July 15th, 2005


the economics of time travel

Time travel would be awesome.

Not just because, hey, time travel! But because it would be genuinely useful. Personally, I find it much easier to do things in big blocks - like, laundry for example. I'd much rather spend a day doing laundry than spend random hours spread across months.

With time travel, I could. I'd just book the local laundromat for a day at a specific time, then send all my dirty clothes to that time. When they arrived, I'd wash them and send them back to their appropriate time - for an entire day, washing probably the clothes of a few years. Would that be convenient or what? No more laundry for years!

Same deal with doing the dishes. Just use time travel and rent a dishwashery! (I imagine these would spring up pretty fast - the dishwashing equivalent of a laundromat.) Spend a day doing dishes and bam, INFINITE CLEAN DISHES.

Cooking too. Make up a big batch of something, divide it into portions, launch it off through time. Restaurants would love this - instead of having to hire a cook to stand around bored when there's not much going on, you could just hire a cook for the minimum amount of time it'd take him to finish the day's orders.

But this latest event in my life - buying a new car - has made me realize that time travel would be even weirder on the economy. Imagine you've designed and built a very reliable very fast car. For one thing, everyone will *know* it's reliable thanks to reports from the future. For another thing, you'll have all of humanity through all time as your potential customers - so if you make something truly awesome, you could very well sell more of them than the entire population of the Earth at this point.

But this brings up trade. How would trade work? I think the price of oil is inevitably going to go up (no, not Peak Oil omgwe'realldoomed up, but up) - but obviously with time travel it wouldn't! It would be instantly fixed to a single price based on the supply and demand THROUGH ALL TIME.

But that brings up *another* question. What does "a single price" mean? How do we make a currency that works with time travel? We can't just use "dollars" - what happens if the US government prints up a billion kajillion dollars sometime in the future, then comes back and buys everything in the present? How do we deal with inflation, and how do we deal with different currencies having different buying powers at different times? Do we end up with a barter system, or would there be some central authority that guarantees it only produces a certain number of bills?

I think it's possible we'd end up with phases of bills - instead of trying to keep track of 1992 dollars versus 1993 dollars, we'd probably just combine large swaths of years into a single "value". Or maybe we'd end up with a system where old money can be used one-for-one, but future money is only worth what the person is willing to take for it.

I'm sure there are other problems with time travel and economics. Who wants to find one?