Neal Stephenson. The Diamond Age: or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer (1995). Cross-posted from C4SS.
In Four Futures Peter Frase poses, as a thought experiment, an “anti-Star Trek”: a world that shares the same technologies as Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s post-scarcity communist society, but in which those technologies of abundance are enclosed with “intellectual property” barriers so that capitalists can continue to live off the rents of artificial scarcity.
“…[I]magine that unlike Star Trek, we don’t all have access to our own replicators. And that in order to get access to a replicator, you would have to buy one from a company that licenses the right to use it. You can’t get someone to give you a replicator or make one with their replicator, because that would violate their license and get them in legal trouble.
What’s more, every time you make something with the replicator, you also need to pay a licensing fee to whoever owns the rights to that particular thing. Captain Jean-Luc Picard customarily walks to the replicator and requests “tea, Earl Grey, hot.” But his anti-Star Trek counterpart would have to pay the company that has copyrighted the replicator pattern for hot Earl Grey tea.”
In such a world, earning the money to pay for the things will be a problem, since there is no need for labor to actually make anything. What remaining work there is will be a small pool of intensely competed-for jobs designing stuff, some amount of guard labor enforcing “intellectual property” against piracy and protecting the accumulated property of the rich, and an odd assortment of work in household service or hand-crafting luxury goods for those in the propertied classes who value the status symbolism entailed in such things.
This is the world of The Diamond Age.