To Infinity and Beyond: Monetary Sci Fi

At ZapChain, the crypto Q&A central, Daniel Cawrey had a pretty funny question: Do you think bitcoin could become the currency of space?
Here’s my slightly enhanced answer.

As sci fi has a tendency to shape future technical realities (think Arthur C. Clarke and the geostationary satellite, think all things Neil Stephenson from his cyberpunk period), and as the pressing need for a non-terran currency may still lay a bit in the future, we should have a look at what sci fi has to tell us on all things currencies:

Galactic Credit Chips come in handy.

According to Wookiepedia, The Galactic Credit Standard, simply called a credit or abbreviated to cred, colloquially referred to as Republic Dataries, and later known as the Imperial Credit, was the main currency in use in the galaxy since the time of the Galactic Republic.

Around this official currency, alternative currencies seem widespread:

In some other space and time, and in a slightly more post-monetary future, the Federation credit is the monetary unit of the United Federation of Planets. To put things into perspective:

  • a Tribble sets you back 10 credits (that’s obviously before they unveil their rather inflationary reproductional pattern)
  • to use the Barzan Wormhole, the Federation pays a lumps sum of 1.5 million credits and an annual fee of 100.000 credits.

Mars (Total Recall) and the non-radioactive Earth leftovers and its space dominions (Judge Dredd) go for credits as well.

This means:

  • all major centralized utopias rely on a credit based system
  • in their lesser controlled fringes, alternative currencies are highly likely to be accepted

Which shouldn’t be too surprising. A rallying cry like To Infinity and Beyond implies one quite demanding requirement: space is infinite and to conquer infinity you need infinite resources. And to pay for those infinite resources, you need an infinite money supply.

Which is actually not that different from the economic realities of today. Space may be a rather finite commodity for us inhabitants of earth in the early years of the 21st century. But time is endless.
As long as our economic model is based on growth, we will need a money supply which can grow with time – and therefore has to be infinite.

So sorry, BTC or XBT:

  • If Bitcoin or one of its crypto-successors aspires to become THE currency of space, it will need to incorporate the credit principle into its money supply first. A finite resource like Bitcoin or gold will always be on the fringes, be it of future space dominations or the economies of today.
Hyperinflationary reproductional patterns: a Tribble based-currency is not advisable.

A dissenting sci fi opinion could be based upon Ian M. Banks wonderful construct of The Culture.
In his interstellar anarchic post-material-scarcity society, us puny humans exist in a symbiotic relationship with tremendously capable (and eternally quirky) artificial intelligences (the minds), humanoids, and other alien species, who all share equal status.
And one side effect of post-material-scarcity for everybody is: units of account, mediums of exchange and values stores are things from a rather barbaric past.

In The Culture, you will just have to forget about credits and crypto-credits and interstellar blockchains. And if you insist on living with the perils and perks of a monetary value system, you can always move to one of the Culture’s lesser enlightened neighbors, which still deal, steal and trade with credits or commodity based currencies.