Post-scarcity is a theoretical economic situation in which most goods can be produced in great abundance with minimal human labor needed, so that they become available to all very cheaply or even freely. Post-scarcity does not mean that scarcity has been eliminated for all goods and services, but that all people can easily have their basic survival needs met along with some significant proportion of their desires for goods and services. Writers on the topic often emphasize that some commodities will remain scarce in a post-scarcity society.
In the paper "The Post-Scarcity World of 2050–2075" the authors assert that we are currently living an age of scarcity resulting from negligent behavior (as regards the future) of the 19th and 20th centuries. The period between 1975 and 2005 was characterized by relative abundance of resources (oil, water, energy, food, credit, among others) which boosted industrialization and development in the Western economies. An increased demand of resources combined with a rising population led to resource exhaustion. In part, the ideas developed about post-scarcity are motivated by analyses that posit that capitalism leverages scarcity.
One of the main traces of the scarcity periods is the increase and fluctuation of prices. To deal with that situation, advances in technology come into play, driving an efficient use of resources to a certain extent that costs will be considerably reduced (almost everything will be free). Consequently, the authors claim that the period between 2050 and 2075 will be a post-scarcity age in which scarcity will no longer exist.
Today, futurists who speak of "post-scarcity" suggest economies based on advances in automated manufacturing technologies, often including the idea of self-replicating machines, the adoption of division of labour which in theory could produce nearly all goods in abundance, given adequate raw materials and energy.
More speculative forms of nanotechnology (such as molecular assemblers or nanofactories, which do not currently exist) raise the possibility of devices that can automatically manufacture any specified goods given the correct instructions and the necessary raw materials and energy, and so many nanotechnology enthusiasts have suggested it will usher in a post-scarcity world.
Increasingly versatile forms of rapid prototyping machines, and a hypothetical self-replicating version of such a machine known as a RepRap, have also been predicted to help create the abundance of goods needed for a post-scarcity economy. Advocates of self-replicating machines such as Adrian Bowyer, the creator of the RepRap project, argue that once a self-replicating machine is designed, then since anyone who owns one can make more copies to sell (and would also be free to ask for a lower price than other sellers), market competition will naturally drive the cost of such machines down to the bare minimum needed to make a profit, in this case just above the cost of the physical materials and energy that must be fed into the machine as input, and the same should go for any other goods that the machine can build.
Even with fully automated production, limitations on the number of goods produced would arise from the availability of raw materials and energy, as well as ecological damage associated with manufacturing technologies. Advocates of technological abundance often argue for more extensive use of renewable energy and greater recycling in order to prevent future drops in availability of energy and raw materials, and reduce ecological damage. Solar energy in particular is often emphasized, as the cost of solar panels continues to drop (and could drop far more with automated production by self-replicating machines), and advocates point out the total solar power striking the Earth's surface annually exceeds our civilization's current annual power usage by a factor of thousands.
Advocates also sometimes argue that the energy and raw materials available could be greatly expanded if we looked to resources beyond the Earth. For example, asteroid mining is sometimes discussed as a way of greatly reducing scarcity for many useful metals such as nickel. While early asteroid mining might involve manned missions, advocates hope that eventually humanity could have automated mining done by self-replicating machines. If this were done, then the only capital expenditure would be a single self-replicating unit (whether robotic or nanotechnological), after which the number of units could replicate at no further cost, limited only by the available raw materials needed to build more.
Karl Marx, in a section of his Grundrisse that came to be known as the "Fragment on Machines", argued that the transition to a post-capitalist society combined with advances in automation would allow for significant reductions in labor needed to produce necessary goods, eventually reaching a point where all people would have significant amounts of leisure time to pursue science, the arts, and creative activities; a state some commentators later labeled as "post-scarcity". Marx argued that capitalism—the dynamic of economic growth based on capital accumulation—depends on exploiting the surplus labor of workers, but a post-capitalist society would allow for:
The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labour time so as to posit surplus labour, but rather the general reduction of the necessary labour of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them.
Marx's concept of a post-capitalist communist society involves the free distribution of goods made possible by the abundance provided by automation. The fully developed communist economic system is postulated to develop from a preceding socialist system. Marx held the view that socialism—a system based on social ownership of the means of production—would enable progress toward the development of fully developed communism by further advancing productive technology. Under socialism, with its increasing levels of automation, an increasing proportion of goods would be distributed freely.
Marx did not believe in the elimination of most physical labor through technological advancements alone in a capitalist society, because he believed capitalism contained within it certain tendencies which countered increasing automation and prevented it from developing beyond a limited point, so that manual industrial labor could not be eliminated until the overthrow of capitalism. Some commentators on Marx have argued that at the time he wrote the Grundrisse, he thought that the collapse of capitalism due to advancing automation was inevitable despite these counter-tendencies, but that by the time of his major work Capital: Critique of Political Economy he had abandoned this view, and came to believe that capitalism could continually renew itself unless overthrown.
Murray Bookchin, in his 1971 essay collection Post-Scarcity Anarchism, outlines an economy based on social ecology, libertarian municipalism, and an abundance of fundamental resources, arguing that post-industrial societies have the potential to be developed into post-scarcity societies. For Bookchin, such development would enable "the fulfillment of the social and cultural potentialities latent in a technology of abundance".
Bookchin claims that the expanded production made possible by the technological advances of the twentieth century were in the pursuit of market profit and at the expense of the needs of humans and of ecological sustainability. The accumulation of capital can no longer be considered a prerequisite for liberation, and the notion that obstructions such as the state, social hierarchy, and vanguard political parties are necessary in the struggle for freedom of the working classes can be dispelled as a myth.
- A for Anything, originally The People Maker, by Damon Knight, depicts a dystopian future in which the introduction of a device that can replicate anything, including people and itself, has led to the return of slavery, since human labor is now the only scarce commodity.
- Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon features post-scarcity civilizations of the Fifth and Eighteenth Men.
- Moving the Mountain is a feminist, eugenicist utopian novel written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Jobs are distributed and everyone works two hours minimum for full wages.
- The Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. Over three novels, Robinson charts the terraforming of Mars as a human colony and the establishment of a post-scarcity society.
- The Culture novels by Iain M. Banks are centered on a post-scarcity economy where technology is advanced to such a degree that all production is automated, and there is no use for money or property (aside from personal possessions with sentimental value). People in the Culture are free to pursue their own interests in an open and socially-permissive society. The society has been described by some commentators as "communist-bloc" or "anarcho-communist". Banks' close friend and fellow science fiction writer Ken MacLeod has said that The Culture can be seen as a realization of Marx's communism, but adds that "however friendly he was to the radical left, Iain had little interest in relating the long-range possibility of utopia to radical politics in the here and now. As he saw it, what mattered was to keep the utopian possibility open by continuing technological progress, especially space development, and in the meantime to support whatever policies and politics in the real world were rational and humane."
- The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey features a form of post-scarcity on Earth, although this version is closer to post-employment. The majority of Earth's population lives on "basic", a regular government stipend and governmental housing, that is the only income they have, as only a few work in jobs. People have to work for a period at basic service positions to prove they won't get bored and quit before being allowed to pursue higher education and actual employment.
- Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow features a moneyless society where material goods are no longer scarce, and everyone is granted basic rights that in our present age are mostly considered luxuries. In this work, the author writes about how a person's economic value is decided by estimation or esteem from fellow persons. In this world, the socioeconomic estimation system is called Whuffie. Additionally, material wealth is abundant and eternal life is possible through cloning, with low cost backups of human personalities – the story's hero, who works at Walt Disney World, has been alive for more than a century.
- The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross takes place in a post-scarcity society and involves "disruptive" technology. The title is a derogatory term for the technological singularity coined by SF author Ken MacLeod.
- Con Blomberg's 1959 short story "Sales Talk" depicts a post-scarcity society in which society incentivizes consumption to reduce the burden of overproduction. To further reduce production, virtual reality is used to fulfill peoples' needs to create.
- The science fiction novella Riders of the Purple Wage by Philip José Farmer paints a vision of a highly regulated, state-dominated post-scarcity society, in which a renaissance in arts coincides with mass illiteracy.
- The 24th-century human society of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has been labeled a post-scarcity society due to the ability of the fictional "replicator" technology to synthesize a wide variety of goods nearly instantaneously, along with dialogue such as Captain Picard's statement in the film Star Trek: First Contact that "The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity." By the 22nd century, money had been rendered obsolete on Earth.
- Voyage from Yesteryear by James P. Hogan. The human-habitable planet is found by interstella investigation space-ship, Embryo synthesized by genetic information in the computer of investigation ship grow, and human born in the found planet with that the planet is their home planet. They build society of their own, in no relation with the human civilization of the Earth.
- Neal Stephenson's novel The Diamond Age takes place in a post-scarcity world, though not everyone benefits equally.
- Cory Doctorow's novel Walkaway presents a modern take on the idea of post-scarcity. With the advent of 3D printing – and especially the ability to use these to fabricate even better fabricators – and with machines that can search for and reprocess waste or discarded materials, the protagonists no longer have need of regular society for the basic essentials of life, such as food, clothing and shelter.
- Sadler, Philip (2010), Sustainable Growth in a Post-Scarcity World: Consumption, Demand, and the Poverty Penalty, Surrey, England: Gower Applied Business Research, p. 7, ISBN 978-0-566-09158-2
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By post-scarcity economics, we're generally talking about a system where all the resources necessary to fulfill the basic needs (and a good chunk of the desires) of the population are available.
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- (Drexler 1986), See the first paragraph of the section "The Positive-Sum Society" in Chapter 6.
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- (Paters, Marginson & Murphy 2009), pp. 11
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- The section known as the "Fragment on Machines" can be read online here.
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Marx in the Grundrisse speaks of a time when systematic automation will be developed to the point where direct human labor power will be a source of wealth. The preconditions will be created by capitalism itself. It will be an age of true mastery of nature, a post-scarcity age, when men can turn from alienating and dehumanizing labor to the free use of leisure in the pursuit of the sciences and arts.
- (Marx 1973), pp. 706
- (Wood 1996), pp. 248–249. "Affluence and increased provision of free goods would reduce alienation in the work process and, in combination with (1), the alienation of man's 'species-life'. Greater leisure would create opportunities for creative and artistic activity outside of work."
- (Wood 1996), pp. 248. "In particular, this economy would possess (1) social ownership and control of industry by the 'associated producers' and (2) a sufficiently high level of economic development to enable substantial progress toward 'full communism' and thereby some combination of the following: super affluence; distribution of an increasing proportion of commodities as if they were free goods; an increase in the proportion of collective goods..."
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He could not believe the ordinary people in the Culture really wanted the war, no matter how they had voted. They had their communist Utopia. They were soft and pampered and indulged, and the Contact section's evangelical materialism provided their consciencesalving good works. What more could they want?
- Parsons, Michael; Banks, Iain M. (16 November 2012), Interview: Iain M Banks talks 'The Hydrogen Sonata' with Wired.co.uk, Wired UK, archived from the original on 14 November 2015,
It is my vision of what you do when you are in that post-scarcity society, you can completely indulge myself. The Culture has no unemployment problem, no one has to work, so all work is a form of play.
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This is not say that Libertarianism can't represent a progressive force, in the right circumstances, and I don't doubt there will be significant areas where I would agree with Libertarianism. But, really; which bit of not having private property, and the absence of money in the Culture novels, have these people missed?
- Cramer & Hartwell, Kathryn & David G. (10 July 2007). The Space Opera Renaissance. Orb Books. p. 298. ISBN 978-0765306180.
Iain M. Banks and his brother-in-arms, Ken MacLeod, both take a Marxist line: Banks with his communist-bloc 'Culture' novels, and MacLeod with his 'hard-left libertarian' factions.
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- Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis
- Bright Future: Abundance and Progress in the 21st Century by David McMullen
- Books by Martin Ford (author)
- The New Human Rights Movement: Reinventing the Economy to End Oppression by Peter Joseph
- Peoples' Capitalism: The Economics of the Robot Revolution by James Albus
- Post-Scarcity Anarchism by Murray Bookchin
- Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek by Manu Saadia
- The Zeitgeist Movement Defined: Realizing a New Train of Thought by Peter Joseph and TZM members
- Zero Marginal Cost Society by Jeremy Rifkin
- Fully Automated Luxury Communism by Aaron Bastani
- The Economics of Abundance
- Infinity Is Your Friend in Economics – contains links to a series of Techdirt articles on economics when scarcity is removed
- The Post-Scarcity / Culture of Abundance Reading List v2.2
- Abundance is our future, TED talk by Peter Diamandis*
- Why Can't We All Just Get Along? is a 2018 website and book that describes a post-scarcity economy, as well as synergistic new frameworks for government, justice and education.