Lets say that 10,000 years from now we've figured out how to harness massive energy, from stars for example, and have powerful software and machines which do all unwanted tasks. We've figured out how to rearrange molecules to convert low demand substances into whichever rare ones we need, so control over specific resources matters little. We easily find, travel to, and colonize planets around the galaxy. Lets imagine science and technology have advanced so far that we have massive surpluses of all things: energy, water, food, land, advanced machine labor, and even time (medical advances allowing us to live as long as we like). We have more than enough of everything.

I suspect whatever the economy is like at this point, it's based around arts & entertainment:

  • Design
  • Sculpture
  • Music
  • Virtual Reality
  • Exploration
  • Etc

However I'm not sure what such an economy would look like, how it would work. I assume the economy would always have a place in society, even in a Utopia. How might an economy work, how might wealth be measured, transferred, accumulated in such a society?

For example: We still need law enforcement to protect people and resource delivery / manufacture systems from criminals, we must somehow pay Judges and Police. We must somehow pay artists and musicians, as their crafts are still of value.

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    $\begingroup$ Would you care to restrict your question to a smaller subset of a question? Asking how all of society will respond in a post-scarcity economy is far too broad. $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Aug 24 '15 at 3:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Green Color isn't asking about all of society, just what the economy would be based on. Hardly the same. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Aug 24 '15 at 3:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre "How might an economy work, how might wealth be measured, transferred, accumulated in such a society?" This seems pretty broad to me as you can't talk about the accumulation of wealth without talking about the entire spectra of society. $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Aug 24 '15 at 3:12
  • $\begingroup$ If it was just "what would be the unit of currency for a post-scarcity economy be" then that would be answerable. $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Aug 24 '15 at 3:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Green I understand the question to mean what would be the primary medium of wealth (e.g., gold bricks). An individual can certainly measure wealth via gold bricks, transfer them, and accumulate them. The OP should probably clarify. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Aug 24 '15 at 3:16

I think that as long as humans in your world are still human they will still have a need for an economy. As you mentioned arts and entertainment will still be pursued.

This, not scarcity is the basis for an economic need. That is, that some people will be better than others at a certain thing. One person is a better piano player than another. Another person enjoys listening to a piano player but has no desire to play the piano himself.

What is exchanged between those that want something and those the have that thing is economy and that will not end as long as people are people.

How would wealth be transferred? Same way as always by some form of currency. Currency would still be accumulated by those smarter or luckier than others. There really is no need for anything to change with the caveat that humans still behave as humans.

Consider how the standard of living has changed in most 1st world nations. At the beginning of the 20th century, having an orange was so rare that it was often part of, or the whole of a child's christmas presents. Today I looked at my driveway and curse that my driveway isn't big enough for 3 cars. I mean, I do not have to worry about having an orange. I can have one whenever I want.

Your definition of Utopia is the absence of having to produce or search for energy or produce any goods. Utopia is like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and is not possible no matter how much of a person's desire is met. Of course, to reach the pot of gold you have to change the nature of the rainbow, which means to reach utopia, you have to change the nature of the human and society. Utopia requires a human that desires nothing. See Brave New World by Aldous Huxley for a Utopian society. The author had to fundamentally change human nature and society to achieve it.

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps humans born into an environment of having nearly anything will have a different nature from we humans today, which are born into a system of supply and demand. $\endgroup$
    – J.Todd
    Aug 24 '15 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, but that is imposible. Even if you imagine absolute altruism where someone is willing to give their talent to whomever request it there will be a limit. Let say the piano player is requested to do home shows. He will show up for whoever request him until two request him at the same time. If the requestors are used to having whatever they want, how will they reconcile which one gets the service. Currency is the easy answer. Once again, your thoughts of absolute altruism is in-human. I mean what if the piano player is sick that day? $\endgroup$ Aug 25 '15 at 19:08
  • $\begingroup$ I agree that currency is still needed. Many here say Favors will be used instead, but I would counter that currency might be more geared toward buying and selling favors - a currency must somehow exist to reward those who produce the massive surpluses and those who enforce the law. I was simply stating that human nature may indeed warp significantly with new conditions of living, such as the absense of supply and demand. You speak of a supply and demand for favors. Well then we seem to aggree a currency will be used in this way. $\endgroup$
    – J.Todd
    Aug 25 '15 at 19:44

Reminds me of Iain M. Banks Culture setting.

  • When more ressources are available, the demand might grow. Can you get your own starship? Well, does it have a swimming pool? An olympic-size pool? No? That's really rough living.
  • Have you been invited to the right parties lately? To make that happen, you either have to throw your own A-list parties (and get A-list celebrities to attend) or you have to contribute. Some arts or sports achievement, likely. You can only be famous for being famous or famous for being someone's boyfriend/girlfriend for your 15 minutes of fame, not longer.

Of course reputation and favors are hard to track and to trade. There could be different social circles which mutually snub each other.

  • $\begingroup$ But there must be more to the economy than favors. For example, how do the different companies which created these systems have a reason to keep them running, keep the massive surpluses going, if they aren't somehow rewarded. Governments must still protect people from crime. How are their law enforcement officers paid? Maybe robots do that, but Judges? AI (artificial intelligences) may not make for good judges. Who knows.. We pay law enforcement with Favors? $\endgroup$
    – J.Todd
    Aug 24 '15 at 19:55

However I'm not sure what such an economy would look like, how it would work.

Neither do I.

Economic value is pretty much always based around scarcity.

It might be scarcity of resources, it might be scarcity of land (itself technically a resource), scarcity of capital (tools to do work), or it might be scarcity of labour.

The fact that your post-scarcity society has an over abundance of everything except land means that you won't have any economy. There will be only;

  • land-owners,
  • everyone else.

Design, engineering, and artistic talents can be done by software. We're working on this today - give it 10,000 to reach maturity human skill will be redundant for everything. The fact that things will still need to be put somewhere, including housing, puts the land-owners in a very controlling position.

I assume the economy would always have a place in society, even in a Utopia.

That assumption is probably wrong.

How might an economy work, how might wealth be measured, transferred, accumulated in such a society?

If you have everything you need in life, then you will only work for what you want. Make it easy to fulfil someone's wants, they'll have less motivation to work. If your utopia can supply everyone's needs and wants, then you've removed every requirement for work.

People will only do what makes them happy - they won't require pay to do it.

If they're not getting paid, then it's not really work, is it?

  • $\begingroup$ Land isn't in short supply if there is easy travel through the galaxy, and enough energy for terraforming. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Aug 24 '15 at 5:43
  • $\begingroup$ Where do you put the spaceship you use to leave for another planet if you don't own any land to put it on? $\endgroup$
    – user6511
    Aug 24 '15 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ There is only so much time, and so much bandwidth. A wealthy person might have so many emails and Facebook "likes" they could never respond to them all, and when they respond to YOU it is like getting a million dollars (of their limited time and bandwidth). $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Aug 24 '15 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ But you can't create an economy off that. The experience has value (an important part of an economy), but the experience can't be traded. $\endgroup$
    – user6511
    Aug 25 '15 at 5:15
  • $\begingroup$ A currency which has the power to buy favors, seems to be the solution. I considered all of the answers, and supply and demand seems to only exist in the form of favors. See comments on the accepted answer. $\endgroup$
    – J.Todd
    Aug 25 '15 at 19:48

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