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Let's assume post-scarcity in this case means everyone, regardless of income or employment status, has unlimited access to food (or bio-engineered food substitutes), a place to live, means of transportation, and information services like television, the internet and maybe even virtual reality. In an environment like this, would it even still be possible for aristocracy to exist or for the rich to oppress and exploit the poor?

Money still exists in a post-scarcity society, but it's not strictly necessary (at least not for survival), and possessing it is no longer a motivating factor. How would those with access to all they need to survive plus a small excess margin of various luxury items make life difficult for people in the lower class when their basic needs are all already met?

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    $\begingroup$ Aren't you describing the United States? Anyone can get food, housing, and those other things if they work at it. But many don't. Then they are a poor, and then people who aren't poor sympathize with them and ergo class warfare. I think you need a better description of post-scarcity. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Mar 8 '17 at 18:06
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    $\begingroup$ I have a suspicion the answer to this question will be heavily rooted in the answer another question: from where do these unlimited resources come from? If it's magic, then the magic wielders will be the ones in power. If it's technology, then someone will probably be needed to maintain/operate the technology. If it's an omnipotent being, then maybe the members of its cult/church are the ones in power. $\endgroup$ – MozerShmozer Mar 8 '17 at 18:24
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    $\begingroup$ An interesting question might be what does "inequality" actually mean in a post-scarcity environment. Many terms which are simple to define in a scarcity environment become frustratingly slippery when scarcity is removed from the equation. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Mar 8 '17 at 19:25
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    $\begingroup$ Short answer: Yes. Because those in power will do everything to impose some form of scarcity. Example: capacity to copy information is pretty much unlimited, so of course, the rich do somersaults to force artificial scarcity through DRM and absurd IP/patent legislation. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Mar 8 '17 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion The question says "unlimited access" to basic needs "regardless of income or employment". That is not true in the United States; there are some welfare services but they don't provide unlimited free food, housing, and internet to every single person in the entire country... $\endgroup$ – user45623 Mar 8 '17 at 21:51

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There's no such thing as a post-scarcity society

Even if you have completely free energy and Star Trek-style replicators that get around any sort of precious metals limitations, some things will still be scarce. For example, living space. If you're confined to Earth, it only has a finite amount of space. OK, maybe the population is low enough that everyone can have a mansion as large as they want. Or maybe houses come in standard HabCubes so that everyone has exactly the same living space.

But what about desirable locations? No matter what you do, only so many people can live at the top floor of a high rise building. Only so many HabCubes can fit on the beaches of Hawaii where you can look out your back porch and see volcanoes and see dolphins frolicking from the front door.

How do you determine who gets the prime real estate? Money.

Artificial Scarcity

One way is by manufacturing artificial scarcity. This already exists in today's technology, in the form of digital rights management (DRM). For example, many public libraries now have ebook "lending" sites. Have you ever tried to download one? They have a limited number of "copies" of a given book that they are allowed to lend at a time. Of course this is all nonsense, as a new copy is created every time you download it. Now this is done so that publishers can monetize the work, so in a true post-scarcity society this would probably go away. But there is always motivation in the human spirit to one-up your neighbors, so manufacturing some sort of artificial scarcity seems very likely.

But

So you can't get away from equality completely. The question is, once you've closed the gap between rich and poor so much that you really have to look close to see the difference, will human nature still resent that small difference, and seek to rise up against "oppression"? History I would say suggests yes. Even though the wealth disparity between rich and poor is currently mind-bogglingly vast, the difference in quality of life is certainly less than say the middle ages.

Let's pretend anyway

Let's assume as a commenter noted (why can't I see the comments while editing my question???), that you have such infinite resources that you can make new Hawaiis. You can make new planets. Everyone can literally have any material thing they desire. Is there still some way for some members of society to be ahead?

One thing that will never be infinite is human attention span. Who are the trend-setters, the famous? Fame tends to come and go unlike wealth which accumulates, but the mega-famous are pretty good at banking on their existing fame to increase their status. These will continue to be an elite class of people, envied by many of the masses (though some of us still can't understand today's desire to be famous for it's own sake, but I digress). It's hard to imagine "I'm famous and you're not" being a form of oppression though.

What about healthcare? But why would anyone ever be a doctor if everything is free? So maybe we've got medical nanobots too. I think once we're so far beyond our technology that we're basically talking about a magic society here.

Unless our technology has granted us perfect insight into human behavior, we still need some sort of police force for those individuals like serial killers. But why would anyone ever want to be a police officer? Hmm, maybe we can do it by robots. But then someone who knows how to program those robots can do whatever they want. Otherwise, those individuals willing to inflict physical harm on other people as a power trip, even though they gain nothing material from it, will be the new ruling class. And we've gone full circle back to "might makes right".

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Mar 10 '17 at 11:36
  • $\begingroup$ Lawmaking would be another division, unlimited material access is not the same as equal treatment under the law. $\endgroup$ – John Mar 12 '17 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ Your basis for many of the issues you are outlining seems to be, " the only reason why people perform positive actions is for personal (monetary) gain." The same way there will be serial killers, there will logically be people who want to stop them, and in the described society have the resources to do so. Same for doctors and researchers $\endgroup$ – Josh Taub Aug 14 '17 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ @JoshTaub Look up the concept of 'homo economicus'. Like many concepts in economic study, it is a ridiculous concept that doesn't describe any single person in the history of the universe, but does a half decent job of describing the population in aggregate. $\endgroup$ – thegreatemu Aug 14 '17 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ @thegreatemu I'm sorry, but I can't read your answer for some reason, can you please repost it? $\endgroup$ – Josh Taub Aug 16 '17 at 2:06
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What you are describing is essentially the world in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, by Corey Doctorow.

Jules is a young man, barely a century old. He's lived long enough to see the cure for death and the end of scarcity, to learn ten languages and compose three symphonies…and to realize his boyhood dream of taking up residence in Disney World.

Since there was little scarcity of resources, society shifted (back?) to a Gift Economy. What you wanted was status (measured in "Whuffie"), which could go up and down like the stock market if you happened to be doing something public enough. There was a class of whuffie-less have-nots who just lived their lives and minded their business, and then at the top ranks people who were competing for status (and some willing to kill for it...)

In this society, if you have more status than another person, and see them with a luxury you (as a person judged to be doing more important stuff) could make better use of, you can just take it. That's viewed as legitimate. So the high-status people had all the nice cars and apartments, and the low status people (while having all survival needs taken care of) were forced to live in relative squalor.

Extrapolating to some stuff that isn't in the book... it seems to me that if you visibly belong to some prejudiced group (eg: wrong amount or kind of melanin in the skin), that may very well ... color ... how all your actions are perceived enough to make gathering reputation much more difficult for you. Money may be the root of all evil and whatnot, but at least its colorblind.

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    $\begingroup$ A lot of people view post-scarcity society as utopian, but Doctorow's vision of it I personally found quite dystopian. Imagine the stakes in any little bit of corporate politics at work being your house and car. $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Mar 8 '17 at 19:14
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    $\begingroup$ +1Good points! Supported by the fact that depression is so common in wealthy nations. Here's a question for you. If all involuntary suffering were eliminated and every desire could be provided at a moment's notice, would pain itself become a currency? $\endgroup$ – Richard U Mar 8 '17 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ @RichardU - Now you are asking about Zardoz $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Mar 8 '17 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ @T.E.D. "found quite dystopian" - in that case see also "Nosedive", from series 3 of "Black Mirror", which so far as I can tell might as well be Doctorow fanfic. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Mar 9 '17 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ @SteveJessop - Appreciate the tip (honestly. Always looking for good new stuff), however I actually don't much enjoy dystopic worlds. Got one of those already. $\endgroup$ – T.E.D. Mar 9 '17 at 19:40
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Sure

Money will still matter. There will be people who are satisfied with the material goods of their post-scarcity welfare package. Perhaps they are concentrating on non-material goals, like being the best kung fu fighter in town, in the state, on the continent. Perhaps they are couch potatoes.

But others will want more. Genuine 50-year-old wine. A flat with a view on central park. A front row seat at the Oscars. As long as there is a market, these things will be priced beyond the reach of the welfare recipients -- the supply is limited and prices will rise until supply matches demand. So they will have to work to earn money, or invest savings to earn money.

And obviously some of the couch potatoes will resent that the rich investors get that beachfront summer home, or the invitation to the charity ball. Class is not just about having money. It is about who you know, who will invite you to their parties, who would be willing date you or marry you. In the future, it could be a question of having friends on social networks, or being whitelisted by people's spam filters.

So there could be different social groups. Think of the stereotypical high school society -- there are the jocks, the nerds, the valley girls. Each of the groups might have a leadership core and circles of hangers-on who are desperate to belong. And then there are those who are not in any "in" group. They might want a revolution which puts them on top, because of their knowledge and faith in revolutionary ideology.

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    $\begingroup$ Ah, high school. The perfect utopia. $\endgroup$ – Stig Hemmer Mar 9 '17 at 8:47
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Yes.

Once I saw a documentary on Lemurs in Madagascar, I believe from the BBC Nature series. These particular lemurs lived in the fruit trees, and there was enough food that they didn't even need to get up in the morning; just stretch their hand out and there was breakfast.

But, after breakfast was over, they went into the neighboring valley to wage war with the rival tribe. Both tribes had plenty of food, and the edge of the valley made a fairly unambiguous divider of territory so there was no practical reason to go to war, other than out of boredom.

Discrimination is also a factor. It is a terrible example to use, but in 2014 some 'yobs' painted a seagull with red paint, and it was subsequently bullied and discriminated against by the other seagulls for being different.

Seagull faces bullying

I've tried to use animal examples of natural, as opposed to human discrimination, but it is likely that factors such as gender, weight, height, etc. would also lead to inequality, regardless of how plentiful the staples of life are.

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Who gets to go to the moon? Who gets to choose who gets to go?

By 'Post scarcity' you seem to mean easy living, but for the imaginable future there will still be scarcity of something. This leads to politics and economics just with reduced stakes. ie losers need to wait a week to get on a rocket instead of starving.

Often post scarcity means humans don't have to work, which means traditional oppressing and exploiting is not really viable. But if there is anything like democracy or top 10 charts getting bunches of people to do what you want is still valuable, so new tools need to be made.

Tools for post scarcity 'oppression' might be as tame as unfriending or saying they all ought to do whatever from a popular media stream. When nobody ever actually gets hit with a stick or stone the value of words might become more relevant. Explicit social status could allow inequity and its conflicts to persist about as long as humans are social.

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    $\begingroup$ "...as long as humans are social" There could be sub-groups, where you are highly respected in your group but not at all in other groups. That way one could have class warfare. You could probably inherit your group identity based on color of skin, geographic location, parents, ...(as it is now). $\endgroup$ – Trilarion Mar 9 '17 at 12:13
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it's no post-scarcity if money still exists. Money is useless in a world that value and quantity have no meaning. Supply and demand would be only in terms of logistics. If you have unrestricted access to resources, you'll have no need to overstock with anything.

In my opinion, if you just tamper with the goods, the environment and the technology you can't expect to change the status quo. The problem today is not the scarcity, it's the society. There are more than enough resources and technology to live in a utopic-like society. The problem is that 99% of the wealth is property of less than 1%. Today's scarcity is artificially man-made.

If we don't evolve socially no amount of resources or technology will ever be enough. The humans will need to start thinking as species in order to survive. Most of us still think as retarded medieval peasants, we just want the best for us and fuck the world. No species can get far with this archaic mentality. We just have 40.000 years old, we are like a nanosecond even for the history of our planet. We can't afford to make the mistake of thinking that we're the civilization that last the longest or that we are the most evolved.

The first mistake most people make when they try to imagine societies in the past or the future, is that they look and think these situations with a present point of view. When you are doing this kind of mental exercises you can't just assume that the social contracts, ethics and morals were or will be the same as now. You need to rethink that society from the very fundamentals.

Hope it helps.

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    $\begingroup$ Very good answer. And welcome to Worldbuilding! $\endgroup$ – Burki Mar 9 '17 at 8:01
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Yes.

Just because things aren't scarce, doesn't mean that they are free. If nothing else, you have transportation costs (including labor).

Also, can everyone have as big of a house as they want?

Some people value the trappings of power. They will manipulate the system to maintain that power. That builds in a class/caste system. Remember that you have to get to any future society. You have to consider how the current power structure will evolve into that post-scarcity society.

If everything can be automated, a show of wealth would be to have human maids/butlers. Fancy restaurants will have human waiters.

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    $\begingroup$ "Also, can everyone have as big of a house as they want?" I guess this is one of the premises of the question, so yes. Post-scarcity must mean something like big-enough houses for most, otherwise there would be a scarcity (of big houses). - "...a show of wealth would be to have human maids/butlers" The question would be if anyone would be willing to do such work in a post-scarcity society. I wouldn't. $\endgroup$ – Trilarion Mar 9 '17 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ The thing about post scarcity is: the Earth doesn't get any bigger. Can you build UP? Sure. anyone can have as much space as they want in a sky rise. Those who can afford it will have a house in the woods. There will be a limited number of those. Post scarcity means that needs are taken care of, not wants. There will always be people who never have enough or who want what their neighbor has (not a copy of it). $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Mar 9 '17 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Trilarion: Big enough does not mean as big as you want. I want a house 50 miles long and 2 miles wide and land that is half the size of the continental United States as my back yard. If others can have that too then I want a house inside a hollowed out planet with me owning that planet and twenty seven galaxies as my back yard. If others can have that too then I want half the universe, let the other 99.999% live in the other half of the universe. $\endgroup$ – slebetman Mar 10 '17 at 8:46
  • $\begingroup$ @slebetman And how exactly do you feel oppressed if you cannot have that? Not only are your examples quite absurd, I think, they also don't tell much about human nature. $\endgroup$ – Trilarion Mar 10 '17 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ "The thing about post scarcity is: the Earth doesn't get any bigger" Then we are not really in post-scarcity yet and probably won't be for a long time (until we can colonize more planets or reduce population) or your definition of post-scarcity is radically different from mine. I would see an overcrowded planet as very much scarcity constrained (of inhabitable space). $\endgroup$ – Trilarion Mar 10 '17 at 10:51
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I'm going to latch onto the virtual reality bit in your question and run with it in order to provide what seems to be the one answer that suggests a post-scarcity society is both completely possible and easily free of inequality.

Let's assume a Matrix-like setting: perfect, indefinite VR in a universe where you wouldn't want to spend much time in the real world anyway because it's pretty much destroyed. No evil AI overlords, though - instead, everyone gets their own private virtual world limited only by their imagination. Unbiased automated systems still take care of the inescapable limitations of our physical bodies - delivering nutrients, processing waste, etc. - but reality as far as we're concerned is literally whatever we want it to be.

Assuming the technology and infrastructure exist, there's no scarcity because reality as we perceive it is unlimited. And if AI is sophisticated enough to provide intelligent and pleasurable companionship, then we don't even need to interact with other humans. No interaction between humans means there's no way for us to pick out what differences remain and bicker over them.

True, it's likely that inequality will occur between humans and their AI companions. However, if that counts then I'd argue you're not actually at the point of zero scarcity anyway. This, I think, is because as long as multiple wills depending on the same resources and empowered with equal rights are allowed to interact there will always be something to fight over. So if you can come to terms with the idea that sophisticated AI characters being treated as unequal to their human creators is normal and sustainable, then inequality involving AI doesn't need to count.

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  • $\begingroup$ AI enthusiasts call it "mind uploading into friendly AI (FAI)". Keeping empty physical body alive for every uploaded mind could be quite pointless, even wasteful, if you think about alternative goals. And it's really up to FAI to decide whether uploaded humans feel better isolated or in a scarcity/inequality setting. Anyway +1 $\endgroup$ – kubanczyk Mar 11 '17 at 9:26
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Yes: the prettiest girl/handsomest boy is always in short supply.

The one they choose has more of them; so much for your egalitarian society.

After you have secured your mate, the focus shifts to your children, but it's the same fight.

Advantages that can be traded are wealth. Wealth quantified is money. Wealth that you can give to your kids is class. Beauty is oppression! Desire is slavery! (Pause for my inhaler.)

A truly egalitarian society would be much stranger than "everyone has food and stuff".

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  • $\begingroup$ So beauty or wit would be the values then? I wonder if in the future everyone could have beauty surgery and gene therapy to be as smart as Einstein and as fairly looking as Gisele Bundchen. That may be a way to circumvent the proposed mechanism of oppression. $\endgroup$ – Trilarion Mar 9 '17 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ Beauty = youth + health + social signifiers. The signifiers would be the focus of competition, not surgery, usually. When food supplies are uncertain, it takes wealth to be fat, and that is found attractive. When food is plentiful, one must work out to stay thin, and that gets preferred. Wit = education, and education is always socially stratified. $\endgroup$ – Neal Mar 9 '17 at 18:27
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YES

In fact, inequalities will be more pronounced because all environmental factors will have been removed from the equation.

You can see this in the world right now. Societies which level the playing field and open it up for everyone find that to be the case.

In such a society as you propose, people would pursue their interests freely, not being limited by needing to earn a living from them. Some would naturally be more talented than others and would excel in those fields.

Then there's that nasty human tendency towards greed, summed up best in the movie Key Largo "I want MORE" Some will be driven to acquire more, some will be content with what they have, which will make inequality GREATER because there will not be a universal motivation to improve one's conditions.

Edited to add from comments:

Want's and needs are two things. Just because you have everything you need, there will still be things you WANT You could be fed a basic diet, housed in an apartment with cinderblock walls and construction, but would rather live in a house by the lake and go fishing because you want to eat the fish you catch yourself.

While needs are fairly universal. (Food, shelter, clothing, medicine) wants are not. I may want a yacht where you may not. You may want a house where I'd be happy in an apartment. Needs may be fairly equal, but wants are not.

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  • $\begingroup$ But how can you speak of inequality of there is plenty of everything for everyone? Your neighbor is more talented? Fine, but what is the benefit for him? What can more talent buy you if everyone already has everything they need? $\endgroup$ – Trilarion Mar 9 '17 at 12:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Trilarion Why do people buy bigger houses when a smaller house would do them just fine? Why eat lobster when a burger will fill you up? As the Character Johnny Rocco said in Key Largo "I want more!" People may have everything they need but not everything they WANT $\endgroup$ – Richard U Mar 9 '17 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ You are absolutely right if you look at the current situation, but it may change with the amount of supply. Why eating 10 lobsters, if you are completely satisfied already after 3, why having 5 bedrooms, if all you ever need are three. Real world example: I live in an industrialized country and have a decent income. I can buy way more toys, food, books, movies, kitchen aids .. than I ever will be able to consume or use. Do I do that just because I can? No. Of course if somebody would gift me a luxury yacht, I might take it, but I don't really yearn for it. $\endgroup$ – Trilarion Mar 9 '17 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Trilarion You may not want that luxury yacht, but someone else will. So, when that someone else is motivated to get that yacht, they will find a way and the inequality will exert itself. Wants and needs are two things. $\endgroup$ – Richard U Mar 9 '17 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ I agree although the desire to get ever more may still saturate if you have already a lot. The premises of the question were that somehow there is plenty of almost everything (or that is how I understood the question). On the other hand we often define us relative to what others have. So I agree that envy will probably never die out. But those who can make themselves free of the desire to have everything (including the luxury yacht), they should then hardly be oppresable in this post-scarcity society. What you describe is more like it is now where many things are still scarce IMHO. $\endgroup$ – Trilarion Mar 9 '17 at 15:54
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It depends on your definition of post-scarcity. If there is unlimited resources in the long term only (i.e. no possibility of complete consumption of a resource), then stratification must be possible as there will only be a finite amount available at the moment. Hell, you could make a good book out of a society where everyone has an unlimited amount of all but one resource, and that resource is what determines your social standing. But if everyone has an unlimited amount of everything then you could argue there is no stratification, at least based on material ownership. This would also mean that money doesn't exist, as there would be no reason for anyone to buy or sell anything because they already own everything. Likely in such a society stratification would be derived from a different source; perhaps a genetic trait (skin color, height, etc.), or status gained from lineage likely based from pre-scarcity status, or something more vague like "honor" accrued by a person's actions over their lifetime.

But post-scarcity will never exist. Not without a severe decline in human population coupled with no drop in worldwide production. There just aren't any resources with unlimited supply.

You can loosen the definition of a post-scarcity society to mean there exists enough of all resources for all people to survive in relative comfort, though the supply of these resources is not unlimited. If you look at it this way, clearly the U.S. (and likely the whole world) is a post-scarcity society. The amount of food, space, clothing, and all other resources is more than enough to provide for the 7 billion+ humans alive today. However this is not the reality, as many resources are used by people who don't need to use them and even more is wasted without being fully used.

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Aristocracy = Form of government which places power in the hands of a small, privileged ruling class. It's contrasted with democracy or monarchy.

Post-scarcity society = I take it here, that you mean, that all usual needs are more of less fullfilled (and guaranteed). Materially, all inhabitants of your world, are equipped very similar. (Otherwise there would be some scarcity.)

This means, there is no tangible privileged class really. There cannot be. If nothing is scarce, everyone can have everything.

What government will this society have and why? You didn't say anything about it. Will it be a democracy? Or a tyranny? Or what will be it be? Will there be wars maybe? What about nations?

From the definitions above you see that aristocracy is a form of government and post-scarcity is a technological, resource, infrastructure thing. Both seems to be pretty independent from each other.

My guess: People will still favor certain other people based on family ties, appearance (color of skin for example), manner of speaking, ... and depending on the political system this will results in different groups which even in a democracy would fight against each other. The majority party could oppress the minority. One way (the most direct) to oppress someone might be to threaten to kill him if he disobeys.

Or does post-scarcity mean that you cannot kill anyone?

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Yes....if your question is set in a world like Earth with humans having the current in-born biological "survival of the fittest" drive in action.

If this biological drive cannot be met by individuals competing for basic resources to live, then the wonderfully imaginative and resourceful human mind will look for other ways to express and satisfy this drive. See all other answers for excellent examples of ways to express this need to compete, and also consider these:

"I have everything I could possibly want?" Ok, then, let's create The Voice, The Nobel Peace Prize, and a way to gain reputation by presenting excellent ideas to discuss new worlds on the Worldbuilding SE!

No....if your question is set in a world where the humans(?) do not have this in-born survival of the fittest drive in their genetics. Perhaps it didn't evolve over centuries due to there never being any scarcity to start with that would naturally select this trait to be expressed so forcefully. Perhaps the humans are all connected telepathically and there is instead an overwhelming drive for all to instantly respond to any individual that is suffering some kind of lack or pain and do whatever they can until this is alleviated.

Whatever the reason that drive is not there, in that world they might try their hardest to imagine a world where they are constantly challenged by lack of resources, and post the Worldbuiling SE question...."Could equality and community still exist in an individuality-first scarcity society?"

The right answer will depend entirely on what kind of people are in the world being considered for the question.

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Use author Ken McLeod's test of your society by asking his question: Who cleans the toilets?

Basically, think of some vital but low status and onerous/unpleasant task which must be done to keep the society ticking over. If you have magical self-cleaning toilets and self-running sewage systems (done by robots or whatever), and every single other boring/unpleasant/dangerous job is also 'magicked' out of existence, there is no need to exploit/coerce/pay other people to do them.

If however people still need to clean toilets/gut chickens/mine asbestos, there will be folk who insist that they are too pretty and too special to do it themselves and who will want others do those jobs for them.

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Without a more precise description of the society you’re depicting I’d have to say the question can be answered with both yes and no.

Just to clarify my understanding of the setting of your described world:

  1. Food, housing, transportation and information services are made available for every human individual to consume without the need for anything in return
  2. Money exists but is not a motivating factor when people make decisions

For 1) to be valid the means of production are likely entirely mechanised and roboticised. If every human did nothing the goods and services would still be made available. This demands that non-humans produce the – to some extent even highly technological – goods and services.

With 2) – and here is where things get really interesting – it has been made quite clear that the goods and services supplied are of high quality. Paying money for higher quality goods and services than the ones supplied for free is not something any one would do. In fact, 2) is stated irrespective of 1) which would allow it to apply to a wider range of goods and services, and indeed challenge our view of value and what’s important in life.

Society’s structure

For 1) to have developed from contemporary society, I can see three ways for that to have come to pass.

  • A highly advanced, compassionate, irrepressible entity has come from outer space and started producing the listed goods and services. This is leaning more towards fantasy-fiction.
  • New technology for material production has become so accessible that every household has gotten its own omni-manufacturing unit with an unending power supply, but society has been left very similar to what it is today. This is not a very plausible scenario as the development would throw the market into copmlete disarray.
  • The technological advancement in material production has required an intricate web of infrastructure and cooperation across the planet, and has happened gradually over time, allowing other institutions to develop alongside it.

Additionally, 1) severely restricts the presence of organised physical force. If 1) is to be truly valid, no one should be able to systematically prevent anyone else from accessing the listed goods and services.

The concept of class

According to the Weberian school, class in a broader sense is derived from three sources: wealth, status and power.

Wealth

Assuming some form of private property is still a thing, the influence attributed to owners of means of production (capitalists) would be somewhat diminished by 1) in general, and by 2) in particular. Money is central for a capitalist because of its universally translatable value. Yet, money seems so inflated by 2) that any capitalist unable to produce every part or link or module in a production chain with their accumulated capital is rather powerless because the money they would (if they even could) pile for selling these parts would not be enough to buy any missing one. A capitalist’s role as someone to deeply envy or as an oppressor therefore seems unlikely.

Status

Through status one can have influence by being someone people trust or look up to. However, it can be considered volatile and inconsistent. What someone might find awe-inspiring someone else might detest. Trends might swing and the source of the status deplete. The person who holds the status is ultimately reliant on other people to maintain their influence.

Power

Through power one can be in a position where a decision or action has consequences beyond the ordinary. Power is derived from being responsible for a certain task and is just like status tied to that exterior something. Someone might through their position be able to shut down a power station or create new laws which would allow them to exert influence. However, their power is derived from their position. To stay, one would have to do so through sheer force (yet not enough to also be able to disrupt 1)) or by being irreplaceable – being the only one who can perform the required task for instance.

Oppressive high class aristocracy

An aristocracy is a form of government where a few privileged individuals decide upon a political agenda to rule their subjects. Such a government would theoretically be possible in your setting, however its existence might be slightly difficult to motivate. I am going to assume the aristocracy is powerless to have the conditions of 1) discontinued (otherwise there can hardly be unlimited abundance). And any form of government is reliant on its ability to enforce its political decisions. This means the aristocracy is weak enough to be unable to change the means of production yet strong enough to keep a vast majority of well fed and housed, mobile and informed throng of oppressed and exploited citizens in check. Autonomous, indestructible, kind-hearted, one minded super-robot workers and a heavily militarised/influential, power hungry, psychopathic elite? I don’t know… The other option I suppose would be that high end technology capable of producing the goods and services listed is so easily accessible that no matter what the aristocracy did, the populace could still feed, house, transport and inform themselves. I fail to see how there could be any problems whatsoever in such a world. All in all, an oppressive aristocracy coupled with 1) and 2) seems quite far-fetched.

Sufficient for class struggle

Aristocracy or not, there is still the prospect of inequality and a flamboyant, resourceful clique as a motor for class conflict. In my interpretation of this fictitious society economic gain is not a motivating factor and physical violence is not an available tool within the eventual class struggle. This leaves status and non-physical power as both means and end. Those with the highest class would then be famous people with important duties, maybe charismatic and reputable politicians or influential mega star artists. Such positions alone might be so sought after that acquiring or maintaining them would bring about class strife. Remember however that everyone’s survival is guaranteed as well as some luxury. No one seemingly has to work but the responsibilities of a politician might be hefty, and the attention a mega star receives might be intolerable. The politician would have to work more than non-politician and the artist would have to deal with things like heavy media attention or millions of mobile admirers with loads of time on their hands. On top of this there are two important consequences of 1) and 2) which will add to the speculative nature of this question: free time and the view of value.

Free time

If everyone’s basic needs and wants are guaranteed, no one would be required to work. This means that people would have an unprecedented amount of free time on their hands. Actually, I fail to see how it would ever have been seen or available for study in the history of mankind, especially not in a wide sense. Imagine the amount of self-fulfilment billions of people could embark upon and all that it would entail. Its effect on class might be noticeable as well. The upper class, the famous and powerful, would have to work hard to maintain their position or they would be replaced whereas the lower class could live and love and thrive without any input in the form of work. It seems to me that the lower class would live the “good life”, a life without struggle, with security, with freedom; a satisfying, happy, easy life. To me it sounds then as if power and fame are punishments or necessary evils which everyone would try to get out of.

Value

Lastly there is the deeper implication of 2) “possessing [money] is no longer a motivating factor”, that money – a universally translatable medium of exchange and store of value – exists but has no or very little value. The accepted medium of value has very little value. Objective value no longer exists. So almost nothing is sold. Or bought. The implications of this are almost breath-taking. And, to be frank, makes the discussion above largely irrelevant. It would mean that status and power or whatever else desirable can’t be bought. For this to be true a radical shift in human behaviour must have taken place. I am uncertain if this was the OP’s intention but it would be rather decisive.

Conclusion

Highly sentient beings will likely always be able to make decisions and take action of questionable ethical nature. However, in an environment where every individual’s survival, relative freedom and social recreation is guaranteed and where society has been severely de-monetised powerful oppressive forces would find it difficult to exist, and even if they did it should not take long for them to be phased out.

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There certainly can be inequality and class warfare even in a post-scarcity society. The general reason that this is true is that scarcity is not the only source of such conflict (neither does scarcity ensure this type of conflict: some poor people are very peaceful, some rich people are very violent).

As was pointed out by T.E.D in an earlier answer you can still have people competing for status (and this seems to be a very real motivation, not just the stuff of fiction). So if there is a struggle for status, and if people differ in their abilities to attain status then you can have inequality. If it is possible for those who are better at attaining status to band together then you can have class warfare.

Here is an example of how this might work: It is possible that a society that is secure in terms of resources may begin to place an even higher emphasis on various artistic ventures. Art may be so important that a person's value in society is strongly tied to their artistic talent (whatever this art may be). If we posit that artistic ability is partly heritable, and if art is so important to status that it affects success (lets say that men and women in this society prefer to marry and mate with talented artists), then artistic talent will tend to pool into families.

If these families are constantly marrying between each other (because the talented artists want to marry other talented artists) then you have a condition conducive to creating an elite class.

To summarize:

It is possible to have inequality and class struggle in a post-scarcity society if members of that society compete for "status" and if the ability to compete for status is partly heritable.

As others have pointed out this competition for status in humans is almost certainly a result of biological evolution. The rationale being that status is correlated with scarce resources that are correlated with health and success. The tragedy is that even when resources are not scarce our mental hardware still inclines us to that type of competition (see for example How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker for more about evolution and psychology).

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