Let's say that humans suddenly discovered a way to time-travel. We could theoretically go back in time, take (or buy) some artifacts, and sell them in the future as antiques. Repeating this, pretty much anyone with access to this technology could become very wealthy, to say the least. Would some kind of hyperinflation happen to the value of currency, or would nothing much change?


closed as too broad by Xandar The Zenon, Frostfyre, fi12, Aify, Hohmannfan Apr 16 '16 at 1:43

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  • $\begingroup$ it really depends on how common place time travel is...can everyone do it all the time? Is it like going on vacation? Or is it simply a single person or small group with limited jumps? $\endgroup$ – James Apr 15 '16 at 18:11
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    $\begingroup$ I think we need to know what type of time travel you are employing, otherwise this is too broad. If everything past is set in stone, nothing. If you alter your own timeline, a whole lot. If you go to another parallel universe, a whole lot. It depends. $\endgroup$ – Xandar The Zenon Apr 15 '16 at 23:58
  • $\begingroup$ The best way to make money is to take stuff from the future into the past. Ie I take the seeds from the best crops this year and give them to myself to plant last year $\endgroup$ – Ewan Apr 16 '16 at 5:18

The very act of going back in time and interacting with the people/artifacts would change the future. So the "future" you return to may be one which is utterly alien to you.

It would not be a reliable mechanism for commerce, as any decision would have wildly unexpected implications. As we all know, the global market performs best when dealing with a stable environment (not unchanging, simply stable). Furthermore, being able to travel back and forward in time creates a possibly universe ending paradox.

If you want your story to involve travelling to the "past" and pilfering it of valuables you may wish to explain it as travel to a parallel universe instead. You would affect their future, but not interfere with the past of your own universe.

It would also mean that paradoxes would be a non-issue. If you meet yourself in that other universe that person is not "you".

At this point the economy would be influenced in various ways. If you were able to travel to a parallel universe with an entire army and completely pillage it of natural resources then that will heavily influence the economy of your world (obviously).

If time travel is an ability available only to a very limited number of people then they may use this method to become rich without actually affecting the global economy much.

It all depends on the scope of your enterprise.


It depends on how your time travel works. But lets assume that you can change the past.

original time line T0

Piccaso paints a picture.
Piccaso sells picture for beer
Piccaso dies
people see picture and like it
Piccaso becomes famous
Pictures value increases
Picture is sold for millions

time traveller time line T1

Piccaso paints picture
Piccaso sells picture for beer to time traveller
Piccaso dies
Time traveller finds picture by unknown artist is worthless

You could argue that if you only take one of many pictures from piccaso then the 'undiscovered work' will still be worth millions. However this only works when there are few, or one, time travellers.

Lets consider another senario


The library of alexandria burns to the ground
thousands of ancient scrolls and artifacts of intrinsic historical value are lost.
A few artifacts are rescued from the flames and buried
a thousand years pass
the few remaining artifacts come to light and are worth millions


Time travellers steal everything from the library of alexandria and set it alight to cover thier crime
The library of alexandria burns to the ground
Time travellers bury items to dig up in 1000 years
'Lost' artifacts are sold for millions


Time travellers steal everything from the library of alexandria and set it alight to cover thier crime
The first set of Time travellers arrive to find library in flames
T1 time travellers return to the future and bitch about how thier plan didnt work
Time cops hear the story and decide to investigate..


Timecops arrive in alexandria the night before the fire
Time travellers arrive and are arrested
Timecops set library alight 'to protect the future!' And return
first Time travellers arrive to find library in flames
time travellers return to the future and bitch...
timecops hear the story...

To make money from your time thefts you need your timeline to remain essentialy the same after you have returned from the past. This is difficult to achieve unless time travel is restricted in some way


There are dozens if not hundreds of rulesets for timetravel, dealing with issues of bringing things to/from the past or future. Every single one of them would have a different resolution of the issue of artifacts (which is unrelated to the issue of currency that you ask). Pick your favorite ruleset and we can talk specifics.

However, in the case of artifacts, you have to realize that the rest of the world isn't just going to hold still while you pump all the value out of it by time traveling artifacts back and forth. It will adapt. One adaptation will happen remarkably early: your artifacts will get declared to be forgeries. A Picaso painting must be over a hundred years old. You're going to try to sell a Picaso that is less than a year old. Instantly people will notice that there is no possible way it has weathered this well over a hundred years, and you will be laughed at.

As for currency, that's a question that requires one to know the particular ruleset for timetravel you are operating under. Under some multiverse based rulesets, you can grab an arbitrary amount of currency, say gold coins, and bring them back here. Then you can deal with the hyper inflation issues, though honestly, one person likely doesn't need that much gold to live as lavishly as they please. It's actually hard to spend a billion dollars. You have to work at it, and a billion is a drop in the bucket for any reasonable currency. In other rule sets, you may find the disappearance of said gold causes unintended consequences. Perhaps the dissapearing gold leads to a gold scare that leads to it being made illegal to hold gold. You may be promptly arrested.

There's dozens of other possible outcomes, depending on your time travel rules.


Multi-universe/butterfly effect aside, there are still problems.

All material wealth would be at risk. Two way time travel could be used as a pseudo-teleportation. Want to get into that locked vault? No problem, just travel back in time, walk in to where the vault would be, then travel forward to present time. Steal whatever, then reverse the process. This sort of time travel has all of the problems of a society with teleportation with the added effect of multi-universe paradoxes.


While others have dealt with the general question, your specific question has, I think, a simpler answer. You suggest that "We could theoretically go back in time, take (or buy) some artifacts, and sell them in the future as antiques." Well, no. Let's say you go back to June of 1930 and buy up a dozen copies of Action Comics #1 - the first Superman comic. You come back to the present day and get 40,000 bucks per, right?

Umm, no. You obviously have some freshly-printed forgeries.

This applies to any object you wish to sell "as antiques", except objects like gold which do not develop signs of age.

If your time machine is the really deluxe version, with complete spatial control, you can indeed prevent valuable artifacts from being lost (such as the contents of the Alexandrian Library), but for the most part you would have enormous difficulty providing a credible provenance, and the lack of appropriate aging would probably scuttle your ability to sell them.

You could, in principle, recover valuable objects like the treasure from the holds of Spanish treasure fleet ships which wound up sunk, but again you'd have trouble selling them as antiques. Well, gold is gold, but that's not exactly the question you asked.

  • $\begingroup$ -1. There's an easy way to get around this with a sort of "time capsule", and the answer doesn't answer the actual question AT ALL. It's about would the economy suffer from hyperinflation of currency, not about whether an antique would be considered an antique or if antiques like this hold value. $\endgroup$ – Anoplexian Apr 15 '16 at 22:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Anoplexian - The OP specified that the mechanism would be the sale of "antique" artifacts. I argued out that such sales will not, in general, happen. The question asked was, "Would some kind of hyperinflation happen to the value of currency," and, unless you missed the connection, no sales means no inflation, hyper or otherwise. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Apr 15 '16 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, it wasn't specifically antiques. We could theoretically go back in time, take (or buy) some artifacts, and sell them in the future as antiques was the quote from the question, implying that this is an EXAMPLE of a way to make money off of the ability. IT's asking about the economic impact, not the specifics of antiques. $\endgroup$ – Anoplexian Apr 15 '16 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Anoplexian - Please show me where any mechanism other than selling articles from the past was mentioned. I do not read anything into it which supports your interpretation. It's not an unreasonable approach , mind you, just not one supported by the question as asked. If a "for instance" or anything like it had occurred, I'd agree with you. As it is.... $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Apr 15 '16 at 23:18
  • $\begingroup$ We could theoretically. I don't think there's another way to interpret this. $\endgroup$ – Anoplexian Apr 18 '16 at 14:18

When the market becomes saturated with something, said thing loses its value. So maybe the first ones to do it would get rich, but the rest would see diminishing returns.


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