I’m not very good with money. As soon as you put a dollar sign in front of a number, it becomes this strange alien language that I barely understand. So I am not qualified to design the economy of the future, but I suppose as a science fiction writer I do have to think about this stuff. It’s just as important as the future of science or technology, and there are plenty of great sci-fi stories that deal with economics.
My favorite is Star Trek. We know a great deal more about what Star Trek’s economy isn’t than what it is. They don’t use money, and there is no such thing as poverty. People still have jobs for some reason. There are shops and restaurants. But we have no idea what motivates the average Joe to show up for work every day when he doesn’t have bills or rent to pay. Whatever their economic system is, it’s clearly different from anything we have today and best of all it usually stays out of the way of the story.
In Extras by Scott Westerfeld (the conclusion to his Uglies series), we see a more fleshed out futuristic economy. A citizen’s right to better food, clothing, housing, etc, is determined by how famous that person is. In theory, people become famous because they’re making an important contribution to society. This system serves mainly as a platform for social commentary about our modern day obsession with fame, but it’s still an interesting example of how the economics of the future could change.
Other sci-fi writers have chosen to recreate history rather than invent something totally new. Frank Herbert resurrected feudalism for his Dune novels. Instead of dividing up fiefs of land between lords and vassals, the Emperor of the Known Universe divides planets among his nobles. This is such an old fashioned economic system that it makes the society seem stagnant… which I suspect is what Herbert wanted.
Last week, a comment on this blog reminded me that designing the future isn’t just about solving scientific problems. There’s psychology and culture and economics as well. Sometimes I’d prefer if these things just stayed out of my way, like Star Trek’s economy, but maybe then I’d be missing great opportunities to enhance my stories.
Obviously, comments are welcome. How do you think economics will change in the next 500 years?