In a nanotech future, you have assemblers which can pull together atoms and make things.

Anything that you have a pattern for, and the correct atoms, can be made. You could make the solar cells to provide power for your nano-assemblers. You could make food, most food is H,C,N,O with some P,K and some other stuff (Ca, NaCl, etc) - most of which is available from the air and water, and if not from those, you can recycle your waste back into food (since it has all the atoms that fed you last time around).

You can also assemble almost anything else you can make/acquire a design for, and have the atoms for. Want a Ferarri? If you can find an unprotected one, you can disassemble it, and reassemble it with your assembler complex - and now you have a pattern. Plug in some steel, rubber, etc and build yourself a second one. Or 20.

So, once you've got an assembler, all of your physical needs can be taken care of (well, as long as you can pull in water vapor, since you exhale that everytime you breathe).

Why would you go to work? And even if you might go to work, but what if most everyone else decides to make themselves a widescreen, a big couch, and eat potato chips from their infi-bag-o-snacksTM?

If people don't go to work, how does the government collect taxes, without reverting to direct coercion?


There (probably) won't be physical money, as is obvious - counterfeiting will be trivial. And there won't be any Treasury officials to hunt down counterfeiters if you can't pay them. But taxes don't have to use little scraps of paper with ink on them. Can be in-kind, could be hour equivalents, could be anything really - that's part of the question. I guess you could directly market-quote valuable atoms, gold coins might become a thing again.

It was suggested that some things are valuable because of their rarity (eg: Gauguin) - but this would be not the case, because of the ease of counterfeiting. When it would take nanoscopic analysis, which might be able to discern assembler errors... I expect the rare-goods market to implode. And what do you buy a rare item with? Another rare item?

Nanites don't create atoms. You still need source atoms, and until everyone has their own collider, you won't be changing the type of atoms you have. But you can recycle your source atoms that don't float away on the wind, or are carried away by insects... or by other assemblers. Preventing theft of your atoms is a thing, especially if there are no courts and no police (how are you paying for those?) to handle criminals.

AI: No AI. Yes, a lot of people might be working on it, but we'll assume that the current state continues.

Robots: Same. Some are around, but they don't do all the work for you. If you had a factory, you could automate it... but why would you have a factory? Roomba to gather up your spilled atoms and dump them in the bin to be turned into component parts, sure.

Assemblers only put things together on plans, so they don't work inside of organisms (or if they do, they scavenge their atoms from the surrounding structure - OUCH!). If you want to implant them, and a tube of feed atoms, well - now you need a specialist, how're you paying that specialist? Timmy's broken leg also doesn't look the same as Timmy's leg of last year.

We'll also assume that you can't disassemble people and put them back together again, and get all of their memories and personhood back intact. Atoms might be in roughly the same place (assemblers aren't perfect), but the electrical network and state it's in are not recreated, and small errors may have significant outcomes.

Which is why you (probably) can't build custom organisms, nor finely graded DNA. Might have some issues with computer chips at the highest end of the spectrum as well, but those aren't atom-for-atom builds yet.

Intellectual property - requires courts and punishments. I expect that open-source will become relatively huge. Since there will be many more people with free time on their hands, and sharing designs will radically help everyone. Even if you make it for just yourself, you can always offer it up for anyone to use and improve, and gain credit to download their designs (online reputation) - or just for the heck of improving the world. I expect only the very rich will pay for designs. And pirating to be a thing.

Energy - I expect many things to be powered directly by solar or environmental harnessing (wind, rain, tides, etc). Some things require more intense power (see below), but as long as you have enough property, your solar output will handle many / almost all of your needs. You may need to save it up over some time, in order to build your palace, but building some power storage isn't a problem.

Property is the big kicker - and protecting that property is also a large problem. Which is why you might want to have a government. Perhaps government works directly on property taxes? You don't pay taxes, you don't get property protection? But that doesn't help with equal access to the legal system, unless property owners subsidize courts and cops, etc for those who don't own property.

Sanitation doesn't exist - you're doing 100% recycling, or you're giving away valuable property. A lot of other services are defunct as well.

Why taxes?

IOW: How do you get a cop to put down his donut and get up off his couch? For a fireman to go down to the station? For a teacher to quit knitting and put up with your brats? Or whatever other civil services that most people want. Heck, even to bother counting the votes?

Infrastructure may require a little more effort than just turning an assembler on (in the early stages), since building a bridge is not the same as making an apple. Will require scaffolding, and support, and ability to not get washed away while constructing itself, require pipelines of mass (a bridge is of non-trivial weight) pumped to massive groupings of assemblers, etc.

And, how do you protect the roads/bridges/etc from becoming the source of someone else's brand new palace? Or turned into food (asphalt is yummy hydrocarbons, remember)? How would you protect people's (and the government's) atoms from theft, if you don't have cops?

  • Courts - you want IP laws? To have your neighbor quit booming his music at 3:AM when you're trying to sleep? To decide which heir gets how much of Uncle Ralph's huge pile of gold atoms? To decide when a murderer should be put in prison?
  • Prisons - how do you administer a prison and pay the guards? And prevent the walls from being broken down? Yes, you really ease the logistics, since you can put a meal-replicator in the toilet, and no longer pay for sewage.
  • Beat Cops (physical violence to people, domestic disturbance, etc)
  • Property issues (theft - esp. of your atoms; remember even a scrapyard is owned (and that owner is now rich in atoms), government owns the landfills and public rights of way)
  • Roads (how do you get where you want to go, if there aren't public means of egress - if all land is privately owned, what's to stop the owners from putting up walls and preventing you from getting anywhere? If the government owns the roads/access - how do they pay their bills/employees?, and prevent someone from illegally putting up a wall and charging access to get to the sea, or to the market where you can buy some gold atoms?)
  • Water supply - people breathe out water vapor, and have to get resupplied. Especially true in deserts, many parts of the country you could probably do rain-capture and be okay.
  • Environmental protection - who protects wildlife and plant-life from being rendered down into component atoms? Probably won't have dumping of waste, since most everything will be of some value, somewhere.
  • Building codes - otherwise people may try building 20 story palaces made of matchsticks, and opening restaurants at the top, and cry "I didn't know" when they kill their customers.

Companies will want money:

  • Network connections - If you want internet and telephony, you're going to have to have some connection, and that connection will need to be protected (and/or rebuilt) when parts of it are disassembled, or when it needs to be maintained (But maintenance will be much easier).
  • Power supply - some things require more power, and power will need to be provided. Which probably means burning C, and releasing it into the atmosphere. Rather more costly than it has been, since those are valuable atoms being distributed.
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Couple of points you missed. First, your assemblers may be able to assemble solar cells, but you still need a sufficient area of sunlight to power them. (And why assume that they are particularly efficient?) Second, if you're going to try assembling food, you need sufficient sunlight (or other energy) to provide the food calories. And what are plants but nanotech food assemblers? Finally, you may be able to duplicate a Gauguin, but there are only a limited number of tropical islands, cabins at the lake, ski condos, and so on. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 20:06
  • $\begingroup$ "as long as you have enough property, your solar output...". Just as efficient as they currently are, maybe a tad better, you'll also be able to "afford" the 30% high efficiency ones. Plants only convert .33% of sunlight to sugar, we get 27,000 calories per 1/4 meter of northern sunlight in a growing season. Plants are extremely inefficient food assemblers. How does nice property pay for government? I concur, btw - but how're you protecting that from a swarm of non-working hippy beach bums if there are no cops/courts/jail cells? $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 0:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Sorry I was unclear, I meant why assume that your nanotech is particularly efficient at assembling things? Particularly food: evolution has had upwards of 2.5 billion years to tinker with photosynthesis, with obvious rewards for improvements. Maybe 0.33 percent is as good as it gets. For property, or other things that are inherently scarce (because they can't just be assembled by nano-bots), don't they offer the basis for a monetary system, much like gold & silver once did? $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 3:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You should look up post-scarsity society to see what's been written about that before. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 7:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The point about Ferraris (or most other "luxury" goods) is that they are rare, expensive to buy and expensive to run. They are pretty useless things, with only two seats and no luggage space. Their only function is as a status symbol (OK, I'm exaggerating). In a post scarcity society where anyone can have one there's no longer a point. $\endgroup$
    – RedSonja
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 10:57

7 Answers 7


What you describe is a very classic scenario: a system which is designed to be a post-scarcity utopia, but upon which we seek to apply scarcity thinking. This is not an idle dream, for it leads to the sort of thinking you are looking at: what does it look like to have a nearly post-scarcity economy which is seeking to propel itself towards post-scarcity.

The key to unraveling the situation you are in is to recognize that such a world demonstrates the difference between information and physical products. The fundamental difference between them is that copying information is virtually free. It can be done very quickly and very cheaply (as cheap as Kb ln(W) energy costs). On the other hand, physical things are scarce. You can't build objects without atoms, and you cannot do work without energy. These things hold true no matter how much information you have.

From this perspective, if you wanted a Ferrari, you have to acquire the information needed to create the Ferarri, and then acquire the energy and raw materials needed to assemble your own physical one.

Common decency in the nanotech era

Nanotech decreases the number of things an individual can covet. Much of the value of a thing is its structure, and our nanotech has dramatically reduced that cost. Like a neighbor's stained glass window? If you can find the information you can make it!

The number of things a person would commit a crime over goes down substantially. Working space, raw materials, and energy would be the primary limiting factors, and they are substantially more fungible than other goods. There is little reason to rob someone of their wristwatch when its value is not much more than the value of the cup of ramen the robber ate beforehand.

The main issue that would show up is energy consumption and waste product elimination. Energy is still a limiting factor. Few reactions are isothermal (generating or requiring no heat), especially building operations like running one of your assemblers.

Note that your people are still people. The organic body of a H. sapiens has energy requirements that cannot be ignored without dramatically shifting the nature of your world. Someone who is not coexisting easily could have their access to energy and space dramatically cut back, so that could be your mechanism for policing (such as dealing with those who don't pay their taxes).

Note that there is still potential for warfare. It just operates at the speed of the assemblers. If I want to violently cut someone off, I can destroy their conduits for energy. If I destroy them faster than they can reconstruct them, I starve them.

Nanotech assembly is not perfect

This is something science fiction loves to get wrong. You cannot simply assemble anything. In simulated automata, there is an important concept called quiescence which is key to the constructability of any structure. The basic idea is that you can construct anything from its atomic parts, as long as you can complete it before the laws of physics tear it apart. I'm assuming your nanotech assemblers cannot magically assemble an entire physical object instantly, because you'd end up getting nanotech assemblers stuck inside the object. Like most assemblers, I'm assuming you build things from the bottom up, or the top down.

There are a lot of structures which are not quiescent. Organics, in particular are remarkably not quiescent. Even if I had a massive database of the exact atomic-level configuration of your body, I could not create it, because parts of the body would begin to die before I finished. Even doing things like "create the heart first" only do so much to avoid this effect, and when it comes to things like replicating consciousness, it is remarkably difficult to find a way to construct an exact replica of a brain without it reconfiguring itself half way through the process.

This issue would also show up in other products. Products which may be impossible to build with general purpose assemblers might be grown with special-purpose assemblers (which themselves were general purpose assembled). This leads itself very quickly to a set of things you would prefer to have grown. As an organic example, modern farm-grown Oak trees do not produce the same quality wood as the old-growth trees which spent years bending in the wind to slowly identify an ideal cell structure for strength.

Disassembly faces the same issues. Any activity which progresses through an object at a speed comparable to the disassembly is going to create an imperfect disassembly

Bandwidth considerations limiting reproducibility

Consider that we have 7*10^27 atoms in the body. Assuming a ridiculously low underestimate estimate of 8 bytes per word, we're still talking about 5 billion petabytes of data. This is a major limiting factor on our ability to simply disassemble an object. We have to make approximations to keep it in a reasonable region, but what approximations are safe? How can you tell if this particular imperfection is an imperfection, and not part of some key subsystem which keeps vibration down?

Now, for direct answers some of your questions

If people don't go to work, how does the government collect taxes, without reverting to direct coercion?

People will go to work for the same reason they always have, they need something. Their body needs energy at a minimum. Realistically, they're going to want to make some neat things with their assembler, and that takes energy too.

Rare goods market

Rare goods market would be livelier than ever. Because of the imperfect copying process I described above, there will be telltale signs of a forgery. Thanks to nanomachines letting us make microscopic detectives for us, it will be easier than ever to recognize the telltale signature of a nano machine produced piece of "canvas."

Parting thoughts on reproducibility

Information is always copyable. However even in a post-scarcity world, it is always possible to create things of value. The modern example is the bit coin. A bitcoin is a piece of information. Technically it can be freely copied. However, it has been carefully designed such that the only ways to break the algorithm cost more than the coinage is worth (an excellent safeguard).

As a key note, potential for information is always valuable. In bitcoin, the value is not in the number, so much as the value is in the fact that the number is witheld until the moment it is spent. Until then, we can postulate the existence of the number, but it's not feasible to calculate it. The algorithm is designed so that the instant the number is revealed (the coin is spent), it has no further value to anyone except miners, and there is a new witheld number which has value (did not have value before, but now it does have value).

  • $\begingroup$ I don't see your rare-goods & imperfect copying correlation. Most rare goods are not organic. You could build a canvas layer by layer, or a diamond (from the inside out). If you're careful, you should be able to put together new atoms just as they were put together the first time. If it exists once, it should be copyable. & the only way to determine that something is not exactly like the other is to disassemble them both. Kinda destroys the market, one way or another. Yes, you could investigate sloppy copies. Ones that don't use the appropriate carbons for carbon dating, for example. $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 7:34
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "You should be able to put together new atoms just as they were put together the first time." My opinion on this is that science disagrees, because it is not possible to measure the position of each atom in the fist place unless the canvas is quiescent. In all real compounds (T > 0K), there is motion, which must be statistically smoothed out during the sampling. I also think there is an issue with the assertion that "Most rare goods are not organic. You could build a canvas ..." Most people would consider canvas to be an organic material. It is usually derived from dried plant matter. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 15:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Joze Yes, in a manner of speaking, you can think of it as a bitcoin getting a new number. As far as I can tell, that's close enough to the truth for nearly everyone. If you are the kind of person who loves gory details, bitcoins are actually sent to "addresses." You can have as many addresses as you like, each one with a private/public key pair. If you can sign a transaction with the private key for an address, you can use its stored coinage. To detect double spending, BitCoin requires that you spend all of the coins stored at an address in each transaction... $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 16:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ All of the double-spending tricks you could think of get identified quickly because you never have a situation where 5 or 6 vendors all have to get together to prove you double-spent. Of course, you almost never have exactly the right amount in your address. The solution (which causes bit coins to "get a new number) is that you create a new account, with a new public/private keypair, and transfer the remainder of your balance to the new account. So if you had an address A with 5 bitcoins, and you wanted to transfer 1 bitcoin to V, an address owned by a vendor... $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 16:15
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ ... you would first create a new address B (with its pair of keys). You would then create a transaction moving all 5 bitcoins out of A (effectively closing out that address), moving 1 coin into V and the remaining 4 coins into B. This has the appearance of the bitcoin changing numbers. If you try to spend more coins out of A, it is easy for a second vendor to note that account A has already been spent, and they can refuse to accept it. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 16:17

In a post-scarcity world, even if money is no longer required, there will still be some form of currency. If no-one has to work to earn money, I suggest that an alternate currency such as Whuffie may develop.

However, even when you can have anything, things still have value. For example a Gauguin recently sold for $300 million simply because there is only one of this painting. If you want to have it you have to pay what the owner asks for it.

And services/experiences will still cost something. Time will still be valuable (unless we also live greatly extended lives). If material goods are essentially free, and presumable there are robots to do all the work, then entertaining others is perhaps the only saleable resource we have.

People being people, I would think that even in a post-scarcity world, there will still be haves and have nots. People will always seek to have power over others.

Politics being the business of power, some will create and enforce rules to ensure they are still at the top of the heap. How do you control people in a nanotech future? By controlling the basic things people still need, namely:

  1. Raw Materials - these could be taxed in some way, possibly by volume (I'm assuming that you don't just pull the raw materials out of the air, but need a supply of all kinds of atoms, much as in The Diamond Age).
  2. Intellectual Property - plans and recipes could be the most valued property in your proposed future.
  3. Energy - you still need to obtain a reliable supply of energy
  4. Property (Real Estate). Even if you can have anything, you still need somewhere to sleep.
  5. Services such as sanitation (kinda like energy).

These may be "taxed" and access restricted by the government and it's enforcers. That then leads to the ultimate mechanisms of control, restricting:

  1. Pursuit of happiness
  2. Liberty
  3. Life

Which are still available to governments.

TLDR: They will still tax you.

  • $\begingroup$ I know they'll tax you, power being power, but how will they go about doing so? I need to address robots and AI. 2 = I expect Open Source to get serious. 4 = depends if there are public spaces, people sleep in libraries and over vents now. $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ I think real estate is probably the most important here - if you want your machine to run, it has to "be" somewhere. You won't want to carry around your TV, and you'll want somewhere to store your atoms. $\endgroup$
    – Josiah
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 15:59
  • $\begingroup$ A note on 1: You will also want someone to control, to some degree, what raw materials are available without special licensing. I don't know about anyone else, but I don't think I'd want any of my neighbors playing with uranium... $\endgroup$
    – Brad
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 20:12

What makes you think there will be money? If I can assemble big couch and TV, what stops me from assembling some money? The nanobots can literally print money and bonus: They can print them in a way that makes them feel used. Feel old. And bigger bonus, if I let my imagination loose: They could theoretically assign such "batch number" to the money that you could not tell if they have been issued by government or by nanobot.

I will use one thing from almost every motivation book and video I did read or listen:

If money were no subject, what would you do?

If you have excellent nanobots, you created post-scarity society

Sure, there will be people who like just to sit back and watch ... Wait a second. Who will create the shows? The music? Who will be in government?

Some people do what they do simply because they enjoy doing it

There will be always someone who will want to be the President. Just for being the president. There are people who totally enjoy doing accounting. People who play music just for the enjoyment from it.

So, the answer is:

The government does not pay for themselves. Because there is no need to issue paycheck in first place.

EDIT Post scarity society can work only on people willing to do their job. And if there is totally no one willing to take the job ... program nanobots to do that!

  • There is fire two blocks away? Send nanobots to disassemble the fire itself!
  • Johnny broke his leg again? Nanobots can fix that!
  • Trash lying on the ground? Make nanobot to build you a snack from that!
  • Teaching? Online course can do that!

And so on...

  • $\begingroup$ I think you misread 'pay' for 'pay with money'. How do you get a cop to put down his donut and get up off his couch? For a fireman to go down to the station? For a teacher to quit knitting? $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 10:04
  • $\begingroup$ Ask kids what do they want to do. "I want to be a cop" say one. Make them want to be a cop. I will update the answer a little to make clear wjat I mean $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ See edit. Did it answer your question? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 10:11
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I have difficulties imagining financial crimes, and also imagining why people should steal anything, when anything can be had by just asking the nanites to provide. for the rest: see above: you will almost certainly have volunteers, and be it only to fight boredom. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 10:27
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Good point. So the nanites need to be programmed to scavenge junk yards, garbage bags and designated areas only. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 10:36

Limit government expenditures

Why does your government need money? Not to buy things. They'll just use a Maker. Not for Social Security or welfare. Just use a Maker to make Makers for each citizen.

Note that your nanotech is heavily automated. Bring the same automation to macroscopic tech so as to minimize government expenditures. Education, legal proceedings, vote counting, garbage collection, health care, etc. would all need to be automated.

  • Replace courts with online forms and automatic processing.
  • Prisons take away access to Makers. People have to report to their rooms to get meals, etc. On release day, just go to the exit and it lets you out. Note that Makers can build individual prisons for the anti-social.
  • Replace beat cops with robots with video cameras.
  • Property issues are again reported via online forms and automatic processing.
  • Either government or private, charge by the mile for roads.
  • Nanotech is perfectly capable of extracting water from humid air. Charge by the gallon on either a government or private basis for extra water in dry areas.
  • Environmental protection: volunteers or draftees fill out complaints, which are processed the same as other legal matters.
  • Building codes: automate this. A robot follows you around and keeps you from going into dangerous places. Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!


Governments make a profit on producing money. If government expenditures are small relative to the overall economy, it would be possible for this to be a significant source of funding.

Wealth taxes

Tax bank deposits and other forms of wealth.

Property taxes

A specific form of wealth tax with a historical basis. Tax the land that people own.

Collect labor

Rather than collect money that you use to buy labor, collect taxes in the form of labor. Note that we currently do this in the form of military service and jury duty. Expand this out to other roles. If the government needs two hundred hours of labor per person on average, mandate that people provide that much labor per year. If some jobs are more desirable than others, require that people give more hours in the desirable jobs than the undesirable jobs. So fifty hours of garbage collection might equal five hundred hours of jury duty.


I guess the answer is: It doesn't, because it does not need to.

If anything and everything that needs to be made is made by nanites, nobody needs money for anyting.

Currently, governments need money to pay the politician's wages (so they can pay for their life), wages for people in administration et al (dito), materials to build and maintain infrastructure, Law Enforcement, Helping the poor, schools, and so forth.

Infrastructure would be built and maintained by the nanites. Nobody needs wages, because nobody needs to buy anything.

While a lot of people would actually get a flat screen, couch, beer and chips, there would still be a lot of people who would work either out of boredom, for the social interaction, or for pure interest in the work they do.

There is a risk of degeneration of society and culture, or of splitting your society into two groups: the couch potatoes and those that actually do something.

It would still be worth it, i guess.

  • $\begingroup$ Infrastructure might not be that easy to build (heck my example might not be either, cars may be a little difficult: 1-3 tons of stuff == non-trivial vs. say, an apple). But services? You expect to never need a cop again? $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ The nanites should easily be able to extract the materials from the envornment, from garbage dumps, and also to transport them over any distance. As i was trying to say in my answer: I assume that there will eb a lot of people who would work because they want to. So i am guessing that you won't really have a shortage of volunteers, especially since the income for a given job will not hinder anyone to pursue a specific career. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 10:24
  • $\begingroup$ Not all jobs are created equal. Would you want to risk your life, and be on call day and night, and deal with doped-up hallucinatory violent crack-heads? Or would you rather play golf, hobnob with decision makers, have a private secretary and jet? Oh, by the way, you don't get anything extra (like income, pay, pension security, medical, extra days off) that you wouldn't get if you stayed home on the couch. $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 10:29
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Actually, i personally spend quite some of my spare time in trying to make the world a little better. And knowing i am not the only one, yes, i am pretty sure you will find volunteers for every job that cannot be done by your nanites yet. Especially if equipment is never short. Because what you do get is the warm feeling of doing the right thing, and making the world better. (By the way: how does your golf player convince his secretary to do her job?) $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 10:31
  • $\begingroup$ Re: secretary. You were the one who said that people want to do work. Besides, 50 Shades of Gray is a thing. $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 10:34

Fabricators remove the need for goods but not services

A fabricator will make you a new car but it doesn't preform services like collecting trash, making new songs, giving haircuts or doing surgery. Manufacturing jobs and companies would vanish but service jobs would continue.

People in your society would still desperately need the services of garbage collectors, artists, hairstylists, doctors and the vast set of service professions. Some services might be preformed by robots but from the description robots are like current robots and can preform few tasks.

Currency would still exist since people need other to pay other people to do services for them. Since currency exists the government hires employees to preform the service of collecting taxes.

Currency would have to be something nonphysical or hard to replicate, like electronic bank records today, valuable information, or energy. None of which a replicator could duplicate.


Direct coercion

While the question asks "without resorting to direct coercion", it still is a viable alternative. In the end, all legal structures fall back to a [possible risk of] direct coercion, no matter if it's laws against murdering people in their sleep, enforcing contracts or collecting taxes.

In a civilized society, the vast majority of conflicts will be solved without direct coercion, but the result of these conflicts is determined by a mutual understanding that if it will be escalated far enough then in the end it would happen anyway because of direct coercion.

If a society has "assemblers" as you describe, any effective form of government can choose at least of those options:

(a) Control access to the assemblers, regulating what people do with them and denying that access after some violations;

(b) Have a monopoly on the assemblers and distribute only the assembled goods;

(c) Ignore assemblers but physically control the people using assemblers or some physical location.

It is not realistic to assume that the concept of power structures would go away simply because policemen would quit their jobs. The current government/power structures may break down and become unable to maintain a monopoly on violence, but then the next strongest organization would become a de facto government. Neighbourhood volounteer militias, gangs, religious organizations, charismatic leaders/warlords, self-sustained communes - all these things exist in the current world and don't rely on hired cops. Experience shows that any power vacuum gets filled very quickly.

  • $\begingroup$ A and B rely on keeping control of the technology, we've never been able to do so in the past, so I'd like an answer that doesn't rely on that. C is a possibility, but you're saying we have to march everyone off to work every day, or come around and put them in jail if they don't show up? Anyone can arm themselves with a bazooka and tank, remember... $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 0:23
  • $\begingroup$ @user3082 I'm not saying "we have to", but I'm saying that either some organization will emerge that will have some ability to prevent others from random violence (that includes some ability to physically force this decision on those others even if they disagree) or there will be multiple such organizations violently competing. Especially if anyone can arm themselves with a bazooka and a tank, and a single psychotic individual is enough to either coerce you or require the emergence of something that can coerce him. $\endgroup$
    – Peteris
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 0:42
  • $\begingroup$ @user3082 by the way, the short story "Nano comes to Clifford Falls" (preview/beginning at asimovs.com/_issue_0607/nano.shtml) is an interesting exploration of this particular issue. $\endgroup$
    – Peteris
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 1:10
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the link. Yes, I'm looking for ideas on how to handle the coercion. I'd prefer not to have a dystopia of armed camps and slavery if I can avoid it. Economic coercion, would be preferable. Having government and/or cops keeping a lid on the violence seems preferable, but how do you pay them? How do you pay people to spend their time listening to people who're clusterducks and dispense justice to them? And keep them away from their nano-assemblers as punishment? $\endgroup$
    – user3082
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 7:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I would suggest to look at the current organizations where member motivation is not based on direct compensation. If nano-assemblers allow cops to live well, the problem is not how to pay cops, the problem is how to motivate cops to show up - which doesn't neccessarily need to be the same thing. Local armed militias for community self-defense and e.g. firefighters have often been volounteer positions. Many communities had (and some still have) a "tribal" justice system where decisions are made by a local council and enforced by the community/mob - gets things done and no pay needed. $\endgroup$
    – Peteris
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 15:42

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