I'm designing an alien civilization and I was thinking: Could a civilization exist without money or any other sort of economy but instead do everything to help each other? Now, I know most of you will say no, because obviously humans aren't like that and I agree. But one thing about this alien species, is that their species works like a beehive. Keep in mind that when I say "like a beehive", I don't mean that they have some sort of queen, king or anything else. In fact, they don't have any sort of leader, they just cooperate with each other and if they meet another one of their kind but from another group, either they'll leave each other alone or they will join each other. In addition to this behavior, their species lacks violence towards each other and the sense of greed. So as their species developed they never used anything like money. Actually, the idea of money appears very strange to them. But back to my quiestion, in reality could a civilization like this develop without any sort of economy?

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    $\begingroup$ It is an alien species - you can handwave anything you want. But for realism, you need to think why this would be the winning evolutionary strategy. Cooperation when resources are abundant, easy, cooperation when resources are scarce might favor the one breeding group which takes from the others (and beehives do rob from each other to the point of killing the other hive). $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2018 at 16:38
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    $\begingroup$ The system you describe is still an economy. Economies are methods by which resources are distributed. They don't have to be competitive. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan_L
    Aug 14, 2018 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ It's called barter... $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Aug 14, 2018 at 16:52
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    $\begingroup$ John, you keep asking the same basic question over and over. The first attempt was closed. The second attempt is going to be closed, and now that this is identified as yet another attempt, it's going to get closed. This issue is a good candidate for the Sandbox, which exists to resolve these very issues. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Aug 14, 2018 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ And for the record, you might want to watch the movie The Invention of Lying as it's similar to your plot. The answer to all three questions is NO! It's inconceivable that any society would simply put up with people who want to be artists when everybody else is working in fields to feed the hungry (no offense to artists). A society without violence, greed, and ambition is a society without passion, innovation, or even pride in the quality of their work. Greed isn't a standalone emotion, its an excess of a required emotion. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Aug 14, 2018 at 18:05

6 Answers 6


What is "money?" When you play these games, we have to get philosophical. Otherwise we end up accidentally creating a civilization which has a perfect analogue for money, but they don't call it money.

The best way I can think of is to look at the properties of money. These are ideals that we think money should achieve. For this, we can turn to Wikipedia:

  • Fungibility: its individual units must be capable of mutual substitution (i.e., interchangeability).
  • Durability: able to withstand repeated use.
  • Portability: easily carried and transported.
  • Cognizability: its value must be easily identified.
  • Stability of value: its value should not fluctuate.

If your alternatives to using money lack any one of these attributes, it will be sufficiently unlike money to do the trick.

Personally, the one which looks most promising to me is fungibility. In informal terms, a dollar is a dollar. It doesn't matter if the dollar comes from the CEO of a major corporation or a bum on the street. It still buys exactly 1 coffee at the local gas station. In the past, I've nicknamed this feature of money "path erasure," because it doesn't matter what path the money took to get to someone's hands. It's there now. (criminal law challenges this, trying to take "tainted" money out of the hands of the criminals. That's a tricky business)

What if you didn't have path erasure? What if you cared about what was done to get that dollar. What if you care that the illegal arms dealer that just plunked down \$100 for a guitar got that \$100 by selling weapons to someone who kills children?

If you care about this, then your system stops acting like money in the way we are used to. And we do indeed see this, in small communities. In small communities you can pay attention to what everyone is doing for their money. You see the way Amish help each other -- that might be a good start.

So if your hive like creatures can track the source of the units of their change, and identify that some of them are "better" than others, then you'll fail the fungability test of money, and you'll have a system that people are comfortable with calling "not money."


You're actually asking two questions: 1) Can the civilization develop without an economy, and 2) does that economy need to use money.

Can a alien civilization develop without an economy:

No. An economy, by definition, is the system used to determine how limited resources are used. Let me repeat the important bit: limited resources. Almost everything, possibly everything, is limited. And since they are limited, there needs to be some method to determine that resource X, say a ton of steel, is going to be used to build Y product, say a space ship, and not Z product, say the steel girders for a residential unit. So, your civilization needs some way to choose which it'll be. Not only that, it also has to know what the needs are and where, and some hierarchy of values to determine what gets prioritized over what, and at what level of need.

For example, using our ton of steel: If that ton of steel is extracted and refined in an asteroid belt, how is it known that it's needed for a residential unit on the primary planet, southern hemisphere, third tiny island to the left of the single continent? And how is it known that it's also needed in the space docks around the main moon to build a space ship? Which project gets the steel? The ship you say? Well, what if there is a shortage of housing, and thousands of beings live on the street, and meanwhile there's so many ships some are floating around empty, unused? Ok then, the housing. But what if there is plenty of housing and the residential unit is yet another villa, and the ship fleet is aged and breaking down, creaking along, barely able bring the resources from the asteroid belt to feed the decadent maws of the planet dwellers? Or, even more realistically, what if there's a shortage of housing AND ships? Where does the ton of steel go?

So, your civilization needs to have some kind of system that figures that out. But, you say, my idyllic exists without violence or greed, they're a hive, and no one takes more than they need and everyone supports each other, surely they'll produce plenty for everyone! Wrong. All a being really needs is food and shelter. Maybe clothing, depending on climate and social mores. That's easy to produce -- we've been doing it since, well, forever. All you need is a cave or a grass hut to live in, and some deer to skewer or tubers to pick. If your civ is happy with just having their basic needs met, they would never have developed into an space-faring species. Or any level of advanced civilization, really. There has to be some kind of a need that drives them to do more.

New inventions are not invented unless there is some kind of need. New resources are not investigated, developed, and then exploited unless there is some kind of need for them. So, any society is going to develop to an equilibrium where they feel their needs are met. And that's where they'll live, until something changes and makes them decide they need more.

Ok then, the money

An economy does not, in fact, need to use money. But what system of economy can be built without it? Money, itself is merely a unit of exchange, a way to make barter easier. What it enables is much more important: the system of price discovery. This is where when everybody uses money as a barter medium, a considerable amount of information on need AND values gets transferred through a simple set of numbers.

Lets take our steel example: In the first case, housing shortage, ship glut, the people building the houses are willing to pay, say, 120 dollars per ton (why do hive aliens use dollars? Who knows; why not!), and the ship builders only 60/ton. You would naturally sell your steel to the housing guys. Why? Because they value it more and therefor are willing to give you a bigger chunk of their productivity for it. Or in miner parlance: cause it's mo-Mo-MO Money!! Your productivity as a miner is more appreciated, and thus rewarded, by the housing builder. And that's how you know your limited time is spent on the right thing

Of course if there's a ship shortage and a housing glut, then the ship builders would bid high and the housing builders low. Why? Because they in turn have to sell to someone else, and if a ton of houses were empty and on the market, the only way they'd be able to sell their productivity would be to sell it cheap. Of course if they can't get your steel cheap enough they can't build anything to sell, and that's the way they discover that they're working on the wrong thing.

And you, as the miner, don't have to worry about any of it. All you have to do to do the best thing for your species is sell to the highest bidder. It's not a perfectly efficient thing, of course, but it works considerably better than anything else we humans have come up with.

So, what other non-money ways of allocating limited resources are there? Well, there's feudalism, where you give all your productivity, except a sliver, to the guys at the top so they'll protect you. Or communism, where you give all your productivity to the guys at the top so they'll give you back a sliver, and ostensibly everyone else too, because they say they know your and everyone else's needs better than you do. Or tribalism, where you give all your productivity to the guy at the top because he's daddy, and he knows what's best for you.

Note that all of those systems, with the possible exception of tribalism at the extended family level, are all dependent on violence or the threat thereof. After all, if your productivity doesn't accrue to you, why do it?

But of course, that's humans--

So what about your alien species?

The short answer is: do what you want. Star Trek, after all, got away with replicators without showing a decadent collapse of civilization.

The more thorough answer is:

  1. Think through how limited resources are allocated
  2. Figure out how information of needs and values are transmitted over long distances and across many beings
  3. Discover what is driving your civilization to do more than simply puttering around their gardens, living the hobbit lifestyle.
  4. And if you really want to develop a thorough milieu, map out what their needs were at each stage of development that drove them to the next.

You have to realize that civilization evolve out of animal societies, and inherit their instincts.

Hive-like cooperation is possible. Survival of the fittest is not about an individual, but about survival of genes. Everybody in a hive is a child of the queen, and queen is the only one who can reproduce, so best survival strategy is to "selflessly" provide for the queen.

"No greed" impossible. If there is food, the instinct is to carry it to the hive. Are you saying that at some point hive decides that it has enough food, and does not try to have more children, or store food for later, or provide better food to its young so they grow bigger and stronger? The hive that acts like this will lose evolutionary race against a "greedy" hive. Also see first section of Patches's answer.

"no violence" is again impossible. A hive will have to defend itself against predators, or other hive species (look up "ant wars"). Then you meet a hive of your own species, and you meet at a very good food source. Are you saying they will somehow decide to share it fairly? We never see this on Earth. B/c a fair-minded hive will lose out against a violent one.

Once they become civilized, they will try to overcome their animal instincts, but they will have only limited success. We humans might look like we stopped having world wars over resources, but that is due to mutually assured destruction of nuclear weapons, and shift of competition into the economic arena. Charitable sharing and activism is more about making the donor feel good about themselves.

"No money" is highly unlikely. Even if there is no exchange, you still need a way to account and compare resources used in various activities, and the benefit they provide (see second section of Patches's answer). You can make a simple decision without money, like "more children with low-quality food", or "better food for fewer children". But modern civilization is decision like space exploration vs. healthcare vs. education vs. preserving the environment. If you make these decisions without money, you will will get political scheming instead. If you think political process can make good economic decisions, look at the Soviet Union, or compared government vs. private enterprise doing the same thing.

Addition: US vs. Soviet Union:

  • Western economy with its greed. Apple makes money by coming up with new products that make life easier for people. Samsung makes money by making same products with fewer resources. Both have sales force that goes out of their way to help you get most value out of their products. So we have technological innovation, improved use of resources, and increasing quality of life.

  • Soviet economy did not really use money outside of consumer goods. Makes tanks and rockets, to keep up with US. Develops new tanks only when US tanks become better. Does not care about cost - it is easier to use more resources than to get innovations approved. While the consumers are given the bare minimum to survive, to tame their selfish instincts. So innovation is really driven by US, resources run out, and people do not care if they live or die.


Money helps us a lot with the complexity of having different needs and wants at different times. I may earn my money by selling labor to the one person in the world who has a need for my particular efforts, and may use that money to buy something I want from a third person with completely different needs, and so on. One way to make it easier for your alien society not to need money is if they have fewer needs, or at least fewer differences in their needs. If they have only one food (honey) and only a few simple types of labor, there might not be any need for an abstraction of value, since everyone is making basically the same trade with everyone else.


No, because it ignores what civilization is.


A civilization or civilisation (see English spelling differences) is any complex society characterized by urban development, social stratification imposed by a cultural elite, symbolic systems of communication (for example, writing systems), and a perceived separation from and domination over the natural environment.

Bees have social structure, but not civilization.


Can an alien civilization develop without money?

Only if there was no competition for resources, in which case there would be no need to evolve civilisation to begin with as a society.

Money is just a medium of exchange, you only get those if you need to exchange resources. The need to exchange resources leads to competition/conflict if there is scarcity.


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