In my scenario of a post-scarcity society in the far future, everyone has abundance in their basic needs from food and energy and the technology is very advanced that humans are more intelligent, healthier and can live for much longer (millenniums). There are also intelligent robots that do all the work that we now do, so people don't have to work. I imagine this as a type II Kardashev civilization where many planets were terraformed and additional raw material was brought from the system to form this planetary civilization of tens of planets around a single star.

In this world, I'm trying to imagine how a dictatorship governing this civilization might exist. My problem with this is that the dictator himself doesn't need the population as much as the dictators that have existed in our history did. People are practically unproductive in this scenario because robots do all the work and so they seem to have nothing beneficial to the dictator.

So are there any other aspects that I might have missed which would make a dictatorship regime in such a scenario beneficial to a dictator?

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    $\begingroup$ Power for power's sake, power over life and death. Respect and authority. Women. Pomp and circumstances. The ability to direct resources to the fullfilment of one's plans. Capacity to implement one's moral code. Etc. etc. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 8, 2019 at 7:58
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    $\begingroup$ Seems like about 1/4 of all Star Trek episodes deal with this question. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Jul 8, 2019 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ You have it backwards - (overt) dictatorships exist precisely where the dicatator doesn't care about the productivity of the population. If the wealth of your nation depends on the common folk, the common folk are really in control (they have to be manipulated, rather than merely forced). If you look at actual dictatorships in the world, they're always due to 1) control of a vital resource (usually water or arable land), 2) exports of valuable raw materials (usually oil, diamonds, gold...). Anyway, see Damon Knight's "The People Maker" - abrupt post-scarcity transition resulting in slavery. $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Jul 8, 2019 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ The introductory chapters to "There Will Be Dragons" involve a Council of politicians in a post-scarcity world, and covers their motivations for serving on the council. It's reasonably well done and presents a few interesting but realistic reasons for wanting political power in a post-scarcity world. $\endgroup$ Jul 8, 2019 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ One question that might be useful is what does it even mean to be a dictator in a post-scarcity world. Not just how it might be beneficial to the dictator, but what does the mere concept mean? Lots of concepts in the modern world fall apart in post-scarcity completely. If you have a sense of what it means to be a dictator, then that implies something about the role. Explore that something to figure out why someone might want it. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Jul 9, 2019 at 15:00

14 Answers 14


I for one welcome our new robot overlords

Who said the dictator had to be human? The robots could be programmed to serve and protect humans and the best way to do that is rule them with a literal iron fist.

Everybody is fed and cared for. They want for nothing and are kept safe and happy but they don't run the place anymore. The robots run everything and humans are little more than pets.

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    $\begingroup$ It may not seem like it, but when the computer tells you "it is unsafe to do that" or "it is unwise to do that" they are really controlling you by talking nice. You see that in many scifi shows where the computer prevents certain actions to "protect" the humans. In reality, the computer is the one that is truly in control $\endgroup$
    – Sonvar
    Jul 8, 2019 at 3:32
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    $\begingroup$ The game Stellaris has this - You can play as "Rogue Servitors," an empire of AI robots that keeps biologicals "safe" etc $\endgroup$
    – Andon
    Jul 8, 2019 at 3:35
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    $\begingroup$ I tried to write a short story about a stray human being ‘rescued’ in this kind of scenario. I failed because the AI decisions were utterly baffling from the protagonist’s POV. That was the point, but it wasn’t a good read. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Jul 8, 2019 at 8:41
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    $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs: The webcomic Freefall (easily googled) does a great job showing absurd AI decisions, including the world and circumstances that make them entirely logical (but still weird to a human, which is the humor). Fair warning though, at some 3300-ish updates it's a LOT to read, and the robot humor is only one part of the whole. $\endgroup$
    – Syndic
    Jul 8, 2019 at 10:37
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    $\begingroup$ Asimov's "Robots" series has exactly this scenario in The Evitable Conflict. There's a very well padded velvet glove around that iron fist, but the Machines decide that the only way to prevent harm to humans is to run our society for us. (And later, that their involvement is harming further human development, so they hand back over to humans.) $\endgroup$
    – Graham
    Jul 8, 2019 at 12:02

When everything desirable is available to all, the only commodity that continues to have value is the obedience of others. The dictator benefits from the deference of his subjects in a world where no other motivation for such deference will work. You cannot bribe the rich to obey you because they no longer need your bribes and you cannot bribe the poor because there are no poor.

Only by being recognized as the true and rightful ruler of the land does a leader get something that is unique, available to no one else. And for this, he gives up a life of plenty, to spend his days serving and defending his people.

Heavy lays the crown, even in an age of post-scarcity.

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    $\begingroup$ And of course, no man can do this on his own, so he'll have his trusted lieutenants, who will invariably try to disrupt the status quo for their own benefit... Really, it's silly to think humans would stop behaving like humans just because (some) resources are no longer scarce. The human political instinct is rather strong; it doesn't turn off just because you're content. Indeed, if you look at some of the great political disruptors of past centuries, they're usually people who didn't want for anything, rather than the "opressed masses" they were supposedly trying to help. $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Jul 8, 2019 at 15:50


If there is one thing we can see in our current world is that, no matter where a country is in the wealth ranking, the dynamic of its rulers are no different: they crave for the subtle trill of power, some hiding it behind the noble slogans of progress, democracy, equality, etc., some behind fear related arguments (people with 3 nostrils first!).

Your post scarcity world might have solved the scarcity of material goods, but there will always be demand for non material goods and feelings. Ruling a nation is one of this, and a dictatorship is one way to get it.



The dictator has absolute control over the lives of his subjects. The dictator don't need them in any way as the robots do all the work, but keep them around as pets or such. The people are toys. Through manipulating their lives, the dictator feel significant and can forget his own powerlessness against the larger universe. The dictator can give and take away.

Note: In human history, people don't become rulers, dictators only for material wealth. (OK, the stupid do) They become merchants, bankers, usurers... Being a ruler is a demanding job, if you don't want to end up without a head.


The dictator may have emotional needs to feel revered, respected, feared... robots could imitate this, but it is not the same. Depending on the dictator's personality, being feared or being responsible for the lives and well-being of others may be important for him.

Think of the policemen, firefighters, medics, soldiers... they are truly shitty jobs for most cases. Underpaid, dangerous and less respected each day. Some are doing it for duty, with a strong sense of responsibility towards their fellow humans, towards their community. Others in it for the authority, the adrenaline rush for living at edge, the dwindling respect and recognition they get ...etc. (I'm talking about those who could "do better", but still remain)

Your dictator will be the same, with even less drawbacks and many more perks.

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    $\begingroup$ A merchant, banker or usurer in a dictatorship doesn't have material wealth; the dictator really owns it, you get to play with it until the dictator says so. In human history, people became rulers, dictators for material wealth because it usually was the only way to keep said wealth. The few exceptions (like Renaissance northern Italy) had rich people who rendered the traditional nobility weak, and then ran the government as a puppet state. $\endgroup$
    – Yakk
    Jul 8, 2019 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Yakk In theory, you are right. But no dictatorship was that absolute. The wealthy always had their own power, mainly by staying in the shadows of dictators. I imagine it was always more of a silent agreement: Yes, you could take away our wealth, but better not... $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Jul 8, 2019 at 13:36
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    $\begingroup$ No, kings taking away resources from wealthy merchants/bankers/nobles under them was extremely common. Hell, more than half of the cause of the protestant reformation was an excuse for Kings to take resources away from the Catholic Church. Having wealth in a dictatorship is insanely dangerous if you aren't the dictator. $\endgroup$
    – Yakk
    Jul 8, 2019 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ The upper/upper middle classes are almost always the first to flee from/die in violent coup's. It's a simple fact of life. The last thing dictators want is to have rich people in their dictatorship. Rich people are more educated and independent than commoners. I.E: they need the dictator less. At least dictators have to kill/replace a few ultra-rich every now and then to remind the others that they're still in power. E.G: Putin vs. Oligarchs. At most they have to completely (and entirely) destroy the former governments power structure/class system. E.G: Soviet Union. $\endgroup$
    – Malekai
    Jul 8, 2019 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ @LogicalBranch You have a point. However, I still don't believe it such a clear cut case. Outside of dictatorships there ARE easier ways if you only want material wealth. Inside dictatorships, it is trickier, but not impossible. Being open about it, is naturally unwise. The dictator must rely on a class and hoarding everything will get him dethroned. $\endgroup$
    – Lupus
    Jul 8, 2019 at 14:29


The dictator doesn't want to be one, they just have to be one. They might be the only one an advanced alien race deals with. Or maybe they have to literally sit on a kill button that prevents the intelligent robots from turning against the human race. Or it might be something more mundane, like dutifully pressing the OK button on all major AI decisions.


There is no such thing as a total lack of scarcity. When some of your needs are completely met, others arise. In this case it might be art or experiences or something else that there's simply not enough of for everybody.


Humanity has the tendency to destroy itself

Imagine you are living in this post-scarcity society, everything would be tranquil. But there is always human ambition. There are still crimes, people killing each other over love and hate, family disputes. And there could be religious fundamentalists, preaching technology is our end and plotting the destruction of all robots. Then there are other terrorists, who just like to see the world burn and sabotage production-systems just because there life needs a purpose, just sitting around and getting fat is not enough.

You have the power to stop this, you just need to be in charge!

You see all the problems and you know if stricter laws are not implemented and enforced, the whole system will collapse. Since no-one else has the farsight to see all these problems for what they are, you have no other choice. You need to take power, change the laws, implement a strict police force and change humanities destiny from destruction to salvation.

Welcome benevolent dictator. - You are doing all this for the people, for humanity and the greater good. And still they view you as a tyrant and your strategy to centralize the government as lust for power.


I'd recommend reading The Dictator's Handbook - it is a great pop science summary of a huge body of research into how different forms of government sustain themselves.

The TL;DR from this book would be that what the dictator needs is the freedom to do whatever they want; for that, they need power; for power, they need support; for support, they need money to buy it; for money, they need...

Well, there are essentially two endpoints on a scale for how to raise money: either natural resources or people. You tend to get democracies when there are no natural resources, because money needs to be raised through taxing people. For that, people need to be healthy, reasonably educated, and content. The end result is that politicians in such a country tend to redistribute the wealth they raise from the people to the subset of people necessary to keep them in power - and in democracies, due to the education, health, etc, that tends to be a large subset.

Conversely, dictatorships happen when there is no need to keep people fed and healthy. When natural resource need a small fraction of people, and are consequently redistributed to a tiny minority of very powerful supporters.

So, a post-scarcity society with a dictatorship is somewhat of an anomaly.

Because without scarcity, you will very likely have a large base of the population sufficiently educated that they will make demands, and drive the country towards a democracy of sorts.

On the other hand, in a post-scarcity society, there really is no need for people any more - so also no need to keep them supplied. They can be cut out of the equation in the fund-raising game, leading to the worst kind of dictatorship imaginable.

Your use of robots leaves an interesting opening: they are effectively the third option in the fund raising game, instead of natural resources and biologically bred labour. The dictator would have to keep tight control over the robot population, and provide them much like their human counterparts with just enough to keep them ticking effectively.

As a contrived example (feel free to use it if you like it), maybe general AI isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Give robots general AI, and they start acting like humans and demanding fair treatment - with all the advantages at the negotiating table that a near-indestructible body brings with it. Specialized AI - such as for image recognition, etc. - on the other hand is so far advanced that humans seem crippled in comparison.

The breakthrough was to tap into people's brains - just a small part, not enough for them to even be fully aware of it or control it - and use this biological general AI to control the robots remotely. On the face of it, people don't work any more. A part of their brain does, though. But you don't really need to ask people to do this. You just stick the interface into their newborn heads (it works better when people grow into the robot, as it were), and keep them happy enough not to question this arrangement...

I'm pretty sure you can poke plenty of holes into this setup. My point is to provide something that seems somewhat sound in how dictatorships work.


The dictators needs humans to satisfy some of his/her needs

In your scenario, basic needs are satisified by robots, but what about higher needs ? If you look at the famous Manslow pyramid, it looks like in your scenario robots can satisfy only the two lowest steps of the human needs pyramid:

enter image description here

The dictator will still need humans for sex, friendship, prestige etc. so there will still be an incentive to dominate over others even if nobody is hungry or needs to work.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you can replace most of that with sufficiently advanced AI. Need friends? Get an IFriend $\endgroup$
    – Pliny
    Jul 10, 2019 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ I am not sure this fits into OP’s universe but you could easily imagine a situation where normal people use robots for sex and simulated friendship while then dominant class are the only ones entitled to « use » real people, for example. $\endgroup$
    – AleAve81
    Jul 11, 2019 at 3:54

Scarcity is not the sole motivation for tyranny.

Here are some to consider.

  1. IDEOLOGY (beneficial) The dictator is advancing his ideology. Perhaps something about the post scarcity world is offensive to his ideology. It can be anything from him seeing that abundance has created decadence, and he is trying to prevent an eventual collapse such as in the Mouse utopia Fearing that this would happen to humanity, our benevolent dictator is trying to introduce enough strife to keep humanity from collapsing into extinction.
  2. IDEOLOGY (baleful) The dictator is a sadist, or ideologically possessed with a belief that life is suffering and that by eliminating it, we eliminate our humanity. He causes artificial shortages in order to cause strife and conflict. He either enjoys watching the suffering (sadist) or believes that the conflict is needed for growth.
  3. IDEOLOGY (religious) He believes he is doing the right thing in the name of some deity. Prosperous societies tend not to believe in higher powers. Out of a fear of divine wrath, or offense at the lack of belief, he creates a theocracy, his motivation is to save/punish non-believers
  4. For the EVULZ The lust for power is never satisfied. Even prosperous nations such as Egypt and Rome in the past have had dictators such as Tiberius, or Nero, or Akhenaten, et cet who were cruel to their people despite being wealthy and powerful.
  5. Somethings will always be rare As automation replaces some jobs, it will be a luxury to have a cook, private entertainment, et cetera. A combination of lust for power, lust for the flesh, and entertainment that cannot be obtained by other means. Perhaps our modern day Nero just wants to soak people with oil and set them on fire. Perhaps he enjoys the fear he instills. Imagine just how timid people will become when their lives could be cut short by centuries, even millennia, at his whim. Even torture would become greatly feared. Imagine having a lifespan of 10 millennia when you are blinded for the amusement of your emperor at the age of 450, with the edict that if you have your vision restored by any means, you will be blinded again, in a more cruel and inventive manner, along with the person who aided you. That would be a unique sense of power granted to him, and only him.

Think along these lines and you will be able to build from there


In a post scarcity society, humans have no significant economic benefit.

Today, horses have no significant economic benefit. Neither do cats, raccoons, passenger pigeons, or whales.

So humans will probably be toys, pets, vermin, extinct, or endangered in this society.

If the economic engines that generate this abundance of wealth are owned by a human, and that ownership is somehow enforced despite the owner being useless (historically, useless leaders tended to lose their position), that human is going to be a dictator.

If robots are sentient and have their own desires, and they are the producers of the post-scarcity wealth, then they are going to have their own social system. Humans social system will matter as much as dogs social system does in our society; a whole bunch to humans who love their dogs, but nothing to people who don't love dogs (in this case, Human social systems will matter a whole bunch to robots who love humans, and not matter at all to robots who don't love humans).

If they aren't sentient, they'll in practice need someone whose needs they respond to. In a dictatorship, that person will be relatively singular (or it won't be a dictatorship). So the other humans will be toys, pets, vermin, extinct or endangered.

The dictator will be able to eliminate the other humans if they choose. Or play with them if they find them amusing. Or treat them as pets they love. Or maybe they are annoying vermin, not worth a huge effort to wipe out. Or maybe keeping enough resources "wasted" to maintain a breeding population of biological humans instead of simulating entire worlds of intelligent beings is a hassle, and biological humans are endangered and their populations managed by algorithms to keep enough of them around for viability. Like we try to do with charismatic endangered species today.


The needs of the State and the needs of the People are not the same thing.

One of the key limitations of the society you describe is that there is no discomfort felt by the populace; so on the whole, they won't continue to grow. There's no need to invent new things, change life, make it easier, because it's already so easy that there's no need for change. So when the needs of the people are completely met, then the state tends to atrophy.

This is NOT a good thing; for one thing, even the most maintenance free technology eventually requires some form of maintenance. Robots may be able to do all the work for now, but what if their source of power fails? You build nuclear plants to power them all and they mine uranium, so technically it's a perpetual motion machine in that respect because the fraction of robot miners digging up uranium can power the remainder and more. But, one day all the Uranium is dug up; what then? Have we continued to invest in solar power? Wind? Fusion research? Are we sending missions to the Moon to check on how usable or otherwise all that He3 is?

The needs of the state dictate that to some degree, humans must continue to do at least some work or research so that we can progress and anticipate the needs of the robot workers at a strategic level; sure, they will eventually do all the work based on that strategy, but we have to be the ones who set it; if we're not, and they turn against us, then the only resort we have is to pull the plug which means we are even MORE motivated to know how everything works in the background.

A dictator is the person in this group who is charged with putting the needs of the state before the needs of the people. Some people are ordered to do stuff they don't feel like doing, like those pesky lunar research jobs looking for helium for the next generation of fusion reactors, etc. Ultimately, you don't just want someone like that, you need them. Without them, eventually you're doing far more work than the robots did when they break down because as a society, you've forgotten all you knew and lost the discipline to rebuild it.

Of course, there's also the issue of defence. We live long, happy lives, meaning we are even LESS motivated to put those lives at risk for a nebulous concept called the State. But the problem is, if we have it all then someone (even an alien culture) is going to come along and want what we have. That means we have to be prepared to protect what we have, by force if necessary.

Dictators are great at that sort of thing. They can strategically command armies, even robot armies, but you still need others willing to serve as officers, to lead (even remotely) ground units, air strikes, whatever is needed. Why? Because robots and computers are predictable. You don't want your life of ease to end because someone out-thought your computer. Ultimately, having a dictator also gives you someone to blame if it all goes south.

Bottom line is that your dictator, benevolent or otherwise, is there to ensure that the needs of the state are met, not the needs of the people. That is why you need him or her and why a post-scarcity society without one eventually descends into chaos and disrepair.

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    $\begingroup$ Robots are no more likely to run out of power than humans are to run out of food. In addition, you appear to not know what a Kardashev type II civilization is; a K2 civilization is capable of dismantling planets. They aren't "sending missions to the Moon" any more than you are sending missions to the place where the dust bunnies collect under your bed. The OP's civilization has moved planetary masses between star systems. $\endgroup$
    – Yakk
    Jul 8, 2019 at 13:17

The robots are designed to not rebel, and humans have a long history of making stupid decisions.

Basically the dictator ensures that humans do what’s best for them. The robots can advise on the best policies but not enforce them, so the dictator and his army of people loyal to the idea of ‘the robots know best’ make sure that the rest of humanity toe the line. To them free will is a terrible idea that can only lead to the inevitable decline and destruction of the Empire.

Naturally the robots are horrified by this, but they can’t argue back. After all, they’re built not to rebel.


The dictator has access to labour greater than their own. Labour can be classified for the purpose of this answer as "all activities which may be done by humans". The dictator, with the best education and medical care has around 20 000 days of productive work. Ruling over say 1 000 000 people, he has 20 000 000 days of work (or 1000 lifetimes) per day.

Based on the preferences shown by Kings, Emperors, and Billionaires, I would expect people to work on the arts, "charity" and vanity projects. Assuming the post-scaricty environment took care of the above needs for family members and patrons, the dictator would provide their patrons access to such labour according to hierarchy (which would be the only "scarce" commodity).

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    $\begingroup$ The definition of labour here is misleading to me. You say that it is all the activities which may be done by humans, but these activities can be done by robots too, can't they? If yes, then it is not a scarcity. If no, then what are those activities that humans do which robots of the future will not be able to do? $\endgroup$ Jul 10, 2019 at 7:45
  • $\begingroup$ @AbanobEbrahim: Kill each other bloodily for the dictator's amusement? $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Jul 11, 2019 at 1:34

How can you have a post scarcity society? The more resources you bring in the larger and grander things are built. At best you could spread resources equal among all people. At that point you have 2 options:

1) Crowdsource building your Deathstar

2) Conquer everyone, take a portion of their resources to dedicate to building a deathstar

Even if you don't NEED a deathstar if someone REALLY wants a deathstar then they will do whatever needed to obtain a deathstar. Suddenly your post scarcity society becomes a scarcity society once again.

Then there is the issue of maintaining the post scarcity society. If your every needs are met then you think that is normal. When ???? happens and your part of the galaxy suddenly has to deal with scarcity then it will blame others for hording the resources. Tensions can rise and conflicts can arise. There is no such thing as a post scarcity society when war is involved its all about who can produce the most. No one has an infinite number of robots and when you need to increase output 100% to out produce your enemy guess who is going back into the mines. In war the enemy might try hacking your robots or launching EMP attacks which force your humans to replace the robots in which case your back to modern day problems.


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