What Would You Store to Maximize Value in 100 Years? A Thought Experiment
This is cross-posted from my blog.
When I was a kid, I used to want to not take my action figures out of the packaging because I knew it would mess up the collector’s value of it. After all, it might be worth a lot in the future! Beanie Babies, football cards, Pokemon cards—these were precious commodities to childhood John and to plenty of adults in the 90s.
How wrong I was. This is obviously not worth doing. You’d get more utility from just playing with them.
First, there’s the cost of storing the damn things for years taking up space in a tub in your attic. Second, it’s very unlikely they’ll be worth any real money in the future. For every one that’s worth hundreds of dollars, there are thousands that are only worth $5. You’ve likely paid hundreds of dollars for them in the first place. Now you have to do the work of listing and selling them, and you’ve made at best triple your money. The returns just aren’t worth it. If you just cared about making money, there are way better opportunities elsewhere (currently cryptocurrency).
If you wanted to store something that would be worth the most value in 100 years, what would you store?
Let’s say you had a budget of $50,000, or $100,000, or $1,000,000.
The most straightforward thing to do is to store $100 bills. But will we use physical currency in a hundred years? Will we even use currency in a hundred years? Even if we still used USD, inflation would just depreciate its value. I doubt any of the cryptos today will be the main one used. Maybe they would be a collectible, though?
Gold, gems, and other precious metals are the most lindy but I don’t know how valuable they’ll still be besides their use in manufacturing.
If I had to pick a precious metal to store, I’d probably pick rhodium which is going for a cool $16,650 to gold’s $1,907.10 and platinum’s $1,059.00. Funnily enough, in looking this up, I just learned platinum is currently worth less than gold. I always thought platinum was worth more than gold but apparently its price fluctuates more. It’s often worth more but not always.
You could store rare comic books or trading cards. Famous paintings. But if the world moves towards VR and such, then maybe people will care much less unless physical copies are still status items.
You could buy Action Comics #1 and hope the superhero franchises keep chugging along into the 22nd century, artistic merit be damned.
Or the T206 Honus Wagner and hope that the rise of blockchain esports cards don’t devalue it.
Certain types of art like famous paintings seem to store their value well but a lot of that might be due to money laundering and other nefarious purposes.
Unless you had a stupidly large budget, the famous expensive paintings are out of reach. You could buy a piece of art for under $1,000,000 but any art priced that low is unlikely to retain its value the way a super famous piece does.
It’s also important to consider actual rarity vs artificial rarity. Heroin is so expensive because it is currently illegal, not because it’s hard to manufacture. It’s smart to pick things that are intrinsically rare.
You’d also want things that are the least reliant on their value being dependent on trends. It’s hard to predict trends, though.
It would have been hard to predict that elements critical to making computers would become important, or what would become a technology-critical element in the future. The past hundred years were harder to predict than the hundred before that and so on and so forth. Maybe one could have predicted something like LCDs would exist and they would need something like indium, but seems like a stretch to me.
You could pick the rarest stable elements that are likely to be useful, but the scarcity and cost could drop significantly if and when asteroid mining takes off. Actinium is one of the rarest stable elements but doesn’t have much current use. Transuranium elements are among the most expensive substances on earth. Weapons-grade plutonium costs around $4,000/gram and Californium costs more than $60,000,000/gram. Seems unlikely a non-billionaire could get Californium or some other element that is ridiculously difficult to produce. Plutonium would be interesting but it’d also be extremely difficult to acquire. It would also increase the risk to the receiver, and they would incur a cost to safely handle and/or dispose of it depending on future conditions. The half-life is also a problem but could be treated like standard depreciation, though.
Storing various types of IP would be interesting. Commission the artist/author you think would still be valued and have them produce a work that you think would be popular or valuable in the future. You can pray either they don’t get cancelled or cancel culture doesn’t last, haha. I can’t imagine an artist doing as good a job on something that wouldn’t be read by anyone for a century, but maybe they imagine everyone in the future opening it and don’t want to disappoint them.
Maybe IP laws won’t be like they are now so people would be reticent to pay.
There are some weird expensive things like truffles or rhino horn. I don’t know how well truffles keep and they aren’t expensive enough. I hope the rhino horn alternative medicine bullshit doesn’t last into the 22nd century. Agarwood is a fragrant wood used in perfume and other good-smelling things. The highest quality stuff goes for $100,000 a kilogram. But the more virtual we become the less perfume we may use.
Every article cites antimatter as the most expensive substance. I don’t know how antimatter is stored but it seems like it falls into the Californium problem but way harder.
One thing that’s not on most lists is Botox which is apparently one of the most expensive substances. But its main uses will be over when we solve aging and disease. Also, it’s one of the most hazardous things to store and handle.
A smart strategy might be to combine some of these. Commission a piece of art by a prominent artist and have them make it out of rhodium, stick some gems on it, and store a Bitcoin wallet in it.
What I like about this thought experiment is it forces us to tease apart the different types of value, the reasons why things are valuable, and to note our predictions about the future.
Ultimately, if we hit a post-scarcity society, maybe “stores of value” will cease to be as meaningful.
There are some solid and cute ideas in this thread. Bless the people who said “cinema popcorn”, “printer ink”, and “wife in a divorce settlement”.