Leaving aside the struggles of bands of primitives to survive on the ruins of Earth, all of humanity has at least some access to the wonders of nanotechnology. This access is highly variable and the economic benefits it produces can be divided into three broad categories—the old economy, the transitional economy, and the new economy.
The Old Economy
The old economy is essentially the same sort of industrial consumer capitalism that has been in place since the late 19th century, a system centered on manufacturers who create material goods and sell them to consumers. Modern manufacturers now make their goods in cornucopia machines instead of factories, but the essential pattern is the same one that has existed for over two hundred years. Due to the high level of inefficiency and unfairness in this economic system, poverty is relatively common. The poorest individuals often face hunger, homelessness, lack of medical care, and similarly dire problems.
Ordinary members of this society never have direct access to cornucopia machines. Instead, they purchase their goods from corporations, governments, or wealthy individuals who control them. Some old economy societies have planned economies, where the corporations or the state determine what options the citizens may choose or occasionally what goods they must have. Others claim to have a free market, where citizens have more options, but the residents must still pay to obtain goods that are essentially free for the corporations or government to produce.
In the present day, almost no one willingly lives in old economy societies. Very few individuals even visit such societies. The oppressive Jovian Republic holds most of the remaining old economy societies in the solar system. The few other surviving examples are totalitarian regimes where the wealthy elite maintain absolute control of all cornucopia machines and private ownership of one is a very serious crime. Since cornucopia machines can be used to create more cornucopia machines, maintaining strict control over them requires constant vigilance.
Residents of old economy societies tend to look at residents of transitional and new economy societies with envy, while residents of habitats that use both transitional and new economies look upon residents of old economy habitats with a mixture of horror and pity. Since the Fall, almost a third of the remaining old economy-based habitats have transformed into transitional or new economies by various means, often involving violent revolution. Most social scientists predict that unless there are further catastrophes, all but the most repressive old economy societies are almost certain to transform to transitional economies within twenty to thirty years.
Old economy societies are unique in that money is the society’s only acceptable means of exchange. While reputation networks exist, they are informal and serve as an unsanctioned means of exchanging favors.
The Transitional Economy
The transitional economy is a far more stable and easily maintained system than the old economy. Transitional economies blend old and new economies, and habitats using this system feature both private ownership of cornucopia machines as well as public fabbers and makers that are freely accessible. These public machines are strictly limited in the goods they can produce. In addition, the raw materials for various complex goods are also strictly regulated. Mars, Venus, and Luna are all examples of transitional economies, as is most of the rest of the inner system.
For the inhabitants of a transitional economy, creating food, non-smart clothing, furniture, and most other simple, non-formatible objects is a trivial matter. However, the public nanofabrication machines can only create objects that either contain no electronics at all or contain only simple circuits that report on the object’s condition and location. Manufacturing any of these items requires little more than the machine and a supply of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, silicon, iron, aluminum, and tiny amounts of various trace materials. All of these materials are sufficiently abundant that acquiring them is easy and inexpensive.
Using the elements that are freely available to all tax-paying citizens, nanofabbers can produce a vast array of goods like exquisite suits of silk clothing, tables with the appearance of finely polished ebony and mahogany, beautiful colored glass goblets, or painted porcelain tea cups. They can also create a gourmet dinner and a set of fine plates and cutlery on which to eat the meal. To pay for the small amounts of energy and resources needed to create these goods, all inhabitants pay a small tax.
Once the usage tax has been paid, food, clothing, furniture, and similar goods are all free. Raw materials, old, worn-out or unwanted goods, and various waste products are recycled into new goods. Residents of transitional economies need never experience hunger or any of the many other sorts of deprivation that much of humanity faced before the mid-21st century. Additionally, basic medical care is free in almost all transitional economy societies, to help insure that the populace is healthy, content, and productive.
While many goods are freely available, there are also goods that residents must purchase from corporations, their government, or other producers. Smart clothing and smart furniture that can change shape, color, and pattern, depending upon the user’s wishes, cannot be manufactured in any of the personal nanofabricators. Any goods made from highly durable composite materials, batteries, electrically-powered devices including all augmentations, and all nanotechnology must be acquired in the same fashion. These goods are considerably less common as they require access to an unrestricted nanofabricator and exotic raw materials.
Transitional economies tend to be relatively safe places, since inhabitants cannot manufacture weapons more dangerous than knives, clubs, or similar primitive armaments. Everything from firearms to plasma weapons requires restricted cornucopia machines and exotic materials to manufacture. The proliferation of these items is strictly controlled. Some habitats in the outer system have transitional economies because residents prefer the safety that comes from centralizing control of potentially dangerous technologies. Other habitats have transitional economies by default, because they have limited stocks of many of the more rare elements required for manufacturing various complex modern technologies. Regardless of the reason, outsiders from new economy habitats often see them as somewhat poor and deprived, while many residents of transitional economies consider new economy societies both exceptionally wealthy and somewhat frightening.
Despite these differences in perception, both economic societies have a great deal in common. Food, clothing, and similar goods are easily available to all residents. An individual’s status, taste, wealth, and reputation are measured by the kinds of clothing, food, and furnishings they possess. While there are a vast number of templates for different styles of food and consumer goods, forward-thinking designers develop new designs every month and use copy protection on these designs to keep them from being pirated for at least a month or two (and often longer). As a result, for the first few months after their release, the only people who can gain access to new designs in clothing, tableware, food, or similar goods are those who pay a premium to the designer to download the templates that allow their cornucopia machine to manufacture the item.
Since one way of defining a transitional economy is a system where both reputation and money are in widespread use, most have developed ways to accommodate both forms of payment. While residents primarily use money for purchasing goods, purchasing cornucopia machine templates involves rep, especially among residents who regularly visit new economy societies or have significant contacts there.
The New Economy
Slightly less than forty percent of the human population lives under some version of what social scientists refer to as the new economy. In the outer system, alternative economies are becoming increasingly rare. New economies are much better than old or transitional economies at supporting a decentralized populace, which has led to more than half of all habitats and settlements adopting this model.
In new economy societies, individuals can freely manufacture and use almost anything they want, assuming they can acquire the correct templates and raw materials. As a result, the residents’ need for food, clothing, medical care, information access, and other basic needs are all easily met. However, there are still items of value that individuals work very hard to obtain. Though these are commonly described as “post scarcity” societies, some types of scarcity remain very real.
In most new economy habitats, common goods are freely available to all residents—or at least to all residents who meet certain criteria. These criteria usually take one of two forms: citizenship or public works. In wealthy and prestigious habitats, free access to all common goods is offered to residents who have official citizenship. Citizenship can be earned in a variety of ways, but the most common involves either being considered a strategic asset due to some singular expertise, performing an exceedingly valuable service to the habitat, or working for the habitat for some period of time. Once an individual is a citizen, the energy, living space, and raw materials they use in the course of their daily lives are all freely available.
In many collectivized habitats, residents are expected to pull their weight by contributing to ongoing public works in the habitat, typically requiring between four and eight hours every week. Depending on the nature of the colony, this work may be selected by the government, the collective syndicates that oversee the management of resources, or by a high rep individual who controls access to large amounts of energy and raw materials. Unless someone has especially valuable skills, this labor is often dull but safe work that can be done more easily by humans than AIs, such as checking the habitat for flaws and performing maintenance tasks.
Assuming an individual has acquired citizenship or put in their share of work for the collective well-being of the station, they will have access to a supply of energy and raw materials that allows them to use their cornucopia machines to manufacture what they need. Visitors are generally also allowed access, though anyone staying long is expected to contribute to the habitat if they don’t want to see their reputation slashed.
Value and Scarcity in New Economy Societies
While basic citizenship allowances cover most necessities and even some luxuries, the allowance has limits. With the allowance, individuals receive a quota of goods and energy they can use every day. This usage is impressively lavish by 20th century terms, allowing residents to create a dozen suits of clothing and provide food for half a dozen people every day. Creating elaborate food, furniture, and tableware to serve a party of a dozen people is within the means of any individual. However, doing the same thing for a party of two hundred people is outside the bounds of the basic allowance.
Individuals who wish to exceed their basic citizenship allowance can either use rep to obtain more access to resources and energy, or they can pool their resources with others to accomplish their goals. There are many goods that are fairly complex to create—including many of the best morphs and highly specialized and intricate pieces of gear like advanced augmentations—that exceed the resources available in a basic citizenship allowance.
The allowance also limits the amount of travel that residents can easily undertake. Residents of most new economy habitats own good quality spacesuits, and many can use their rep to create a small and very minimally equipped travel pod to travel to a nearby habitat. However, even the smallest actual spacecraft are far too large and difficult to create to be available on an ordinary citizenship allowance, or even on the amount of rep an ordinary individual can acquire in a reasonable amount of time.
In addition to large-scale uses of resources and difficult-to-manufacture goods, there are goods that are intrinsically scarce, such as relics of Earth and handmade goods. While exact copies of everything from the Mona Lisa to a pressed daisy are exceptionally easy to acquire, genuine physical relics of Earth are prized possessions. The vast majority of refugees could take nothing with them, but almost everyone wishes to have some token to remind them of Earth. A single dried flower, coin, or piece of stone from Earth can be exchanged for almost any morph or other good that is moderately difficult to create. Actual historical artifacts, like a famous person’s hat or autograph, is worth far more, as are original works of art by famous artists. Two years ago, one of the last three remaining paintings by Leonardo da Vinci was traded for a large and well-equipped spacecraft, and a small piece of the Liberty Bell was traded for both a custom-designed morph and a fully outfitted one-hectare villa in one of the more prosperous habitats orbiting Saturn.
While less expensive than Earth relics, handmade goods also command a high price and are in great demand by the wealthy. Though most people cannot distinguish between a fine wine grown on one of the Martian vineyards and a duplicate of the same wine produced using an average cornucopia machine, some connoisseurs claim they can taste the difference. There is also much prestige to be gained by serving hand-grown food. As a result, while anyone can drink nanofabricated wine, hand-produced wine is a rare good that can only be enjoyed by a few, and thus it commands a moderately high price. In almost all cases, handmade goods are expensive because of their rarity and because many people enjoy the status associated with owning and using them.
There are three other items that are scarce and are thus quite valuable: living space, skilled sentient labor, and novelty. The majority of humanity lives in standard-sized dwelling units, which typically range from one hundred cubic meters on smaller or poorer habitats to two hundred cubic meters on wealthy and prosperous habitats. Since each cubic meter of a habitat must be manufactured and the process of manufacturing or expanding a habitat is far from simple, space is at a premium. The only exceptions to this scarcity are on Europa and Mars, which can be inhabited by properly adapted morphs without the necessity of complex life support or the danger of vacuum waiting just outside every exterior wall. As a result, owning a larger dwelling space in a habitat is worth a significant amount, and large villas and private asteroids are luxuries possessed by only the highest rep individuals.
While transhuman labor has become relatively cheap due to the large number of infugees who must sell their services or indenture themselves to obtain morphs and habitat space, skilled labor is far more expensive. Buying a unique custom morph design, for example, crafted by a skilled biogeneticist, can cost as much as a small spacecraft depending on how much this morph deviates from standard models. The same is true for everything from custom-designed clothing to complex pieces of technology designed for a single specific usage. While the actual manufacturing costs of these items is no more expensive than any other similar item, the time and effort needed to design them can make them exceedingly expensive.The final commodity that is both scarce and valuable is novelty. While anyone can drink a fine wine or wear a wide range of designer clothing, other commodities are kept deliberately scarce. Cutting-edge fashion, new music, and even haute nosh (bold, exclusive snack food designs) are harder to find because the templates needed to manufacture them are encrypted and cannot be copied. The copy protection used on the templates for newly created goods automatically expires within three years at most, and most habitats reduce this to one year. In addition, this copy protection is never perfect; someone always manages to create pirated versions of these new goods within two to six months. However, from the time templates are created until the time that someone pirates them, these items are only available to individuals who are willing and able to pay for them. Popular new templates command a good price in the new economy, and a large number of transhumans make their living designing and marketing such templates.
Sidebar: Restricting Dangerous Technologies
Most societies in Eclipse Phase see good reason to restrict access to some dangerous goods, especially military hardware. Few people living in a sealed habitat surrounded by hard vacuum enjoy the idea of easy access to biowar plagues or devices that can make large holes in their habitat’s outer hull. Though such incidents are quite rare, the memories of horrors like the recent Branson-Vesta disaster are still quite fresh. In that incident, a radical bioconservative cult manufactured several plasma bombs and accidentally destroyed the entire habitat when their attack on the local government caused a cascading blowout, cracking the spinning habitat in half. More than 50,000 residents had to be resleeved, and 400 permanently died when their backups and cortical stacks were destroyed in the explosions.
As a result, standard procedure is to restrict access and heavily encrypt templates needed to create military-grade weapons and similar dangers, though sufficiently dedicated individuals can eventually decrypt or reverse-engineer such designs. Even nanofabricators in anarchist habitats may be blocked from creating such things or at the very least will alert the local public mesh if anyone instructs them to do so. Habitats that possess almost no other laws regarding possession of various objects and devices usually have laws against weapons that can do serious harm to the habitat.
Many dangerous technologies are specifically designed to make use of various exceptionally rare or human-made elements, including radioactive elements and artificially created transuranic elements. Therefore, many habitats will restrict access to these elements to limit the manufacture of these weapons. Since detecting radioactive elements is simple using standard environmental sensors located throughout every habitat, security authorities can easily learn when someone has acquired signiﬁcant quantities of such elements, or catch them if they attempt to bring them on board.
Sidebar: Irreproducible Goods
In an age when digital material is easily copied and physical goods are reproducible with nanofabrication, concepts like copyright, trademark, and intellectual property are ﬁghting a losing war. Despite the best methods of encryption, DRM, and similar anti-piracy measures, very little escapes the clutches of pirates for long. It’s not unheard of for copies/blueprints of new goods to be shared on pirate networks before they’re even ofﬁcially released.
In response, some manufacturers, designers, and artists attempt to produce goods that are irreproducible—and thus more highly valued. Possible approaches include transgenic living sculptures with built-in obsolescence and terminator genes, energy art, items made from extremely rare materials (e.g., a chair crafted from titanium mined from the Mead crater on the harsh Venusian surface), or intangibles such as skilled performances.
The Economy and Infomorph Refugees
During the last phase of The Fall and the evacuation of Earth, more than four hundred million refugees were uploaded and egocast to orbital databanks. From there, infomorph refugees were beamed to databanks throughout the solar system. They were forced to flee Earth without any of their possessions, even their bodies. Instead, they became infomorphs who had nothing beyond their minds and memories—the most destitute group of refugees ever to exist in human history. In the years since the Fall, large numbers of these infugees have been resleeved. Anyone with valuable skills was first to gain a morph, followed by anyone with friends or relatives already living in orbit who could take responsibility for the person’s resleeving.
Those two groups accounted for only half of the refugees. The remaining found themselves in a far more difficult situation. Lacking either personal contacts or vital skills, they had no one else to help them. In the first few years, many of these infugees signed contracts promising their labor or other services in return for resleeving and a guarantee of some form of income sufficient to support them. Because of the critical labor shortages in the first five years after the Fall, another thirty percent of the refugees managed to regain bodies (usually cheap synthmorphs). These indentured servants performed all manner of critical tasks, ranging from scavenging ruined habitats for useful devices to mining or asteroid herding. Others became servants or bodyguards for the rich, or performed less moral services for criminal syndicates. Most took on orbital construction jobs, helping to construct the new habitats that would eventually become their home. Some infugees found work performing services like data-mining, monitoring automated factories, or other jobs that could be done by infomorphs. After the Fall, infomorphs were used to take over numerous tasks previously handled by AGIs, who were no longer trusted.
Unfortunately, some infomorph refugees made bad or unlucky deals and ended up working for years only to find that their employer either kept finding ways to delay or reduce the payment or vanished before they delivered on their promise. As a result, slightly more than twenty percent of the original infomorph refugees remain infomorphs; some by choice, but most because they have not been able to acquire the means to resleeve themselves or are still working long contracts to gain their morph. The problem with obtaining bodies for these infugees goes beyond simply providing a new morph for resleeving; living beings require living space as well as a steady supply of consumables. For this reason, many infugees have been morphed in synthetic shells and housed in areas inhospitable to biomorphs, such as the unenclosed portions of Venusian aerostats. With space in short supply, the waiting list for infugees looking for a habitat to call home is quite long.
Both the hypercorps and the Planetary Consortium were quick to make use of this vast labor pool, especially on Mars. Mars has large amounts of open space and resources and is sufficiently close to habitable that Mars-adapted morphs like the ruster are inexpensive to create. As a result, the Planetary Consortium has been responsible for the employment of almost half of all remaining infomorph refugees. For the past decade, the vast majority of infomorph refugees who want bodies have found that indenturing themselves to the Planetary Consortium or one of the associated hypercorps involved in Martian terraforming is the most reliable way to find both a morph and housing, since both are guaranteed at the end of the contract. The work involved is particularly difficult, however, and the contracts are normally quite long. The Planetary Consortium is also particularly adept at adding charges that prolong indenture—though most indentures carry five to twenty year contracts, in reality these indentures typically last between eight and twenty-five years; some go on even longer. This large population of indentured servants on Mars—many of them now free and resleeved—is becoming a force in its own right, adhering to the Martian wilds and rural areas and disdaining the elite hypercorp domes. Adopting the name Barsoomians from an old Earth fiction series, this resentful lower class is increasingly becoming a thorn in the Planetary Consortium’s side.
Even though it is highly automated, terraforming and agricultural work on Mars is both tedious and physically demanding labor. Indentured employees are regularly sent into the regions that were most affected by the Fall. As a result, these employees occasionally face attacks by life forms mutated by the TITANs, nanotech war-swarms, or similar still-active and dangerous exotic technologies. Indentured employees are not charged for damage to or destruction of their morphs caused by such dangers, but the experience of even reversible death from such causes is highly traumatic.
Other refugees found that they enjoyed life as infomorphs, reveling in complex simulspaces and otherwise living up the virtual life. Some found work that paid for the ability to egocast throughout the solar system. Ten years after the Fall, there is a thriving infomorph culture. While exact data is difficult to obtain, many researchers believe that at least a third of all current infomorph refugees have no plans to place themselves into a morph, instead enjoying the freedom of virtual existence. Especially in the outer system, these infomorphs have become increasingly involved in habitat politics; many habitats have officials who are infomorphs. Most researchers predict this infomorph culture will increasingly diverge from physical cultures as time progresses.
The Clanking Masses
With so many infugees acquiring cheap synthmorph shells—particularly cases and synths—and being unable to afford anything better, synthmorphs have become associated with poverty throughout the solar system. This lowest strata of the poor are often referred to as “the clanking masses,” and compose one-sixth of the transhuman population. Most of these people strongly desire to acquire a biomorph, even if it is only a splicer or worker pod. As a result of their presence, however, many synthmorphs are now viewed with distaste, especially in elite social circles. Even those who have expensive, lovely, custom-designed synthetic morphs fitted with all of the latest augmentations are considered to be eccentrics with poor taste.
The social stigma against synthmorphs is strengthened by the fear that, in the event of another attack by the TITANs, their robotic shells could be rapidly co-opted to become a deadly TITAN-controlled army.