Artistic License Economics

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
(Redirected from You Fail Economics Forever)

Stories, especially in role playing games and Speculative Fiction, tend to have economies that simply wouldn't work under any real-world economic system. Nobody gets paid, but everybody has all the money they need; economies are stable despite huge amounts of gold and jewels being dumped into them (or taken out of them) on a regular basis; or "we don't use money anymore"... the list goes on and on...

Please see Economics for a list of errors that frequently occur in works of fiction and a more detailed explanation of economic theories.

Examples of Artistic License Economics include:

Played Straight

Anime and Manga

  • Averted in Fullmetal Alchemist, where one of the three laws all alchemists must follow is to not transmute gold, even though it is a simple transmutation in The Verse, in order to keep the economy from destabilizing.
    • Although given the possibility of rogue alchemists making themselves rich, why do they even use gold as a currency?
      • Because then you'd have to watch out for alchemists transmuting whatever new stuff you just designated as currency.
        • The motivation is likely not economic. It's strongly hinted that transmuting elements into different elements is not possible naturally, in scenes such as Edward Elric's "recipe" for a human body which accounts for the various elements that make up the body. Therefore, the ability to transmute gold is proof of the possession of a Philosopher's Stone, which only Father, the Homunculi, and people chosen by them are supposed to possess, as it is the one thing that can seriously threaten Father's grip on Amestris.
          • Not necessarily. Early in the series, Ed transmuted a whole pile of gold to buy off Yoki's gold mine, without the Philosopher's Stone. Granted, he has seen the Truth but still no Philosopher's Stone.
          • That scene involved Ed tossing some gold coins into a pile of waste dirt from the mine before transmuting it, so most likely he only transmuted the gold into a covering over the bricks of worthless dirt.
    • Ed Elric, like presumably all State Alchemists, has a credit account verified by his pocket watch.
  • In the first issue of the Pokémon manga, Oak's Grandson notes that Pokemon trainers do not need to go to school. One of the many numerous problems of how society can possibly be functioning like this comes to the question of who is going to go to being doing the work to keep the economy (and world) running when all the kids are going are dropping out of school to train all cute animals to fight each other.
    • Eventually they settle down (presumably with adult education courses). This explains why, in the games, there are scientists, nurses, office workers, entertainers, sailors, mechanics, etc. who also battle on the side.

Comic Books

  • Wayne Enterprises; an entity with infinite spending power and zero paper trail.
    • Averted in The Dark Knight Saga, where Wayne Enterprises accountant Coleman Reese does manage to trace the paper trail. He proceeds to try and blackmail the company, but Lucius Fox talks him out of it by reminding him that blackmail is a crime and Batman runs around beating criminals up.
    • Also averted in the original comics - in the original Ra's al Ghul story, he discovered Bruce Wayne's identity by following the money.
  • "Damn the Expenses" is basically the flaw in most Cut Lex Luthor a Check scenarios, as the cost of the gadgetry to commit crimes typically outweighs the potential monetary benefit of using it for larceny.
  • Spanish comic-book Superlopez features the country of Tontecarlo (portmanteau of "tonto", meaning dumb, and Montecarlo). Citizens of Tontecarlo do not have jobs: They instead gamble and play state-owned lotteries anywhere — eg., the customs officers play shell games for money with any incoming tourists. The main characters, visiting tourists, notice that money flow cannot continue; however, tourism brings more money to Tontecarlo.
  • Marvel Comics used this and 'damn the expenses' as a plot point in 2005's Secret War: after a rash of super-suit robberies, SHIELD noticed that criminals with multi-million dollar suits were cashing in tens of thousands, and immediately deduced somebody was funding them.
  • There's one album of The Smurfs in which one smurf decides to introduce money to the until-then moneyless society. Which leads to problems: Some smurfs like the baker and the farmer (and the money inventor) make lots of money, while others (including Papa Smurf) go broke soon. At the end of the story, they return to Status Quo Is God, but one wonders why the hard-working smurfs never complained before.
    • Because the lack of a monetary system made it impossible to quantify exactly how valuable any smurf's labor was, relative to any other's. The whole purpose of money is to give people the ability to quantify and negotiate relative values between the items they barter, stabilizing the contracts between producers and consumers. The down side is that many barter cultures aren't equipped to handle the unpleasant truths that are revealed, such as the fact that the lowly bakers and farmers do far more work, and their products are far more important to the community, than anything the leaders like Papa Smurf do, outside of critical emergencies that require leadership skills. Remove the money, and Farmer Smurf and Baker Smurf can go back to toiling away in blissful ignorance of the respect and/or wealth they deserve.
    • Then again, Papa Smurf, like all of the smurfs, is unique. In his case: centuries-old, impartial, and with experience no one else in the community has or can even measure until he uses it. What if Gargamel shows up once a week to cause certain doom? Brainy Smurf, Papa Smurf, and Hefty Smurf would starve to death before the economy stabilizes while Farmer Smurf and Baker Smurf would have gotten paid a few dozen times over FOR EACH SMURF. Hope the smurfs can solve their next big disaster with an exploding pecan pie (actually, no, Jokey Smurf would be dead, too). It's hard to come up with the concept of a retainer if no one has even heard of money.
      • Also, as the ruler of the community, wouldn't Papa Smurf be supported by the community's tax revenues?
  • In Superman: Red Son, Lex Luthor solves the budget deficit problem by... scribbling a formula on a piece of paper. So apparently the reason the budget isn't balanced is a technical issue, solvable in the mathematical realm and implementable by a democracy (since he hands it to the U.S. government as a gift), with no reference whatever to politics or the fact that we want to spend money more than we want to pay taxes.
    • Of course, it doesn't work. Later on, Lex has to claim the Presidency and actively implement policy to solve the American economic crisis. He probably scribbled that formula to get Olsen to leave him alone so he could get back to trying to kill Superman.
    • Superman: Red Son also has the United States going into economic ruin for no apparent reason other than that the Soviet Union, with Superman providing its peoples' every need, is an economic success. No, just no.
      • Well, also because literally every other country in the world was now a part of the Soviet Union, and had declared an embargo on the U.S. The way that things like "Superman" and Genius" are used as the financial equivalent of A Wizard Did It in that series is rather jarring, however.
        • Even that wouldn't explain it; the United States is one of the very few nations on Earth that is potentially self-sufficient in every natural resource necessary to sustain a modern industrial economy.
  • In Valerian there is a creature called the Grumpy Converter from Bluxte, which feeds on powerful energy sources (anything from a power socket to nuclear material), but also ingests small objects which it then duplicates by excreting more of them, converting energy into matter. Everyone in the comic treats it as a way to produce some quick cash for running expenses, instead of a highly illegal living forgery machine that any sane economy would consider it as.


  • The Russian fantasy film Sadko (known to Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans as The Magic Voyage of Sinbad,) has the main hero try to help out his home town by forcing its merchants to redistribute their wealth among the poor. It doesn't work so well since there doesn't seem to be enough to go around. (That, and the hero ends up giving away all the money he was going to use for his quest.)
    • The original story had him trying to buy all the goods in the city and monopolize the trade. Turned out the external trade scale was quite out of his league.
  • In Canadian Bacon, the president wanted to start some international problems so he'd have an excuse to reopen the recently closed munitions factories given the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Then again, his primary goal was really just to stir up Patriotic Fervor and boost his popularity.
  • The Mexican satirical film Un Mundo Maravilloso portrays an alternate Mexico which simultaneously has economic growth and stability and rampant poverty, widespread unemployment and plunging stock markets at the same time.
    • Well, seeing how that IS the reality in Mexico, as economic growth does not necessarily imply growth in all sectors, and in fact it is common for inequality to increase and job demand to remain the same while the economy grows. This wouldn't apply to stock markets, though.
  • In The Fifth Element, Zorg espouses the "Destruction Equals Employment" mentality, and demonstrates it by destroying a glass and explaining how the machines that clean the glass shards away employ so many people manufacturing them. However, Zorg doesn't mention that only companies like his, which profits off of war, stand to benefit, rather than society as a whole. Which is why he, as Cornelius pointed out, had no "robot to pat him on the back when he chokes on the little cherry" or no one to depend on when he inevitably screwed up.
    • Zorg tries to justify his actions with the fact that a completely static, stable system would quickly stagnate, but instead of introducing positive changes to combat this development he simply provokes disorder; a cure which in his hands is worse than the disease.
    • And, of course, one might ask how and where was he going to spend the...whatever the hell Mr. Shadow was paying him with, if the latter's agenda was "to destroy all life".
  • In Wisdom, a film starring Emilio Estevez and Demi Moore, the titular character, John Wisdom, goes on a bank-robbing spree, but not to steal money. Instead, he and his girlfriend destroy bank property records to help farmers. The film was released in 1986, a time when American farmers were having problems keeping their farms. The banks were seen to be the bad guys because they were the ones foreclosing when the farmers couldn't make the payments on the loans. In the film, John Wisdom is seen as a modern-day Robin Hood because he saves the farmers from foreclosure. Apparently, in the movie, the banks that are hit only have one copy of the records and when Wisdom destroys these records, there are no ill effects on the local economies.
    • Some Truth in Television: 19th-century Australian folk hero Ned Kelly did exactly this. As this was before the computer age, it's more likely that the banks indeed had only one copy of the records, or at least the loan notes. John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd were known to as well. In general, many outlaws recognized the only way they would avoid capture would be to invoke Robin Hood kind of banditry. Certainly the public had no love lost for the back as, then as now, financiers would be happy to push loans for farm expansion with high interest rates in times of boom, knowing that the increase in product supply would make repayment unlikely as prices fell accordingly.
  • In Street Fighter, Bison pays his underlings with "Bison Dollars", which are technically worthless due to having no economic backing, but Bison plans to force the Bank of England to value them at five pound per Bison dollar, by kidnapping their Queen. Brilliant plan. Even if they did agree to the plan, he'd have to hold her indefinitely since people would just exchange their B$ for real money (you know, with financial backing and stability) as quick as possible before the bank either collapsed or reneged on the deal when they got the Queen back. And that's assuming everyone involved would accept financial ruin just to save figurehead nobility. Then again, while a Magnificent Bastard, Bison is utterly insane, and the smarter of his accomplices reject the currency as worthless.
  • Other People's Money: Both Jorgy and Larry in their big speeches. Jorgy talks about how the wire and cable industry will recover when the dollar is a little stronger and the yen is a little weaker; actually, that would just mean that an American company like his would get priced out of the market by its Japanese competitors. On the other hand, Larry says that the fastest way to go broke is to have an increasing share of a shrinking market; that's true if and only if the market shrinks away to nothing, which is of course unlikely to happen for products like wire and cable. Otherwise, having an increasing share of a shrinking market is a way to become spectacularly profitable, since it eliminates all your competitors.
    • Except that as Larry points out, the wire and cable part of the business is not profitable and is being held afloat by other elements of the business. Larry was correct. If Jorgy continued the business as he was doing, they would continue to lose money.
  • James Cameron's Avatar may appear to have worked on classic Hollywood economical principles, but is actually a case of Reality Is Unrealistic.
  • The Mayflowers' plan in Hudson Hawk is to find Leonardo da Vinci's machine for turning lead into gold, and using it to turn gold into Worthless Yellow Rocks and crash the world currency market. This is in fact good economics—in a world where currency is still backed by gold. However, the film was released in the early 1990s, at which point the only major currency linked to gold was the Swiss franc. While that would be enough to make for some nasty economic problems, it wouldn't be nearly sufficient to hold the world economy hostage. On the other hand, the Mayflowers are cartoonish villains in a slapstick comedy. It doesn't have to make sense.
  • The main focus in Johnny Mnemonic revolves around an evil Mega Corp's intent to withhold the cure for a deadly disease which half the world's population suffers from; the logic being that "treating the disease would be more profitable than curing it." However, this belief suffers from numerous problems. For instance, given that half the world's population is a very sizeable group, the Mega Corp could yield a tremendous profit from distributing a cure at an extremely low markup (if 500,000,000 people suffered from the disease, a cure would net $5 billion in the corporation's pocket if they only sold it for a $10 profit per person, after adding in the base costs for its basic production), and since it would only cure people who have the disease, it wouldn't prevent new people from getting it themselves, meaning there would always be a market with high demand for the product. Instead, however, they distribute lesser treatments that would need to be taken on a continual, never-ending basis for the exorbitantly high price of $2,000 per clinical unit, which would be far more than most people suffering from the disease could ever hope to afford, especially over any lengthy period of time, and ultimately would net noticeably lower returns.
    • Many Real Life conspiracy theories claiming AIDS or cancer (forgetting that cancer is not just one thing) "really" has a cure which is being suppressed by Big Pharma and or the government suffer from the same poor logic.
  • The Backstory to National Treasure: Book of Secrets is that John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators had a clue to the lost City of Gold, and tried to recruit Gates's ancestor to help them find it so they could restart The American Civil War. Fortunately he burned the clue the same night Lincoln was assassinated. But by that time the remaining Confederate leaders had surrendered, the Confederate armies had disbanded, the Union occupied all the important southern cities and forts, and the people had long lost their will to continue fighting. In short, no amount of money could possibly have restarted the war.
  • In the film of Mary Poppins, Mr. Banks' bank is alleged to have nearly gone under in the 18th century because it had financed the shipment of tea destroyed by the Boston Tea Party. Even in the 1700s, commodities being shipped overseas were generally insured against theft or loss in transit, and any bank so deficient in funds as to be imperiled by the loss of a few hundred crates of cargo wouldn't have remained solvent for long in any case.
  • In Time (2011) is set In a World where they've "turned off the aging gene", and lifespan has become currency to combat overpopulation. That actually could work rather well... except that in the trailers, the Powers That Be seem more concerned with preventing overpopulation then maintaining a working economy; they've hiked the prices of goods and lowered wages so much that entire communities have less lifespan to their name than hours in the day - go to work every day or die.
    • In addition, the creators seem to be under the impression that you can just dump a lot of money (time) into an economy and have only beneficial impacts. I mean, technically those people would live longer, but imagine throwing a million dollars into a poor economy. Prices would just skyrocket. They illustrate this by having prices go up as more time is introduced, but the main characters seem to think that's by design, not just the economy naturally adjusting.
    • The protagonists are well-aware that they can't actually fix the system, they seem to be trying to destroy it instead at least in its current form as a way to force change. Throwing time/money into the local economy allows people to both stop working and easily cross time-zones so that the near-slave labour that supports the upper classes disappears into the middle classes overnight causing significant financial problems. It also implies that they have barely started to scratch the surface of upsetting the status-quo.
    • The overriding problem is the foolishness building an economy on the trade of something that's inherently useful like "the ability to live another hour". Unlike the obvious uselessness of paper money or the shiny-and-rare-but-you-still-can't-eat-it uselessness of gold, you have a supply of currency that will inherently dwindle as people... aw screw it. All the filmmakers want viewers to pay attention to is how cute Justin Timberlake is.
    • There is nothing to say that Time isn't being created. Certainly there is a lot more time in circulation than can be explained by human population growth (Several of the wealthiest people have as much as a Million years just in storage) Much like modern banks, they probably create time on their systems by using some equivalent of fractional reserve banking.
  • Gordon Gekko in Wall Street commits the error of assuming economics is a Zero Sum Game in his speech to Bud Fox. "It's not a question of enough, pal. It's a zero sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn't lost or made, it's simply transferred from one perception to another." That's not true, but the way Gekko sees the world, in order for him to have more somebody else must have less, therefore he sees himself justified in wrecking a company solely to line his pockets.


  • Michael Crichton's novel Rising Sun is accused of using the 'Exporting Good, Importing Bad' fallacy quite egregiously.
  • The Girl Who Owned a City runs into Ridiculous Rationality pretty hard as explained here. To quote: "Imagine Stephen Ratliff read The Fountainhead before penning one of his Marrissa stories."
  • In a short story in the "Probability Zero" section of the Analog science fiction magazine, a primitive alien society discouraged greed by minting coins of refined uranium. Each (presumably very radiation-tolerant) alien stored his stash of coins in the basement, and if it accumulated too many, it was automatically removed from the gene pool.
  • The nobles in pretty much any medieval or feudal-flavored Crapsack World, for instance A Song of Ice and Fire, shouldn't be able to fund their armies, with the callous way they let their peasants die by the thousands. For instance, no noble (at least none that had lived long enough to inherit a title) would refuse to let his peasants into his castle when attacked, let alone mock another noble who does. Keeping peasants alive was part of why castles were made that big (otherwise it's just more area the soldiers need to defend); without peasants, lords couldn't produce their own food, and lost their major source of revenue. Lacking food to supply their armies and revenue to pay them, they'd rapidly cease to be lords (and start to be various flavors of corpses or at best scavengers).
  • In The Pillars of the Earth Ken Follett doesn't seem to know that no stonemason in the medieval world "lost his job". Crafts were guild-based, not capitalist; guilds protected their members from destitution, so a stonemason would no more be impoverished by losing one client than a modern lawyer would. And there are apparently no religious orders, godparents, or childless neighbors that will take in children whose parents cannot care for them. These are probably Rule of Drama Straw Medievalism, though.
  • The Imperial Order from Sword of Truth is an incredibly large empire with a massive standing army capable of sending millions of people hundreds of miles away to conquer the world. While operating under an economic system so ridiculous it should be totally incapable of supporting a single city, much less an army. Essentially, it combines all the motivation problems of communist economics with a culture that actively despises hard work.
    • The Palace of Prophets gives all of its wizards unlimited quantities of gold, encourages them to spend it freely and have sex with local women, and if they get pregnant gives them lots more gold. This has been going on for hundreds of years, and does not seem to have had any effect on the value of gold.
      • Presumably the 'unlimited quantities of gold' is simply an open expense account drawing on the government treasury, which would have no real effect on the price of gold as they aren't actually making any more gold.
  • Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern uses a bizarre form of competing currencies in the form of "marks", disks made of wood, which are supplied as blanks by one Hold (the territory equivalent of a country) and stamped with both denominations -ranging from 1/32 of a mark to 100 mark pieces- on one side and source -where the stamped mark hails from. However, each Hall (a type of Crafting guild, 10 in all) and each Hold (over 20 worldwide) has their own special and specific source stamp. The value of these marks has been shown, in canon, to vary on the cultural popularity of the Hall or Hold they hail from. In the first novel of the series HarperCraft marks were basically worthless, as Harpers were seen as trifling entertainers instead of educators. So in a way, it's not so different from global currencies today, but it's very badly defined, as any individual can refuse coinage from a source they just don't happen to like at the time, and completely up in the air as to what values can be ascribed to anything (when 1 mark can buy 1/8th of a cow, 192 hand-sized pies, or 1 whetstone, whereas musical instruments and riding horses start at 2 and 9 (and custom tack is 12) marks respectively, something is off).
    • The theory here is sound (a "mark" represents a promise of X amount of goods or services from the issuer), and is similar to many historic and modern "private currencies". The problem lies entirely in the books' descriptions.
  • The economics behind The Lord of the Rings is a bit... sketchy. Similarly, Dwarves and Noldorin Elves put a lot of effort into making fancy jewellery and weapons which only a handful of other people in that world would have been able to afford, limiting their ability to trade with anyone, whilst often living in underground cities where, again, you would struggle to grow anything to eat.
    • The Dwarves are stated to buy most of their food from the local humans in The Hobbit.
    • A partial aversion is the orcs of Mordor - unlike the trope it names, Mordor in Middle-Earth isn't just a blasted wasteland of doom. Volcanic ash makes the land extremely fertile, thus explaining how the massive armies of evil stay fed without the need for trade.
    • The Petty-Dwarves in The Children of Hurin and The Silmarillion mostly sustain on "earth-bread", strange roots with bread-like taste and consistency that endure well over winter, and are easy to find if you know their secret, which elves and men never did. The elves seem to need very little earthly sustenance, being powered by the fire of their spirit. The Silmarillion states that they can only die from violence or sorrow - not, for example, through starvation. They also seem to have some esoteric ways of making foodstuffs that were kept secret from the outsiders, but the books never elaborated on them.
  • In Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic (part of the Discworld series), the then-Patrician (who does not appear to be Vetinari) explains to Rincewind that there is no trade between Ankh-Morpork and the Agatean Empire because the Empire is so fantastically rich, Ankh-Morpork has nothing they would want to buy, and the Empire has nothing Ankh-Morpork could afford. Comparative advantage does not work that way! Since the early Discworld novels are mostly parody, this could be seen as Lampshade Hanging and Rule of Funny.
    • Later retconned that the tyrannical rulers are incredibly xenophobic and want to keep their population from escaping.
    • It's not this trope, it's Lies to Children. Twoflower has, ever since he arrived in Ankh-Morpork, been paying his way with coins made of pure gold, and these are the Agatean equivalent of pennies, because gold is just that common in the Empire (an alternate name for it is even "the Aurient", meaning "the place where the gold is"). The Patrician is trying to communicate that trade with the gold-rich Agatean Empire is liable to crash the Morporkian economy to Rincewind, who, like most red-blooded Ankh-Morpork men, can't wrap his head around the idea of more gold being a bad thing.
      • The implications are never explicitly spelled out, but the Agatean Empire has so much gold because they live on the Counterweight Continent. It literally balances the weight of the other continents on the Discworld. If too much gold was taken from the Empire to the other continents, its possible that the Disc could literally destabilize and tip over.
      • It's said that the weight comes mostly from octiron, not gold, so presumably trade wouldn't cause much of a problem for the world.
    • In Interesting Times, Mr. Saveloy's efforts to civilize the Silver Horde run afoul of the barbarian heroes' failure to grasp a fundamental principle of economics: namely, the notion that money can legitimately belong to merchants.
  • Invoked in The Pale King, during Chris's description of the new tax laws in Chicago in 1978. Since the amount of taxes that needed to be paid were determined by the amount you spend per transaction, people did their shopping by buying one item at a time. The resulting lines and traffic are horrendous, and the governor loses his job over it.
  • A strange, and amusing, example occurs in The Lost Hero. King Midas (yes that King Midas) is bankrolling the Big Bad's efforts by...turning things lying around his mansion into gold and selling them to investors, thereby lowering the inherent value of said gold and making the price drop.
  • Averted in F. Scott Fitzgerald's Diamond As Big As The Ritz. The Washington family discovers a mountain made entirely of solid diamond, but cashing in would lower the value of diamonds to next to nothing and leave the family near-broke.
  • Despite being an otherwise amazing author who does the research, Orson Scott Card spit in the face of this trope by the second book of his Ender's Game series. Here's the problem, the Space Navy regularly "patrols" planets, and there is a very large shipping industry, but relativity is a core mechanic to the series so a round trip to one planet and back is roughly 150 years of time gone- enough that depositing any money in the bank will gain you huge amounts in return. There is literally no way anyone could run a shipping company, because even if you were flat broke, you could collect your wages from one trip, bank it, and go on a second trip, and bam! mega-milloinaire. The Navy could never afford to pay anyone, especially because if you deploy once you are guaranteed never to see any of your family ever again. Since anyone can do this if they are comfortable giving up their old life, there is nothing stopping anyone from taking run away interest with them on a new planet. Low on money? Trip to a new planet! Yet surprisingly, no one ever does this, despite it being canon that interest accumulates on money in real time. Even if most of Enders money came from Jane manipulating the markets, any sensible conservative investment group could take a spacefairers money and promise them a thousand fold return after a minimum of seventy years .
  • Averted and played with in the short story "Business As Usual, During Alterations" by Ralph Williams. Aliens try to destroy human society by crashing the economy, by 'gifting' us with matter duplication technology. This causes... a couple days' worth of rioting and upheaval before people realize that since a) the replicators can only duplicate material goods, not labor and b) the major world currencies are no longer backed by specie but instead are purely fiat record-keeping that therefore c) there still exists something to trade for and something to trade with, meaning that there is still an economy, meaning that while there will have to be substantial adjustments made there's nothing to really panic about.
    • Highlighted most succinctly during this scene:

Mr. Thomas (immediately upon realizing that the matter duplicator can be used for counterfeiting): No cash sales. Personal checks only.
Mr. Beedle: Checks can be duplicated too.
Mr. Thomas: What for? A check isn't legal tender, it's a specific order from a specific person to transfer credit in a specific way. I don't need a duplicator, I can write all the bad checks I want to without one.

Live-Action TV

  • Sliders has an episode featuring a world where all economic troubles are solved by allowing anyone who wishes to withdraw as much money as they want from ATMs in exchange for increasing the odds of winning a lottery. The catch? It's a Lottery of Doom, and winning it forces you to commit suicide!
    • The point of the lottery was to keep the population small, and other than the lottery the world was portrayed as a utopia.
  • Brilliantly spoofed on Monty Python's Flying Circus. Dennis Moore is a parody agglomeration of all the old folk heroes who "robbed from the rich and gave to the poor". He did so well he bankrupted the aristocrats but kept trying to rob them. As he said: 'blimey, this redistribution of the wealth is more complicated than I imagined'. The sketch ends with him attempting a one-man vigilante ... progressive income tax.

Dennis Moore: Now. I've got a tiara ... you've got one... you've got one of the boxes... you've got one... anyone else got a tiara? Take your hat off! (passenger does so to reveal a tiara)... Oh, honestly, it's absolutely pointless trying to do this if you're going to cheat. It really is awful of you.

  • The Tribe tries to institute an economy by having each vendor receive a loan of ten tokens at the start of the day to kickstart the system, and is expected to pay them back at the end of each day, and gets to keep the profit. To keep the system fair, the Mallrats also fix the price in tokens of each commodity. The system may be Justified Trope as the Mallrats are a bunch of kids with only the vaguest understanding of how economies work, but the fundamental premise seems to be that if you start out with a fixed amount of money, and just move it back and forth all day, at some point, it will magically reproduce.
  • Invoked in Renegade, when Reno infiltrates a town of only a few people he suspects of being robbers, and asks them how they make money. The leader basically says he buys stuff, and the other people buy it from him. The skeptical look on Reno's face is hilarious.
  • Peggy Bundy gets hired as a cosmetic door-to-door saleswoman, and soon she makes best employee on sales. The catch? She buys her own goods for ten times her salary is! Al facepalms when he realizes what she's been doing and how she put the family in (even more) great debt.
  • In an episode of The Outer Limits (the original series), a group of scientists is talking about harvesting rare minerals from an asteroid. One scientist remarks how this would wipe out poverty and the others agree.
  • Star Trek and its descendants promised Gene Roddenberry's fantasy utopian future, which stated that money no longer existed. Unfortunately, that raised a whole slew of unanswerable questions. Like, without money or coercion, how do you get enough people to do necessary but thoroughly disagreeable jobs (although there are some very sophisticated robots). Heck, it becomes impossible to justify enough people deciding to wait tables. The biggest fail, though, is that without some means of exchange, how can members of the Federation deal with issues of resource management? And even though it's supposed to be a post-scarcity economy, it still ignores that some things simply cannot be replicated at will, like a particular house in a particular location, seats at a particular show on a particular night, and are still going to be scarce (i.e.: not enough to satisfy wants). Not that this is necessarily that big of a problem. Apparently, Star Trek economics work much the same as its teleporters and warp drives do -- "Just fine, thank you very much for asking!".
    • Exactly. Ultimately there are only three reasons to do any form of labor; you're being compensated for it, you're being forced to do it, or you are doing it for your own enjoyment. But working solely for personal enjoyment also implies that your contribution is entirely scheduling-optional, which would be vastly inconvenient for employers.
    • Credits existed in The Original Series, though seemingly only on the fringes of the Federation. After Roddenberry passed away, the galactic monetary standard of gold-pressed latinum was introduced. These helped a little. Deep Space Nine introduced the idea that the post-scarcity economy only existed on certain planets—Earth and Risa are two shown—and virtually every other planet had some form of currency, with the interplanetary exchange being gold-plated latinum. And Starfleet personnel get a stipend, at least if they're stationed on the station, as the crew never seem to be lacking for latinum to spend at Quark's bar.
    • And in seventh-season Deep Space Nine episode "Treachery, Faith, and the Great River", Nog describes a key facet of Ferengi philosophy that proves that his species truly are the greatest businessmen in the galaxy: The "Great Material Continuum".

Nog: There are millions upon millions of worlds in the universe, each one filled with too much of one thing, and not enough of another. And the Great Continuum flows through them all like a mighty river, from "have" to "want" and back again! And if we navigate the Continuum with skill and grace, our ship will be filled with everything our hearts desire!

    • In other words, a skillfully-built Chain of Deals will work out eventually, because economics is not a zero sum game. Pay attention, and you'll always find someone too happy to give you what you want for what you have. Nog, You Win Economics Forever!
    • From what we saw, the Federation is a communist state that actually works, due to technological inventions such as replicators, extremely cheap and plentiful sources of energy, combined with humanity being more noble than it is today. In First Contact, a local 21st century woman was told that humanity evolved from wanting more into perfecting oneself. Therefore, having a big ass apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower is not as big a deal as it is for us. For them, becoming a respected chef is more important than acquiring whatever goods are still scarce in their utopia. Life became about finding your place in the universe, not about material things. So a person waits tables because it can be enjoyable, and maybe he can learn how to run a restaurant and then move up to doing that.
    • Technically the Federation is a post-scarcity economy much like Bank's Culture novels. People work for lots of reasons, they just tend to be higher up Maslow's hierarchy of needs than modern economies. For example even being a lowly ensign redshirt aboard the Enterprise gives you the chance to go where no one has gone before.
      • The Federation is a partial post-scarcity economy. The Culture setting is able to infinitely replicate skilled labor (as AI programming has advanced to the point that non-sentient expert systems can still accomplish any task possible for a trained human, even those requiring independent judgement, so the entire human population can literally never work a day in their lives and yet the economy will still function perfectly). The Federation, however, can only replicate material objects—people still have to go to work.
  • Pawn Stars ends up dealing with a lot of people who fail Economics forever, either by assuming that an otherwise-worthless trinket they own is a lot more valuable than it is because it was owned by someone famous (as one of the hosts famously put it, "It doesn't matter if your lawnmower was owned by Bill Clinton, it's still a lawnmower"), or by doing some research, finding out the "market value", and then trying to to sell it to the pawn shop at that price. The staff have to constantly remind sellers that they are salesmen, not collectors, and that the "market value" is what a collector will pay.
  • An episode of Mission Impossible had the team infiltrate a group of neo-Nazis who had a Swiss Bank Account showing the location of a cache of Nazi Gold which they intended to use to create a "Fourth Reich". Aside from the immense improbability of this (the Nazis didn't plan for failure), and the overwhelming likelihood that the gold would be confiscated, it takes more than a few million dollars of stolen gold to take over a country and restart a movement that in the popular mind was at the time synonymous with pure evil.

Stand-Up Comedy

  • Jeff Foxworthy used this in one of his early stand up routines. He was, as a young man, so broke that his bank sent a collections agent to take his car unless Jeff paid them $500. Jeff, naturally, didn't have $500 on him, even ridiculing the idea that someone would carry that much money, which led to this:

Collection Guy: Well, you can't write me a check?
Young Jeff: No I can't...a check? Hell yeah, I can write you a check! I thought you needed money! Tell you what, I'm going to go ahead and pay the whole thing off, right now.
Jeff: (*aside*) I'm going to be a Congressman when I grow up.

Tabletop Games

  • Rolemaster coinage hierarchy used to place tin coins below copper. If you assume an earth-type world, tin is rare and expensive - it's the fraction that makes bronze so much more expensive than iron/steel.
    • And to add insult to injury, Bronze Pieces are worth more than Copper Pieces in the same coinage hierarchy.
  • The steel-based currency in D&D Dragonlance doesn't really make sense - you can end up with situations where a steel sword, if melted and forged into coins, would be worth more than its original cost (ie. say the sword cost 10 coins. By melting it down you could get enough steel to forge 15 coins). Putting rule issues like that and selling a 10 foot ladder as 2 10-foot poles, the idea is decent enough, the execution just stinks.
    • The argument is that steel is more valuable than gold because steel is useful, whereas gold is pretty but useless, therefore steel is worth more. Which completely misses the point of currency.
    • Interestingly enough, Sparta did use iron money. The idea was actually solid: only Sparta uses iron money, and no one in Sparta accepts gold, so no Spartan could be bought off by outside money. Only Sparta could mint their own coins correctly (forgery was too hard to be worth it) and merchants bartered goods with Spartans. Theoretically, you could try to buy a Spartan off with a year's worth of Wheat, but where the hell was he going to hide that?
  • In a World of Darkness manual, the author describes in great length how the extremely long-term strategic planning of centuries-old vampiric masterminds make US and European companies competitive against Japanese ones. Whether it's an economic Fail or not is dependent on how rigid that long-term plan is, and a key thing to remember is that a business run by immortals is likely to be more patient about returns than one held by mortals. In theory, there should be less emphasis on small short term gains at the expense of larger long term ones.
  • Pathfinder had a wonky economy which allowed one to buy mithril chain shirts and melt them down for a fraction of the price of raw mithril.
  • Legend of the Five Rings being based on feudal Japan and China, has a rice-based economy where one gold (koku) is the equivalent to the amount of rice one man will eat in a year. Or possibly what one family will eat in a year. There's some confusion as to which. Also, the exchange rate between gold, silver and copper coins means that even the smallest denomination of money in Rokugan is a fairly vast fortune. The handwave given is that it is beneath a samurai's station to be concerned with money, and that there is a sizable merchant class to deal with such matters.
    • The handwave in the most recent edition is that the value of currency has significantly inflated in the past few centuries, and it now takes somewhere from 12 to 15 koku to feed a man for a year. This dramatically cheapens raw gold, but it brings the price of food in line with the price of everything else.

Video Games

  • Role-Playing Games in general tend to fall under this, as Random Encounters provide an extremely high, if not unlimited, supply of gold. Inflation should have wiped out any and all economies years ago. Especially in any town in Dragon Quest surrounded by Gold Golems, which are Exactly What It Says on the Tin and are basically a walking retirement fund. One has to appeal to Gameplay and Story Segregation to make it coherent.
    • Karl Marx Hates Your Guts. Not only is monster killing the easiest way to make money, it is often the only way to make money - no part of the entire economy can exist without regular infusions of cash from busting open a Money Spider. This probably explains why every shop in the game seems to be a Trauma Inn, or a weapon, magic, or item shop.
  • A strange aversion of Karl Marx Hates Your Guts happens in games (both computer and tabletop) where PCs are supposed to be travelling merchants. In that they tend toward "Golden Pair" model: you trade between the place where commodity X is the most expensive and the place where it's cheapest within reach. The only trick is to find something profitable for a return trip, maybe cycling between 3 points. And the only reason to change your path is temporary depletions of supply, so that you are forced to vary routes until goods replenish. Somehow the pre-existing big fish doesn't notice it and drive you out of business before you start, by driving prices to differing only by their markup (lower due to economy of scale and/or reduced risks).
    • Elite, though trade is mostly a pretext to make you fight ludicrously abundant Space Pirates
      • Most games it inspired use the same approach, but tend to have very low stock of most profitable goods and/or somewhat dynamic prices.
  • In Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle, you can learn a spell that summons money from nowhere. The question of inflation is obviously not addressed. Prior to acquiring this spell, the player runs into a group of corrupt pikemen who have 'arrested' the captain of the player's ship and want a bribe fine of a gold bar to release him (and let you get on with the game). It has to be a gold bar. You can offer them thousands of Monetari (the local currency), but they will always demand a gold bar. Many walkthroughs have mocked this, but given the existence of the spell, the pikemen may be more canny than one would think.
    • This may be due to a bug, as the game manual states that the money created by the spell is temporary, which it actually isn't in-game.
  • This is particularly a major problem in MMOs, where, like their single-player counterparts, money is generated indefinitely by the players when they kill monsters or complete quests. Of course, since an MMO, unlike a single-player game, actually has a persistent economy, this usually results in runaway inflation which developers usually attempt to curtail, to varying degrees of success, with "money sinks"—constant fees for things like travel, equipment maintenance, or all-but-essential sundries, and one-time expenditures of huge amounts of wealth for things that look cool but have little gameplay value.
    • One notable aversion to this is City of Heroes, which does not give actual currency to its heroes, villains, and Mirror Universe Gray and Grey Morality...superbeings. It gives Influence, Infamy, and Information, respectively. So, in effect, players are being given their goodies by shopkeepers out of respect, fear or in exchange for information. The player market is also meddled with by the devs every now and then to keep prices from spiraling out of control.
    • EVE Online has a very realistic economy. Unlike in most games where NPC shops have an infinite supply of items to sell, and will buy anything you offer them, Eve has (almost) no NPC buyers or sellers. If you want to sell anything, you have to find another player willing to buy it. All the ships, weapons and ammo in the game are manufactured by other players from raw materials mined at some point by even more players. If you suddenly need a large amount of a rare item, you have to make it yourself or pay someone to do it for you and then someone else to ship it to your location.
      • Heck, some of the larger clans have been able to successfully engage in economic warfare by buying up goods and weapons required for an up coming clan battle, driving up the price of those items so the enemy cannot even begin to afford it.
      • The Pend Insurance corporation, however, Fails Economics Forever.
    • Guild Wars 2 has two very simple money sinks - the fast travel system requires fees, and the auction house charges 5% of value for listing an object for auction and 10% more for actually selling it. These have worked so well that they've recently had to institute a 2-gold-piece reward for completing 3 daily achievements (as a comparision scale, the average player earns 2-4 gold pieces worth of loot in a dedicated hour of dungeon crawling) to inject money back into the economy.
  • While earlier RPGs (and by extension MMOs) tended to give the players direct funds for defeating an enemy, newer MMOs tend to lean towards giving players random types of loot, which are usually parts of the creature killed and harvested. They are then traded for actual money, which can be spent on armor, weapons and potions which are (supposedly) made from the refined bits of the loot people collect and sells. However due to the needs of a game, the actual spawn rate (equivalent to the birth rate in Real Life) is unrealistically fast, making overharvesting an impossibility (which is a major problem in the real world).
  • Diablo 2 had a big problem in that gold coins were so easy to obtain in large amounts that the multiplayer economy was unwilling to accept them as a currency. The economy turned to barter and finally started using Stone of Jordan rings which were valuable enough and rare enough to be used as a currency for high value items. Later on various runes were used as an alternate currency.
  • Ikariam manages to avoid much destruction equals employment by having islands with only one kind of luxury good (thus players can't build an effective 'one town war machine'; they could exist but the player would need to raid a lot) and utilizes a building called the "Trading Post" to encourage peaceful trading between players.
  • The Red Moon Online: One item, called a "poison pill", was necessary to use regularly to make the game playable. The game had no upper limit on how many of a single item you could carry. So, many people stocked up on this item until a few people had millions of poison pills. Since there was a maximum number of poison pills in the game, no more were dropping and the price skyrocketed. They were going for millions of gold, far more money than most players had seen. The devs' solution? Give 1 million gold to every account one day. As you can imagine, the poison pills were soon going for hundreds of millions.
  • Fable II fails economics pretty hard. The player can buy shops and houses, and can set the price level on them. However, the laws of supply and demand apparently don't exist, as raising prices by 50% will increase your profit by 50%. No one ever pays attention if a shop a few hundred yards away is selling the same thing at half the price you are. The only real disincentive for raising prices is a hit on the Karma Meter. Slightly averted in that if you own enough shops in one area, you can affect how good the economy as a whole is doing. Also, it's realistically possible for the player to actually own every property in the country. However, in real life, even if you have a monopoly, you make the most profit by setting prices slightly higher than they would normally be. If you raise them through the roof, you'll make less (some people can do without, or just don't have the money), and if the good is really inelastic (like, say, water), it would spark a revolution at some point.
  • Counter-Strike had this problem when it decided to go to a market-based system to determine the price of weapons. In theory, this would give a real-time game balance to each weapon - good ones would go up in price, bad ones would go down. Their problem was that their algorithm to determine what the prices of each weapon would be was bizarre:

Valve: The new price for each weapon is based on the total amount of money spent on that weapon. The percentage of money spent on each weapon during the week is used to determine the percentage by which its price moves the next week. So if 10% of all dollars world-wide are spent on the Maverick M4A1 Carbine, then its price will increase by 10%.

By that logic, the cost of every weapon should either rise or remain unchanged. What really happened was since some weapons cost as much as ten times as much as others (including most of the preferred weapons), pretty much every 'worthwhile' weapon immediately skyrocketed to absurd levels and every other weapon's value plummeted. One weapon actually reached a negative price.
  • The entire point of Wario Land Shake It is about the Bottomless Coin Sack, which gives out infinite money to whoever owns it. However, the story obviously never considers just how utterly destroyed the economy would be for whatever country/world the owner actually used said treasure in. 10 million percent inflation?
  • Deus Ex Invisible War; Apparently, the so-called World Trade Organization is in the business of price-fixing and micromanaging the economy. Technically this is a Justified Trope because the WTO is really a front for the Illuminati and is thus only concerned with world domination. But, this doesn't explain why the WTO's areas are the richest ones in the game. Historically speaking, all attempts at price fixing (from Soviet Russia to Richard Nixon's America) result in economic disaster. Of course, it is quite possible that the WTO's wealth comes from embezzling someone else rather than actual wealth creation. It is also possible that the WTO only fixes some prices, however, they still get based for being "greedy capitalists". Of course, this is arguably also Justified Trope by the fact that most of the accusations are thrown by members of The Order (another Illuminati front), and a fake conflict is a potential part of the cover up. Trope is averted by Denton's faction, who's nanotech-based preference-agglomeration plan could theoretically bypass the economic calculation problem (by measuring people's preferences directly) and thus actually successfully generate "shadow market" prices (a la Oskar Lange) and thus make a centrally managed economy potentially efficient.
    • It's possible that the prices that the WTO fixes happen to also be at the ideal ones.
  • O Game economy is the extreme form of Destruction Equals Employment. It only works because a planet can produce an infinite amount of trade goods and weapons effectively erase objects from existence.
  • The creator of Dwarf Fortress admits that as of now, the economic system basically doesn't work - and was removed from game. One reason, apart from the many sanity-related ones, is that computers asked to keep track of all those coins tend to struggle.
    • This strip perfectly demonstrates just how insane the dwarven economy was.
  • In Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light there's a minigame where you run a shop and sell off your inventory. Trouble is, while the customers do consider market prices to an extent, they will pay over the going rate, even for stuff you just bought from the same shop. Since both supply and demand are unlimited, you can just reap the profits until you get bored or decide you've got enough.
  • In Anachronox, Sender Station has five traderbots who buy and sell certain (useless) luxury goods. Their prices are wildly different, to the point that you can make a profit from buying low from one and selling high to another a hundred yards away. If you don't mind some repetitive clicking (as you have to buy/sell everything one at a time) you can make money utterly irrelevant as soon as you get there.
  • In the Civilization series, economic systems are tuned for balance. This can sometimes lead to odd effects like a leader of a pure Capitalist civ directly controlling Corporate executives and dictating the professions of its citizens.
    • It is more about providing bribes (which are "insignificant" by civilization standards) to promote certain industries.
      • Of course that breaks down when nobody is willing to make food producing buildings when everybody is starving after President turned all the non-gold producing farms (because what profit is their in buying selling FOOD?) with cottages until the President gives them the order to do so.
  • The economy of the Great Underground Empire as described in the manual is pretty much hopeless. There is exactly one bank. There is no mention of trade. Every business in the entire country is a subsidiary of the mega-conglomerate FrobozzCo. On top of that, the government enacted a 98% tax rate, with the money going to frivolous projects that mainly served to boost the ego of its ruler, King Dimwit the Excessive, such as a statue of the king several hundred feet high. Of course, the whole point of this background information (Other than to provide hidden clues to be used as copy protection) was to establish the Flathead dynasty, especially Dimwit and his eleven siblings, as a pack of idiots.
  • The economy of Victoria 2 is supposed to be pretty realistic, but bugs and simplification make it a bit weird. For example, the factories don't store their manufactured goods anywhere. They just sell whatever they can and dump the rest somewhere. Even when this happens, they don't reduce the output unless they begin to lose money - when they begin to fire workers. Also, people buy their goods on the global market starting from the most prestigious nations. Because of that, it may happen that no worker in Germany can buy firewood, because everything has been used up by poor farmers from British India.
  • The X-Universe takes the trope Up to Eleven in that the economy doesn't work In-Universe either. Special mention goes to the Terrans in X3: Terran Conflict, who are guaranteed to essentially go bankrupt without a player-owned trade network propping them up.
  • Done by either the writers or by Peach herself in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga. When the eponymous brothers first arrive in the Beanbean Kingdom, they're told (by a fellow who is transparently trying to fleece them) that their 100 Mushroom Kingdom coins are currently worth 10 Beanbean coins and they'll have give him 100 Beanbean coins before he'll let them pass. Later on, Peach gets kidnapped (as she is wont to do) and the MacGuffin she was kidnapped to activate broken into a set of Plot Coupons. Prince Peasley cockily bets the brothers 99,999,999,999,999 Mushroom Coins that he'll find the coupons first. When the brothers inevitably win the bet, he makes good, but the royal advisor checks the exchange rates and reveals that their massive winnings amount to...99 Beanbean Coins, meaning that somehow the Mushroom Kingdom currency's value relative to the Beanbean Kingdom's fell to a trillionth of it's original value. This means one of two things: either A)the Mushroom Kingdom economy collapsed entirely during the day or two that Peach was kidnapped, or B)both economies were in dire straits at the beginning of the game and the value of the Beanbean Coin was artificially reset during the course of the game to prevent the Beanbean economy from crashing. Either way it doesn't speak well of Peach's ability to rule her kingdom even when she's not kidnapped.
    • That, or Prince Peasley was lying to them to avoid paying up on a lost bet and counting on them not understanding economics.
  • According to the description of the "Something Special for Someone Special" (an engagement ring) in Team Fortress 2, it costs "approximately two months [sic] salary". It costs $100 in real-world money, which is kind of ridiculous, especially since people actually buy it and then use it to make jokes about how long it's taking Valve to release Half-Life 3, but who the hell in a first-world nation gets paid just $50 a month? On the other hand, you can buy some pretty impressive weapons for $5 and under, so maybe in the TF2 universe, currency is just massively deflated. (Ignoring the fact the Heavy once gave a trick-or-treater $7,000 just to make up for making the poor kid cry by being a Boomerang Bigot...) Or maybe it's just an Acceptable Break From Reality because this is actually real-world money we're talking about despite the fact the Something Special's description suggests it applies in-game. Oh, well...

Web Comics

  • The Order of the Stick: Played for Laughs when a pair of potion sellers don't seem to get that by selling nothing but potions at less than the cost to make them, they are going to put themselves out of business. Vaarsuvius tries to explain the problem to them, but after realizing that nothing is getting through, the annoyed elf decides to take advantage of the sale they just announced.
    • Also unwittingly played on V as V and the RPG system being mocked assumes all manufacturing costs are static on a per unit basis. They fail to take economies of scale, time value of money, purchasing power, and market share into account when manufacturing goods.
    • These economics of Spellcasting are further mocked in a later stip when an apprentice caster proudly proclaims that she got a really good deal and paid below normal cost for a jar of rubies. Her master then points out that the spell they need to cast specifies the *cost* of the gems needed and not the amount. She therefore needs to go back & pay more before the spell will work.
      • Which is not entirely accurate. Most of the spell descriptions in-game specify that material components must be worth a certain amount of money, not necessarily purchased for that amount.
      • And since everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it, the material components are worth whatever you paid for them.
  • Kit N Kay Boodle features the town of Yiffburg, whose economy is sustained entirely by its single export, a combination aphrodisiac/contraceptive fruit that everyone in town eats on a daily basis and grows in their homes, to the point where the average citizen doesn't need to work to pay for things; instead, they use an ambiguous thumbprint-reading credit system. The fail continues when a lawyer points out that Yiffburg is a textbook example of an arrested economy with no money going into it—except that Yiffburg is essentially the world's only supplier of birth control Viagra berries, which are in extremely high demand to the point of being illegally imported. And of course, every business in the city allows its employees to freely have sex while on the clock, even in food service, so it's a wonder anything gets done at all.
  • Discussed in El Goonish Shive:

Magus: I can totally hook you up with straw turned to gold.
Sirleck: I'm already worth millions, and you'd just be devaluing gold in general if you made more.

    • Though this is actually an example of this trope. While technically, yes, as gold enters the economy the general value of gold declines, you could still make enough gold to be significant, even to an individual like Sirleck, without having any measurable impact on the economy. If it worked the way described above, no one would ever want to find gold mines. Of course, Sirleck probably doesn't want to poke status quo at all, for the simple reason that not only he got what he needs, but any change risks to attract attention of someone who can see through him, and the following brief visit from a magic-using hit squad may spoil his whole day.
  • In Homestuck, Dave alchemises the 'SORD.....', a weapon so shitty it actually generates artifact grist to make it. That's not an example of this trope, as obviously videogame economies don't have to resemble real-world economies in any way. What is an example of this trope exaggerated and played for laughs is the fact that post-scratch Dave apparently managed to do this in real life, creating products that were so crappy that he actually made money making them, and did this enough that he made himself rich.
  • Redpanels illustrates: stimulation of economy via government spending (i.e. shoveling some tax money around).
  • Wondermark in #877; The Shovel-Ready Project has a modest proposal. Which is a ridiculously malignant variant of "Digging and Filling Ditches".

Web Original

  • The Irate Gamer in his I Rate the 80s series shows he has no idea how businesses work. He complained that Kool-Aid no longer sold gimmick flavors, wondering why they stopped, and hoping they bring them back. Not once considering that these flavors didn't sell compared to the more popular flavors.
  • Linkara and Lee from Still Gaming love pointing out the illogic of "collector's editions" of both comics and collectible cards, respectively. In short, people have a tendency to collect "first edition" or "collector's/limited edition" versions of certain items, believing that the label would automatically translate to "rare" and, thus, appreciate in value over time. This is also known as "Baseball Card Tuition Syndrome", as an infamous example (described by Lee) involved people gathering up baseball cards in the 70's and 80's, believing that they'd be able to pay for their kids' tuition in 20 years with them. The problem is a lack of understanding of supply and demand; most of the more expensive comics and cards out there were made in a day where it wasn't common to print them in the quantities they print them out, nowadays (hundreds of copies instead of hundred thousands), would not have very many copies in good condition still in existence, and are usually the first ever issues of world-famous characters (like Spider-Man or Batman). Sadly, the companies also know this, so deliberately hype up the label of "collector's edition" to get more buyers.
    • Of course, this kind of market eventually backfired with serious consequences. Once people realized they were buying worthless piles of paper, they stopped buying comics and comic companies suddenly had stockpiles of hundreds of thousands of comics they couldn't sell. This led to a huge comic book crash which the industry never fully recovered from.
      • Another notable thing about why first editions of Action Comics #1 (the first appearance of Superman ever) comic sell for millions is that many of them were destroyed in paper drives in WW 2, which meant on a handful survived in any readable condition at all.
  • During the "King" phase of Fable III you are given a series of good/evil choices to make. The "evil" choices increase your revenue (raising taxes, turning an orphanage into a brothel, etc.), which you need to fight off the Crawler in one year's time. The "good" choices often cost you money but make people happy (such as refusing to mine resources under a lake because "it's pretty"). Once the choice is made, the decision is irrevocable, even after you fend off the country-destroying Eldritch Abomination. No mention is made of telling the public why you are doing these things, or leaving open the possibility of tightening the belts for one year, fighting off the threat, then changing things afterwards. One option, for example, is to rebuild a section of the city destroyed when you seized power. If you choose not to rebuild it when offered the chance, it never gets rebuilt.

Western Animation

  • Happens in the Van Beuren Felix the Cat short "The Goose that laid the Golden Egg", which starts with Felix handing out whole piles of gold coins to the poor, and the short ends with the entire town being flooded with countless loads of gold. Felix does not realize that creating that much gold would make it worthless as a result.
  • Parodied in South Park when Canada goes on strike and demands more money, specifically from the internet, and completely ignores the people who try to explain that is not the way economics works.
  • While Scrooge McDuck gets it right more often than not, there's one especially confusing episode showing an alternate future where the triplets ally with Magica DeSpell after Uncle Scrooge goes missing due to Time Travel. The entire economy was reversed, with employees paying the business they worked at. This could mean two things: since Magica was involved, we could just say, A Witch Did It; or taxes have been raised so high, such as "The Privilege of Working for Magica McDuck Enterprises Tax," that getting a paycheck is practically a moot point since just about all your money gets taken out. Honestly, it makes even less sense than other works on this page... where do the people get the money to have to pay her, let alone the money they, well, need for life? The only reasonable conclusion is that it's all just an overly complicated form of slavery.
    • They are paid for consuming goods, presumably. If the system is reversed 100-% then it would work the same way real life works; just having money would mean you are poor and being one billion dollars in debt means that you are very rich.
  • In another DuckTales (1987) episode, young Scrooge creates diamonds by having elephants stampede over coal. (This is also You Fail Physics Forever, but if comic-book physics allowed diamonds to be created so easily they would be worthless).
    • Diamonds already can be created that easily. The reason diamonds are priced so high is due to De Beers monopoly. It's relatively easy to synthesize chemically and physically identical diamonds cheaply.
      • Synethetic diamonds can be detected under a microscope, and the conspiracy prevents these from being accepted as "real" or even tolerable as a novelty, more in line with "counterfeit" than anything else; as such, synethetic diamonds mostly see use as an industrial abrasive.
  • The "America The Bankrupt" fallacy is parodied in The Simpsons episode where Lisa becomes president. Not only does it have China (amongst other countries) demanding repayment, but Bart (who's grown up to be a deadbeat-not surprisingly) is able to use his own money-mooching skills to deflect them ("I totally remember mailing a check to you.")
  • One episode of House of Mouse involves Professor von Drake inventing a special credit card that could "end poverty" by giving everyone in the world an effectively unlimited cash supply. It seems to exist solely so that the villain could steal the only one and... well, use it to do exactly what it was created for. None of the characters question the logic, despite the fact that such an "invention" would render the entire economy obsolete almost immediately.
  • The Rankin/Bass Productions Christmas special Jack Frost has a village that is completely penniless all year except for the winter, because they take the icicles and carve them into coins and thrive that season. This is... to say the least, not at all how anything works ever.


  • Crocodile's plan from One Piece is a more well-thought out version of the H.A.W.X Example. He plans to use his mercenary organization, Baroque Works, to stage a coup on the country of Alabaster. However, this is only the first part of his plan, the second part was to use the revolution as a cover to sneak into the palace and find the blueprints for the superweapon Pluton.
    • Not as well-thought out, however, is the Arlong Pirates' money-making scheme. They take over Nami's home island, by and large cutting it off from the rest of the world, and demand a monthly tax from its residents in order for them to keep their lives. On their first sweep of Nami's village alone, they get roughly 25 million berries, which would indicate that, during the eight years leading up to the story's present, that one little village paid over two billion berries, an incredibly staggering sum. Given that the island is a small backwater fishing and farming community instead of a bustling port, one has to wonder where on earth that one little village procured all that money from, to say nothing of the other villages spread across the island.
      • Part of the problem with that is that the relative value of Berries to any real world currency. 25 million from a village would not be so strange on Yen values, but would likely be insane on something like the dollar or the pound sterling. Given that monetary values in the series are often only portrayed for very-high-value things like Bounties, Aristocrat slave auctions, or the sale of large amounts of treasure, the basics of the One Piece economy are in general hard to derive.
  • Spice and Wolf not only averts this trope, but it's based entirely on Economics, so it would be a disaster if this trope was played straight
  • The comedic Elseworlds book Superman: True Brit: Superman tries to solve the UK's debt by turning all the coal in the British Isles into diamonds. Later at a press conference, a Lord tells Superman that because of "basic economic theory", diamonds are now worth less than coal. Not only does this make Superman's stunt useless, but thousands of coal miners have now lost their jobs and there is no coal for people to heat their houses with. Superman (a bit of a Ditz in this universe) then suggests going into outer space and bring back gold from other planets to give to each family, causing the Lord to shout "You just don't get it, do you Superman?"
    • Even worse for Superman personally, as the Lord points out, income tax is assessed on the original value of the diamonds and since they're now worthless, he's hopelessly in debt to the British government. A revenue service being this obtuse in real life is Truth in Television. Of course, in real life he could probably write off the depreciation and charitable contributions to get him out of the hole.
  • The Dystopia Brave New World. Useless, overly complicated stuff (squee! complicated sports involving autogyros!) is made by unnecessary amounts of manual labor not to stimulate the economy, but simply to keep the people busy enough with full-time jobs. It was possible to have a well-running economy with four-hours-a-day jobs, but an experiment with Ireland showed that having too much free time had bad results, the population getting bored and excessively using the government drug of soma.
    • However the book screws up in assuming that there is infinite amount of raw resources on Earth to be able to support such an inefficient economic system. The author tried to handwave all this away, claiming the human population is kept artificially low and recycling technology has advanced to unprecedented sophistication.
    • Also, at one point one of the characters asks why they don't structure society with smaller lower classes. The response? "But then who would do all this work we need done?"
    • In another experiment, the world government set up an island entirely of "Alphas" (the highest class) which caused strife when they attempted to order each other around. So they feel it's socially necessary to have inferiors.
  • In an episode of Disney's Aladdin Iago is granted (semi-)Phenomenal (nearly)Cosmic powers for the day, with a few provisos... a few quid-pro-quos... After he distributes conjured gemstones freely to the public, the people of Agrabah all practically worship him, until they realize it takes bushels of rubies just to buy bread.
  • House of Mouse: an episode had Ludwig von Drake invent a machine that could multiply any money you put into it... and had him promptly arrested for counterfeiting.
  • DuckTales (1987):
    • Huey, Dewey, and Louie find a machine that lets them duplicate dollar coins en masse. Inflation promptly kicks in and loaves of bread cost $200 before they find the reverse switch. This episode was loosely based on Carl Barks' A Financial Fable and The Fabulous Philosophers Stone which are also notable aversions.
    • A fun one [1] involved a civilization which operated entirely on the honor system being intoxicated and then inundated with bottle caps. First they were rare, and everybody wanted one. Then they were common and used as currency, then inflated because Launchpad was air-dropping planeloads in order to break the rarity. The value of the caps fell so quickly, that they were arrested for throwing dump. They eventually got rid of all the bottle caps just to put a stop to the madness.
    • In one episode Huey, Dewey, and Louie wanted a fancy scooter thing, but were not going to get allowance until Saturday, and the price of the Scooter was going to rise on Saturday so they wouldn't be able to buy it. So they convinced Scrooge it was Saturday. Being the important businessman he is, passing on this notion "it is Saturday" to other powerful people of the world, this small date confusion spread worldwide and brought the entire world's economy to a grinding halt.
  • In a Don Rosa Scrooge McDuck story, The Quest for Kalevala, Scrooge briefly gets his hand on the Sampo, a mythic handmill that can produce infinite amounts of gold. Normally business-savvy Scrooge gets struck by a severe case of gold fever, and starts rolling out tons of gold. In a boat. In the middle of a storming sea. The economic implications were left unstudied, since immediate survival quickly becomes a more important matter. Of course, knowing Scrooge—he probably wanted more gold just to swim in.
  • An Italian Scrooge McDuck comic has him trying to hunt down a second-rate philosopher's stone - it can turn any metal into silver - because he owns a majority of the world's silver mines, and its existence would make silver worth much less (presumably, anyone who gets the stone can duplicate it). The Beagle Boys, on the other hand, are merely thrilled at the idea of making silver out of common junk and getting rich selling it, and try to steal it from him.
  • Yet another Duck story. Donald gets into the world of numismatics after he discovers how precious rare coins can be, and cons Scrooge into exchanging modern money for old (from the depths of his hoard) to subsequently sell the old pieces for a profit. Scrooge gets wind of it, and cons Donald back by selling him a whole bag of old coins... only that the collector, whom Donald sold his coins, won't buy them anymore as the market is already saturated.
  • A Paul Murry-drawn Mickey Mouse comic has a villain that has discovered a literal mountain made of diamond. This makes him incredibly rich, as long as no one else knows it exists, since he can control the amount he sells. Hence, his villainousness consists of seeing to it that no one who has seen his property ever gets away alive. Disturbingly, this sort of artificial scarcity is pretty much Truth in Television for how the diamond industry actually works (and it was worse under the infamous DeBeers monopoly).
  • The webcomic Nodwick averts this when the party meets up with a kobold accountant, who gets them to spare his life in exchange for advice on how to make the most of their treasure. He introduces them to the idea of inflation, for a start, and suggests they pay more attention to gathering treasures other than gold coins. Later, after they've slain a dragon, they were subsequently asked to "STOP DESTABILISING OUR ECONOMY!"
  • The first Night Watch book explains why that series averts this. It is said that transmutation is relatively simple magic, which could allow the Others (and specifically the Watches) to manufacture money (or any other resource). It is said that most non-Watch Others would be severely limited in the degree to which they could do this, whereas the Watches themselves assign minor Others to the task of managing their business holdings to fund themselves. It's explained that they do this because they don't want to ruin the local economies (which, considering that the books are set in Russia, are bad enough as they are).
  • The useless B-Ark people who crash on prehistoric Earth in The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy try to set up an economy using leaves as a currency, but there's so many leaves about that they're instantly devalued. Solution: burn the forests. Dumb, but it would work.
  • Three oppressive Dystopias operate with perpetual war economies in 1984, with it being explicitly stated even two on one, none of them can win the war. This is done to destroy surplus wealth and keep people's standards of living from getting better. The goal isn't to support their economies, but to keep them down. Using war to deliberately destroy wealth may be insane, but it works. It also theorizes that people could be forced to make very large monuments to use up wealth and keep the standard of living low, but war stirs more passion in citizens, and ultimately more love for their leader.
    • A similar problem to Brave New World arises, though such a model requires infinite resources, unless incredibly efficient recycling methods have been developed. The book handwaves this by saying that even the leaders behind the scheme realize eventually their standard of living will get worse over time as well—they don't mind as long as they are sufficiently ahead of the proletarians.
    • There's also speculation - both in-universe and in the real world - that the "eternal war" was actually just part of the all-encompassing governmental propaganda. In fact it was the first step: convince everyone in your empire that the entire world is caught up in a massive global stalemate, so that in a patriotic frenzy they'll slowly start to accept more and more hardships, and in paranoia over the "unconquerable enemy" they'll accept more and more invasions of security. The massive amounts of war supplies produced aren't explicitly accounted for; they may be recycled, they may be sold off to other nations, or they may in fact be funneled into a completely unwinnable military situation and the entirety of civilization is teetering on the edge of collapse.
      • Or it could be like with the Korea (as North Korea is pretty much a 1984 dystopia) and there forever is a cold war. Of course North Korea only claims this the true is they just don't have the means to feed their population, but then again half the point of 1984 is that the system destories the truth so they don't know that part.
  • An apparently similar scenario appears in the segment of Katsuhiro Otomo's Memories entitled Cannon Fodder, which depicts a day in the life of a city devoted entirely to firing countless cannons at the unseen, possibly fictional "Moving Cities" of an unknown enemy, with the populace kept in line by an authoritarian government utilising ubiquitous propaganda.
  • Similar to the Nodwick example, in Tales of MU "Delvers" (adventurers) have one of the highest tax-liabilities in the Imperium, but delving gear is tax-deductible. This encourages delvers to keep most of their wealth in the form of high-end magic items rather than simply flooding the economy with excess gold.
  • When Robert A. Heinlein was young, he wrote Beyond This Horizon, set in a society where everyone is given the basics for free. However, they still had money and the economics made sense.
    • As long as you remember that "the basics" have a cost that must be accounted for.
      • Accounting was one of the major jobs of the government; one of the joke problems was that they kept trying to throw their surplus money at long term projects - which would then turn out to be immensely profitable, meaning more goods could be produced even more efficiently, meaning they had to keep upping the basic allowance to balance the economy. At one point some pure science research that will be hugely expensive and take 200 years to come up with any return is considered an ideal project for official subsidy.
    • Another of his novels For Us, The Living, has an extended (multi-chapter) digression in which the main characters play a game modelling the economy of the time the book was written (mid-to-late 1930s), before using the same game as a general case that they can modify to reach the "ideal" that the USA of the book's setting used.[2] The reader was advised to turn to the novel's appendices for the game's instructions and to play along with the Fish Out of Temporal Water Point of View character.
    • At that point in Heinlein's career he was very influenced by the philosophy of Social Credit, which informed both of these books.
  • In Pumpkin Scissors, we see the sad state of The Empire after the war they've had, in which there was barely any post-war relief efforts done until the formation of Section 3, and even then their jobs are difficult (one of the characters even find that his superiors were intentionally keeping the cost of commodities up by purchasing them from a province where it is more expensive, and the main character suffers something of a Heroic BSOD when the difference between her own lifestyle and those of the people she helps is brought to her attention). Let's not even get to all the effort and resources they've put into the Invisible 9, and you could infer them to having a "Destruction Equals Employment" policy going on by the amount of resources the military gets.
  • The Discworld novel Making Money does a reasonable job (for a comedic fantasy) of dealing with the transition from coinage to paper currency, and issues like market liquidity, convertibility, and cost of acceptance. In the first book, the Patrician tries to explain to Rincewind why Twoflower spreading gold all over Ankh-Morpork is not the Good Thing everyone else believes. Rincewind doesn't really get it. (It indirectly leads to the entire city being burned to the ground, but he was talking about runaway inflation.) He also hints that it would destabilize political relations between Ankh-Morpork and the Agatean Empire.
    • The fire wasn't caused by the gold spending, but by Twoflower enlightening a bar owner about the concept of insurances, and the latter coming to the inevitable conclusion.
      • To explain the above two statements - not knowing how valuable gold was in Ankh-Morpork, Twoflower insured a pub for the price of half the city.
  • The "Elmo Saves Christmas" special of Sesame Street, when Elmo wishes for every day to be Christmas. After the first few days of this, nearly everyone's parents are broke and the presents are valueless because he has so many of them. After a year, everyone is permanently out of work, Christmas trees are an endangered species, and Santa is forced to retire. As a way of explaining the Law of Diminishing Utility to pre-schoolers, it ain't half-bad.
  • The Garin Death Ray is a 1927 Soviet sci-fi novel in which a Mad Scientist intentionally invokes this trope in a bid to Take Over the World. He invents a mirror-based laser-like device and uses it to drill a mine shaft deep into the Earth's mantle where, apparently, there is a geological layer composed entirely of gold. He then sets sail for the (naturally) evil, corrupt, uber-capitalist United States, starts selling bars of gold for a dollar apiece to anyone who asks, and soon brings the entire economy to its knees (remember, the Gold Standard was still in use at the time). It is then up to our Soviet heroes to dodge Frickin' Laser Beams and foil his plot, after which the United States promptly converts to Communism.
  • In Matthew Reilly's Temple, the Big Bad threatens to destroy the Earth unless he is paid $100 billion, which he then plans to dump on the market at absurdly low prices, destroying the world economy.
  • In Metalocalypse, Nathan takes over Florida and immediately drives the country into the ground by rationalizing that the best way to solve poor people's problems is to print more money. Needless to say, Florida money is made quite worthless. Nathan went on to destroy the state with a hurricane, though, so nature balanced it out.
  • The Fairly OddParents: Fairies cannot grant wishes for money because it would necessitate either stealing or counterfeiting, and they are not allowed to grant wishes that break the law.
  • Played with in an episode of Malcolm in the Middle; Reese is advising Malcolm via earpiece on how to talk to a girl he likes, and has him state that he wishes the government would turn 1 dollar bills into 100 dollar bills so that nobody would be poor. Malcolm rolls his eyes at the idea, but says it anyway. Fortunately for him, the girl is as much an idiot as Reese, and takes the idea as a profound statement of social conscience.
  • "Murder Most Fowl," a short story by Deborah Militello printed in Dragon magazine, deconstructs the Money for Nothing. It's set in a world where Jack (he of the Beanstalk fame) has become lord of the realm on the strength of his gold-egg-laying goose. At the beginning of the story, the goose is found strangled, and a hapless courtier is set to finding out who had committed the seemingly senseless crime of destroying the source of the national wealth... only to learn that, in fact, the endless supply of cheap gold was wrecking local industry, undermining the basis of the feudal economy, and threatening to plunge the country into war. Meaning that EVERYONE from King Jack on down had an excellent motive. And then it turns out that the culprit was the one person who had no motive: the castle cook, while drunk, had mistaken it for another goose and wrung its neck with intent to roast.
  • The somewhat obscure submarine adventure simulation SubCulture has a quite well-rounded economy. You can gather several raw materials (like, metal, thorium, or nicotine) in the ocean and sell them at the various cities; or buy wares from one city, sell it for a profit to another. Buying raises prices, selling lowers them.
  • In The Limits of Possibility during a quarrel with Yennefer, Geralt mentioned one of their world's "mysterious" sides:

Isn't it strange that during every dragon hunt, some or other sorcerer strongly associated with the jewelers' guild always hangs around. For example, you. And later, when one would think gems must flood the market, they for some reason don't go there, and prices don't fall.

  • The villains in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged run an odd combination of 'Digging and Filling Ditches' and 'Exporting Good Importing Bad' (with a bit of 'Destruction Equals Employment' in the form of a Death Ray project). Eventually it culminates in Directive 10-289, which proponents claim will solve the crisis by requiring people to buy and sell exactly as they did the year before. This is meant to be a nonworkable system, though; the book is, of course, an Author Tract about the evils of controlled economies.
  • One Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei episode has an in-universe example/parody, which also counts for You Fail Logic Forever. First, the Prime Minister is inspired to give everyone one of Komori's blankets, so they feel optimistic and will spend stimulus money, and this is shown as working well and helping Japan's economy. However, someone points out that Nozomu has no financial worries because he's a civil servant, and so the P.M. gets the idea that since civil servants are economically secure, it would be great to make everyone a civil servant. This completely crashes the economy.
  • In a chapter of one spinoff manga of Tenchi Muyo!, the group tried solving a Broke Episode by having Princess Ayeka ask her father for some money, and he immediately gives them a massive shipful of gold. They either send back or just sit on most of it rather than living like kings, noting that he had given them enough to destabilize the Earth's economy.
  • Averted to a large extent in The Belgariad series, especially considering military logistics and Silk's business exploits. Possibly reaching Crowning Moment of Awesome status in the prequels, when Polgara enumerates (and demonstrates) how turning unpaid Arendish serfs into paid laborers would ultimately result in not just a healthier economy, but more tax revenue.
  • In the movie Trading Places, the main characters perform an elaborate scheme in the commodities market to get rich quick and bankrupt their opponents which is legal within the boundaries of the market during the time the film is set. Though in a case of Economics Marches On, Congress would pass a law dubbed "The Eddie Murphy Rule" made to prevent using misappropriated government information as in the movie.
  • In Baccano! 2001 The Children Of Bottle, Elmer cites his reason for getting into alchemy was to learn how to turn metals into gold and distribute it so he could end poverty... and the reason he gave up alchemy being that he realized that the economy simply does not work that way.
  • The vintage computer game MULE is all about teaching basic economic theory.
    • As is the board game Container.
  • Hilari Bell's A Matter of Profit is chuck full of subversions of this trope. It blatantly takes a realistic look at the nature of money and trade itself and how it can bring cultures together peacefully (you don't want to fight the people you depend on to buy your product).
  • Gary Gygax pretty much lampshaded that the economic system of 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons didn't work, particularly with all the gold and jewels being taken into or out of the economy at different times, but it was Rule of Cool: namely, it was just plain more impressive for the players to obtain large amounts of gold than copper. Not that this prevented many player characters from going after the copper and silver coins too...
  • The movie Harrowhouse 11 focuses on a complex plot to rob a stockpile of diamonds from a company that has near-monopoly on the trade, and is withholding the diamonds to keep the market price up. At the end of the movie after a successful heist, the protagonist is fully aware that if they put everything they stole into circulation, it would cause the value of diamonds to plummet. He ends up burying most of the diamonds in concrete, and keeping only a fraction.
  • Kazaam does at least twig to this. In one scene, the Big Bad announces that the first thing he intends to wish for from the genie is "all the money in the world". The Kid with the Leash, panicking and trying to stall, points out that this wouldn't work, the economy would crash and all because no one else would have any money. "So I'll wish for all the money... then give some of it back."
  • In the early novels in the Honor Harrington Series, the People's Republic of Haven has an economic model where anyone who wants to can live comfortably on welfare for their entire adult life. As a result of this having been practiced for generations, the vast majority of their citizens didn't see any point in working, so the employment rate was somewhere around 10%, at most. This resulted in low productivity, which meant that the government had a small tax base, which resulted in their slowly going bankrupt. The only thing they could think of to prop up their budget was to conquer their neighbors and loot their economies, something that only provided a short-term relief, as they introduced their flawed systems to their conquered planets, resulting in millions of more unproductive Dolists (people who spend their entire lives on the dole) draining away their budget. Of course the leaders knew that their system has failed, but they couldn't see a way to solve the problem, as the only places they could cut the budget enough to make a difference were the BLS (Basic Living Stipend, the permanent welfare program), which would cause the Dolists to revolt, or the Navy, which would result in attacks from neighboring planets that were at the top of the 'to be conquered' list and revolts on recently conquered planets. The one nice thing you can say about the people who murdered the Legislaturists and took over was that while they may have been just as monstrous in their own ways, they did manage to fix their country's economy - by finding a propaganda spin that made the Dolists volunteer to actually work, by going to war with Manticore. This also, incidentally, led to they themselves being overthrown in the end and the original Haven Constitution being restored.
  • Sid Meier's Colonization has a strong economic element. Colonies earn a profit by selling goods back to the mother country (or the locals, or each other, but these has limited amount of gold). Specialist citizens can increase the value of raw goods by turning them into finished products, like turning tobacco into cigars. But if all the colony sends back is cigars, the cigars will drop in value while other products like rum maintain a high price. Eventually, the rising tax rate robs all products of their value. Two products get special treatment: silver fetches a high price in the early game, but its value later drops and never recovers; while purchasing guns becomes prohibitively expensive as the European power stockpiles them in preparation of fighting the colony in a War of Independence.
  • The Council running the Iron Hills in the Corean Chronicles was made of trading factors who ran their government to suit their own business interests. They kept tariffs low to cut costs to themselves, then didn't have enough money to fund their military. When a war broke out, they had to raise tariffs and get war loans to pay to increase their militia to a size that might have enabled them to avoid the war in the first place, and the moment the war ended, they immediately cut tariffs again to restore their profits, forgetting that the government now had more expenses (Paying off the war loans). These decisions based on short term financial gain bankrupted their country, which cost them their independence.
  • In Tropico, there is an edict where you can print money if you're in to much debt, but the prices of building everything goes up.
    • The player must deal with some realistic economic situations that existed for many real islands, such as embargo's, and massive taxation on traded goods. The player is forced to find other ways to make money in these scenario's.
  • Averted and played straight in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. In an early chapter with Harry in Gringotts, he notes how the Muggle and Wizardry economies must completely be detached from each other because the ability to bring in one's own gold/silver/bronze, and then being able to convert between Galleons, Sickles, and Knuts. Using a conversion scheme by buying any of these three metals while it is low, and then converting it into a higher priced metal which he could sell, would allow Harry to utterly break the wizardry economy (and become very wealthy) "in a week."
  • The Salvation War makes mentions the economy of the Earth and the USA during the war. Or, as one character says, "What economy Sir? We don’t have one any more, we've got a train wreck instead." The books show just how bad such a total focus on militarization is on a country, and the mess that is left in it's wake.
  • Averted in the Web of Spider-Man episode titled "Gold Rush!" in which the Beyonder innocently turns a whole building into gold in the middle of the night; the U.S. government however decides to keep it a secret and pay the Kingpin to forever keep the gold out of reach (i.e. secretly throw it into the ocean's depth) since its discovery by the public would destroy the world's economy.
    • Similarly, an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had the turtles visiting the homeworld of an alien race of sentient turtles who planned to move to Earth to escape a monster menacing them. One of the reasons the Turtles consider this to be a really bad idea is the fact that the alien turtles can manufacture gold and use it as construction material, thus if they moved to Earth, the global economy would be ruined.
  • While fridge logic dictates that the economy of the Pokémon universe should have collapsed a long time ago, they did avert this on one occasion. The Magikarp salesman sells the useless pokemon at high prices. He does this by convincing smart customers that the Magikarp will make them rich by having the Magikarp have children, and then the next generation will have more children, and soon one will have an infinite amount of Magikarp and an infinite amount of money. However, it is made very clear that the only one making any money off this scheme is the Magikarp salesman.
  • Da Orks of the Warhammer 40,000 universe actually use their teeth as money. Disgusting, but they do make for an inflation proof currency. They keep growing back their teeth like sharks, and the teeth do degrade with time, so it is impossible to hoard the stuff, forcing da orks to constantly be spending it.
  • In Sword of Destiny during a quarrel with Yennefer, Geralt mused about one "fine point" of dragon-slaying:

Isn't it strange that during every dragon hunt, some or other sorcerer strongly associated with the jewelers' guild always hangs around. For example, you. And later, when one could think gems must flood the market, they for some reason don't get there, and prices don't fall.

Post-Scarcity Economies

The Singularity has arrived! Technology has advanced to the point that practically anyone can have practically anything for practically nothing. Often involves Nanomachines. In other words, A Wizard Did It - with SCIENCE! Put more charitably, complete automation via advanced AI (etc.).

Bonus points for those cases that deal with the fact that some things are still scarce because of their very nature. The ability to effectively infinitely replicate any commodity does not mean everyone can have a house just like Fallingwater, the front row seat to a particular concert, or the authentic, original Honus Wagner tobacco card. Works with Post-Scarcity and Transhumanism themes tend to notice that "post scarcity" tend to turn into "please pick the next product or service that cannot be easily devalued, and go on", if only because it's not clear what the characters would do otherwise (unless there's only war, but war has its own "economy").

  • Gianni Rodari's story Planet of Christmas Trees features a planet on which all work is done by robots and machines and everyone has access to any resources the want, to the point where entire castles are built just to be smashed by people who need to work off some frustration. Also It's Always Spring, every day is Christmas, and the government has grown unnecessary.
  • The Midas Plague features an unusual situation where there is too much production. People are expected to work less and consume more; and the ratio of possessions to social standing is completely inverted. For some reason, probably comedy, the thought of simply reducing production is considered unworkable.
  • Robert Anton Wilson's Schroedinger's Cat trilogy studies a number of Alternate Universes, including a Utopian one, where a manual laborer who invents a way to automatize his work will get a high standard of living for lifetime, and everybody else in the same business gets a comfortable one, as machines multiply the production rates, allowing a part of the surplus to be used this way, since capitalism requires consumers in order to function. The system has its problems to a careful reader - one would imagine that people would cry foul when major parts of the formerly working class populace get free lunch without doing anything, while others continue to toil at least until someone in their ranks manages to mechanize that particular industry, as well. Still, the people who have jobs that can't be automatized are depicted as the lucky ones, since permanent vacation isn't all that it's cut out to be, and as result adult education flourishes.
  • John Ringo's Council Wars series applies before the war. Society and Technology have made it so that everyone gets a ration of power each day, more than enough to provide for a comfortable lifestyle. There is a small scale economy in the background, with some luxury goods produced and traded, but it's hardly essential to the setting. Of course, this lasts perhaps 100 pages into the book, before things go straight to hell.
  • The Eldar in Warhammer 40,000 used to have an economy like this. Their technology had advanced to the point where all work could be done by machines and everything necessary could be easily produced, eliminated scarcity and the need for labor. It didn't end well, as their society eventually slipped into decadence and resulted in the creation of the Chaos God of Squick, annihilating the majority of Eldar in the process.
    • Which is either something of a Broken Aesop (if you do away with the need for hard work, your civilisation will be annihilated by the personification of self-indulgence) or highlighting exactly how unfair the WH40K universe is.
      • Not even necessarily a broken aesop, since some economists think that's a very real danger in such a society (related to why communist systems collapse when what workers put in has no connection to what they get back, which was documented as a "clear" case in Plymouth colony). For a modern comparison, look how quickly people start copying movies, music and games when the internet makes it as easy as buying them.
  • People who live in the civilized empires of Orion's Arm can easily go their entire lives without ever having to work, Archailects can provide anything they need and much of what they want for free. The most common professions are those concerned with raising the next generation, either through parenting or by altering non-sentient species so that they become intelligent enough to join galactic society.
    • The NoCoZo is the biggest exception, being dominated by a number of Mega Corp.
  • Cory Doctorow's Bitchun Society has eliminated scarcity (by way of free energy and universal assemblers) and death (by way of brain uploading and cloning). Exchanges of the remaining scarce goods (those that require human labor, especially human creativity) are mediated by "Whuffie", which is a digitally-compiled estimate of your reputation in the eyes of the whole world.
  • Charles Stross enjoys working with post-scarcity societies; Accelerando chronicles the creation of one straight through the singularity. Protagonist Manfred Macx is one of the first people on Earth to realize that in such a world the best way to get truly rich is to help other people achieve great goals and become rich. In Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise the most valuable resource in the universe are the entangled quantum dots that enable faster-than-light communication and which have to be transported slower than light. After that the most valuable things are information and creativity.
    • There are particularly odd things such as the market for reputation in Accelerando... exactly what a valuable reputation is was not defined in the novel, nor what one might do with it.
    • Accellerando also mentions "Economics 2.0", the foundation of the society of the post-scarcity transhuman intelligences formed by modified uploaded humans and AI. It apparently isn't possible to understand nor engage in Economics 2.0 without your conscious mind being altered to the point where you are quite clearly no longer human, which also handily avoids the need for the author to explain what such godlike beings might trade in, or why.
  • Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising takes place in a world where Nanomachines can create pretty much anything from dirt, and created a post-scarcity world where money is no longer used. The villains consist of The Remnant of the old guard, seeking to tear down this system and reinstate scarcity so they can reclaim their old power and influence.
  • Strugatsky Brothers' Noon Universe is a classical post-scarcity society, which, ironically, was explicitly called communism - and that gave them all the types of troubles with the authorities, as their take on what communism should look like (in short - like anarcho-syndicalist technocracy) didn't fit well into official party line, even if such portrayal was actually common for most Soviet Sci-Fi, they've just fleshed it a bit more than others.
  • In Stanislaw Lem's Observation on the Spot one of the countries Ijon Tichy visits on Entia is Lusania - a thorough Deconstruction of post-scarcity utopia, where everything is done by Nanomachines and people cannot hurt each other, but because of that hardly anything has any real value anymore. Many Lusanians long for a "simpler life" of neighbors.
  • Schlock Mercenary has nanomachines and annihilation plants, but this doesn't mean complex gear or medical services are cheap; upon discovery of "world forges" (which make power not an issue anymore and entire fleets of gas giant sized habitats possible) they just note that so far it meant something else is going to be scarce. A Virtual Reality world in a stellar envelope capable of hosting over a hundred times more than the entire population of Galactic civilization at its peak has no need in material goods, but needs some services, processing power has to be allocated (if only to prevent runaway processes), and while death is impossible, there's going to be selection pressure (and thus evolution) at least in art.
  • Stars Without Number "Transhuman Tech" splatbook makes most goods trivial… but since politics and ideologies don't automatically go away, status in a given faction is effectively the new currency. Even when new enhanced bodies range from trivial to affordable, manufacturing capabilities and spaceships are expensive. Then there's information (such as blueprints or interstellar routes useful and new to the buyer), and of course favors.

  1. based on Barks' story "Tralla La"
  2. The government arrogates the right to create money back from the banks. Everyone receives a basic stipend sufficient to pay for the absolute necessities, the price of which is set by the government at slightly less than the "fair" price (cost of production, transport, storage etc, plus a livable minimum profit), with the proviso that all shopkeepers (etc.) who opt in to this system receive the difference between the set price and the "fair price" in subsidies from the government