Suppose in the far future, after humanity has acquired FTL travel and communication (and other assorted technologies) from more advanced alien species in the universe, a small portion of a specific community of humans decides they want to abandon an absolute dependence on the technology of the time and return to a simpler, more human-centric society. They scan the heavens looking for a suitable planet and eventually find one in an uninhabited part of the universe.

They trek across space and arrive at the planet ready to colonize it. As they settle into their new home, they notice that the native fauna are capable of seemingly supernatural abilities. After a few years and some research, the settlers discover that a special device can be used to contain and control the native fauna.

With proper training, the controlled fauna can be used to produce immense quantities of energy and material goods, as well as make the acquisition of existing goods effectively trivial, once again providing the human settlers with a post-scarcity society.

However, the special device is not easy to make; it requires a high level of technical know-how and a considerable investment in resource acquisition and production capability, all of which is hampered by the wild native fauna. A few dedicated, determined individuals with the right smarts can each produce one or two of these a week by hand, but this cannot support the colonists' needs/desires.

What would be the most believable/reasonable economic structure for a post-scarcity society dependent on a scarce resource?

The Colony

The colonists have an interest in building a society no more advanced than a little further along than the most technologically advanced cultures on Earth today. There are three general culture interests: basic needs, high technology, and the middle ground.

Basic Needs

These colonists form small, tight-knit communities of up to a few hundred people. Everyone knows everyone due to social gatherings and open exchange of goods and services. Locally, they are willing to lend a hand for a meal or camaraderie. However, they do trade with other cultures and require some form of exchangeable good or service to meet that need.

High Technology

These colonists like things to be done for them, so they are free to spend their time however they choose, whether it be rock climbing, cross-country racing, writing, painting, etc. Communities here form in the mid to upper thousands, and individuals may not know their neighbors if they met them at a social gathering. Robots and tamed fauna provide goods and services to meet the needs and desires of the colonists, so they provide goods and services to other communities as they choose.

Middle Ground

These colonists prefer to do important tasks on their own, while robots tend to the minutiae of daily life (e.g., garbage collection). Individuals have the luxury to spend their time however they choose, but must weigh their choice with the day-to-day needs of survival. Tamed fauna are an asset in protecting against wild fauna, so a steady supply of the containment device is essential.

General Information

There are few than a hundred thousand humans on the planet at this point. Settlements may be spread far apart with the only reasonable means of transportation by technology or well-trained fauna. Contact with the rest of the universe is one-way; no ships or communication can leave the planet without being intercepted and the colony destroyed (the planet isn't supposed to be settled). The communities have no reason to quarrel and only a select few people off-world even know the planet and its colony exist, so no piracy. The capacity to control a wide array of the native fauna will mean all societal/cultural needs can eventually be met.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ So...you want to travel to a galaxy far, far away to turn Pokémon into Dune's spice worms? $\endgroup$
    – Kys
    Jul 18, 2016 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ I can't really answer this question but I suggest looking into the Culture novels, as the titular civilization exists in a similar post-scarcity economic model. $\endgroup$ Jul 18, 2016 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Kys - awesome. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Jul 18, 2016 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ The economic model depends heavily on the level of development of the colony. Taking the present day world, there would be a lot of chaos, and most likely it would all lead to war. Tell us more about your colony. How many people are there? What sort of industry exists, and how automated is it? Can they easily produce enough food and medicine? Is security a concern? (space pirates, etc.) How is their society organized? Nobles? Leaders who live in luxury, and own the industry? Can they eventually support all their needs with these creatures? As it stands I don't think the question is answerable $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Jul 18, 2016 at 18:28
  • $\begingroup$ that depends on wether or not the colony is far enough to have a fiat currency. $\endgroup$
    – user23110
    Jul 18, 2016 at 18:52

6 Answers 6


A society in which everything is easily available behind the bottleneck. Almost post scarcity but not quite.

The entire economy of the planet is based around the skills of one specific group of people and their rate of production. Therefore also how many people they train up with the skills to create the special device. Greater numbers in training will reduce the immediate rate of production in favour of a higher future rate of production and improved future economy, but I'm assuming there's a base rate you can't risk falling below, so you can't all out stop production in favour of training.

The Government

The people who control the bottleneck control society, you're going to end up with either a technocracy directly controlled by these people, an oligarchy because they're the gateway to wealth or communism with the constructors being the first among equals. (All animals are equal but some are more equal than others)

Ultimately all these come to the same thing, the power will be held by those who control the bottleneck. The difference is in what they choose to do with it. Even in the best of all possible worlds, they're unlikely to happily sit there being the only people on the planet who do any work without a significant increase in status.

The Economy

The economy is a mess, there's only one item that has any value and that has all the value. It's apparently critical to continued life on the planet and it's a consumable of highly limited supply. It's a basket case economy. Totally unable to operate in anything resembling a normal manner.

The Currency

The currency is either worthless or backed by poké balls, it's the only thing that has a non-imaginary value. Post scarcity makes a mockery of capitalism which is driven by the balance of supply and demand. There's a single item in limited supply and everything else is dependent on that one item. Either that's your currency or that's the basis of your currency.

Ways to recover the economy

Capitalist option: Industrialise the process. Set up supply chains for the parts and materials required. Allow some of the value of the devices to be spread among more people on the supply chain. Eventually this is likely to lead to higher production rates and a reduction in the bottleneck reducing the value of the devices and the relative power of the people who can build them.

Socialist option: Communitise* the process. Each village has a master constructor and apprentices. A few times a year the whole village turns out to gather the materials required, journeyman constructors come in from the surrounding area to help with the construction. It's an all in process controlled by your master craftsman but everyone in the village has an investment in it and everyone benefits.

*It's a word because I say it is, that's how you get new words.


What would be the most believable/reasonable economic structure for a post-scarcity society dependent on a scarce resource?

This is not a post-scarcity society. If your producers can't produce the special device, then those are scarce. The economy will either center around them or ignore them.

There are essentially three paths that an individual can take:

  1. Builder. These are the people who actually construct the special devices.

  2. Military. These are the people who manage and protect the special devices.

  3. Outside. These are people who reject military control and automated products.


Since building a single special device makes someone incredibly rich, they won't work a lot. Instead, they'll build a few special devices over the course of a lifetime. One to live off. They'll trade special devices for the few things they can't build, e.g. military protection. A special device also makes a great dowry for a child looking to marry.

They may also have to give training as part of their deal for protection. Perhaps an apprentice every ten years. Perhaps the apprentices do most of the actual work of building a special device.


I would expect a feudal structure to be most common. Essentially we have a special device owned by a noble and surrounded by military. Members of military families are full citizens--that's how they convince people to join.

It would be possible to have a more democratic structure, but it's going to still have to be highly military. Perhaps mandatory service is the price of citizenship. Draft dodgers lose special device access.

A weak military will lead to outsiders taking the special device away. This is why I think that a feudal system develops. The original system will be more democratic, but over time democracies make bad decisions and get replaced by either internal coups or external conquest.


Since the special devices are scarce, not everyone will have access. These people will have a more traditional economy. Some, perhaps most, will be farmers. The special device people may have charities to help support this. Perhaps free tractors or something.

The more attractive outsiders may marry into insider families.

The more martial outsiders may join the militaries of existing special devices. Or join gangs outside.

Some areas will reject the special devices, refusing to use their products. They are likely to be most aggressive about doing their own manufacturing.


Here's a few thoughts from the Orion's Arm Universe Project:

Non-fungible Goods and Services in Post-scarcity Societies


Technically speaking no post-scarcity economy has truly eliminated scarcity (rather the term comes from the transition to economics of abundance). Correspondingly there will always be certain commodities that are scarce, even if copies can be mass produced. Examples of these non-fungible goods and services are original pieces of artwork, specific areas of land and services from a particular individual or group. Scarcity economic principles still apply but generally the demand for non-fungible commodities is still so low that most individuals are excluded from the economy. Systems of dealing with this (outside of individual gifting) differ but most systems account for this in some way. Below are a few common methods.

Private Markets

As with scarcity economics private markets can be used to trade unique items or services. Currency can be fiat or not (depending on local custom). Most sophonts rarely have a need to interact in a private market as social infrastructure can provide for nearly all needs, exceptions include specific living space, art, branded goods and live entertainment. It is often difficult for sophonts to enter a market if they do not already own something unique or are capable of a desirable service. There are various solutions to this varying by local custom, two prominent examples are to seek a private loan or to make use of publicly available education and augmentation to create something able to be sold on a market. A third and common option is rapid barter (see below). Common Ownership and Rentism

Various goods such as original artworks or plots of land maybe held in common ownership. As such it is not possible for them to be traded between individuals (at least without true ownership still residing with society at large). Because of this it is quite common for a form of rent to be employed with individuals paying with whatever resources their economic system allows (e.g. a portion of their socially provided allocation of credits). Rent may be conditional with set durations which are determined legally but could also depend on how much a sophont is willing or able to pay. Alternatively or additionally an individual may have to meet certain criteria before they are eligible to rent. Common Ownership and Lottery

Non-fungible goods are held in common ownership but they can be allocated to individuals for a set time in a lottery system. Usually sophonts put their name in for a specific commodity and a periodic lottery determines who gets it as well as what conditions come with the allocation. Once the time is up the sophont loses ownership rights and has to apply again.

Post-scarcity Economies: Characteristics and Considerations


Autonomous Industry

Almost all post-scarcity economies arise after significant development in automation, both physical and intellectual, that almost entirely negates the need for sophont labour. In effect automated technologies (chiefly robotics and artificial intelligence) reach a point in which all tasks including the design, construction and installation of new automation are automated. This feature of post-scarcity economies is the basis for most other characteristics and is the spur for the development of post-labour economic theories.

Steady state and Circular Economics

With sufficient economic commitment and/or molecular nanotechnology industries can be designed with near-perfect recycling in mind, facilitating a transition towards a steady state economy. Waste products can either come in forms safe to release into a surrounding biosphere or be used as raw materials for other industries. Particularly with advanced nanotechnology any substance can be broken down into its constituent elements (given energy and time) ready to be rebuilt. Whilst not a necessary characteristic of post-scarcity economies most adopt the practice as it avoids the huge potential for environmental damage unchecked growth of automated industry could cause. Whilst the resources available to a post-scarcity economy can be vast (potentially multiple solar systems worth of matter and energy) autonomous industry can potentially grow exponentially. This has been the cause of more than one Cinder system. In addition steady state economic principles are often put in place to prevent overconsumption or greed and to encourage an ecologically friendly culture.


Basic considerations

First of all, we have to see that this is an isolated system. For the economy, this is very important.

Thanks to the device, the society comes to post-scarcity, meaning that all goods are available in quantity for little to no cost. This means that the production on the device is complex, and lengthy, but not expensive per sae.

Due to the fact that your colonists establish themselves in communities, as possibly as a consequence of the first phase of the colony, a currency system was established. The services of one community is paid for using the currency system. And non-basic goods also need to be paid for.

To each culture, their economy

The society rely heavily on robots to produce the device but also to produce raw materials, or transform them. The Hich-Tech people focuses on that essential part of the economy. They are responsible for the production, maintenance and development of the robots and automatic systems. And they sell those to the other cultures. They really love the tech, so they tend to see it more like hobbies than the others. And from that they get a source of revenues.

People have a lot of free time. But too much free time could be boring. What do you do the whole day? People tend to turn to various forms of entertainment and Art. And none does it better than the group of basic needs. Their open communities favour the exchange of ideas and great creativity. Their pure approach of the Universe shows in their production, and are very appreciated.

The middle ground, as their name indicates, provide the rest. They held the finance (banks, etc.). And deal with one of the main task of the world: the fauna. They are the most familiar with the fauna. Seeing which beasts can be tamed, etc. They provide the other cultures with tamed beasts, which can be herded in automatic farms. They provide financial investments for new tech and/or Art, distribute the goods, etc.

So all the goods still have a cost, But that one is very low compared with the services described previously. So no-one really miss any essential good.

The device

That is the most complex element. The whole society, economy and lives depends on it. It is essential to produce as many of them as possible. The few brilliant mind capable of producing it are fully dedicated to the task. In that they are strongly supported by the techies to provide robots and production lines, and the middle ground for their specific knowledge of the environment.

A very important part of the economy is turned towards that. Companies are built around the few people able to do it. And the competition is pretty hard. Due to previous cases, the security around those people is also very important. For those companies, losing one of their producer would be disastrous. And due to the necessities of wandering the nature, encounters with wild animals is quite frequent. Work accidents have to be avoided at all costs. But most importantly, one has to make sure that no company would decide to get a competitive advantage.

Apart from that, I would expect people to spend time trying to optimise the process, to teach others, and possibly see how to perfect, automatise the production process of the device. So a lot of research and development would be involved, making the tech culture very important.

Foreseen crash

At some point, the device will lose its limiting factor. Either there will be many of them, or they managed to produce it in a cheaper/faster/easier way. In both cases, the main component of the economy will crash. How things will be dealt with then, could fill a whole book.


A more serious take is given by McCarthy’s Queendom of Sol series. The society is dependant on nanoscale fax technology and is has replaced everything else for all purposes. But a fax plate can’t make a fax plate. The colony slowly fails as they can't maintain or produce enough fax plates. It declines from post-scarsity in stages to the ruling class having extreme opulence and the masses living in poverty.


A council of elders is appointed to balance inequities. The planet's inhabitants take grievances before the counsel, whose erudite members, assisted by state-of-the-art modelling software, address each scenario and take whatever measures are deemed necessary to resolve the perceived inequity. All inhabitants agree to live with the council's decisions and to contribute collectively whatever resources are required to re-equilibriate whatever inequities or injustices arise. Council members are beyond corruption because corruption is punishable by immediate expulsion from the planet.

  • $\begingroup$ How do you appoint your elders? by age: Gerontocracy, by qualification: Technocracy, by crude popularity contest: Democracy $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Jul 19, 2016 at 9:59
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    $\begingroup$ "Council members are beyond corruption because corruption is punishable by immediate expulsion from the planet." is kinda the unworkable part of this answer. There is no clear limit for when normal human interaction turns into an attempt to influence someone. I mean, if council members are allowed to have friends at all, then they also have friends of a friends, etc. Or, at what point an innocent wedding gift to a council members child turns into bribery? Etc. $\endgroup$
    – hyde
    Jul 19, 2016 at 10:07

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