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I'm building an interstellar empire that uses commodity money as its preferred currency. Despite the network of wormholes connecting various star systems, light lag between planets and stations within systems makes centralized digital transactions inconvenient. In addition, the empire's computer technology is limited to the equivalent of Earth's in the 1970s, taking cryptocurrencies off the table. The empire also wants to minimize economic inflation, due to its strict mantra of peace and stability (and consequently stagnation). All of this has lead it to choose commodity money and commodity-backed money as its main means of commercial exchange.

However, there remains one problem——elemental gold is dirt cheap, as is silver and copper. Asteroid mining has been a common practice for centuries, making most such metals that are traditionally valuable on Earth nearly worthless. Faced with this issue, what would the empire's coins be made of? The materials would have to be stable, with a half-life of thousands of years at the very least, and of course be safe enough for constant handling by humans. Are there any currently known metals that fit these properties and are rare enough in the universe to be a gold standard? If no such metal exists, are there any viable nonmetals that fit the role, or even any forms of exotic matter?

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    $\begingroup$ (1) When speaking about monetary systems, the phrase "gold standard" actually means gold, Au, element 79. You cannot have, for example, a gold standard based on silver: that would be a silver standard. (2) There is no relationship between what the currency (= physical pieces of paper or metal representing money) is made of and the gold (or silver, or whatever) standard of the monetary system. For example, between 1934 and 1972 American currency was made of paper, copper, nickel and other such materials, although the USA was on a gold standard. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 14 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ You are trying to completely fill a square hole with a round peg without any material reworking. $\endgroup$ Jan 14 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ Why not fiat paper? $\endgroup$
    – frеdsbend
    Jan 15 at 2:42
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    $\begingroup$ 6 answers and not a single upvote? <willk beats drum, beats cowbell, beats drum with cowbell> If it is good enough to spend your time answering it is good enough to upvote! Whey needs rep! $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Jan 15 at 19:44

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Rhodium.

30 tons of rhodium are made a year on earth, compared to gold where 3000 tons is used. And, we need a lot of rhodium for catalytic convertors.

It's extremely corrosion resistant, and durable. You could use it alloyed in coins, or mixed in with other platinum group metals like palladium, which we mined about 300 tons of last year.

They're very stable and safe to handle, and very valuable.

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You could look at the chart at https://www.nmni.com/story/elements-of-the-universe#hydrogen for a list of elements by rarity or similar charts elsehwere.

Your best bets seem to be tantalum which is "... is a rare, hard, blue-gray, lustrous transition metal that is highly corrosion-resistant" and "...the rarest primordial isotope in the Universe..." or, if you don't mind a touch of radioactivity, uranium.

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Antimatter (= energy).

All machinery needs energy to run, spaceships, habitats on otherwise uninhabitable moons, life-support systems, agricultural facilities in the far-reaches of the solar-system, commerce-centres in inter-stellar space. (Weapons of mass destruction.)

A Kilogram of anti-matter (when annihilated with it's matter equivalent) will potentially produce 90 times the current US energy usage per annum. So you could well be negotiating in micrograms or nanograms (1 nanogram matter/antimatter is equivalent of 1.8 * 10^9 joules - equivalent to the combustion of 53.6 kg of gasoline)

It would come in various forms:

  • Exotic:

Positronium. - Electron/positron pairs - stored in a liquid-helium suspension. Self-contained matter/antimatter pair. Potentially stable in storage.

Protonium. - Proton/anti-proton pairs - magnetic containment, (liquid-helium maybe?). Self-contained matter/antimatter pair. Unstable.

  • Elemental antimatter.

In the form of anything from the regular periodic table - Magnetic containment. Stable.

...................

Sure, smaller amounts could be traded, but the smaller the amount, the less efficient the relative cost of storage becomes. When browsing the marketplace of a midway-station, a credit-chit might be issued on the basis of down payment in advance to enable small purchases. Between the stars, shady deals might well be in exotic/regular goods or, uh.. services rendered.

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The KWh.

Energy is the only universal commodity. While energy is not exactly rare, broadly speaking, it has high utility. It can't be counterfeited.

There are problems of x KWh delivered in various forms are not directly equivalent ie electricity vs uranium vs petrochemical vs battery vs antimatter etc. but for long distance trade between different post-industrial societies, energy will always have a value.

Local systems(stations, planets etc) would likely use fiat currencies due to higher efficiencies of avoiding conversions. Especially when price of energy will depend on location.

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  • $\begingroup$ If you want your KWh in solid form try diamond, aka highly compact carbon, takes a bit to get them started but if you've a hot enough furnace to burn them in you can, burn them that is. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Jan 15 at 4:01
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Likely platinum, palladium, iridium, rhodium (as mentioned above), or a mix of all, as they are often found blended together in nature (and it might be easier to just mint the alloy than taking the time to separate the metals). These metals are not only rare and durable, but very useful in making catalysts (whether for catalytic converters or for chemical reactions involving oxidization/redox), ensuring that their value remains quite high. Thefts of catalytic converters for the platinum within are very common for this reason. Iridium in particular is found in high concentrations on asteroids. I wouldn't recommend Osmium (also in the platinum group), as it can form highly toxic osmium tetroxide under certain conditions.

One caveat: These metals are quite dense. I have held a platinum ring in my hand, and it was much heavier than it looked. These coins would have to be small, thin, or of high value to be useful as coinage. Here are some videos discussing platinum and iridium.

If you wanted to forego metals entirely, some kind of battery or stored energy would be inherently valuable to a space-faring civilization. Energy would mean survival, and there's nothing more precious than that.

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I think it is impossible for a civilization to be advanced enough for them to create wormholes to make them teleport at will and at the same time have computer technology on the level of the 1970s since an enormous computing power would be needed to make the wormhole teleportations and their discovery.

And I think that an advanced civilusation that explore space and can use wormholes has already created matter replicators and molecular nanobots and Super AI making any form of work automated and obsolete and therefore had wiped out the use of currency making everything free with equal acess.

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  • $\begingroup$ Maybe they didn't create the wormholes. Maybe they only found the wormholes? $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Jan 16 at 15:07

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