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A post-scarcity civilisation is one where the automatisation of production and a universal basic income system have made it impossible to suffer unwillingly from the lack of means to satisfy the physiological and safety needs of an individual. While there can never be a guarantee that the higher needs; love/belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization can be satisfied, there are vast resources, augmented and virtual reality (think full immersion simulations) and brain washing available to satisfy everyone's needs. I'm using the Maslow Pyramid here in case that is important.

Even quite devious desires like pedophilia can be satisfied using virtual reality or be removed/implemented via brainwashing should one desire to do so.

More information on the idea of post-scarcity civilisations is mostly based on Youtuber Isaac Arthur's series on the subject. While I share his opinion that there will be little crime in such a society an exact value is needed to consider the people's views on crime.

Further assume that the government is democratic, open and benevolent, not a hidden dystopian surveillance state keeping everyone happily in misery using brainwashing.

Given that there are no economic incentives for crime and most urges leading people to commit despicable crimes can be satisfied legally without harming anyone, how many crimes would still be committed per one million people per year?

EDIT 1: People go on about if there will still be crime in a post scarcity civilisation. I never questioned that. All I'm interested in is how post-scarcity will affect crimes rates in comparison with today.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch May 7 at 5:27
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    $\begingroup$ Just look at Scandinavian countries, which are already pretty much post-scarcity as you have defined it above thanks to their welfare systems. They still have crime. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott May 7 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeScott Scandinavian countries are not home to post-scarcity societies. Just because the basic necessities are provided does not mean that there is no scarcity. After all, there's a scarcity of mansions, and luxury cars, etc. $\endgroup$ – forest May 8 at 6:00
  • $\begingroup$ @forest The question defines post-scarcity as “means to satisfy the physiological and safety needs of an individual”, and as I said, I’m using the question’s definition. Mansions and luxury cars are not physiological or safety needs. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott May 8 at 7:11
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeScott The Scandinavian countries still have poverty, post-scarcity societies don't. Welfare state does not stop poverty or scarcity, it simply aims to mitigate the effects so that people can recover from temporary setbacks and that poverty is less likely to be inherited. It is basically really extensive insurance you cannot opt-out. And in fact it did evolve from the insurance systems of Otto von Bismarck. (So no, not socialism or communism required.) $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 8 at 9:28

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This cannot be answered. But rather than just voting to close as opinion based, it might have value to stop and think about the reasons this cannot be answered. As the reasons are kind of interesting and possibly of use to you and others with same issues.

What is crime?

This is not actually obvious. To give an easy, if possibly politically risky, example homosexuality has been and is criminalized in some jurisdictions. Same with adultery, sacrilege, cross-dressing, drinking alcohol, some forms of dancing, theatrical performances and so on.

Almost anything can be illegal and criminal. What matters is that the state or possibly other entity with jurisdiction wants people to not do it and is willing to use legal sanctions to make it so. Homosexuality, for example, is seen as a threat to the moral character of the nation and the proper development of children. Possibly offensive to God even. Any of these threats is sufficient to justify legal sanctions.

I'll take a moment here to explain that I am not using homosexuality as an example because I think it is bad. I am using it because I don't and expect majority here to not either. Or at least to be familiar with many people not thinking of it as such.

The point I am trying to make here that criminalization is a response to perceived threat of the act, not to some intrinsic property of the act. What is and is not a crime is entirely context dependent. Paedophilia or human sacrifice can be legal despite us thinking of both as evil. It is all in the context.

And the difference is actually much deeper than you'd think. If paedophilia were legal that would imply the society in question does not perceive it to be threat. Likely because protecting children is not a priority to them but it could also be because their social structures support children well enough that paedophilia really is not a threat. Same with human sacrifice, you have an evil empire that sees human lives as an expendable resource or one that is deeply devout and sees sacrifice as an act reinforcing the bond between man and divine. There might be a waiting list of volunteers.

So obviously what a society will see as a crime is highly variable. What is perceived as a threat to society is entirely dependent on the society, what it values and which threats it has under control.

Another aspect is that changes in society are constantly creating new crimes and making old ones obsolete or very rare. Computer crimes were very rare in the middle ages. Some crimes of the middle ages would be very hard for modern people to commit. So you have to extrapolate what new crimes your projected technology allows and what would become too rare to be an issue. For example, hijacking VR simulations would probably be a thing and probably have forms we cannot even imagine.

But for this question we can leave defining what crimes exist and which do not as an exercise for the reader and just think about the amount of crimes. That is basically a function of how threatened the society feels it is. How stable is the society? What is the relationship between the state and the people? How optimistic are the people about the future. Basically how much of a need does the state feel to control the people instead of just trusting them. Which follows directly from how committed people are to the state. How much do the people trust the government?

Why do people commit crimes?

If we ignore accidental and incidental crimes there is a choice between doing the legal thing and committing a crime. There must be an expected gain, either being legal is not working or the crime does pay. This is balanced against the expected risks, that is the chances of getting caught and the possible consequences. Note that this is true even for "irrational crimes", what is "irrational" in those cases are the expectations, the process is the same.

At first glance it would seem that post-scarcity the expected gains would collapse and crime would vanish. But this is a fallacy. Indeed many crimes we are familiar with would be pointless. But pointless crimes are not perceived as a threat to society. They might be socially frowned upon but nobody bothers enforcing laws that prevent things nobody cares about.

With old threats vanishing the society would re-prioritize, new threats would rise to the top of the list the state wants people to stop doing. It is not realistic to think that any state has solved all possible issues, so there would always be some things on that list for the state to ban.

What those things are would be very hard to fathom. For example, polygamy is illegal for historical reasons that do not really make sense any more. Okay, the catholic church decided in the middle ages that a man can have only one legal wife and that this must be registered with the church. This actually made sense since it solved real issues with inheritance and made the church the arbiter of who inherits and who does not for gains in money and influence. But those issues no longer exist and the catholic church no longer has major role in jurisdiction. Yet the laws still exist and people can be really passionate about them because the past association with the church created a link to religion and social values.

So perceived threats and not necessarily based on real threats other than it should probably exist.

New threats would reasonably be related to VR in some way but that all depends on the setting. For example, personal disputes might be resolved with duels in VR. People might beat up each other virtually for minor insults or matters of honor. And possibly develop over sensitive honor just so they can beat up each other. Cheating on these duels of honor would probably be a crime. Cheating on them by interfering with the opponent in real life would be a crime. Cheating by attacking them physically (or by other means) without or before proper challenge would also be a crime. It might look like an assault to us but the actual crime would be cheating on a duel of honor by not doing it in the proper order.

Similarly if it is democracy and has solved many of our issues, political participation might be high on their list of priorities. Not voting might be illegal. Not paying attention to political propaganda... I mean "news" might be a crime. Pushing opinions that are known to be baseless might be a crime. Most forms of corruption that are currently legalized as "lobbying" might be illegal.

In summary

Surprisingly being post-scarcity makes no difference and neither does being a democracy. What is perceived to be a threat and a crime just changes to match.

What does matter is how threatened does the state feel by the actions of its citizens. Higher the perceived threat and distrust the more restrictive the laws will be and more likely people are to break them. There have been and still are laws that allow throwing entire sections of the population to jail simply because, whatever the excuse is, powers that be found them threatening. Homosexuality is again a good example. The problem is not really what they do, the problem is that people in power would prefer them not to exist or at least be invisible.

Similarly, if majority of legislators is white and the social circumstances have major racial differences lots of black people will be in prison. It is not even outright racism (although there is a link), people simply find people similar to them non-threatening and people different from them threatening. As such things mostly done by people different from you will be more likely to be perceived as threats to society and be crimes with prison time attached. Conversely things mostly done by people similar to yourself are normal and obviously not a threat to anything. Which is why lobbying and many other issues common with politicians are legal.

Another aspect is the perceived efficiency of law enforcement. If people trust the police to enforce the law effectively they will avoid committing crimes. If people distrust the police and see them as ineffective they will have no real motivation to respect the law. In fact, they won't.

The actual answer

Ignore the red herrings. Just think about what type of a relationship does the state have with the people and what type of relationship do the people have with law enforcement. You might need to break up the population into social groups, if there are differences. Then find a modern society with similar "profile" and use that as a base to guess the crime rate.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch May 8 at 14:40
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Post-scarcity does not mean we become happy robots

We occasionally get questions asking about how the darker side of humanity can exist when the external influences that supposedly drive that darker side no longer exist. Forgive me for being honest and blunt, but I consider the idea laughable. It's as if humanity does bad things because some idiot invented money or the color red. Evolution is intrinsically competitive — and that means humanity has millions of years of inbred competitiveness. It is our nature. Take away one reason to compete, and we'll find two more to take it's place. Most humans would find the utopia many authors dream about to be a living hell.

Many years ago while living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I saw a billboard advertising a local car dealership. I've never forgotten the tag-line: "If all men are created equal, why are there passing lanes?"

The billboard was one of my earliest introductions into the fascinating (and often downright evil) world of marketing. Marketing, in a nutshell, is the process of leveraging human behavior to convince them to meet your expectations. Most of the time we think of marketing in terms of advertising, meaning the really pretty girl on the beer commercial trying to convince guys that drinking beer will bring to pass pretty girls. This is because one of the simplest and most easily manipulated human behaviors is sexual desire. AKA, "sex sells." And that brings us to post-scarcity-crime #1:

1. Post-scarcity will have zero impact on sexually-motivated crime

So, if there's one aspect of human behavior that can get the criminal blood pumping despite having a nice place to stay and sufficient food to eat, what else is there? I, for one, absolutely hate being wrong. As an adult I intellectually understand that I am often wrong. I make mistakes all the time. But that happy little 7-year-old that never completely shuts up is absofreakinglootly sure I'm never wrong — and so I do everything from argue toe-to-toe with people to writing opinion pieces for my local paper to posting contrary answers on Worldbuilding.SE. Because, well, you know, I'm never wrong!

Unfortunately, people will do all kinds of things to not be wrong. Whether it's avoidance of embarrassment or that sociopathic need to be in control, we'll gossip about friends, throw people under the proverbial bus, speed 5 mph over the posted limit, evade taxes, stuff ballot boxes, lie/cheat/steal and "stick it to the man," all to avoid being wrong.

2. Post-scarcity will have no impact on crimes involving self-image, libel, slander, etc.

Perhaps as a sub-plot to #2 is simple jealousy (envy, covetousness, keeping-up-with-the-Jones'...) They have new green carpet, I should too! One of the fundamental lies upon which fictional utopias are inevitably based is the idea that humanity stops caring about what someone else has. There's enough food to go around! Everybody has a nice park for their kids! Nobody has worn carpet! We all drive the same car!

Wait... the same car?

And therein lies the lie. Two couples bear a child each on the same day, and 13 years later it becomes obvious that the daughter of couple A is substantially more beautiful than the couple of child B. Jealousy. Envy. Covetousness. Celebrity. Dead teen cheerleaders. Trophy wives. An entire sweeping difference between the opportunities available to the naturally beautiful that are denied those who are naturally not. And if we do this simply based on physical beauty, we'll do it for cars and typewriters and window treatments and anything else that allows us to stand out as individuals.

It doesn't matter if post-scarcity means we all have enough food. There will always be someone who thinks they deserve need more food than their neighbor.

And believe me, if a policeman is allowed to have a gun, there will always be somebody who will think they should have one, too.

3. Post-scarcity will lessen crimes of jealousy, but not much

And then there's the issue of power. This is probably a corollary to #2 and #3, but people like taking advantage of other people. It's part of that evolutionary heritage. The most powerful animal gets the best mates, the most food, the largest territory... and it's whomping hard to believe humanity will every "outgrow" that behavior. And when it comes to issues of having the longest... I mean greatest amount of power, nothing says "I'm in charge!" like white collar crime.

Now, "white collar crime" is usually defined as financially motivated and non-violent. In reality there's a bigger social behavior at play. Person/corporation A wants an advantage over person/corporation B, so they lobby Congress to pass a law favoring A, meaning that B can now commit a "crime" that won't let it compete with A. As far as I'm concerned, both the influence to pass a biased law and the breaking of that law are both crimes. In fact, a post-scarcity society would likely create an increase in this kind of crime as people discover that everyone has plenty to be taken.

Remember, it's a lie to believe that post-scarcity means no one will have a reason to want more. Some people will always want more. And if food is so cheap that it's meaningless to take it, they'll take something else. My time, for example, happens to be in very limited supply — and always will be.

4. White collar crime (crimes with the goal of increasing personal power or influence) will likely increase in a post-scarcity world.

I could go on, but the fact is that where there's people, there are differences between them. Where there are differences, there are people who will desire, demean, or exploit those differences. Where there's desire, demeaning, and exploitation, there's crime. That's because "crime" is what happens when the rights of the individual come in conflict with the needs of society. It's what you get when "we need you to calm down" comes in conflict with "I don't want to calm down."

And if you don't believe me, the only thing you need to start a fight is a frequent-traveler policy that lets them skip to the front of a long line at the airport on a hot day — or coming home and discovering your significant other in bed with someone you thought was insignificant.

5. Post-scarcity will not reduce the number of crimes of passion.

OK, no more going on. OK, one more. I'll leave you with one of the most base and basic human behaviors of all — one that causes a tremendous amount of crime.

6. Post-scarcity will never overcome the human desire for revenge.

My underlying point is that a world without crime must be a world without conflict, without competition, and therefore without ambition or innovation. Those strong emotions and behaviors that lead to crime are sourced from smaller, controlled versions of the very same emotions and behavior that drive all aspects of advancement. The utopia of a crime-free society is actually dystopic in every way — it can only exist as a broken society.

Oh, and the per-capita number you're looking for is entirely POB, so I didn't bother.

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    $\begingroup$ A couple hours ago I watched as my 5 year old had a fit because his brother "stole" his chair. Of course, there was another empty chair on the other side of him that was exactly the same ... EXCEPT ... that the empty chair was green and the "stolen" one was red. These things are built into our DNA. There will always be something else to fight over. $\endgroup$ – conman May 6 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, OK, I was confused. $\endgroup$ – Dan Dascalescu May 7 at 3:36
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    $\begingroup$ What does POB mean? $\endgroup$ – SystemParadox May 7 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ @SystemParadox, Take a moment to read through this meta post about POB. We treat "primarily opinion based" a bit differently than the rest of Stack Exchange, otherwise no one could ever ask a question about magic. $\endgroup$ – JBH May 7 at 16:56
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    $\begingroup$ @JBH The bolded sentences are confusing to me. They looked like section titles, but it wasn't until the 3rd one that I realised they're bolded points under the descriptions, i.e. you described crime #1 first, then you wrote the "title" for it underneath. $\endgroup$ – Fodder May 7 at 23:22
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Lots

Murder rate would be virtually unchanged as would manslaughter. Neither are usually for money mind you money still exists so technically someone could for money too.

Theft would still happen. For some people, enough is never enough. People with drug addiction or gambling or any addiction for that matter always need more money.

Paedophilia for first offenders would be unaffected. The treatments will stop them reoffending but not their first offence.

I think you'll find it will have a much less affect than you might hope.

Legalizing drugs would help as well as proactive mental health treatments. People with rage and self control issues get mental editing as soon as they present, not after they bash someone.

In Crime Zero by Michael Cordy, they try to eradicate violent crime through the use of genetic editing via a virus to reduce the effects of testosterone.

You might need society to also be proactive and test for genetic markers and early childhood issues for tendencies such as rage and control issues and treat people before the problems arise.

Personally I think you need the hidden dystopian surveillance state watching people's browsing histories coupled with regular mental heath tune ups to nip crime in the bud.

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    $\begingroup$ This, other than the fact that I don't think you ever could nip crime in the bud. The many aspects of human nature that lead to crime are so ingrained in us that the only way to create a human society that doesn't have crime would be if the people in question were effectively no long human. $\endgroup$ – conman May 6 at 12:25
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    $\begingroup$ "The treatments will stop them reoffending" only if they're entirely non-voluntary, if there's an opt out many will take it, especially in the early years of the treatments' availability, people may not like who they are but they generally like someone else changing them even less. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 6 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ Re "people with drug addictions always need more money", not so. If drugs were legal, they'd be cheap (like coffee), so the people using them wouldn't need lots of money. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 6 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ Alcohol is legal, and people still steal in order to pay for it. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison May 6 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison: Portugal has shown that decriminalizing drugs has drastically reduced drug-related crime (as well as other types of crime). OP is asking about how crime would be reduced, not whether it would disappear completely $\endgroup$ – Dan Dascalescu May 7 at 3:26
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You may reduce the rate of serial offenses, if you have a totalitarian approach to the forced treatment of repeat offenders, but otherwise you're not going to make that big a dent in violent crime. Lets review:

  • murder for monetary gain, this is usually committed to feed/cover up a habit that cannot be satisfied by legitimate income or "above-board" activities. This will continue as long as people can be addicted to anything that isn't supplied, no questions asked and no price exacted, by the broader society. A number of things can be supplied on this basis but for some the reason for their addiction is the disapproval of their society as much as the habit itself.

  • murder for personal gain, by which I mean people who kill perceived rivals or oppressors, the forced egalitarianism of post-scarcity societies will help with this but as long as there is sexual rivalry and dissatisfied spouses these crimes will occur when someone reaches the limit of their endurance/patience/temper.

  • acute psychic dysfunction, i.e. spree killers, those who "just snap" and kill a bunch of people for no apparent reason without any but a modicum of planning or premeditation. There is usually little to no warning of such events and any treatment is going to be by way of closing the door behind the horse.

  • chronic psychologically driven "deviancy" (sexual sadism, pedophilia, necrophilia, any of the various psychopathies that lead to serial murder), here treatment and VR systems might help but they might not. A virtual kill, or sexual encounter, may help a psychopath stave off their cravings but as long as they know it's not "the real thing" it's psychological effects will probably be limited. As for brainwashing treatments; people, especially people who already feel in some way alienated from the society at large, are unlikely to volunteer for reconditioning even when they know and recognise their own illness. You'll still have to catch them to force them into treatment, and the smart sociopaths are probably going to slip through the treatment cycle and keep right on going having convinced everyone that they're cured.

  • petty violence will continue as long as intoxicants are widely available and people are people. Humans always seem to find reasons to disagree with each other and those disagreements invariably turn violent in some cases, even more often when chemically impaired judgement is added to the mix.

When it comes to non-violent crime what you probably do remove is petty crime as a profession, thieves and con-men who steal for a living wage go out the window. You'll have a few elite professionals who work the equivalent of multi-million dollar long cons or steal priceless relics for private collectors with the means to pay for stolen artworks etc.... The low level street dealer and cat burglar lose their motivation in a world where being on welfare is not only very comfortable but also the norm for most of the population. Getting ahead in a post-scarcity society is often very hard, if not impossible, because there's not a lot of room for human enterprise. That makes society more egalitarian and removes some of the motive of social climbing, so a lot of small time corruption crimes stop as well. Non-violent theft to feed drug addictions will continue as long as the drugs in question aren't freely and legally available.

Short version, violent crime probably doesn't change much but cash/status motivated non-violent crime rates probably go down, especially if street drugs are regulated and government run.

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Very low. Most crime is due, directly or indirectly, to economic incentives and the associated status they convey. This ranges all the way from survival/sustinence/addiction (stealing because you're hungry, in need of providing medical care for yourself or someone you care about, in need of a high, etc.) to pure greed. You mention pedophilia, but even "non-economic" crimes like this (also rape, murder, ...) are about status and power relationships within an economic system; people don't generally rape because they want sex (which it's not), but because they want to feel power over someone else, because they've been raised in a system of scarcity and zero-sum or negative-sum games.

Assuming post-scarcity means everyone's able to live in general comfort and have most of the things they need and things they want, and that crime risks a loss of that comfort, and that such risk applies uniformly to the entire population (as opposed to our system, where structures of power built on economic scarcity result in it applying heavily to some and minimally to others), most somewhat-rational beings will not commit crimes. You should expect the majority of remaining crime to be committed by people lacking rational capabilities.

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Lower by a degree of magnitude, but also because of accompanying processes

Is the motive behind committing a crime rational?

  • if YES, than huge share of crimes is no longer committed as it no longer offer worthy payoffs and instead can have really high detection rate.

  • if NO, then such person may end up at some compulsory treatment, for his own good.

Post scarcity should be accompanied by a few more bonuses:

  • Ultra high level of surveillance. Not necessary "Big Brother", "Big data" and dirt cheap cameras put by property owners can be similarly effective.
  • Better social services (finally there is some money), tendency to consider many undesirable behaviours as medical and not criminal issue, better psychotropic drugs
  • In affluent world, even Scandinavian prison become really harsh and unbearable. If you don't agree then ask Breivik about his tantrum when he was refused a new playstation.
  • There is quite clear correlation between IQ and crime rate. Let's say that designer babies would be really smart and nice kids. (or your money back ;) )
  • Some people may spend whole their life playing VR, assuming that would be legal, then their crime rate would be technically speaking 0.

Right now we live in the most peaceful and safe from crime period in mankind history, and except usual noise in data it seems that the rates are falling even further. source

However, there are a few caveats:

  • new activities may appear which would be technically speaking illegal, as it happened to torrenting copyrighted content. (does it count?)
  • people, regardless of hard data, may be convinced of being surrounded by crime because of high media coverage
  • the exact question is a bit tricky, as many of described processes would not happen overnight but would accompany it.

So far roughly counting, according to prof. Pinker transfer from tribal societies to primitive early states, reduced homicide 10 times. The same happened again with transition to modern state with its all institutions like mass schooling, police and safety net. My guess? It looks like that what we have should cause another such breakthrough.

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    $\begingroup$ "new activities may appear which would be technically speaking illegal, as it happened to torrenting copyrighted content. (does it count?)" <-- no; that contradicts post-scarcity. Copyright is the artificial imposition of scarcity. $\endgroup$ – R.. May 6 at 23:14
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Lots per million.

Why? People enjoy it. It may provide some other, non-monetary, advantage. There may be other sources, non-monetary, of strife in society.

An example? In the USA smoking weed is illegal, yet almost half the country does it because they enjoy it. Pretty much the same thing happened during Alcohol prohibition. There are crime types that have nothing to do with monetary value as well.

The bottom line is that since your system still has laws, there will still be crime.

There's definitely more crime in impoverished areas, but that's not all of crime. Something else to consider, is that the boredom cause by post scarcity is another source of friction that could cause crime. Crime rates could not change at all.

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  • $\begingroup$ Isn't smoking weed legal in half the US states by now? $\endgroup$ – TheDyingOfLight May 6 at 17:05
  • $\begingroup$ @TheDyingOfLight Not federally. Even so the half of the country that smokes pot isn't just located in the places where it's legal. Lots of people smoke weed in states were it isn't legal on any level. $\endgroup$ – user32463 May 6 at 17:18
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tl/dr Not only will crime largely be unaffected by a post-scarcity economy, but the concept of a post-scarcity economy is a contradiction of terms for the same reasons that crime will be unaffected. As a result, when you really break it down, the very concept itself rests on false assumptions.

I strongly agree with @Throne, but wanted to add a couple important points.

The question "How will a post-scarcity economy impact crime rates?" rests on two important assumptions:

  1. A post-scarcity economy is possible
  2. Crime is driven by scarcity of resources

I believe that neither of those statements are true. Now granted, I could just assume that a post-scarcity economy is possible and therefore attempt to answer your question. However, I believe that the very reasons why crime is not driven by a lack of resources are the same reasons why a post-scarcity economy is impossible, so I think it is actually very informative to not just answer "It won't matter", but also explain why the question is based on a false premise, because those two facts are tightly correlated.

Lack of resources doesn't cause crime

For a post-scarcity economy to meaningfully impact crime rates, it would require crime to largely be caused by lack of resources. Not only is there no reason to think this is the case, but in fact there are plenty of reasons to think otherwise. To pick the most violent act (aka murder), it seems that the most common reasons for murder have nothing to do with the sort of things that would be fixed in a "post scarcity" economy. Some relevant links:

An especially relevant link from the latter:

The University of Texas at Austin's Dr. David Buss states that fantasies to commit homicide are more common than we may think. Dr. Buss' research has involved delving into over 400,000 FBI murder files and interviewing nearly 400 murderers. In a homicidal fantasy study with 5,000 individuals, he determined that 84% of women and 91% of men have had at least one clear fantasy about committing murder. Dr. Buss adds that luckily most people do not carry out homicidal acts that they've fantasized about, although a major reason for this is fear of getting caught. "Though we may like to think that murderers are either pathological misfits or hardened criminals - the vast majority of murders are committed by people who, until the day they kill, seem perfectly normal," says Dr. Buss.

Which strongly suggests that murder is a "people" problem, not a "resources" problem. With murder effectively being the most violent crime, and given the many motives for murder that have nothing to do with scarcity of resources, there is no reason to think that our hypothetical new society won't suffer from the same crime problems we have.

To pick a different crime, there is no reason to think that sexual assault will change either. No amount of availability of free food, electronics, entertainment, etc is going to address the reasons behind sexual assaults. Indeed, all the recent high-profile men who had their careers ended due to the surfacing of sexual assault allegations makes this perfectly clear. These were men at the top of the "social" ladder, men who lacked nothing at all. Yet even still they committed some of the most violent crimes possible (personally I put sexual assault right up there with murder).

Society can never be post-scarcity

Which leads to my other point. Even if it were possible to provide everyone with free food, shelter, etc, this would hardly classify as a "post-scarcity" economy because, from the point of view of people, there is always more to be had. The reality is that there is something built into humans that makes it easy for us to measure our success not in absolute terms but in comparison to those around us. More generally, just because a persons basic needs are met certainly does not guarantee that they will have everything they want, that they will be happy, or that they will have nothing to fight about.

As more and more basic needs are provided for, I expect that the "bar" for our goals and desires will simply raise higher. Therefore a truly "post-scarcity economy" where everyone has what they need requires aiming for a moving target. It's especially impossible to make happen because many human needs (love, friendship, companionship) cannot be built in any factory. You can really see the problem when you realize that these needs that can't be met in a factory are often the same needs which drive violent crime - aka the article above which attributes most murder to interpersonal conflicts.

Can you make a world where basic needs are met? Probably. Would that reduce crime? Maybe a little. But can you make a world where everyone feels that they have everything they need? Absolutely not. Until that world exists crime is not going to change substantially, and in fact building that world probably still won't stop crime.

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    $\begingroup$ The problem with a "Post-Scarcity Society" is that people will just find a new resource to be scarce. Even if nothing else, then Space and Time. $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal May 7 at 9:32
  • $\begingroup$ @Chronocidal Why would space and time need to be a scarce resource? If people are not able to increase their lifespan if they ever need more time, then it's not truly post-scarcity. $\endgroup$ – forest May 8 at 6:12
  • $\begingroup$ @forest Extending lifetime is one thing. But, can you extend the number of hours in a day? $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal May 8 at 7:28
  • $\begingroup$ Why would you need to? $\endgroup$ – forest May 8 at 7:28
  • $\begingroup$ @forest Ask that of every student trying to finish their dissertation, every worker on a crunch-time project, every parent trying to coordinate all the different places their children need to be with their own work and buying/ordering food... $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal May 8 at 7:34
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... While there can never be a guarantee that the higher needs; love/belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization can be satisfied ...

Stop right there. That's your answer.

We are used to thinking of crime in terms of physical needs. But a huge driver of crime is emotional needs. Jealousy, loneliness, fear, insecurity, worry, disgust, self-righteousness, thwarted beliefs, ... those aren't economic and will not be met by post scarcity.

The question poses a society that has VR and other means to help people "even with paedophilia". But that won't solve it either. What happens to people who want true love, not a simulated version, or whose source of upset is real world related (involves a workplace colleague or family member) rather than an unrealistic/prohibited desire for some act? VR won't fix that you feel slighted by your boss, insecure in your primary relationship, want to be more special or more high profile than you "really are".

You can VR those and yay, I simulate being king for a day, then I return to my life and you know, I'm sure my daughter plans to marry someone from another religion, my boss is going to pass over me for a civic award, my wife doesn't really love me, I'm not really as good as people think and fear being caught out, that you don't damn well respect my every word as divine inspired damn truth, and my view that we should all be Pastafarians as the One True Faith will not gain world traction.

Planning to treat me for it? Maybe I don't want that. Am I a criminal now? Do I have to fight against it or resist?

That's an extreme, for example's sake, I agree. Now..... add to it, a million far less extreme variations on these themes.

In short, removing scarcity and adding simulation will do little more than expose the underlying river that fuels so much crime - self image, personal views, fears, and beliefs.

You can have as much or as little as you want.

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  • $\begingroup$ What happens to people who want true love, not a simulated version - A sufficiently advanced VR system will be able to create virtual beings with the full range of emotions that a real human has (or child, in the case of pedophilia). The holodecks in Star Trek TNG are shown to be able to create people that are so realistic that they can even discover that they are holographic, causing a bit of an identity crisis. $\endgroup$ – forest May 8 at 6:10
  • $\begingroup$ And that creates a 2 tier version, where a privileged (lucky?) few find true love with a real living being, and the rest "fail" and have to make do with simulations? And they would know they are simulations. As for Star Trek, if anything, it shows that a holodeck - even AI populated - is no substitute for real relationships for all but a tiny minority. LaForge and Berkeley both fall for real world people (Berkeley imports them to the holodeck and it fails), and almost all other characters show a strong perceptual difference between holodeck and RL characters. (And sex work still exists!) $\endgroup$ – Stilez May 9 at 9:34
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I'm going to go out on a limb and offer a bit of a different answer... As much or as little as you want.

Really, what it comes down to is rationalizing your choice and explaining it in a believable way. The other answers provide much good ground for this, but I'll add a little:

Want lots of crime?

First off, keep in mind that being able to erase criminal tendencies is sort of pointless unless you force it on people. The sorts of folks that desire to commit crimes probably aren't inclined to erase those urges. Take that natural tendency and stir in VR to create a dystopia. Today, someone inclined to crime can either resist the urge, or commit the crime and become a criminal. VR opens the door to "committing" crime in a legal context... but maybe that just increases the prospective criminal's desire for "the real thing". VR is a gateway drug.

Want low crime?

As scarcity reduced, people are able to devote more time to improving their social situation. As class barriers are reduced, many traditional tensions disappear. Competition still exists, but becomes increasingly channeled into improvement at both the personal and societal levels. This builds in a virtuous cycle where one's status is elevated by "helping others". The optimist in us wants to believe in the possibility, and e.g. Star Trek (especially TNG) built a world along these lines.

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A post-scarcity economy is not really possible, because there will always be "resources" which are not available in limitless quantity. Most of these will be non-material. They will relate to specific people or to a desire for power over a class of people, or both.

So unless human nature is completely changed, crimes of violence against a person or people will continue, whereas crimes against most property will disappear. The exception in the latter class will be unique items, such as a hand-created artwork. A duplicate, even if indistinguishable without microscopic analysis, won't satisfy. (We see this with gemstones. Synthetic rubies can be much bigger and more perfect and better coloured than natural ones, but are not nearly as sought after. It is the pattern of defects in a particular certified natural ruby that gives it value!)

Iain M Banks' "Culture" gets around this by introducing the minds, which are AIs vastly more potent than human minds. It's basically impossible to commit a crime against a person: the local mind will know what you intend before you can carry it out, and will prevent the crime from being committed. Probably in most cases, by manipulating circumstances such that the opportunity never arises and the motive goes away. Failing which, using force fields or supersonic drones to incapacitate the criminal at the last moment.

The motivation of minds is never spelled out, but many think that minds' relationship with humans (and other human-equivalent sentients) is very much like our relationship with pets.

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Crimes committed for a rational reason will disappear

There are many crimes committed rationally. For example if one wants more property and is not afraid to break the law or harm others, they can steal it. If one wants a sexual encounter, they can rape. While these are still crimes and many of them are also unethical, they are committed only because there is no other way for the criminal to get what they want. However, plenty of crimes are committed irrationally, either in the heat of the moment, or as the result of a mental condition. While a thief can get everything they want without depriving someone else of material objects, a person in a drunken rage in a bar may not be thinking logically enough to refrain from stabbing the person who angered them.

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