I'm currently thinking about how to write a visionary story or explanation about how a digital abundance economy would work, why it would be so great, and what would be possible in it that isn't possible in a more conventional economy.
It's one thing to say that people would stop paying for all of this:
but it's another thing to consider the actual implications of that. Especially since the implications would be different for different people.
But let's think this through step by step. What can be free are digital goods, while energy and material goods will still cost something. What about services? They could be paid in Esteem, or Fluido, depending on the business model of the service provider. Since Esteem is worth more, payment in Esteem may be preferred. So, in the best case, the only thing that people still pay for are material goods like food, fuel, houses, clothes, tools, electronics, decorations, furniture, and so on. The basics of those could be covered by a basic income.
Anyway, education can be free. There are already MOOCs, and this trend will probably become much bigger. Also, teachers, tutors, and mentors can be paid with Esteem, so education is pretty much covered. Also, all educational materials are freely available online. And they can be improved collaboratively, which will improve the quality of education. People can get as much education as they want, whenever they want it. The same goes for certification. Of course, they still need to invest time and effort into that.
Entertainment will probably become much better, apart from being free, if it only consists of digital goods. This is because the content creators can use all the best software tools, and the best content from everywhere which they can remix for their own products. Reuse of content of others will be simple and easy, because very liberal copyright/left licenses like CC-BY or CC-0 will be the norm about everywhere.
Software will be amazingly good, because open source will be a very robust standard and more people will have programming skills than ever, which they use to improve open source software, especially if they are rewarded with Prestige for doing so. Software being free and of great quality will reduce the costs and increase the quality of nearly all other goods and services. Finally, if you need customized software for your specific needs, you could pay the programmers with Esteem.
Related to this is science: All scientific data being open and free will improve the speed and quality of science. Citizen science will get a real boost from that. They can also be rewarded with Prestige for doing science. Citizen science will minimize the problems in science that come from conflicting interests, for example between the pharma or food industries and consumers. Ordinary people have the greatest interest in actually knowing the full truth about the products they consume (at least they have the greatest incentives for that). So, they could come together in citizen science organizations to examine products or even develop superior products, whether in collaboration with the big industries or on their own.
Which brings us to product design. Design processes will probably become much more open and include customers who want to have a say in how the products should be designed. They can also be rewarded with Prestige for doing that. This will make the economy much more interactive and increase the quality of products. This is, if people decide no actually buy products instead of printing themselves. In that case, they will be able to download the blueprints for about any printable good imaginable online, and print it on their own, or in a 3d-printing shop / station.
Work will be easier and better, because all the software tools will be free and of the highest quality. The machines and tools you use will leverage very good software, too. But work will also be more fun, because you won't have to work to cover your basic needs, and you will rewarded with Esteem for doing work especially well. Though it's likely that workers will get accustomed to that too soon, and that they will simply expect this reward mechanism to work. If they get too little or no Esteem, they will feel disappointed, which may compensate for the good times when they get Esteem unexpectedly, or in amounts that are much higher than expected. Anyway, more immediate feedback is generally useful and makes about everything more fun.
Entrepreneurs might have the option to pay their workers in Esteem, though that might still be quite rare. Company profits could be distributed among the employees, or even external supporters (which could also be customers), according to an internal QP system. Because all relevant information and software is free, the costs of creating a company are much lower – well, that's partially true already, but the available information and software will be of much higher quality, which will also result in much better products, though the competition will of course have the same advantage. Anyway, the costs of doing business will be lowered, so that many more people will be able to start businesses. This may make competition worse, but if the economy becomes more collaborative rather than competitive, the opposite might be the case: More businesses will be able to flourish than ever. This will certainly be good for consumers, because they we have a wider range of companies and products to choose from (which is also a problem, but there will certainly be good solutions for that, too).
Oh, and there are psychological benefits for product creators in a digital abundance economy: If they are digital goods, they can be provided for free, which enables a much wider audience to enjoy those products. This is probably more emotionally satisfying than to sell those products to individual customers and potentially even argue about the price. Prices for digital goods are zero in a digital abundance economy. In the case of providing a service, getting Prestige for providing that service rather than payment in money will also feel more rewarding. Finally, if material goods are sold, they will be of higher quality, and cheaper. Which means that they can reach more customers.
The economy will of course flourish. If the digital abundance economy contains a basic income, people's basic needs are definitely met, which will reduce problematic egoistic behaviour. Also, work can become much more flexible. And due to the immense performance of the economy, the amount of work required to produce the same amount and quality of goods is reduced, so people can have more free time. Which they can also use to further their education, and become better people.
Instead of being focused on urgent problems, people will be much better equipped to deal with the really important problems of themselves, their groups, and the world at large. These problems can then be attacked much better and actually solved quickly and for relatively low cost.
Technological development will be vastly accelerated by all of these factors. This will also accelerate economic development, which will eventually lead to a level of abundance that will allow all humans on the planet to live in prosperity. This goal may actually be achieved already around the mid of this century, under ideal conditions. The results would be amazing:
- No poverty
Great health for everyone; longevity escape velocity may be reached, so that deaths will become a rarity
Free access to all information, knowledge, entertainment, and education for everyone
- A great amount of optional spare time for everyone
- People will be better educated and will have much better conditions to become better persons, which will eventually minimize suffering
- Technology will make us super-powerful, so that we can colonize space, and fix nature
- Society can become much more liberal, because less economic oppression is required in a flourishing economy, and people will have more time and knowledge to deal with political problems more effectively
- The general level of abundance and the more liberal society will allow for the emergence of a truly fractal society in which people are free to live with like-minded people in the ways they choose for themselves
- The rate of economic growth may start to grow exponentially (which actually means double exponential growth of the economy), up until technological and economic maturity is reached, at which stage things will become thoroughly utopian!
But let's come back to the question of what can be done in a digital abundance economy that can't be done in a conventional economy... well, there doesn't seem to be anything that strictly cannot be done in the current economy, but in a digital abundance economy doing anything will become much cheaper and easier, and better! And that will actually make projects viable, which are currently not economically viable in the current system!
Edit: Rather than economic growth becoming exponential, it may be more realistic to assume that sustainable economic growth through increased efficiency will increase quickly and max out at perhaps 8-30% (rough guesstimate) per year. Growth rates like that sustained over decades would have a dramatic transformational effect, especially when they happen in the context of a digital abundance economy which probably requires novel methods to meaningfully measure economic performance, because most goods and services will be free or cheap as dirt.