Scarcity is the most basic concept in economics, its the idea that there is not enough supply for everyone to have everything they want. This of course, is what money is for, it’s used as a means to decide who can have what (put very simply).
One idea that you see now and then in science fictions is the idea of post-scarcity, of everyone having everything they want. A post-scarcity society would be one in which everyone has everything they want.
The problem with this is that I doubt there will ever be such a thing as post-scarcity, because humans always want more. When you free up resources you find other things to use them for.
We have passed through several instances of what could have been called post-scarcity.
There was a time when having enough food to eat every day and living to see your kids grow up was a pipe dream, something that rarely happened. Whereas now for many people those are a given and medical care is considered a basic necessity, something that only existed on a basic level not that long ago on the scale of the human race.
At some point we will pass through post-scarcity again, not in my lifetime to be sure but it will happen.
That said the question becomes what happens then? What do we then strive for?
And for that matter will we ever reach a point where most people can’t contribute to the betterment of our society, after all a great many jobs were no longer needed with the industrial revolution, what happens when most people are simply not able to do anything to help?
Scarcity, post or otherwise can be the source for many good stories, and is something that is often relegated to the background rather then the forefront.
What if the only people with jobs are those who would be top of the field today? If computers could do even the work of the average engineer or scientist and the only people working left are creative geniuses who do work only they can do.
Even artists may not be immune, if you could describe exactly what you wanted to a computer and it would make your a painting or a sculpture how many would be left?
What would you do in a world like that if you wanted to be one of these few but fell short, how would you give your life meaning?
And of course there is the problem of how you find these top people. Would everyone have to go to school just to find the top 0.01% of those who can push the field forward? Would you have extremely hard, competitive schools to find them? How many parents would not be ok with that? Would they push children too hard because of the prestige of being parent to one of them?
Maybe it would be brain scans and genetic mapping so you could be told from a young age you could be the next Newton. This could easily breed resentment, watching everyone else spend their time relaxing with no responsibilities while you are studying so you can spend the rest of your life working. potentially even to the point of putting you in some kind of stasis if there are too many in that generation.
One of the more depressing possible outcomes is that society stagnates. Everything is done for us so no one wants to do anything. If your options at 18 were to go to school for another ten years or retiring, how many people would keep at it? How long before whole specializations are empty?
This idea is far from new. Less thought about is what is done after. How about if your part of a society that has almost collapsed because of the above and you want to set your new course to one that won’t lead to your own destruction, what do you do?
If you have the technology to provide everyone a comfortable life where they will never want for anything but if you do you will doom yourselves what would you do? Would you artificially lower the quality of life low enough to create the desire to work?