Value in our society is mostly assigned by scarcity. This is why money is historically based upon gold, because there is only so much of it and it can't be duplicated. To see how true this is, consider what happened when Germany tried to fix it's money problems around 1923 by simply printing more of it. It didn't work because the very scarcity of money is what gives it its value. This sent the country spiralling into terrible inflation. As another example, consider why the value of an artist's work increases after their death. This little absurdity results from the sudden scarcity of their creations. Their intrinsic worth hasn't changed; just their availability: there will be no more of them. But the scarce nature of money doesn't just cause economic woes and produce silly values. It can work in our favor too. Mass production has been great for our society because it propagated previously scarce and expensive items to everybody cheaply. The lowered prices are generally ascribed to reduced production costs, but that isn't so. If the companies had been able to maintain high prices and a wider profit margin then they certainly would have, but money works by assigning value to scarcity. It has been a very useful system. Unfortunately it is also riddled with absurdities and has made possible great evil, allowing some to control bottlenecks and restrict the flow of goods and knowledge, and enslave others.
We live at a pivotal time in history. This scarcity-based system is changing. There are two main reasons for this: data is easily shared, and people love to share.
The information age allows pictures, music, books, and other electronically codable data to be easily duplicated at virtually no cost. Completely independent of money, the world can easily be swamped in humanity's greatest art and our most useful knowledge and insights. This has begun in a big way with efforts like Project Gutenberg, sharing vast numbers of books. And corporations are finding it difficult to plug the leaks of outdated material-based laws as peer-to-peer filesharing flourishes.
People love to help each other. The open source movement has shown that simple cooperation of people on a grand scale, where money plays no real part, can produce results superior to those made by the richest and most powerful corporations. Increasingly we are finding some of the best software products are free. But even beyond the computer world the not-for-profit sector (charities, non-government organisations, clubs, etc.) has become one of the largest and most effective parts of society, growing under our noses with hardly anybody realising it. The non-profit sector is now the world's eighth largest economy!
And a third aspect will come of age soon. A new technology, just now beginning to grow, will take these first baby-steps to a gallop. It is the 3d printer. Currently it is expensive and only small numbers of them exist. At the moment they are often called 3d prototyping machines. A person or a company wants to see if their design for something is correct, so they send the 3d computer files to the 3d prototypers to create the object for real. NASA uses this technology for manufacturing a lot of parts because they often need just one of each; off-the-shelf items don't exist and conventional production would just be too expensive. Some companies are starting to consider using 3d printing in their production lines because it can save them a lot of money while enhancing their flexibility in no longer needing to retool for different products. Some researchers have shown how to use conductive plastics to incorporate electronics directly into such 3d printed objects. Not long ago the idea that everybody would soon be able to have a cheap printer to produce high quality documents sounded absurd. In light of that it easy to imagine that we will all soon own small, cheap 3d printers. But this won't be just another in a long stream of useless consumer items because a 3d printer will be able to create other consumer items from data! And data is a fundamentally different thing. It doesn't obey the standard economic rules.
The next big step will occur when somebody circulates a design that uses a 3d printer to create another 3d printer. The machines should spread like wildfire.
For a while people will need to buy the material (most likely polymer powders) to feed the 3d printers, but in time it will be realised that it can be constructed from the elements in air (hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and perhaps chlorine or fluorine). Plants have been making polymers from air for hundreds of millions of years. Perhaps 3d printers might harness bacteria or some other nanotechnology to do the trick. When this happens I think they will begin to be called replicators. They will make things, quite literally, out of thin air.
Of course there will still be, for a long time, many things that can't be replicated by these machines, for instance the chips that power our computers, items that depend upon special materials for their capabilities, and hand crafted wares. But I think ways around these will be found. Massive parallelism can allow large, slow elements like the neurons in our brains to be incredibly powerful computers. New work on nanoparticles is finding that their chemistry and physical properties can differ remarkably from what you'd expect of their parent materials.
Scarcity will no longer assign much monetary value to most hardware. Similar changes will occur with energy, human services, transport, food, and land.
As equipment becomes more efficient the sun and ambient energy will become more attractive. There is low-level energy all around us; we just have to work out how to tap into it. We have had self-winding watches powered by casual arm movement for decades and now have watches that use the body heat of the wearer as their power source. Recently a researcher built a nanotech machine that was powered by brownian motion. We are bathed in sound, especially during the day. If that was to be 'rectified' (in the electronic sense of a diode rectifying alternating current into direct current) then that would produce a constant trickle of usable energy, similar to how a crystal radio is powered by feeble radio waves. There are even some physicists trying to work out how to tap the tiny fluctuations in zero-point energy. I'll believe that when it happens, but you never know...
One of the biggest problems with energy has always been storage. If we capitalise on plants' and microbes' trick of converting light or other ambient energy into chemical energy then that may allow us to stockpile it in concentrated form. On the other hand if we become very good at tapping ambient energy then storing it won't be so important.
This will reduce the requirement for money to just human services, transport, food, and land.
I don't like to talk much about these next two as people generally think they are so 'way-out' that they dismiss them out of hand. But they are no more unlikely than being able use a DVD to hold 5,000 books in your hand.
There is also the fact that virtual reality (VR) lets us build limitless numbers of infinite universes to explore... but I shall leave that discussion to another time.
I think we can expect that scarcity will soon cease to function as a model for an economy. How long will this take? Who knows? It is notoriously difficult to predict the future. Some of this has already begun with the data economy, the open source movement, the non-profit sector, and increases in energy efficiency. Some of it seems just poised to happen (3d printers now are similar in price to what DVD writers were several years ago). Whatever the timescale for these changes you can expect them to accelerate, with each step facilitating the next.
Thank heavens large (unofficial) parts of society are making preparations so that we will probably be able to take this in our stride. We can't depend upon the politicians to light the way; widespread corruption and abject worship of money mean they will be at worst an obstacle to progress, or at best irrelevant.
Afterword: I had previously assumed that money -- the very essence of scarcity -- would fall away as a butterfly sheds its ugly pupal shell. But I have recently been wondering... might it just adapt? Money could become simply an indicator of an object's true worth as judged by each person. Anyone might create as much much money as they wished and send it to someone whose work they admire. It would be an indicator of worth in the eyes of others. You couldn't buy anything with it, at least not in the normal sense, but there wouldn't be any need to buy things anymore. I know it sounds strange, but it is easier to understand if you replace the word "money" with the word "credit", in the sense of giving someone credit for a job well done.