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Can we ever have a money-less Society?

The Starship Virtual Life game is more than just a simulation of life onboard a spaceship, we want it to be a discussion point for how a future space faring society would work. One of the striking things about the future society presented in Star Trek: The Next Generation is that money is no longer used. They contradict this slightly in Deep Space 9 by using bars of Gold Pressed Latinum to buy things, but these seem to be used by the Ferengi Empire (which raises more questions than it answers).

The idea is that without the burden of working every day to earn money for food and shelter the human race (and other Federation species) would be free to pursue other activities such as art or research. I can believe that, even if I didn't have to work I would still pursue a career in computing, so I can buy that vision.

At a basic level lets say that in our future society all human needs for life are provided for free. So there is an advanced social welfare program effectively. If you need food, drink, a place to stay, to travel, all of that is provided for free by the government. Replicator technology allows any item to be created out of thin air (or at least from raw materials), so basic luxury goods are available to all. Farms are automated so vast quantities of food can be provided cheaply. With star travel a reality the vast mineral wealth of the solar system is open to us, what were once exotic metals are now easily accessible.

But surely there must be a limit as to what you can get for free otherwise any citizen would be able to go grab themselves a top of the line starship. Also what if you wanted a world class violinist to play at your daughters wedding - while they may do a few performances for free it stands to reason that there would be a limit on their time, so how do you persuade them if not with money?

One possibility might be that money does still exist, it is just not a requirement for a good life anymore. We'll call this hypothetical monetary system "credits". A finite number of credits exist within the Federation and cannot be traded with anyone out-with the federation. For every year that a citizen is alive 100 new credits are created within the system and assigned to that individual. To make things simple we'll go with the Earth year - but with a true Federation a new calendar would have to be agreed upon.  People can transfer credits to other citizens as a thank you or as payment for special services (such as the violinist at the wedding). Therefore accruing large amounts of credits might indeed allow you to buy something extravagant like a starship, but on the whole acquiring such a vessel would be out with the means of most people.

But such a system would cause the value of credits to be devalued each year. Say there are 10 billion creatures on a given Federation planet. If each gets 100 credits in Year 1 then there are 1 trillion credits in circulation. After ten years there will be 10 trillion credits in circulation. Effectively the value of credits will have dropped to 1 tenth of their original value. So that system is not going to work.

So what if we go the other way? There are a finite number of credits in the system which doesn't change. As populations increase, the same number of credits will have to be split among increasingly more people. This will lead to the opposite effect with the value of a credit increasing as they become harder to obtain. This in itself isn't really an issue though as the basics for life are still provided for free. Eventually though a single credit would become so valuable that it would need to be split into smaller denominations.

Another issue is the initial distribution of credits. Lets say the initial distribution is based on planetary population. If there are multiple species in the Federation normal life spans might vary from a handful of years to thousands of years. Population sizes might vary from tiny (one offspring in a long lifespan) to colossal (spawning thousands of offspring over a quick lifespan). Planets with massive populations would be far "richer" than planets with limited population.

Maybe the answer is that each large organisation maintains it's own currency, but they are more akin to a loyalty program (such as air-miles) than money. So the Federation might reward people with "service recognition points" based upon their years of service and rank. These points could be cashed in for land on a new settlement or the use of a starship.

Other organisations would similarly reward their workers. For example, a mining company that processes asteroids might be paid in "service recognition points" for delivering lots of raw materials to the Federation for their starship program. The mining company in turn divides these points up among it's employees as it sees fit. But once again we are back to a system that is very like modern day money. I don't think that there will ever be a truly moneyless society - because the moment you get rid of money someone will create their own method of accounting for work done / favours owed. In Starship Virtual Life we are going to say that money is not required to live a good life, and that onboard ship there is no need for currency of any kind and leave the debate about other types of currency to our community of supporters.

But hang on, in order to build bigger starships or space stations the players will need to acquire larger amounts of raw materials. So someone with 1 million tonnes of raw material is "richer" than someone how doesn't have any raw material. Does that make raw material our basic currency? To prevent this from happening and as an experiment in implementing a real moneyless society, in the initial versions of Starship VL all raw materials gathered may be used by anyone on-board that ship. We may have to change this later, but let's see if we can make it work. I am hopeful that different crew members will get different roles, one might be researching new technologies, and another might be gathering the raw materials and another might be tasked with building the new technologies (using the raw materials).

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