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For my worldbuilding project, my main alien race has been given powers by an unknown force, one thing they use their powers for is creating infinite resources, making things like money dissappear. How could the economy of such a civilization be?

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    $\begingroup$ What do you exactly mean with "resources"? The raw materials or the end products? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    May 21 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ Really, infinite resources? How do they make an infinite number of beach-front houses? An infinite number of prima ballerina roles? An infinite number of positions as concert pianist? An infinite number of Stradivarius violins? An infinite number of Oscar prizes? Infinitely wide roads on which infinitely many Bugatti Type 41 Royale cars can travel without ever encountering a traffic jam? Infinitely many butlers? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 21 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP given the classic murder-mystery solution of "the butler did it", a finite population with infinite butlers (with presumably, infinite motives for murder) would very quickly converge to a population of zero! $\endgroup$ May 22 at 2:15
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    $\begingroup$ It is not clear what you mean. Give some examples. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 22 at 2:49
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    $\begingroup$ This opening reminds me of the socialist ideal of unlimited consumption for everyone, without the need for money because everyone can just take products according to demand. Human greed will always prevent that from becoming reality. This "unknown force" better be good, else you'll need some method (say, money) to fairly distribute the goods. Also, as AlexP explained, some goods will always remain scarce. There's no way everyone can own an antique Greek golden coin. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    May 22 at 9:18

7 Answers 7

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I don't think money will disappear in this scenario.

And the economy will not be much different than ours, I think.

Infinite resources do not turn itself into products or services, nor they get where they are needed by their users.

Whoever transform those resources and deliver them will want a compensation, and that compensation will be money.

You can have infinite wheat and yeast, but to make a pizza and have it delivered at your home will take other people. The whole economy will be based around production and services, lacking solely the raw materials production sector.

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  • $\begingroup$ And dont forget the value of having the space to do stuff in. From production to providing services to living. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    May 21 at 20:34
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There Wouldn't Be An Economy. The World Would Undoubtedly Be Chaos

In a perfect world, everyone would use the power to make infinite resources reasonably and responsibly. They'd use it to make an endless supply of food, medicine, and houses, ending poverty, world hunger, and disease.

However, if your species is anything like humans, one of them is undoubtedly either an idiot, a monster, or a maniac. If any one of them got a hold of this power, the world would be over. Handing this power out to every single person of this species is a recipe for disaster.

Imagine for a second that everyone on Earth was handed the ability to make anything they want. Absolutely anything. What do you think people would do with that ability? Well, they'd use it to do all the things that they never could.

A person who always wanted to fly would make a plane, a person that always wanted a new house would make a house, and a maniac that wanted to destroy the world would make a couple of bombs and see how massive of an explosion they could make.

Are you starting to see my point? All it takes it one madman to turn such a power into a living nightmare, and the Earth has plenty of madmen who would be more than willing to end the world with such an ability.

Now, let's say that there's a limit to what the people can make. It can't be something "dangerous" like nuclear weapons. It can just be basic resources. Even that doesn't help since people can make an infinite amount of it.

If I can make an infinite amount of stone, I can create more rock than is contained in the entire planet of the Earth. I can make a stone more massive than the sun, and then gravity would collapse that stone into a supermassive black hole.

The black hole could then tear apart the planet. That's the problem with an infinite amount of anything. It's limitless. You can do anything you want, and no one can stop you even if you decide to flood the entire universe with an endless supply of fish. It'd be like breaking the mechanics of a game by saying you want 10^999 fish in the game. that would cause the whole thing to crash.

That's the real problem with making an infinite amount of resources. Forget about money. There won't even be a world to worry about in this scenario.

People would also undoubtedly use their new godlike powers to have a fight to the death.

Since they can essentially make anything that they desire, they've basically become gods, and what god wants competition? They'd probably fight to the death with the other members of their species until only one will reign and become the "Supreme God". They'd either wipe themselves all out in the ensuing war or the last survivor would go on to use their remaining lifespan to remake the universe in their image, whatever that would be.

There is no scenario I can imagine where giving people infinite power is even a good thing.

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Your premise is similar to Iain M. Banks' "Culture" series. People still have to cooperate to accomplish things. People compete for social status. The Culture sometimes comes into conflict with other civilizations that seek hegemony or clash with its values. And, in "Look to Windward", people reinvent money to be able to trade for tickets to a particularly desirable live concert.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting point: The concert is an example of a general class, namely contact to people, that cannot be replicated and thus is scarce. $\endgroup$ May 23 at 5:10
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A society with functionally infinity resources would have a post-scarcity economy. Different economists have different opinions on if such a society could exist, and what its economy would look like if it did. I tried to look into the economic papers on the topic, but they were beyond me. I did find some evidence for your idea that a post-scaricty economy would function without money. This thesis explored the topic and concludes that,

that it is possible for a post-scarcity economy to exist without a monetary system on an individual level, however, it would require some form of resource accounting done on a macro-level.

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The economy is meaningless

All economics attempts to answer the questions: What to produce? How to produce it? Who will benefit?.

Only question #3 has any other plausible answer that isn't "press the button on the alien resource machine", and then only if the people philosophically reject "everyone should get whatever they want". Scarcity has been solved; economics is now redundant, or reduced to "what level of wealth makes people happiest/ is the most virtuous / pleases God the most?".

I assume resources = end products, or else money isn't going to disappear.

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    $\begingroup$ I really don't see how the alien resource machine can produce infinitely many places at tables in fashionable restaurants, or infinitely many apartments overlooking New York's Central Park, or infinitely many bottles of Garrafeira port, etc. When people speak of infinite resources, they usually think of bulk things such as iron or wheat; but they ignore things which are rare by their nature, and they ignore services. How does the alien machine produce infinitely many perfect nannies? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 21 at 21:56
  • $\begingroup$ There are already answers that make that frame challenge. I chose to go with the most plausible implementation of the scenario I can imagine. Port is not a problem. Press the 'button', bottle of port. For a restaurant, press the 'button', get your perfectly sized parts along with some assembly droids. Nanny androids too. Get a different Central Park if the original is taken; you're right in that unique locations and so on may still be scarce, but I say the imitations will be amazing. $\endgroup$ May 22 at 1:26
  • $\begingroup$ Note: time is still finite, so in theory some services are still scarce. But with infinite goods and energy, they won't be very scarce. $\endgroup$ May 22 at 1:32
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People in the industrialized West live already in a state of material excess that is not far from the state of plenty you describe. (They just don't realize it.) Trends we see in those societies of material excess can be extrapolated.

There are entire classes of things that will still be scarce, and for which people will compete, with money (-equivalents) or other means. These things are valuable either because they are unique, or because they are connected to people who stay scarce.

  • Real estate. Even if your cornucopia includes the ability tocreate new planets, you cannot simply add a planet to a star system: Its perturbations would wreck havoc on the carefully balanced existing orbits. Yes, you could create space habitats, but space on the home planet will always be a limited resource.
  • Access to people in various forms.
    • John Doty mentions live concerts in his answer. Concerts are only an example for live performances of any kind.
    • Political access is another: People pay already significant money for access to the President. In general, all people with power and influence will be sought after, just like always.
    • Access to celebrities.
    • Access to scientific or technical specialists. Because (and this would warrant a longer discussion and is something you need to think about) the premise "we can build what we want" is tricky. Steve Jobs showed us that sometimes we don't know what we want in the first place. Taking a closer look at the premise, it is also unclear whether you can simply say, e.g., "I want a telephone that reacts to my touch" without inventing capacitative touch sensing first. I think it is more realistic to imagine your cornucopia as a sophisticated 3D printer/replicator on the molecular level whose energy and matter comes from "elsewhere". In that case we'd still need to invent and design what we want to have.
  • Original artifacts.
    • Anything handcrafted of quality will be valuable. Already, the Amish sell their furniture for a multiple of the price of comparable industrial products.
    • Original artwork may become even more of an investment and secondary currency than it already is.
    • If we imagine a space-faring society as in Banks' Culture, historic artifacts from Earth (or you aliens' home planet) will be of immeasurable value. Even a wooden spoon from the 1800s will be a treasure 10,000 light years away.

In general, if we assume that we are dealing with a replicator-like device, there will be a strong desire to distinguish originals from copies. If the replicators are indeed faithful enough to not leave traces of reproduction, the authenticity will be certified by accompanying letters etc. It's a similar desire as with artificial diamonds: Looks like a diamond, barks like a diamond, but it's not the same thing. The same will be thought of an exact copy of the Mona Lisa. Only the real one was painted by Leonardo. It is unique. (I suppose Walter Benjamin's famous essay is mandatory reading for any author tackling a cornucopia.)

Another trend we can observe in cultures that have transcended material needs is fashion. People will essentially have nothing urgent to do; all their material needs are taken care of. This resembles the situation on feudalistic courts, e.g. France in the 1600s, or the liberal arts faculties of modern universities. As a consequence, non-material things become important. Who is in? Who is out? What are the newest sensibilities, trends? You need to wear the right clothes and use the right words, or you are not one of us. In a society of plenty there will be a swift development of specific lingos and fashion signifiers that serve to identify subgroups. With instant and unlimited material availability the swirl of fashions will accelerate and diversify and possibly become more extreme.

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The big divide is whether your available infinite resources are limited to unprocessed materials or processes materials - so are we talking copper or pizza :)

If you only have infinite unprocessed materials, infrastructure will still need to be built, maintained and used to deliver processed goods - ergo there will still be a normal economy with the slight quirk that goods of any material composition will have the same worth (brick walls, cement walls, platinum walls encrusted with gems, ect). Moving objects over distances will still have time and effort attached to them so "worth" will still be a thing (and well crafted or hand crafted objects will still be worth more then lesser constructs). Also waste disposal will probably be at a premium with the infinite stuff you pouring in. Honestly, this situation will probably result in a world consisting of a mostly lower upper class - with prestige attached to individuals who bother to do jobs.

If however, you have access to infinite processed goods (star-trek replicators with infinite batteries) then all bets are off. Besides finding a place to dump outdated or unwanted material objects (and waste), I'm not sure how society could function under this circumstance - especially once you hit the point where robots can perform delivery and luxury jobs (like a machine giving a back massage). An old experiment comes to mind where rats were placed in a rat utopia filled with nesting, food housing ect. and they all got lazy, lethargic, overweight and didn't even bother to breed. We not rats, I could see a similar theme of outcome however.

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