has everything they could want or need; a society in which nobody could want anything beyond what was attainable would be an absolutely horrible place to live.

Instead, a post-scarcity society should be viewed as a literary device for hand-waving away a lot of work which in reality would be necessary for people to to satisfy their wants and needs, but which would be of little interest for writer or audience.

If one assumes people can't get everything they want, unrequited desires constitute scarcity. Unless an oppressive government outlaws such commerce, people will routinely trade valuable goods or services in exchange for things they want but could not otherwise receive. As such, although new technologies for producing things like food and clothing might cause spending patterns to shift markedly, that doesn't imply that people wouldn't still want money to buy things that aren't so readily available.

It's all well and good for an author to ignore economic issues that would not help the story, but that doesn't mean that an author should affirmatively pretend that such issues wouldn't exist. Even if one hasn't previously said anything about how much money a character has, that does not in any way imply they couldn't be fined. An author who didn't want to work out what size fine would be required to suitably affect the character could make it payable in a fictional currency which would be used only for that purpose, and then focus on how the fine does affect the character, without having to worry about whether 50,271 denzibars was a day's pay, a year's pay, or something in-between.


Damage to your reputation

And social isolation if you do really bad things.

Many of the things we have fines for now would simply not be a problem anymore (causing damage to other people's property, for instance, is hardly a problem if it can be instantly replaced without cost).

But for things that do matter, people will know, and they will treat you as an annoying person and you won't be invited to the best parties. If you're outright criminal, nobody will want to have anything to do with you at all anymore.

This is also practical because there won't be many people wanting to work jobs like being a policeman, fine collector, judge or jailor if getting paid isn't relevant anymore.

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    $\begingroup$ Oh, I imagine lots of people would like being a policeman or a jailor, getting to arrest people and drag lock them up, maybe even torture them now and then. Of all the jobs that would be hard to fill in a utopian communist society, I think policeman and jailor would be low on the list, along with "political commentator" and "artist". The tough jobs to fill would be more like trash collector and store clerk. $\endgroup$ – Jay Feb 27 '15 at 15:26

One of the best world-building creations I have seen to answer this question is outlined in detail in the RPG Nova Praxis by Void Star Studios. And no, this isn't a plug for the product. I am not associated with Void Star Studios in any way except as a customer of that product.

In the post-Singularity game world they have, the economy works by earning reputation ratings points and losing them either in the form of being downvoted by others or consuming more products and resources than your rep-rating normally allows for. It is less of a currency medium of exchange than it is a means of rationing consumption and rewarding production/good behavior. Everyone gets a default level of 'income' -- housing, medical care, clothing, food, entertainment. And those that are content to do nothing but subsist on that are called Defaults.

But most people decide to 'work' to get a higher rep-rating. They can be rewarded by upvotes from others (which cost those others) or creating new nanotech compiler templates or entertainment sims or doing services for other people that we today would consider 'beneath us'. One can also 'work' in a 'company' that is allocated a larger rep-rating to acquire compilers and robots and property or ships, etc. Those that provide a popular service and/or do it well get rewarded with rep-ratings as 'corporate income' which get distributed as 'profits' to the owners (usually high rep-rating individuals) and 'pay' to the workers.

Point is: There is great demand for 'work' to be had by individuals and society in general. Similarly, being a jerk in that society costs you as well.

For the real hard cases, traditional cops and trials and sentencing happens just as now. Only the punishments are either not that harsh OR are very harsh, like being exiled from the House you belong to. Like now, murder, rape and treason could get you in a lot of trouble. But libel and jaywalking will only cost you points and if you have enough in the negative it probably is very hard to rise up being Default status.

It covers all kinds of details, like how cops can be upvoted but not downvoted to protect them from citizen vindictiveness and how downvoting and upvoting of individuals in general is moderated to prevent abuse. There is also a maximum level of rep-rating one can achieve (was 10 but recently legislated to 11). And there are faults involved, like how the government pays more attention to high rep-rating individuals over low ones. It is not perfect -- which makes it all the more plausible and real.

In other words, like the Whuffie system in the book Down And Out in the Magic Kingdom only much more detailed in its use.


In any post scarcity environment, the limiting factors would be time, energy and bandwidth.

Wealth in a post scarcity environment would probably be represented by attention. Imagine being a person who's deeds were considered so amazing that you received millions of emails asking for advice (or FaceBook likes, or something similar). There is no possible way you could answer all these requests, but the fact you are in such "demand" (and limited "supply", being only one of you) means you are the valuable commodity in the post scarcity world.

For punishment of "petty" crimes like jaywalking, then limiting your access to bandwidth would reduce you potential value. The more serious the crime, the more bandwidth restrictions you receive (maybe it becomes impossible to download high end patterns for your 3D printer). Up to a certain point, further bandwidth restrictions would apply to more serious crimes (although in a post scarcity environment, what is defined as a crime would probably be far different as well).

Depending on the society, there would be some crimes so heinous that total removal from the network might not be considered punishment enough. Murder is probably going to remain the prime example of this sort of crime. How such a society chooses to punish these sorts of offenders may include capital punishment or prolonged isolation from the net (in a secure facility), or maybe exile, so your accumulated reputation and "value" in the home network is negated and you must start over again from 0 reputation

  • $\begingroup$ In our society, the limiting factors are time, energy, and attention. If you need time, energy, and attention to get what you want, then there is scarcity. People who are not willing to devote the time, etc don't get what they want. I once read an economics book that defined money as "portable, storable human labor". And that's exactly what it is. Sure, in a barter economy you can trade the things you made or the service that you perform for the products of others' work directly. But it's more convenient to have a single commodity that's used as the standard, so you work for money, and ... $\endgroup$ – Jay Feb 27 '15 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ ... then you take the money to the person who has what you want. Or you store the money until you need it. $\endgroup$ – Jay Feb 27 '15 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ There are many other commodities, such as social approval, legal rights and privileges, money for luxuries, etc... $\endgroup$ – Dronz Mar 1 '15 at 18:35

Your first premise sentence is inaccurate. In most cases in modern current society, at least for people who are well enough off, there is no substantial threat of losing the ability to pay for basic needs because of minor infraction fines. There is already a great abundance of food, shelter, clothing, etc at low enough price that many people can pay quite a few fines before worrying about their actual needs. Even wealthy people without any fear of poverty still tend to avoid paying fines for a wide variety of reasons that may have nothing to do with need fulfillment.

The issues of motive and punishment are more complicated than just what is actually provided, of course. What people do (and how they respond to potential punishments) is determined more by their psychology than by their needs, and may have nothing to do with needs. Even when people's psychology concerns needs, it's often wildly inaccurate to the actual facts - for example, many wealthy people are full of fears about losing their money and becoming homeless, or variations on that theme, even though it takes a lot to actually become homeless even for lower-class people in the same society.

At the "Star Trek" level of post-scarcity which you've defined, I imagine most of the scarcity-and-survival pathological thinking we see today would have been healed and replaced with new attitudes. However I don't think that some form of tradable money would not exist at all. Even in Star Trek per se, there are some commodities and there are traders e.g. Romulan Ale, Tribbles, spaceships, artifacts, real estate (see Kirk talking about selling a home in Star Trek Generations) and I imagine there are service trades as well. See http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Money. Having a system of trade is useful and can provide motivation and counterincentive, as long as there is anything that's a limited commodity or service, even if all needs and most common wants are provided for. So fines should still be somewhat of an option, even if they are less significant than in a society where nearly everyone lives in fear of being allowed to starve or freeze or go without medical care, etc.

In Star Trek we also see people being confined, imprisoned, sent to psychiatric prisons, disgraced, relieved of their positions/titles/jobs, and even marooned on unsettled planets.

There is a vast array of things that a society could use to punish and deter crime, even if they had unlimited goods, robot services and free holodecks, including (with my suggested options for minor crimes in italics):

Corporal punishments:


Dismemberment / Drugs



Discomfort, tickling, itching powder


Banishment / Exile (measured in degree, space, and/or time limits)


Deprivation of various rights (many options here)

Deprivation of various services (can be measured by degree, type, time, or a credit/money system)

Deprivation of property


Reputation, humiliation

Social class, memberships

Removal from professional / academic positions

Added duties or community service

Apologies, atonements, services

Oaths, contracts

Reeducation / Therapy / Counseling / Spiritual assignments

  • In other words, much as we do now, consequences for minor infractions could be like:

speeding - dangerous: fine against luxury credits, reduced driving or speeding rights, traffic class, promise not to speed dangerously again for a period or receive steeper penalty, and/or public record of dangerous speeding

speeding - trivial: small fine, brief reduction in speeding rights, or need to have a hearing/training session

trespassing - major: payment/reparations to whoever you trespassed against, apology, public record, temporary restraining order, counseling, etc.

trespassing - minor: small fine or payment to whoever you trespassed against, apology

jaywalking in a dangerous area - minor pedestrian education session, or requirement to sign contract taking full responsibility for consequences

  • $\begingroup$ A lot of those punishments seem extreme for offenses that are currently fineable (e.g. speeding, jaywalking). Banishment, removal from professional/academic positions, death, etc. $\endgroup$ – Thunderforge Mar 2 '15 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ True. I was thinking of the full range of punishment options. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Mar 2 '15 at 1:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Thunderforge I added some notes about some possible suggestions for the specific minor infractions you mentioned. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Mar 2 '15 at 1:18

This should not be that hard. Most children in the "first world" live in a post-scarcity society, albeit limited to their family. (They don't need money to buy their next meal from their parents.) In spite of this, most parents manage to force their kids to follow certain rules. So the answer to the OP's question would be: anything from shaming, to time-outs, to corporal punishment in extreme case.


Well, of course the premise of the question is that a "post-scarcity" society is possible. That is, that it is possible to create a society where everyone can get whatever they want whenever they want without having to work for it.

It is difficult to see how that is possible in the real world.

I recall lots of science fiction stories written in the 1940s and 1950s, when automation and productivity were really taking off, that toyed with the question of what people would do with their lives when you could get everything you wanted with little or no work.

But here we are 50 or 60 years later and no one is wondering how to fill their time because everyone is so rich that they don't need to work. Sure, today we spend a lower percentage of our incomes on food then people did 200 years ago. But besides that ... Maybe it's true that you could get a small, simple house that would provide basic shelter from the weather for a smaller percentage of your income than it took 200 years ago. But people don't want a minimal house; they want a big, fancy house. Today cell phones and computers are considered almost basic necessities -- to the point that people talk about the "need" for governments to provide these things to the poor for free -- yet they didn't even exist 200 years ago. If technology continues to advance, the average person will be able to obtain better and more, but it is likely that people's demands and expectations will also increase.

So in the Federation people get their food from replicators. Who builds the replicators? Who maintains them? Who mines the ore and smelts the metal that these replicators are made from? Etc. If they're not paid, why do they do this work? If the replicators break down and the person who maintains them doesn't feel like working today because he'd rather go fishing, it seems to me that people would starve. Should we assume that there would always be someone who knows how to repair them and who feels like working today? How could we be sure that that would happen? If everyone gets everything they want for free, wouldn't large numbers of people decide that they're not going to work at all, and never learn any of the skills needed to keep the society working?

I recall years ago when I was in high school, one of my teachers "explained" to the class that the idea that people in a utopian communist society would not work is false. He'd still work, he said, because he gets satisfaction from working. And maybe he would. Most days. But if you knew that you would get everything you wanted whether you worked or not, that work had nothing to do with any personal reward, don't you think there would be days when you'd say, "Hey, I don't feel like working today, I think I'll hate out at the beach or just take a nap"? I'm sure I would. I'm sure the amount of work done would be more than zero, because some number of people would work just because they enjoy the work or are bored sitting around doing nothing. But a whole lot less work would be done than when people are rewarded for their work.

Why do the crew of the Enterprise take orders from Captain Kirk or Captain Picard? If they're not paid and they have no obligations, then any time the captain orders them to do something they don't feel like doing, why don't they just say "screw you" and do as they please? He could put a black mark on their record and kick them out of Star Fleet? So what? If people can get literally whatever they want, then they could just get their own starship and go exploring themselves if that's what they want to do. If there are SOME things that are available for free, like food and simple clothing, but others that are scarce, like star ships, then this society must have some way of deciding who gets the scarce things. If it is not done using money or some equivalent, the only other alternative I see is that some sort of government decides. i.e. instead of people working to get what they want, they have to lobby politicians and appease bureaucrats to get what they want. Personally, I'd rather live in a society where I know that I can get what I want if I just work hard enough, or if it's really big, get together with other people to pool our resources; then in a society ruled by a communist government where the only way to get what you want is to have the right connections. But that's an opinion.

You could, I suppose, speculate that human nature will change and people will want to work for the satisfaction or because they feel an obligation to society or whatever. But that's a pretty wild speculation. Read some ancient books written thousands of years ago. Has human nature changed since the earliest recorded writings? People have always wanted to listen to good music, eat good food, have friends, make love, etc etc. Human nature hasn't changed in thousands of years. There's no reason to believe it will change in the next couple of hundred.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Downvoting because this doesn't answer the question, it merely attacks the premise that such a society could exist, which we are accepting for the sake of argument. (Also, you may be interested to read a recent Scifi Stack Exchange question about why people sign up for Starfleet if they don't get paid). $\endgroup$ – Thunderforge Feb 27 '15 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Thunderforge So if someone asks, "How did Lieutenant Uhura become captain of the Enterprise even though she is a Klingon?", and someone replied that she was not captain of the Enterprise and she was not a Klingon, you would consider this an unacceptable answer because instead of answering the question it merely attacks the premise? :-) $\endgroup$ – Jay Feb 27 '15 at 18:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This question, like many others on the site, is speculative. Imagine that there was a question "How would warfare be affected if there were dragons in the world?" If someone answered "Dragons do not exist", that would be unhelpful (the question asked to accept that in that world, dragons do exist) and not going with the intention of this site. In the same way, I expect answers for this question to accept that a post-scarcity society might exist (possibly in a work of fiction) and am asking for what a certain implication would mean. $\endgroup$ – Thunderforge Feb 27 '15 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ I'd say that there's a difference between a hypothetical question that has a plausible premise and one that has an implausible premise, and one where the hypothetical depends on assuming the premise is plausible and one based on total fantasy. Like if you asked, "How would warfare be affected if there were flying dragons capable of carrying people?", one could give a coherent answer even if one could prove that such creatures violate the laws of physics and or biology. But if someone asks, "If an army used flying dragons to carry its soldiers into battle, how many soldiers would ... $\endgroup$ – Jay Feb 27 '15 at 21:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You're right, that is a different question that can't be answered (and would be closed as "primarily opinion based" or something like that). But this question isn't that sort of question (as attested by the 30+ upvotes saying that this is a good question), so the matter is moot. $\endgroup$ – Thunderforge Feb 27 '15 at 22:08

I'm thinking we impose a currency. You get a certain amount of "money" each day. This money can be used for better food, games, house decor, etc. Crimes make you lose money.


To clarify, the better food thing is saying we impose a restriction on it. We say good food costs money, and make it that way. Even though one could easily have access to better food, we make them pay for it, to make the fine an effective punishment.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The whole point of a post-scarcity economy, such as the one seen in Star Trek, is that money doesn't exist because everyone has access to "better" stuff. When you've got a machine that can instantly generate gourmet food for free, there's, no point to having money to buy "better food". $\endgroup$ – Thunderforge Apr 14 '16 at 17:19

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