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A while back I answered a question about galactic economies with a semi-joke suggestion - wishes granted by an Elder Race. I'd like to explore that further with the fortnightly challenge.

Background:

The E'kan'se are a race at least a million years old. Their entire culture, for all recorded history, has been obsessed with a single game. In their language, it literally means "Everything".

Everything is nearly incomprehensible to outsiders. As is best understood, games tend to last thousands or tens of thousands of years, and the minimum number of players is measured in the millions. A core concept of Everything is that it incorporates real-world economic data in some fashion - no one except the E'kan'se seem to know exactly why.

The problem with this is that given the size of the galaxy, there wouldn't be any economies big enough or complex enough for the game. So the E'kan'se decided to create one by introducing a galactic, fiat currency that they provide in an arbitrary measure to any race that asks. This currency is backed by wishes - you make some sort of wish, and since they have technology that's nearly indistinguishable from magic, you might even get it.

So here's my question - if you're the E'kan'se, how do you implement this system? Specifically looking for ideas on awarding the currency, how it would be redeemed, encouraging participation, and preventing people from gaming/cheating.

The primary goal of the E'kan'se is to maximize the number of economic transactions using their currency.

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  • $\begingroup$ If I had enough "credits" for a wish, I would ask for two wishes... A while ago I read a book of short stories, the last one was a man who found a gnome that granted him a wish; but he had to decide it in five minutes. After five minutes of doubts, he asks for a wish granting gnome (which again, gives him five minutes to decide himself, causing the man to return to his doubts). $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 May 6 '15 at 21:09
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not certain I understand the premise. Are you guaranteed that your 'wish' will come true? if so can I wish for all the wishes? do more wishes give you a greater potential of a wish coming true? what is the limit of a wish? a wish must have some limit, both because their technology has limits and because otherwise wishes become less a trade able commodity and more a "who can come up with the most all-encompassing wish" $\endgroup$ – dsollen May 6 '15 at 21:56
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen: Presumably the E'kan'se would consider "wishing for more wishes" to be covered under gaming the system/cheating - so not allowed. They obviously can't guarantee all wishes (not everything is possible), what they do with impossible wishes would be a good question for an answer to address. :) $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske May 6 '15 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ @SJuan76 Note that he said you might get it--in other words it's not a magical system that could permit such instability. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel May 14 '15 at 2:00
  • $\begingroup$ I wish that my wish isn't granted. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Jun 3 '15 at 0:02
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Being backed by wishes would not encourage a large volume of transactions.

If I was holding currency that could allow the granting of my greatest wishes, then what could someone possibly offer me for it that is more valuable? Obtaining the currency would result in immediately bringing it E'kan'se bank and getting my wishes. It would be worse than any rush on banks we've ever seen in our own history.

The best way to implement this would require the possibility of a wish being granted by way of spending the currency. Backing the currency with wishes makes the currency far too valuable, and differently so to each person. Basing the wish granting system on transactions would be a better way to get everyone to make as many transactions as possible.

The gaming of this system that would need to be kept in check would be things like trading money back and forth for no other purpose than making a transaction. A sliding scale of wish granting probability would need to be implemented depending on the value of the transaction, otherwise people would give the lowest denomination to everyone they met.

The E'kan'se would then act like the Fed, raising or lowering wish probability to encourage spending or saving respectively. This would allow them some moderate control of their game.

Additionally this makes it a system of fiat money; a currency with a backing is not a fiat system. This allows the addition of new races and civilizations without need to add new wishes or devaluing the existing currency.

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  • $\begingroup$ I think there are ways around those issues, but I do like the idea of tying it to using the currency, rather than redeeming it. $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske May 6 '15 at 23:56
  • $\begingroup$ Wish based federal reserve. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Jun 3 '15 at 0:03
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Wishes have the problem that their effectiveness can be arbitrarily increased or decreased. Additionally, they are difficult to divide, share and trade. This means that the required input to get a single wish could be astronomical. I offer a new model - the Joule. The homonym is only a happy accident.

A standardized unit of energy transmission, without loss, can easily transcend all cultural barriers with very little miscommunication. It can boil water, power a city, put a ship in space, and accelerate so close to light speed it doesn't matter that it's not actually the speed of light.

Matter and energy have equivalence, so if you want to buy a thing, you have to be able to afford all of its components. You can save money by using natural resources to build an engineless ship, and then spending your Joules on acceleration. Mining asteroids is immediately and automatically profitable, as it gives you access to matter for trade that doesn't blow holes in your planet. Depending on how the E'kan'se feel about it, Joules may/may not be used as weapons of mass destruction from across the galaxy, but I bet they won't allow it - it is now trivial to cause an extinction level event. If you want to go to war, build weapons the old fashioned way and spend your Joules flying.

So direct matter energy trade is a thing, so what does economics between planets consist of? Intellectual property and licensing fees. If you want to create value beyond matter/energy equivalence, you have to be creative. Write a novel. Design a pastry. Make honest-to-Jibbers no-magic pants for sale. Be vintage, trendy, or counter-culture.

There are a couple of interstellar communication schemes this allows. If the E'kan'se use of Joules doesn't have to obey relativity, any user in the universe can send a message to anyone else in the universe at any time. It could be as simple as a spoken word generated by vibrating the atmosphere, for a cost in Joules. The guy who developed that app would get a lot of Joules. If the request can't arrive at the destination faster than the speed of light relative to the sender, that's ok - I'll bet they can bankwire Joules in and out of arbitrary accounts in real time. It turns out there are a lot of bits in "transfer exactly 123456789 Joules to [some arbitrary account number].

Now - can you imagine what charitable efforts would look like in a universe where you could do arbitrary things at arbitrary distance with perfect matter energy equivalence? We could make Santa a real thing. The E'kan'se would get to see what people do when they can do anything. That would probably make an interesting game of Everything.

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The Currency Itself

I'm assuming your Wish has limits - relatively small limits, if it's to be of any real economic use. If that's true, then there's a definite exchange rate in the local economy of whatever backwater planet the Wish ends up in - one Wish is worth very roughly [whatever that wish could get you in the local economy].

The implementation of wish-granting would require the usual nigh-magical hyper-tech: nanomachines running an AI with nigh-infinite storage and computing capacity. The E'kan'se program said AI with what a wish is "allowed" to accomplish, the AI uses its own judgement when interpreting wishes, and the nanomachines self-destruct after producing the wished-for item. The nanomachines would phone home every time a Wish is granted, so the E'kan'se can a) veto the wish if those clever locals have outsmarted the AI, and b) keep tabs on what sorts of things are being wished for. This would prevent cheating: the wish-granting AI itself is clever, the AIs can collectively be networked to track trends and determine whether someone's gaming the system, and the E'kan'se would have final control if they think someone's abusing Wishes.

You'll need to determine where the line is, and which wishes will be refused. Here's a handful of things that probably cross it:

  • Wishing for the eternal servitude of the wish-granting AI. Even if further wishes are off-limits, the AI is going to have to be well-stocked with nearly enough information to take a civilization post-scarcity all by itself. (This wish is equivalent to "most of the knowledge in the universe, plus somebody to curate it for me.")
  • Wishing for a self-operating factory. You can tweak the exact cutoff, of course: maybe asking for a grain factory is okay, asking for a bakery is iffy, asking for an arbitrary-food-creator isn't allowed, and asking for a produce-anything-including-more-factories nanomachine factory gets you struck by lightning.
  • Wishing for anything directly contrary to the E'kan'se's goals. This is nebulous, but the E'kan'se want the civilization to continue to exist, to grow, and not to supplant the E'kan'se.

Earning them from the E'kan'se

Since Wishes are worth more than anything your own pitiful civilization could possibly produce, and the E'kan'se grant them whenever they feel like it, the E'kan'se are very nearly running your pitiful civilization. Why sow grain, when you could wish for a grain-producing machine? Why listen to your government, when you could wish for a robot-army-producing machine? Why do anything other than the activities that have the best chance of granting you a Wish? Any local economy that gains access to the E'kan'se will be severely warped: a single Wish might be enough to topple a government, so if there are rebels, expect the government to fall sooner or later.

If wishes are rare, then each individual Wish will be worth fighting wars over. On the other hand, if the E'kan'se hand out wishes left, right, and center, then the economy will suddenly become post-scarcity, which is a question of its own. You'll be most interested in some sort of middle road – some people, by working hard enough, will be able to earn them, and there will be enough Wishes around that a government won't quite move heaven and earth to get one.

What the E'kan'se will pay for

The E'kan'se want to increase the size of the economy, so they'll hand out Wishes to people who do that. Depending on how capricious the E'kan'se are, they might not even tell anyone why they got a Wish, which will be a little like putting every CEO and entrepreneur in a Skinner box with a lever that dispenses Wishes. Here's the kind of things that the E'kan'se are likely to reward:

  • Creating new markets for existing items of the local economy
  • Expanding trade networks – ideally, off-planet or cross-galaxy
  • Creating new types of token economies, like gold stars or gamer points
  • Inventing fads – every fad is a tiny boom-and-bust cycle that inspires the next fad

A complete tangent

The novel Singularity Sky will interest you: the Festival, a traveling post-scarcity civilization, grants wishes if you'll tell them a story. (It causes massive havoc on any pre-scarcity civilization.)

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  • $\begingroup$ I would also add a lock for wishes that indireclty grant more wishes. For instance : wishes to open trade routes, wishes to new economic opportunities...etc. $\endgroup$ – esuna May 15 '15 at 15:47
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Ulterior Motives?
How would we, unsophisticated new races, ever know whether the wish tokens were true benevolence or sinister bait by a race trying to take advantage of our naivete?

What appears to be a great boon (wishes from an Eldar Race) may turn out to be something altogether different. This is what happens in Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep.

In one case, the boon was a lure to catch the unwary. People attempting to "cash in" the promise of the evil Eldar Race's promises actually allow it to escape its prison.

In a more benign case, the boon was a lure to get others to serve the Eldar Race's own interests in the end.

In any case, what seems to be too good to be true, usually is. Exercising those wishes might have a cost. It might require one with a great deal of wisdom, intelligence, or experience with the E'kan'se to get the meaning of the wish filled correctly.

Other Notes
It might not be as easy to cash those wish tokens as some might like or encounters with the E'kan'se might be so rare that many people never get an opportunity to cash the wishes,

In such a case, trading them for some other fair value might serve useful purposes.

Discussion of currency, coinage, and backing the currency
Also as others pointed out, the E'kan'se tokens might be so valuable that no one actually trades these coins (or the do so rarely). The Galactic coinage might represent fractional value of one of the E'kan'se wish token. This implies that the entity making the coins is backing them by E'kan'se wish tokens. As we know our governments are not very good at keeping their word so trade in your real E'kan'se wish tokens for the fractional coins minted by local governments at your own risk.

In fact, bad currency drives good currency out of circulation so as soon as some government start minting the fractional coinage, all the E'kan'se tokens would disappear (people would hoard them). People would only trade their tokens as a last resort.

For example, when governments stopped backing their currency with gold reserves, all of the old gold backed currency was immediately kept (hoarded) and people only spent the "bad" unbacked currency.

Treatment of similar Eldar Race in other works
Consider the Outsiders from Larry Niven's Known Universe. They trade in knowledge. How much is FTL drive worth to your species when it's losing a war for its very survival?

The Outsiders now lease one or more bodies in our Solar System indefinitely and that's barely scratched the value of their credit with terrestrial governments.

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The Scope:

  • The effect of the E'kan'se's fiat currency spans the size of the galaxy.
  • The currency is doled out in an arbitrary measure to any race that asks. As a question has been asked about awarding the currency, I will take 'arbitrary' in a Watsonian sense; currency may be doled out according to specific rules, but from an outsider's perspective, it's unpredictable.
  • This currency is backed by wishes, which I take to mean; you make a wish and then, depending on factors, the currency is 'deducted' and then, for reasons, wishes are granted, specifically, by the E'kan'se.
  • The primary goal of the E'kan'se is to maximize the number of economic transactions. It is not stated whether this means 'wishes granted' or 'currency traded', but I'll assume the latter.

The Question(s):

How would The E'kan'se implement this system? Award the currency? Redeemed currency for goods/services rendered? Encourage participation? Prevent people from gaming/cheating?

My Take on Implementation:

To prevent an immediate run on the banks, certain stipulations would need to be in place. For instance; you can not use The Currency in the home systems of the E'kan'se. You must travel elsewhere. Though perhaps another stipulation might grant usage within the perimeter of E'kan'se space if that usage is limited to discreet requests of a transportational nature. "My space ship broke down, I need parts/fuel/teleport/etc to get home."

The question for how it should be implemented is, in my mind, defined by the scope. The E'kan'se want The Currency to be widespread throughout the entire galaxy. The E'kan'se are not necessarily all pervading. Likely, they have only a few remote homeworlds. So the E'kan'se will require a method of cashing in The Currency for its primary commodity, wishes.

Since we're already dealing with technology that is indistinguishable from magic, let us say that this technology is capable of being exchanged remotely. There must be a way, then, to keep track of the wishes themselves; the user speaks (or perhaps even thinks with firm intent) and the wish is submitted. You make a wish, and The Currency itself acts as a transmitter, sending that wish detail to the "central server" (because as every MMO developer worth his salt knows; you never trust The Client).

Inflow:

The Currency must be rare to be considered valuable, but not so rare that it cannot be spread throughout the galaxy. Perhaps The Currency can be spread via automated drone or teleport, delivering new wishes throughout the cosmos to societies that may be prepared or able to receive and understand it. Perhaps it is also spread by 'wishing for more wishes', though that certainly can be limited for purposes of economic balance. Perhaps also through actions considered Noble to the E'kan'se, whatever those might be.

Outflow:

So you make a wish. The Currency transmits your wish to The Server. At that point, an arbiter (either AI or E'kan'se, or both) judges the validity of the wish, and the ability of the E'kan'se to grant such a wish (Can time be 'rewound' in local areas? Can the user wish for more of The Currency?). Then they press the big shiny green button, and Wish Granted!

Of course, it's not as simple as that. The Currency needs to keep track of who owns it, so it knows whose wish to grant. It needs to be able to be signed over to a new party (which can be a process as simple as the wish itself; you wish for the third party to be the new owner of The Currency, and The Server is updated). The Currency needs to be aware of when the wish is accepted by The Server, so that it can self-destruct, or more economically feasible, return/teleport back to the E'kan'se vaults.

Encouraging Participation:

Items that grant wishes practically sell themselves... Even if those wishes are as technologically simple as 'emergency teleports' or 'teleport my missing car keys into my hand'. But to encourage participation, perhaps The Currency is gamified; spreading The Currency to new cultures may earn you more, at a certain ratio. Defending the E'kan'se may earn you some, as may encouraging new cultures to introduce themselves to the Elder Race that Grants Wishes.

Preventing Cheats:

Each individual physical representation of The Currency keeps an active connection to The Server, and so is potentially monitored and recorded at all times. Any new connections to the server that have an invalid history will be recorded, and any potential wishes emanating from them will not be monitored or granted.

Eh, that's all I got. Let me know if any of this needs elaboration. ;)

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So you're going to combine credit card rewards programs and the lotto.

The Elder Race goes to the other races, and says: "Every $ spent using my digital currency device (aka, credit card) earns you in a 1-in-x chance of getting a wish." The value of x is varied by the E'kan'se depending on the individual psychologies of the target races.

The E'kan'se takes a small percentage of every transaction - this helps both to finance the empire and ensures that people do not abuse the system by simply trading $1.00 back and forth.

In cultures where winners ask for simple things there will be many winners, and little fanfare. In places where winners ask for truly incredible wishes they are rare and celebrated - perhaps flown to the E'kan'se home-world to petition the governing body in person - or maybe huge parties are thrown in their honor.

The Elder Race tailors the specifics to each target audience, but in the end everyone buys in - the cost is basically nothing and the potential rewards are great.

And the E'kan'se monitor every economic transaction that takes place in their sphere of influence...

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