Friday, January 7, 2011

Economics in the Black Desert: What do We Use for Money?

          It's a question I've been asking since I first thought about making the game, RocketFans.  Think about it; money may make the world go 'round, but you can't breathe it, so what good is cash in space?  I have some ideas about what to do, which I'll share.

          First of all, money only counts if it's worth something (obviously).  There's hard currency, which is usually based on gold, and there's the paper crap we use use that's based on governmental authority.  The fiat stuff is most likely here to stay, barring an apocalyptic disaster.  Electronic currency will most likely be the norm in the future, with even paper going the way of the dodo.  Coins are worse than useless in space; they mass too much and the metals they are made of are probably found in such abundance on an asteroid in orbit that using metal money makes as much sense as using dirt for money on Earth.  Metals are cheap in space, it's air and food that's worth something.

            That gave me an idea; what if food and air became the basic unit of exchange in space?  Bear with me, I'll try to make sense.

           Its like this:  As for back as Heinlein's time it was suspected that money, as in the green folding stuff, would be worthless wastepaper except on it's planet of issue.  During the course of my research, I began to accept that money would be equally useless on space colonies and the like - not space stations, thanks to the cheapness of orbital flights, orbital installations should handle money and imports as easily as, say, Hawaii does now.  Assuming you find ten dollars for a gallon of milk easy...  Anyway, actual space colonies will operate differently.  The price of imports and the fragility of self-sufficient, artificial ecosystems being what I suspect they will be, it's unlikely that an outpost in deep space will let precious food, water and air go at any price, much less for a few scraps of paper or bit of data.  If you want an asteroid colony to part with any of their precious life-support capacity, you'll have to have something that's really worth trading.
Spaze Munny: Ur doin it rong!

          Therefore, when traveling in open space or while on Mars, I would say that your total wealth is what ever trade goods you brought with you.  Money may be irredeemable, but vacuum-sealed kobe steaks will fetch a high price from beef-starved colonists.  Luxury foods, items that are either difficult to manufacture off Terra or proprietary, and of course alcohol, pharmaceuticals and other traditional trade goods will be your "money" on the frontier.

          Okay, not really.  "Money" is nothing more than a representation of wealth, and your "wealth" is all that stuff I just listed.  So I imagine that there will be a credit account for transients that can be used to buy and sell - minus a commision for the colonies' authorities and all that good bureaucratic nonsense.

          All of this implies a rate of exchange is needed for the equitable trade of goods and services between colonists and visitors.  In order to have an exchange rate, one needs a base for their currency.  Like I said above, our fiat dollars are backed by economic authority and exchanged via esoteric systems of blah blah blah.  Rather that all that, I propose something simple. I propose that the only reasonable unit upon which to base colonial trade in space is the crew-day.

          A crew-day is simply the amount of life-support consumables that a single individual will use in a single day.  As I said in my last post, a crew-day will equate into about USD 150.  Divide this by eight (the time one would actually be working) and you get a minimum wage value of USD 18.75 for our homeless spacer.  Let's take that number and decimate it to get 10 Life-Support Units per hour of work at USD 1.85  So, if we want to make addition easy, and account for inflation and vagaries of the economic system, we can plausibly but arbitrarily say that a single Life-Support Unit (LSU) is equal to USD 2.00 in 2011.

         I'm making such a big deal out of getting back to present-day dollars because that's the unit of currency I think in.  I can now use the exchange rate USD 2: LSU 1 to figure the costs and values of equipment, necessities and services in the the many colonies of the Black Desert. 

          That wraps up the rants for this week, RocketFans!  On Monday, I will making some important announcements about where we're going in 2011 and the new products we'll be offering this year.  On Tuesday, I'll finish up this topic (for now) by discussing the kinds of jobs people in space will be doing for their LSUs.

          Have a great weekend and enjoy!


  1. Ok, the rule of thumb of one LSU=2 USD, I like that.
    What else? If physical currency is a rarity, how are the various currencies of the setting secured? Again, it gets to establishing and verifying identity of the holder.

    Are their private currencies again? The BD of the setting seems like an ideal place for someone to set up a company town, with all the nastiness that entails.

  2. Why, yes it does! And since the BD setting is reminiscent of the 1920's, when private issue currency and stock margins were king, we have to wonder if I'm setting up the solar system for an analog of the Great Depression and WWII, don't we?

    I can really be mean to my settings sometimes...

  3. Got a request to change the name of LSUs to something that sounds more like Money. Anybody got a suggestion? My current favorite is simply Commodity Exchange, with the abbreviation CX made into a nifty symbol.

    Other ideas are welcome.


Questions, comments, criticisms? All non-Trolls welcome!