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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.[1][2]

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.[3] Writers on the topic often emphasize that some commodities will remain scarce in a post-scarcity society.[4][5][6][7]


Speculative technology[edit]

Futurists who speak of "post-scarcity" suggest economies based on advances in automated manufacturing technologies,[4] often including the idea of self-replicating machines, the adoption of division of labour[8] 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,[9] and many nanotechnology enthusiasts have suggested it will usher in a post-scarcity world.[10][11]

In the more near-term future, the increasing automation of physical labor using robots is often discussed as means of creating a post-scarcity economy.[12][13]

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.[14] 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,[15][16] 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.[4] 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.[4] Solar energy in particular is often emphasized, as the cost of solar panels continues to drop[4] (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.[17][18]

Advocates also sometimes argue that the energy and raw materials available could be greatly expanded by looking 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.[19] While early asteroid mining might involve crewed missions, advocates hope that eventually humanity could have automated mining done by self-replicating machines.[19][20] 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.[20]


A World Future Society report looked at how historically capitalism takes advantage of scarcity. Increased resource scarcity leads to increase and fluctuation of prices, which drives advances in technology for more efficient use of resources such that costs will be considerably reduced, almost to zero. They thus claim that following an increase in scarcity from now, the world will enter a post-scarcity age between 2050 and 2075.[21]

Murray Bookchin's 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. Such development would enable "the fulfillment of the social and cultural potentialities latent in a technology of abundance".[22]

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.[23]


Karl Marx, in a section of his Grundrisse that came to be known as the "Fragment on Machines",[24][25] 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".[26] 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.[27]

Marx's concept of a post-capitalist communist society involves the free distribution of goods made possible by the abundance provided by automation.[28] 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.[29]

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.[30] 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.[31][32][33]



  • The novella The Midas Plague by Frederik Pohl describes a world of cheap energy, in which robots are overproducing the commodities enjoyed by humankind. The lower-class "poor" must spend their lives in frantic consumption, trying to keep up with the robots' extravagant production, while the upper-class "rich" can live lives of simplicity.
  • The Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson charts the terraforming of Mars as a human colony and the establishment of a post-scarcity society.[34]
  • The Culture novels by Iain M. Banks are centered on a post-scarcity economy[34][35][36] where technology is advanced to such a degree that all production is automated,[37] and there is no use for money or property (aside from personal possessions with sentimental value).[38] People in the Culture are free to pursue their own interests in an open and socially-permissive society.
    • The society depicted in the Culture novels has been described by some commentators as "communist-bloc"[39] or "anarcho-communist".[40] 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."[41]
  • The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross takes place in a post-scarcity society and involves "disruptive" technology.[34] 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.[42]
  • 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.[43][44]

Television and film[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Robert Chernomas. (1984). "Keynes on Post-Scarcity Society." In: Journal of Economic Issues, 18(4).
  3. ^ Burnham, Karen (22 June 2015), Space: A Playground for Postcapitalist Posthumans, Strange Horizons, archived from the original on 27 November 2015, retrieved 14 November 2015, 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.
  4. ^ a b c d e Frase, Peter (Winter 2012). "Four Futures". Jacobin. No. 5. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015.
  5. ^ Sadler, Philip (2010). Sustainable Growth in a Post-Scarcity World: Consumption, Demand, and the Poverty Penalty. Surrey, England: Gower Applied Business Research. p. 57. ISBN 978-0-566-09158-2.
  6. ^ Das, Abhimanyu; Anders, Charlie Jane (30 September 2014). "Post-Scarcity Societies (That Still Have Scarcity)". io9. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  7. ^ (Drexler 1986), See the first paragraph of the section "The Positive-Sum Society" (archived December 20, 2011) in Chapter 6.
  8. ^ (Peters, Marginson & Murphy 2009), pp. 11
  9. ^ (Drexler 1986)
  10. ^ Sparrow, Rob (2007), "Negotiating the nanodivides", in Hodge, Graeme A.; Bowman, Diana; Ludlow, Karinne (eds.), New Global Frontiers in Regulation: The Age of Nanotechnology, Cheltenham, England: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, p. 98, ISBN 978-1-84720-518-6
  11. ^ Barfield, Thomas (2 September 2010), Get ready for a world of nanotechnology, Guardian US, archived from the original on 17 November 2015, retrieved 12 December 2016
  12. ^ Wohlsen, Marcus (8 August 2014), "When Robots Take All the Work, What'll Be Left for Us to Do?", Wired, archived from the original on 8 August 2014, retrieved 11 March 2017
  13. ^ Merchant, Brian (18 March 2015), Fully automated luxury communism, Guardian US, archived from the original on 18 November 2015, retrieved 12 December 2016
  14. ^ (Peters, Marginson & Murphy 2009), pp. 75–76
  15. ^ Gordon, Stephen; Bowyer, Adrian (22 April 2005). "An Interview With Dr. Adrian Bowyer". Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  16. ^ Biever, Celeste (18 March 2005), 3D printer to churn out copies of itself, New Scientist, archived from the original on 17 November 2015, retrieved 8 September 2017
  17. ^ Diamandis, Peter H. (2012), Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, New York, New York: Free Press, p. 6, ISBN 978-1-4516-1421-3
  18. ^ (Drexler 1986). See the section "The Limits to Resources" Archived 6 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine in Chapter 10.
  19. ^ a b Thomson, Iain (24 January 2013), Asteroid mining and a post-scarcity economy, The Register, archived from the original on 17 November 2015, retrieved 8 September 2017
  20. ^ a b (Drexler 1986), See the section "Abundance" in Chapter 6.
  21. ^ Aguilar-Millan, Stephen; Feeney, Ann; Oberg, Amy; Rudd, Elizabeth (2009). "The Post-Scarcity World of 2050–2075" (PDF). The Futurist. World Future Society.
  22. ^ Call, Lewis (2002). Postmodern Anarchism. Lexington: Lexington Books. ISBN 0-7391-0522-1.
  23. ^ "Post-Scarcity Anarchism". AK Press. Retrieved 1 August 2016.
  24. ^ Barbour, Charles (2012). The Marx Machine: Politics, Polemics, Ideology. Lexington Books. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-7391-1046-1.
  25. ^ The section known as the "Fragment on Machines" can be read online here.
  26. ^ Jessop, Bob; Wheatley, Russell (1999). Karl Marx's Social and Political Thought, Volume 8. Routledge. p. 9. ISBN 0-415-19330-3. 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.
  27. ^ (Marx 1973), pp. 706
  28. ^ (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."
  29. ^ (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..."
  30. ^ (Marx 1973), pp. 51–52.
  31. ^ Tomba, Massimiliano (2013). Marx's Temporalities. Koninklijke Brill NV. p. 76. ISBN 978-90-04-23678-3.
  32. ^ Bellofiore, Riccardo; Starosta, Guido; Thomas, Peter D. (2013). In Marx's Laboratory: Critical Interpretations of the Grundrisse. Koninklijke Brill NV. p. 9. ISBN 978-90-04-23676-9.
  33. ^ Easterling, Stuart (November–December 2003). "Marx's theory of economic crisis". International Socialist Review (32). Archived from the original on 10 November 2015. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  34. ^ a b c Walter, Damien (11 October 2012), Dear Ed Miliband … seek your future in post-scarcity SF, Guardian US, archived from the original on 17 November 2015
  35. ^ Banks, Iain M. (1987). Consider Phlebas. Orbit. ISBN 978-0316005388. 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?
  36. ^ 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 15 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.
  37. ^ Banks, Iain M. "A Few Notes on the Culture". Archived from the original on 22 March 2012. Retrieved 23 November 2015. Link is to an archived copy of the site that Banks linked to on his own website.
  38. ^ Roberts, Jude; Banks, Iain M. (3 November 2014), A Few Questions About the Culture: An Interview with Iain Banks, Strange Horizons, archived from the original on 24 November 2015, retrieved 23 November 2015, 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?
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ Poole, Steven (8 February 2008), "Culture clashes", The Guardian, archived from the original on 24 November 2015
  41. ^ Liptak, Andrew (19 December 2014), Iain M. Banks' Culture Novels, Kirkus Reviews, archived from the original on 24 November 2015
  42. ^ Blomberg (1959).
  43. ^ Gallagher, Sean (25 April 2017). "Cory Doctorow's Walkaway: Hardware hackers face the climate apocalypse". Ars Technica. Condé Nast. Archived from the original on 27 May 2017. Retrieved 27 May 2017.
  44. ^ Doctorow, Cory (2017). Walkaway. Head of Zeus. ISBN 978-0-7653-9276-3.
  45. ^ Fung, Brian; Peterson, Andrea; Tsukayama, Hayley; Saadia, Manu; Salmon, Felix (7 July 2015), "What the economics of Star Trek can teach us about the real world", The Washington Post, archived from the original on 17 November 2015, retrieved 8 September 2017
  46. ^ Baxter, Stephen (2007), "The Cold Equations: Extraterrestrial Liberty in Science Fiction", in Cockell, Charles S. (ed.), The Meaning of Liberty Beyond Earth, Springer Publishing, p. 26, ISBN 978-3-319-09566-0

Further reading[edit]

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