A world I am working on has reached a sort of material production singularity. Recent innovations in space mining, artificial intelligence, teleportation, and 3D-printing have allowed for devices known simply as Makers to produce any sort of material or structure by constructing it from the atomic level upwards.

My question is this: in a world where jewelry is no longer motivated by scarcity, what new factors would determine what kind of jewelry people wore, since everyone could make or acquire at low cost any sort of design made of any material.

I have thought that most societies would keep with tradition and use gold/platinum with jewels/diamonds, but for the purposes of this question, assume that they are no longer keeping with tradition, assume that that style has fallen out of fashion because of its long lasting trend.

Also, aside from the technological advancements listed in the introduction, please regard this world as a "future earth," with humans and not many other major lifestyle changes from modern day.

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    $\begingroup$ Jewelry isn't valued just because it is scare. There are elements rarer than gold, they just explode or corrode. Properties of diamonds are special. Gold is shiny. It would come down to patterns and style over scarcity, but don't ignore the reasons we pick gold and diamonds over other elements. $\endgroup$ – FraserOfSmeg Oct 14 '15 at 2:35
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    $\begingroup$ I wear jewellery every day, it belongs to my look. Because things get broken and lost I don't wear expensive stuff (without wishing to imply that I could afford it if I wanted to). I pick stuff I like the look of, and stuff that goes with my clothes. My favourite is a little saxophone on a chain, which wasn't expensive at all, but the spousal unit bought it for me. In a world where diamonds are cheap I would probably wear them too, on occasions where I want a bit of sparkle. But in an interesting setting, or in unusual colours, or shaped like saxophones. $\endgroup$ – RedSonja Oct 14 '15 at 6:19
  • $\begingroup$ Possibly well-looking jewelry that underlines the beauty? $\endgroup$ – Anixx Oct 14 '15 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ I think there are already examples of this being the case in our current world. Diamonds aren't nearly as rare or valuable as e.g. De Beers would have you think. We CAN and DO synthesize beautiful diamonds every day for [relatively] cheap. But jewelers insist that these are inferior to natural diamonds (even though, in many ways, they are actually superior). To propping up a market of fabricated value is not only plausible, it is already done! Do some research into the diamond market to see how this might work in your worldbuilding. $\endgroup$ – loneboat Oct 14 '15 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ Consider out online avatars. They're trivial to copy, yet people choose very different ones. $\endgroup$ – CodesInChaos Oct 14 '15 at 16:39

21 Answers 21


Let's change the question a bit just to prove a point.

What would make a painting expensive in a world where you can photocopy anything?

About now you should see where I'm going right? You can get a painting of Monét fairly cheap (the cost of royalty and frame), but the original would still be super expensive. And with precious minerals it would be the same, and I'll even have to correct my self here. It is the same.

If you take a look at this article on Wikipedia: Synthetic diamond you will see that making a diamond is not impossible, in fact it is fairly easy everything considered.

Conclusion: So what kind of jewelry would be valuable in a world where anything can be produced? The original kind of jewelry.


Jewelry isn't expensive because it is scarce, it's expensive because people control its value very tightly.

The scenario you described is happening right now, diamonds are able to be made on an industrial scale cheaply, easily and on huge scales. Yet that hasn't impacted the De Beers profit in the slightest.

Because diamonds, real diamonds aren't made in a lab in an instant, they are made in the Earth over an eternity. So if someone wants their love to last eternity, instead of an instant, they may want to get a real diamond.

In short answer: What kind of jewelry would be valuable in a world where anything can be produced? The kind with the best marketing that appeals to its handmade authenticness, not its soulless creation by a machine.

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    $\begingroup$ I read a lot of worrisome in the De Beers article that you linked... $\endgroup$ – DarioP Oct 14 '15 at 10:28
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    $\begingroup$ @DarioP: Yeah, they're every bit as sleazy as Comcast, Monsanto or the GEO Group, but somehow they've managed to avoid a lot of the bad publicity they're due. $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Oct 14 '15 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ Another interesting De Beers related article: Have You Ever Tried to Sell a Diamond? - The Atlantic in 1982 $\endgroup$ – CodesInChaos Oct 14 '15 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ But I actually want the industrial diamond because of the blood guilt on natural diamond. :( $\endgroup$ – Joshua Oct 15 '15 at 2:30
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    $\begingroup$ @LegoStormtroopr - Would you please pay more attention to your links? We're talking jewelry here, not industrial diamonds. Your link to industrial diamond production is entertaining but misses the point. In fact, several paragraphs down the same article states, " Mining companies' expenses average 40 to 60 (dollars) per carat for natural colorless diamonds, while synthetic manufacturers' expenses average 2,500 (dollars) per carat for synthetic, gem-quality colorless diamonds." So, no, synthetic diamonds have no major effect on jewelry-grade diamond prices. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Apr 15 '16 at 17:05

Status symbols vs decoration

Historically, jewelry performs two distinct roles - ornamental and decorative, and also as a way of displaying status. Precious metals and gemstones fulfilled both roles effectively, as they are scarce, highly visible (shininess helps), and also gold and silver are easier to craft into intricate decorations than harder metals while at the same time more long-lasting than decorations made from organic materials. Scarcity is a prerequisite - for example, in some gold-abundant cultures we have seen that e.g. feathers of rare birds fulfilled a similar role to gold jewelry in Europe.

Already now these roles have somewhat diverged for jewelry, as various cheap materials are excessively used for decorating our bodies while at the same time various visible non-jewelry items have taken some 'marketshare' of status symbols away from jewelry - high-end electronics, brands of clothing, shoes and handbags, flashy cars.

Artificial scarcity to replace real scarcity

In order for something to work as an effective status signal, it must actually correlate with status - i.e., it must be hard for a low-status person to show it. One way for easily replicable items to keep fulfilling the role of status symbols is to keep them scarce by non-technical means.

In modern world, a prime example where this already works is branded items - a Luis Voitton handbag can be replicated rather cheaply, but trademark laws restrict the making and sale of such items. This allows them to keep functioning as effective status symbols, being easily distinguishable from otherwise similar off-brand items that are cheaper and thus don't indicate status.

In your world, if producers/designers of jewelry can make visually distinct styles of jewelry that are then legally protected, then this will allow jewelry to 'keep on living' and fulfilling a similar function as high-end luxury brands do today. This requires a world where some things that technically can be duplicated by 'atomic makers' are prohibited to replicate or distribute - perhaps not the best case for consumers and society, but entirely plausible given current economic and legal trends.

Possible restrictions on showing off

Historically, this has often been solved by legislation - e.g., medieval cities mandating that specific clothing, colors, jewelry, etc. could be worn only by specific classes of people, and visually 'disguising' yourself as another class/caste/etc was a crime.

In certain times and places a rich merchant wouldn't be allowed to wear, say, a purple cloak - and in this case those who could do it had it as essentially a piece of jewelry, an obvious visible status symbol. In some societies the right to wear a sword or a symbolic dagger also esentially fulfilled this function, as fighting decreased and it went from a often used defense item to a simple inconvenience that still shows membership of a better social class.

In the same manner, a future world - assuming it becomes more socially stratified and less egalitarian - could easily restrict types of jewelry to certain groups of people. Others "could" replicate them but simply wouldn't be allowed to wear them in public; and this fact would make it desireable for the higher classes to use that jewelry just to highlight that they can and distinguish themselves from the commoners.

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    $\begingroup$ +1, best answer: it speaks to the reason why people wear jewelry, it suggests specific answers and also some general ways of thinking about the problem. $\endgroup$ – Jonas Kölker Oct 14 '15 at 22:00

I can see three scenarios:

1- "The brand-name Syndrome"

The value of jewelery isn't determined by the skill of its maker, or the value of the materials, but by the fame of the maker. The value of jewelery is largely self-expression, or to put it simply "Brand-names provide bragging rights".

By the way, how do you like my new Rolex?

2- "Authentic authenticity"

Picture the stereotype of the "modern" artist. The value of a piece of jewelery isn't determined by the skill of the maker, or the value of its materials, but by the circumstances in which it was produced.

At this point, even an Gorilla could be a jeweler..

3- "Authenticity 2; Electric Boogaloo"

Authenticity is nice and good, but it can't exactly be showed off. Cue the sledgehammer; Jewelery shifts from merely decorative to "providing an experience". Everyone that wears jewelery turns into a walking Art instalation.

Say, did you hear about Lady Gaga's meat dress? So scandalous!


In such a world, you'd have to rethink quite a lot of things that we take for granted. For instance, does the mere concept of jewelry make any sense? We don't know what we'd do with such capabilities as the Makers give us, but we do know 100% for sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we'd do things differently because of it.

One thing I would consider is limiting the Makers. Make some things hard to make. One thing many people who play with ideas like Makers often forget is that you can't always just make something from atoms. Some structures can be made this way. They are "quiescent" structures which are stable at the atomic level while they are under construction (I'm assuming this is not an instantaneous process). Other structures, however, do not play so nice. While they are being constructed, they may be tremendously volatile, and potentially destroying themselves.

One example is proteins. It is unreasonably difficult to produce a protein in any way except the way nature intended. The process of protein folding is notoriously complex and hard to predict. If your Maker naively tries to start from the top and work their way down, they'll find a bunch of dangling pieces of proteins half way through the process, which then bunch up into an unruly knot.

Can your Makers work around this? Sure. Anything indistinguishable from magic could do it, but now you're talking about building a world so extraordinarily exotic that you really can't generalize your world for any worldbuilding questions.

If this limitation is valid for your Makers, then organic structures would be of value, because many of them are made of composites that are very difficult to acquire in any way except simply growing them. You also might see people skip right to the source, and start wearing living things as jewelry.

One key feature of such jewelry would be that it must be hard to fake. Its easy to make a earing that look like it's made of organic wood, but is actually just built of atoms. I would expect the jewelry to take on a physical form which demonstrates its organic heritage, probably by constructing shapes that depend on the unique structural properties of organic composites.

  • $\begingroup$ Very well thought out! This was definitely a loophole I was looking for. Great work! $\endgroup$ – Sam Weaver Oct 14 '15 at 1:54

Everyone keeps answering a slightly different question than what OP asked. OP asked what would determine what jewelry people wear, but everyone seems to be answering what would make jewelry valuable or a status symbol.

What determines what sort of jewelry people wear, if you take the production cost out of the picture? Same as with clothing. Fashion. What's "in style" will shift frequently, and will vary by social group.

You'll have avant-garde and experimental jewelry at the leading edge of trends. Early adopters will sport the better designs and lead the way for mainstream adoption. Some of those designs will catch on, but most will be tossed aside and never reach the mainstream. Those that do catch on will be tweaked and remixed and changed over and over, until a different style catches on and takes its place.

For a peek into this in the real world, take a look at 3D printing design sites such as thingiverse. There are featured designs, most of which have gained a sort of viral popularity within that community. These designs usually lend themselves to being altered and adapted by individuals. The "remix" feature is one of the core features of the site.

tl;dr: Whatever jewelry style is popular at the time will be worn by the mainstream, and that style will shift just like it does now.


Hand made.

Even today, hand made stuff sells well even when industrially made alternatives are much cheaper while maintaining same (or even higher) quality.

Copying won't help, no one wants precise copy of paintings for price any close to original's. even if you could copy Mona Lisa on atomic level, making it exactly same, people would still want original more. "When you want to show a status and class you simply have to have that original handmade piece"

This is not something that would apply to say, electronic, but it does and will apply to jewellery more that to anything else. Add to it a factor of maker's name as brand (eg. when you can afford it, you don't want just any hand made, but hand made by XYZ), and you can be certain this will be around as long as humanity will exist.

  • $\begingroup$ If perfect copies existed, terms "original" and "copy" would lose their meaning. I.e. if one could copy Mona Lisa down to atomic level, that copy would be indistinguishable from the original; both would have the same value. $\endgroup$ – Trang Oul Apr 15 '16 at 11:56
  • $\begingroup$ @TrangOul both wound definitely not have same value. I bet arm on that. Some people would be happy with having atom-perfect copy, but many would prefer original. it is matter of prestige. "Original" is not quality property, but history property. Original and copy would always have different history, and that would translate to different price $\endgroup$ – Lukáš Rutar Sep 13 '16 at 10:25

Considering that scarcity, be it manufactured or resource-driven, is the reason why precious metals and jewelry are so expensive, if you remove that factor, then jewelry will be as common place, and consequently, as cheap as clothing.

So to your question: what would motivate people? Well I'd say some of the same things that motivate them now. Tradition is a big one (ooh, you said tradition is not an answer). Okay, than I'd still say that people would gravitate to jewelry based on other factors including: Religion (Crosses/Stars of David/Depictions of Deities) and Culture, statement pieces (pot leaf/bling-bling)/ art etc. These are still humans, as you said, so they'd still have humanities vices and virtues. Jewelry can be seen as a form of self-expression, as is clothing and tattoos.

And some people do wear jewelry for the overt statement of wealth. If everyone is equalized in that way, then they will have to find some other way to display their wealth. So you should know, even if you don't dive into it, how the patrician classes can display their wealth if naught with jewelry.

Other motivators: Perhaps there are certain technologies that are found in certain types of jewelry? If not for entertainment purposes, then maybe jewelry is used in a medical way (to monitor vitals) or, in a similar vein, the jewelry is used by the government to monitor the citizens. Depends on what kinds of angles you want to take with this.

Something really big would have to happen to change the mindset of humans. As far back as antiquity, we as a race have been wearing jewelry for style and to display wealth, so if as you said, style is no longer supporting jewelry, then you are going to be dealing with fundamentally different humans.

  • $\begingroup$ Pretty good answer sir. $\endgroup$ – Sam Weaver Oct 14 '15 at 0:14

If you can produce anything, what is left to trade? Information. Think of today, the big companies with huge databases filled with information that they can sell.

So this could translate into personal memories (e.g. family heirlooms), religious or cultural (pop or otherwise) icons, or perhaps whatever form of hard data storage is popular.

Of course, people will also want to look pretty, so they should have the typical range of color and luster characteristics you would see with modern jewelry, since gems are practically free now, they would probably eventually be synthesized and incorporated into some form of data storage that displays its capacity via lights, colors, or some other sensory method.

Please don't ask me how to build diamond semiconductors.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice perspective! Adding emotional attachment feasibly to the physical form. $\endgroup$ – Sam Weaver Oct 14 '15 at 0:35

Who made it, the aesthetic quality of the object, the story behind the object or the idea the object conveys will determine the cost. In some ways this post-scarcity jewelry market mimics the modern day art market where the cost of materials is often marginal compared to the artist's time and energy. This is especially true with modern art where examples of found art that cost the artist exactly zero dollars/yen/euro/pound/etc. Patrons of modern art are often buying an idea or a story as represented by an object, not just the object itself.

Just because the Makers can make anything they please with atomic-level accuracy, doesn't mean that everyone will make equally pleasing or desirable objects.


In such a highly advanced society one could imagine that it is possible to give physical meaning to the sentimental value of an object.

So, perhaps the macro-material is not really what matters to that society, but rather how the object has changed through human interaction on a quantum level.

Scientists of that age have realized that one could change certain properties of an object depending on its ambient exposure, and not only by direct observation. These properties could even influence the human psych so that depending on what emotions the object was exposed to, would return such emotions to the carrier. Hence, jewelry of that age would not only be a fashion statement but could be used to treat depression and other mental illnesses. One could only imagine the incredible lengths someone would have to go to, to acquire an item that has mainly been exposed to positive emotions. Persons would eventually try to capitalize on this and probably even develop AI that has its own emotions, thus automating the process of creating such jewelry.

  • $\begingroup$ So these people take magic crystal drivel seriously? $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Sep 13 '16 at 22:22

As some of the other answer state: Trends would probably start going on. People will wear what famous people wear.

But what about creativity? The makers can make anything but a human has to somehow tell the maker to make something. This means that even though makers can create anything, what they can make is still limited by what humans can think of.

Of course if someone would make up something new and refreshing like a piece of jewelry made out of some uncommonly used element, people will start copying it untill that type of jewelry is no longer unique.

This means it's an ongoing process. People will constantly try to be innovative and create new things that look different. Thus using the jewelry to distinguish themselves from others expressing their creativity.

So possibly, the jewelry people would wear if the makers were around would be incredibly diverse.


Firstly, jewelry would still be motivated by scarcity, even without a production cost. Scarcity still exists for seemingly "free" stuff. Our bodies only have so much available space to display it, and there is also a social cost. You need to think about what jewelry represents; it is a social differentiator tied deeply into mating and power. Think how men and women use "free stuff" today to fulfill those desires.

A hairstyle, for example, can be produced "free" of charge in your bathroom with a pair of scissors, but you have only one head of hair, and there is a social risk of making an ugly haircut. So due to the social risk, and desire to differentiate ourselves in the mating process, scarcity will still exist.

So to answer your question:

  1. It will be deeply tied into the mating desire
  2. It will be anything a person can use to differentiate themselves, which would naturally create scarcity.

I would expect to see risky, over the top, jewelry with a short trend life. Since production costs would be close to zero, people would have to try harder to differentiate themselves from the crowd. The low production cost would keep trends on a shorter life cycle. Popular trends could be adopted quicker, which would lead to a quicker peak.

  • $\begingroup$ "you have only one head of hair" - something that doesn't really have an analogue with post-scarcity jewelry. If your new necklace turns out to be ugly you can just take it off and put on a different one. You can't instantly grow out your hair to "undo" a bad haircut. $\endgroup$ – Random832 Oct 14 '15 at 13:27
  • $\begingroup$ And you can't instantly change jewelry. Yes, the analogy is correct. The point is everything has a cost. I may be able to push a button and make jewelry and change it, but that costs me time. Also, my body size is scarce, and each piece of jewelry has an opportunity cost. There is no such thing as post-scarcity; that is the point! $\endgroup$ – hidden-username Oct 14 '15 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ But you don't have to wear all your jewelry all the time. And you can change it the next day, growing hair takes months. $\endgroup$ – Random832 Oct 14 '15 at 13:53

Seeing how the patent system in the USA changed in the last few decades from allowing "only physical devices with enough innovation value" to "almost anything, including software, vague ideas, and integers", it is not hard to imagine a future where it is possible to produce anything, but many things would be illegal to wear in public unless you can prove that you bought it from an authorised company.

Compare it with the current issues with copyrighting software, music and movies. You can copy a DVD bit to bit (just like in your setting you can copy jewellery atom to atom), and you would end up with the exact same contents, but the laws ensure that official versions can be sold for a lot of money, and you can get sued if you are caught producing "duplicates".


I expect there would be two kinds of jewelry: Sentimental jewelry and fresh jewelry. Trademarks and copyrights would be used to protect many designs of both kinds of jewelry.

Sentimental jewelry would be purchased once, and kept/worn for a very long time. The value to the wearer is in the memory of the occasion on which it was received or purchased. For example: class rings, engagement rings, wedding rings, military medals, Super Bowl rings, et cetera. These pieces of jewelry would be made out of materials that can handle wear-and-tear. Using today's pricing, they might be more expensive than today's jewelry (e.g., 18 karat gold instead of 14 karat gold, or 3 carat ideal-cut diamonds instead of ½ carat diamonds whose cut has been compromised to avoid "waste"). They might even have carefully designed "flaws" to make them unique. (Class rings, military medals, and championship rings would be subject to trademark or copyright protection.) But all of these sentimental items would still be made out of relatively durable materials (such as 18 karat gold instead of pure gold, or diamond instead of cubic zirconium).

Fresh jewelry would be designed for optimal beauty when new, and replaced promptly (before it has a chance to wear out). It is possible to make cubic zirconium gems that have purer colors, more fire, and more lustre than any ideal-cut diamond. The problem is that cubic zirconium is softer, so after a fair amount of wear-and-tear, these hypothetical gems would not be as pretty as the ideal-cut diamonds. Similarly, one could have 24-karat gold plated items instead of brass, bronze, or gold alloys. They might be flawless, or they might have designed-in "flaws" similar to the sentimental jewelry. Thus, "costume" jewelry would be much higher quality than any jewelry made today, but it would not be expected to last long at all.


The main thing you have to consider in this world is that the physical appearance of jewelry doesn't matter - therefore the most important factor in determining the value of jewelry would be emotions and ideas evoked by it. This would most likely result in the formation of trends based on

  • What famous people wear
  • Religious or political icons

In other words, the physical appearance would be based on things important to the wearer.

Another thing to note is that people may still have an obsession with the "real thing" - materials created naturally, not artificially. In our current world fake diamonds are almost indistinguishable from real ones to the naked eye, yet real ones cost far more money, despite logically being identical for the purposes of jewelry.


Some blessed/relic items. The items which were blessed by a shaman/priest/oracle or had been in a holy place or containing holy particles etc. Even if not behind different physically from non-blessed items, some people may still think that blessed items bring them fortune and success.


Such a world, I think, would be "hyper-trendy" with regard to fashion.

In any economy, even a "post-scarcity" economy as many future utopias including yours tend to be, "scarce resources" is still a fundamental concept; the time scale in which key resources are "scarce" is merely shortened to the point that getting whatever you need is no longer a matter of life or death. The time required to acquire something desirable can still be a status symbol, much as it is with current fashion trends. The super-rich of the real world are already wealthy enough that merely having gold jewelry doesn't say much; having the very latest designs of such jewelry, however, is a much bigger deal, and when the market for a particular style is saturated, people move on to the next trend.

In a world where you can create any precious metal or gemstone with the push of a button, design becomes critical. If the same device that produces the material can combine and shape them, styles will saturate in a matter of days or even hours, as anyone who wants the same necklace someone else has can get it in minutes. In such a fashion world, the statement "oh, that necklace is so five minutes ago" wouldn't be humorous or ironic at all to the people living in the world; they'd be truly horrified that their style is that far out of date.

Other answers state that objects with a story, or sentimental value, would still be more valuable than any copy of the object. That's true only as long as you can tell the difference. If you made an atom-for-atom copy of the Mona Lisa, exactly identical, all it takes is one second in which honest, dependable human or computer eyes are not on both of them at the same time, and you can no longer tell which is which. Multiply that by hundreds of thousands of clones of the Mona Lisa for every living room, it becomes totally impossible to positively guarantee the one hanging in the Louvre is the actual original. A corollary of this point becomes self-evident; if you can get, inside of five minutes, an exact replica of the Mona Lisa, and so can everyone else, what value does the original really have?


Expensive jewelry would trend towards the two things fabricators can't do, provide information and provide services.

Jewelry that requires you to do something rather than make something would still be expensive. Gold necklace cheep, tattoo expensive. You can fabricate the necklace for free but you still have to pay the tattoo artist.Tattoos and piercings would require a worker.

Customized items would also be valuable because the design would have to be custom created for each person, the design is both a service and new information. Pay to get the Monet redrawn with your face, once you have the design make copies for free.


In a world where you can create even the money without being able to distinguish the fake money from real money I fear there will be no longer any value, you can just get what you want, the only "money" it is probably waiting our turn to a "printing machine", if the machine print itself then also there will be no longer any turn.

Probably people will be so stupid to create "new values" (the only valuable thing would be wisdom so I fear there will be an economy based on wisdom and knowledge where the only form of payment is "teaching stuff".)

Assuming engineers find a way to just create jewels (and no other object) so that we can still have money and value:

in a world where jewelry is no longer motivated by scarcity, what new factors would determine what kind of jewelry people wore, since everyone could make or acquire at low cost any sort of design made of any material.

Probably people will just have to create their own jewels just to look pretty. I think it will just become similar to how we choose which posters hang in our home, probably there will be custom jewel designers that helps you creating jewels and you pay them for their time, right know there exists street artist that create temporary tattoos, I think the jewel tendency will become similar to that.


If anything can be produced without labour, then nothing will have economic value.

Of course, things will still have aesthetic value, sentimental value, etc. But those kinds of value cannot be translated into money.

In a society like that, money is useless.


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