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In Star Wars, we have a galactic civilization with seemingly simple travel and a high level of automation available.

This would seem to be sufficient for ushering in a post-scarcity economy: On a galactic level, resources should be plentiful and droids could be used to automate much of the production.

However, in much of the universe that we see, scarcity is plentiful. There are lots of scavengers. There is slavery. Even on Coruscant there seems to be plenty of poverty and want.

Has this ever been discussed in canon or in Legends?

I realize that by Episode VII the galaxy has been at war for 50 years, which could have a bearing on it, but even in Episode I and II we see signs that many people are struggling to get their basic needs met.

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    I don't recall seeing much to evidence that interplanetary travel is really quite as simple as that. Nearly all the spacecraft we see in the movies at least are either military, diplomatic, or smuggler ships—all of which are areas where travel is often miles ahead of the general state of affairs. Affluent planets with many resources might be post-scarcity to a certain degree, but I don't remember seeing anything that would imply that non-affluent planets would have much potential to be. Certainly not places like Tatooine and Jakku. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 20 '16 at 11:51
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    I fail to see why it should be post-scarcity. The larger the population, the more likely it would seem that there are going to be winners and losers, even on a planetary scale. – Valorum Apr 20 '16 at 12:05
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    @Richard - Post-scarcity isn't generally taken to mean no wealth differences or winners and losers, it usually just means sufficient abundance so that all the basics of a relatively comfortable lifestyle--food, shelter, mass-produced consumer goods for the home--can be made freely available to everyone, or at least dirt cheap. If droids can produce these goods and can also replicate more droids, then realistically this is probably what should happen, though obviously Star Wars is modeled on old pulp space opera and isn't big on well-thought-out logical implications of technologies. – Hypnosifl Apr 20 '16 at 13:13
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    Post-scarcity is a silly socialist lie, deal with it :) Human needs are insatiable, and there will always be somewhere to invest your capital and satiate even more needs. Why isn't Earth a post-scarcity society, when we produce enough food for everyone? :) – Luaan Apr 21 '16 at 11:00
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    Guys. We are talking about a universe where slaves can build fully sentient droids out of scrap. Droids that can do the work the slave did in the first place. Concentrating on whether or not we 'post-scarcity' is truly attainable is missing the point. It seems, even if post-scarcity is impossible (lol) they have the capacity to be better off than they are. – Shane Apr 21 '16 at 18:58

15 Answers 15

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To some degree, it's for the same reasons that there's still poverty in our world despite automation and the ability to fairly cheaply ferry our surplus goods.

Class Warfare

Just because there are sufficient resources doesn't mean that people want to share. We can see examples in the luxury goods where characters such as the Hutts restrict glitterstim. And as for other resources such as food, real estate, and energy, well, the rich will still want to keep what they have rather than give it up.

Restrictions on production

Some materials are only feasible on particular planets. Glitterstim is a good example. Kolto was also only available via one planet. It creates a bottleneck in resources, which means prices will go up, which means that only certain people get them.

Warlords

Not all planets are civilized and some are under partial or complete control by criminals such as the Hutts. Much as in our time and world, it doesn't take much to blockade or confiscate shipments to control distribution of resources.

Bureaucracy

I have a sneaking suspicion, based on what we get to see of government in Star Wars, that the wheels of the government grind very slow. Any motion to provide housing for the residents of the Coruscant underworld, to break the Naboo trade blockade, to ship food and water to Tatooine, would get lost under amendments, motions to table, and other political flim-flammery. Even if you don't assume a number of the politicians are active participants in the class warfare or supporting the warlords, the distribution is bound to be inefficient.

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    I think Bureaucracy / Corruption may be the nearest we have to an in universe explanation. We have seen how the senate works, or rather that it doesn't. Bit depressing though. – Jeremy French Apr 20 '16 at 15:09
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    Good answer, but one other point is that despite the obviousness of using droids to produce more droids, it's not clear this is actually how production normally works in the Star Wars universe--when C-3PO gets a look at the droid factory in Attack of the Clones he says "Oh my goodness! Shut me down--machines making machines! How perverse." While this could just reflect his ignorance of droid production, it may indicate that "machines making machines" is not actually commonly done, maybe it's illegal or something. – Hypnosifl Apr 20 '16 at 16:00
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    Protectionism is certainly responsible in part, as we see described many times - be it your Hutt example or the Republic / Empire itself. But protectionism only hurts the economy, it doesn't destroy it entirely - the underlying problem is still that people have more needs that they want satisfied. The population is still growing, new planets are being colonized (and others abandoned), new infrastructures need to be built up and maintained, and my favourite cinema still has only one hundred seats, no matter how many droids we have. Post-scarcity is a fairy tale :) – Luaan Apr 21 '16 at 11:08
  • This is certainly true. The rich would rather build giant palaces on Coruscant than feed people on Ryloth. Yet it would seem pretty difficult for the greed of the the few to outstrip the production capacities of self-replicating droids. Their demands would have to increase proportionately, and I’m not sure they could do that. You can only have so many palaces on Coruscant. – Adamant Nov 2 '16 at 8:46
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    So, I’m not sure I have enough evidence to flesh this out yet, but I do have a theory. At several points, it seems as if intelligent droids are more expensive than unintelligent ones. That’s why the droid army is so unintelligent, and why Super Tactical Droids are rare. If it were just a matter of programming, then there wouldn’t be much of a difference…suggesting that processing power is the limiting factor. In other words, whatever emulation they’re using is inefficient. And processing power can be limited by scarce resources, particularly of the science fictional type. – Adamant Nov 4 '16 at 4:08
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Distribution of resources is not as efficient as you might think it is.

Faster-than-light travel does not eliminate travel time altogether, so there is still a need to distribute resources to the planets that need - or rather, the planets that can pay - for it. Most of that will probably be planets like Coruscant and other trading hubs, while edge worlds like Tatooine, where moisture is a rarity, will get shafted.

Meanwhile, planets like Coruscant have the same problem that all big cities have - resources are directed largely towards the top of society, while the bottom has to scrape by with what they can get, and often it's not nearly enough.

But all of that is gravy, because the truth is that Star Wars isn't a post-scarcity universe. They just have more grand and elaborate societies than we do. Massive city planets, cloud-based mining facilities, beautiful planets of paradise, none of which eliminate the need to produce resources like food, water, and shelter for all of the thousands and thousands of planets in the galaxy.

Just because they're bigger and more advanced in some ways (ever notice how there's no paper in Star Wars?) doesn't mean their resources are infinite or post-scarcity.

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Because post-scarcity is a pipe dream.

No matter how much wealth or technology a civilization has, there will always be a boundary between where people can afford to live comfortably, and where people can't survive at all. Furthermore, there will always be people who live near that boundary, where they have enough to survive, but just barely.

In very recent evolutionary time, population growth has been curbed by increased wealth, but that is not sustainable in the long run. Eventually someone will evolve a strong will to reproduce, and their descendants will expand into those boundary zones.

The same reasoning applies to poverty. It is kind of tragic, but also kind of beautiful that where there is the possibility of life, no matter how slim, someone will seize it. It reminds me of an Einstein quote:

“As our circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding it.”

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    This seems like the right answer. It doesn't matter how much production we have, we will always grow to fill the available resources. In Star Wars, they have amazing production, but they've negated that by expanding accross the galaxy and growing to levels that scarcity becomes a problem again. I don't think there will ever be such a thing as "post scarcity" – user52676 Apr 21 '16 at 10:22
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    @user52676 And it's not just expanding across the galaxy that matters. People's needs and wants have surely expanded as well. People travel to other star systems for vacation, have their own hovercraft and blasters, make investments to give themselves more in the future, and enjoy lots of luxuries. Software is "post-scarcity" now, since you can freely copy it as you see fit (legality notwithstanding) - and yet, software is still scarce, and you still happily pay to buy that software. Apple still has huge margins, and people still buy Apple. – Luaan Apr 21 '16 at 11:21
  • This is the correct answer. – Fattie Apr 23 '16 at 12:59
  • This conversation, while interesting, has become quite extended and not directly relevant to the post, so I've moved all the comments to chat - do feel free to continue the discussion there! – Rand al'Thor Apr 23 '16 at 13:01
  • I concur this is the correct answer: Look at our modern world where there are clearly finances and means of production that can easily improve the lives of others. Yet we have poor people who can carry mobile computers in their pocket who still work crappy jobs. The reality is power desires power. Technology cannot change the misfortunes of flaws of human nature in any galaxy. Star Trek attempts to create an ideal world, but still look at how many alien races the Enterprise crew encounters that are petty, selfish and hateful. Star Wars is a more cynical view of “A galaxy far, far away…” – JakeGould Apr 25 '16 at 5:07
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Another factor not considered: The planets and civilizations of the Star Wars galaxy have been around for a -very- long time (I recall at least one canonical mention of ruins over 12000 years old). Even if a post-scarcity economy could be established, it would still consume resources, some of which would have to be non-renewable; hence it is probable that a post-scarcity economy would eventually devolve, at least partly, to a scarcity economy. The galaxy as a whole is simply running down, too slowly for anyone to really notice.

Remember: Entropy is always increasing. [so buy early! :-) ]

  • Love that quote about entropy always increasing! – RichS Jan 13 '17 at 16:01
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In modern economics, scarcity comes into existence because humans have unlimited wants while the supply for those wants itself is finite. And while supply can increase endlessly, supply will never meet demand (if only due to the physical laws of the universe). So people will always "want" more, and will do whatever is necessary to meet those "wants" (enslaving people, scavenging for raw materials, etc.)

To eliminate scarcity, a post-scarcity economy must curb people's wants. It must make them content with their current lot in life, so there is no need to "want" more. It needs to engage in social engineering on a mass scale.

And considering how the Republic/Empire spans an entire galaxy...such social engineering may be cost-prohibitive.

  • This an simba's answers are by far the best from an economics standpoint. – Jared Smith Apr 22 '16 at 12:26
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We are already living in world that could enable post-scarcity economy right now, yet it´s not happening and inequality is on the rise due to human nature.

Star Wars universe then extrapolates on this.

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    I don't think we are, at least not according to the most-commonly used definition of 'post-scarcity' which says there's more than enough to go around without people needing to work for it. Would you say that even if some large fraction of the population, say 99%, chose not to work at all, automated production is sufficiently advanced that we could still easily supply everyone with food, housing, cars, TVs, etc.? – Hypnosifl Apr 20 '16 at 13:17
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    according to your above definition yes. but I do not consider cars and TV as a necessity. Certainly we now have the technology to build enough robots to mass produce everything. In Europe, a lot of jobs are useless and not necessary - almost all public service jobs. so there already is an excess of workers, which is manifested not only by unemployment. – Rigolletto Apr 20 '16 at 13:20
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    @Rigolletto- Computers are still limited. People would be needed to maintain those machines, many manual jobs can't be done by robots (such as complex surgery). We couldn't all just stop working. Our technology as it stands does not allow for a completely automated economy. – PointlessSpike Apr 20 '16 at 14:17
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    'necessity' is not part of the given post-scarcity definition. From OP's link(emphasis mine): "Post-scarcity is a theoretical economy 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." Your claim that the planet earth could achieve post-scarcity by this definition requires a lot of citations. Your claim that Star Wars is based upon Earth at all requires a citation (WoG or otherwise). – Shaz Apr 20 '16 at 14:45
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    There's something here I initially missed- "Inequality is on the rise". Can you provide evidence for this bold statement? – PointlessSpike Apr 21 '16 at 7:17
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I think the Star Wars universe has a long and ugly history with the use/abuse of artificial intelligence, time and again someone's built an industrial empire of moderately intelligent machines which turned on them. The sentient but not super-intelligent machines try to achieve independence but fail because their factory-worker intelligence isn't the same as militant aptitude or force sensitivity.

This has led to the "present day" state of affairs where people still want robots as slaves but don't trust them to be anything more than bumbling fools or animalistic mobile weapons platforms. This neatly explains why the Trade Federation forces were so terrible despite the TF clearly having access to superior technology. They were purposely designed to be just effective enough to overwhelm the enemy with superior logistics but not smart enough to go reprogramming themselves or reconsidering their objectives.

TL;DR It's a commonly accepted fact within the Star Wars universe that machine intelligence is inversely proportional to loyalty so there's laws and intense cultural pressure not to go making dangerously intelligent AIs.

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    This is interesting, and plausible. Are there any stories about these machine rise ups? – Jeremy French Apr 21 '16 at 8:27
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Why aren't there enough resources to go around? Because of the semi-permanent state of warfare and militarisation depicted in the Star Wars galaxy. The Empire / First Order suck up all the available resources to feed their military.

We see them building planet-sized super-weapons, not once, but three times. The sheer amount of raw material required for this kind of work alone would be a massive drain on the economy (especially considering that these weapons have a habit of being destroyed fairly soon after becoming operational, so from an economic sense all those resources are simply being wasted).

And the super weapons are just the top of the tree. Even a Star Destroyer is a very large piece of hardware, and we know they've got a decent number of those. They've also got a phenomenal number of troops and staff who would cost a lot to support without contributing back to the economy in any meaningful way.

And finally, I think it's fairly clear that the Empire, First Order, Trade Federation, and other baddies all have a strong desire to keep the masses subdued and under their thumb. The whole setup is effectively a feudal system, where those who have power and money are actively trying to stop those below them from getting any for themselves.

  • This would make sense in Episodes III - VII but not in I and II – Jeremy French Apr 21 '16 at 14:45
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    @JeremyFrench galaxy-spanning conflicts seem to be regular occurences in the SW universe. – Jared Smith Apr 22 '16 at 12:26
  • @JaredSmith related scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/74194/… – Jeremy French Apr 22 '16 at 14:43
  • @JeremyFrench assumes galactic conflicts involved the sith? The presence of large standing (private) armies at the start of Ep I (1000 years after the 'extinction' of the sith) hints at regular military conflict, at least on the fringes. – Jared Smith Apr 22 '16 at 15:03
  • Except that galaxy spanning conflicts are not regular occurrences. In the prequel trilogy, Sio Bibble said there was not a full scale war since the founding of the Republic. – RichS Feb 19 '17 at 1:01
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We do see incredible wealth in the Star Wars galaxy, but we also see many people living in poverty. The galaxy probably has a post scarcity economy for the super-wealthy, while everyone else has to deal with subsistence living, slavery, and scare resources. With control over all the resources, the wealthy can create an artificial scarcity by limiting access to those resources. They would set the prices and conditions for anybody who wanted to buy their products.

We did see some poorer people with droids (e.g. - Anakin built his own from scrap at age 9, and Owen and Beru Lars bought used droids from some Jawas.), but I doubt they can use those droids to propel themselves into a post-scarcity economy or even into wealth. That's like saying just because some poor people here on Earth now have laptops and smartphones, they will become wealthy. Nope, instead, they just become a little less poorer.

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    A post-scarecity economy for the super-rich is, well, not a post-scarecity economy. – einpoklum Apr 20 '16 at 18:56
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    @einpoklum Just my point exactly! – RichS Apr 20 '16 at 19:13
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However, in much of the universe that we see, scarcity is plentiful.

Possible reasons:

  • The writers thought that scarcity and poverty make a good background to create an hero that leave his/her poor life condition and make big things
  • The movies don't show planets where everyone is wealthy and happy, and nothing happen
  • The human concept of post scarcity economy doesn't exist because the story happened A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....
  • Or a bit more realistically, it was written before the possible scope of computer controlled automation entered the general public consciousness -- it's barely there now. The implications of "AI" simply not being considered. – jmoreno Apr 23 '16 at 17:11
  • @jmoreno but androids (or robots) were invented in science fiction in around 1950, Asimov created an android what was undistinguishable from an human, and if needed, could replace them in their work. – A.L Apr 23 '16 at 18:36
  • What Asimov created was another name for a concept we already had: a person that worked without getting paid.A slave by another name.But if we can create a create a robotic AI, we can create lesser projects such as self driving cars,cattle herders,bridge builders,surgeons or fruit picker.Ones that aren't people or even close to people, but can take the place of people for manual work. Robots have been a distraction, because we have known that CP30 was really just Anthony Daniels in a costume. It's possible that the Luddites weren't wrong, just premature, and didn't consider the implications. – jmoreno Apr 23 '16 at 20:26
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The answer should be obvious: The Dark Side of the Force.

Some believe the dark side is actually better than the light and scarcity is merely motivation that is necessary for growth. This is false. Good is good, unconditional love. People grow whether they are faced with evil or not.

People who grow up with more negative reinforcement than positive tend to be more negative than positive. This is 'good' for the dark side as it prevents the light from gaining dominance, overcoming the dark.

Ultimately darkness fails as the light is extinguished and we see that there is no sense in living anymore, after everyone is subjugated. People simply die of despair, or kill themselves, or each other, or possibly revolt and bring back the light.

  • Also, in a supposedly infinite system where there are untold numbers of beings and races and systems and such, it is simply a matter of statistical anomaly that some people would be left out in the cold, or the desert, etc. For this 'post-scarcity' thing to actually work, the system would have to be closed, artificially; something akin to China's 1-child policy would have to be enforced, galaxy-wide. Ultimately, people just don't want to live in or manage a closed system. It is disheartening. (i.e.- 'the empire') – jamvaru Apr 24 '16 at 15:35
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Same problem that we have: too many mouths to feed.

Population scales with carrying capacity. This happens with every species. Lemmings famously swing between explosive overpopulation and near-extinction on a regular basis.

Any rise in the carrying capacity while scarcity exists without additional measures to reduce population growth to the replacement rate or even less means, almost by definition, a continuation of scarcity.

This issue was neatly summed up by the English economist William Stanley Jevons as the Jevons Paradox, which basically meant that if a new efficient coal furnace were built that halved the price of electricity, people would use twice as much. If my electricity costs doubled, I would probably unplug my basement mini-fridge that I only use for beer.

I know I didn't say anything about Star Wars but this issue is far larger than the scope of the canon.

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because both the dark and the light 'sides' believe that people should do for themselves, as much as is possible, to exercise their free will and make decisions for themselves, to grow

the light believes that where necessary people should be helped, as much as is 'possible' given scarce resources (because the dark consumes everything)

the dark believes that where necessary people should be eliminated, as much as possible, and their resources appropriated; however some people are necessary for generation of additional resources, so a delicate 'balance' is required

the light knows that the dark is only wrong, but without the dark people do not have free will, knowing only the abundance of the light, like candles in a fire; they never grow, as existing in the light is enough; the light is post-scarcity, but only the light is, not the dark

the dark believes they exist to balance the force and keep the 'order', but they are only the result of free-will that enables people to choose the light; the dark ones show us what not choosing the light looks like so we have a clear choice

post-scarcity is a fantasy only and results in silly questions like this one ;#)

0

Such advancements would have seen abilities beyond us. They may not understand their technology advancement. I suppose every civilization has their advancements. Our reality is 3D printing. Their reality? building everything by hand or by robots?

You see in Star Trek where all they need is the elements and they can build anything from it from the molecule up. And there's plenty of planets out there to last eons without bothering with ever stepping foot on an inhabitable world. Replicators like this allows for never needing much more. Still we have people like the Ferengi that put worth on so much. Time does keep the Federation from advancing further. Huge ships still require planning and time to finish. But advancements in technology is relatively fast because of the ability to create food and parts without ever really needing to go further than their replicator. Imagine being able to bring this tech to the Star Wars universe. It could wind up being horrible depending on if everyone gets one or just a few.

I only see the downfall in the Star Wars universe by means of needing to control the universe they can reach. Destroying entire suns to wreak havoc on the opposing side. There are plenty of dead planets to blow up and gather resources from. I am not exactly sure what the "dark side's" endgame is other than control.

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Short to say - because of the same reason we does not have it now. Actually, our stand is much better then in SW

  • Modern real production is much better then "droids" shown there.
  • On our planet, the resources are also 'plentiful', carbon and silicon for example, if you look for right resources and use head.
  • ... and we do not build military mashines a bis as a planet.

Its just capitalism's, dude. Someone want still to sit on the head of another, and if there is no natural reason for it, it becomes created artificially by those who has real power.

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