The economic value of the entire universe

This one is about as speculative as you get:

Suppose, just for fun, that we accept Posner’s $600 trillion estimate for the value of the Earth. What then is the value of the Universe?

…We could try to calculate the value of the Universe by estimating the number of planets with intelligent life and multiplying that by $600 trillion. It’s very hard to guess the number of such planets per cubic megaparsec. But since the Universe seems to extend indefinitely, the result is infinite.

That’s my best estimate: infinity!

But that’s not very satisfying. What if we limit ourselves to the observable Universe?

No matter what I say, I’ll get in trouble, but let me estimate that there’s one intelligent civilization per galaxy.

A conservative estimate is that there are 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. There might be twice as many, but perhaps a lot of them are small or less likely to support life for various other reasons.

So, I get $600 trillion times 100 billion, or


as my estimate of the value of the observable Universe. That’s $6 × 1025, or $60 septillion.

That is from John Carlos Baez, via Benjamin Lyons.  And to think it all cost nothing to produce…..the ultimate free lunch.


Valuation is very different from GDP.

Even if no other planet in the universe is habitable or supports life, every planet contributes to the "value of the universe" on account of the enormous mineral deposits that I am sure lie waiting to be mined by somebody

These mineral deposits are not currently mineable. I don't know when we will mine the planets around Alpha Centauri but it's not soon.
If we take a 1000 year horizon and discount the future value to the present using the risk free rate ( 30 year T bill rate) we get a significant discount factor of ~ 7 trillions.
Most likely the present value of these deposits is close to zero

-1. If the universe is uninhabitable then by definition the minerals will have no value. Logic is a weak point these days.

No, he said if nobody else is in the universe. If they can't be mined, then zero value. Right now, they have essentially zero value.


If there are only two people in the entire universe, but one is willing but unable to pay $20 billion to the other for the right to mine Jupiter, then the value of Jupiter is $20 billion, but the GDP of Jupiter would still be 0 if it's uninhabited.

Another way of thinking about it: America's GDP is about $15 trillion per year. That doesn't mean that American society can be bought or sold for $15 trillion. Likewise, Microsoft may bring in $100 billion in revenue annually, but that says almost nothing about their market cap.

The price is set by what someone is actually able to pay.

Being "willing but unable" to pay a certain price is a meaningless construct. In theory I would be willing to pay 20 billion for a pack of gum--if I were a quadrillionaire. So is gum worth billions?

+1. Right Wing House Music has listened to one too many EDM remixes because its clearly turn his brain into a Quinoa Kale grain salad bowl served to Brooklyn hipsters for mimosa Sunday brunch.

Do we even have use for those minerals? Isn’t pretty much everything we need on earth?

Negative utility has negative economic equivalence value.

If even one intelligent agent experiences an involuntary event which they would not accept on a free market for any amount of purchasing power, then that constitutes infinite negative economic value.

Same for the positive side.

Exactly. Economic value of something is a metric of it's economic utility to humans. We do not know the value of the universe to aliens, animals, or the Q continuum and are unlikely to.

IMHO the economic value of the universe (without humans) is zero. That is the fundamental baseline. So now, with humans, you are left calculating the economic value of something not currently utilizable. It has huge potential value, but only if you can get there. In my imagination a good analogy would be the discovery of the new world, or more recently and fictitiously our corporate Unobtainium mining operations on Pandora.


That's a ridiculous anthropocentric view. Utility is a universal concept that can be used to model the choices of ANY thinking being. If it can make choices, its choices can be modeled with utility.

And even if a biological organism is not thinking, its actions under different circumstances satisfies a similar optimization problem for which "utility" could be used to define the objective.

Economics is timeless and universal wherever choice is involved.

Yes. It is. Also, utility is a universal concept, but note that I said "economic value is a metric of economic utility." Utility is universal, value is completely subjective and, as I also said, quite possibly beyond our ability to evaluate (at least for now) within the perception of something not human. Any evaluation in that regard is speculative and "anthropomorphized" by comes and originates within us.

Tyler is famous for "markets in everything," but I hesitate - once again - to assign choice where it may actually not exist.

The tree, when it falls in the woods, may indeed make a sound without anyone to hear it, but it doesn't matter. There is no interaction with any other economic agent ( There is no decision maker in the loop (religious arguments aside).

universe seems more like a liability than asset. too big to manage.

I'd like to meet the counterparty on the sale.

I'd like to be the attorney for either side.

Hell, I'd volunteer to take notes.

On tablets ? You could become the new prophit (sic) of "the art of the deal."

You really gotta ask yourself how Jill Filipovic can use Tom Petty as an excuse to both give Stormy Daniels perfectly tepid PR and write so redundantly. The woman made $130,000 not from getting married, not from sexual assault, but what? From an affair. We're talking about affair. There are homeless people. Write about homeless people. The fact that "pervasive" and "swaths" is used in the same paragraph as a "pole-dancing Hester Prynne" is disgusting. How much bad taste can the Times poison America with?

Like something out of Gibson, not only where the future is already here, just unevenly distributed, but where text collages appear as Cornell boxes to attract attention.

The capital gains tax will be horrendous.

An interesting fact is that cosmic expansion means that the number of galaxies reachable in theory by a ship traveling at the speed of light is always decreasing, at the rate of about 7 each day. We really have to get on with developing fast spaceships!

I am genuinely curious how you calculated the 7 per day figure or where it is from. Link maybe?

"reachable" means that the distance we're limited to is from here to a distance where the "stretching" (between here and there) reaches c, the speed of light.* This is roughly a spherical surface, and because we know the stretching is accelerating, that spherical surface is shrinking. All that's needed is to determine the distance at time X and the distance at time X+24hrs and then calculate the volume of "lost" space. Assume matter density is uniform & estimate it, and (volume lost) x (# galaxies per volume) = # galaxies. QED. (* past that limit, the points of space (and the things like galaxies, stars, planets, rocks, atoms, etc. occupying those points) are receding (stretching isn't a velocity, but is equivalent to velocity) from us faster than the speed of light - meaning starting now, we couldn't reach them (without exceeding the speed of light - which is physically meaningless nonsense). That limit is about 19 billion light years ( the radius of the Observable Universe is about 46 billion light years, but this has nothing to do with the calculation). IOW, light from Earth can't reach beyond 19 GLY from here and in a billion years that distance will be less, because stretching is getting faster (larger?).

Thank you. I was aware of the basic process, just not of the exact numbers. I'm curious if 7 is roughly right or just made up.

Less than one Zaphod Beeblebrox

Come Tyler, twice in one day you've failed basic economics. The value of an asset is determined by what a buyer pays (or is estimated will pay) in a free market.

Considering Budget deficits no longer matter, the space force may be willing to pay a pretty Penny ( or is it Pence?) for the assets.

I'm sure Trump Enterprises is willing to sell the Universe to the US Space Force at considerably less than $60 septillion.

Trump would give it away for free if Putin was on the other side of it.

Came here to say all of this.

I do have a Millennium Falcon for sale though. Can I get $4 Bn for that?

There maybe a difference between the "observable universe" and the "real universe," but that difference is not measurable. So there is no difference in the economic value.

What about depreciation? Will be quite high , considering it over the life so far of the Universe. Specially if we are allowed 200DB.

It would probably be over a straight line 30 billion year schedule. So that would be roughly $2 quadrillion per year.

Nice tax write-off.

Of course, he is assessing value based on our earth-bound concept of value. What is value? Is it the Trumpian concept of value (what's the value to me), or can value be assessed based on something that embraces the cosmos? One of the stranger things here on Earth is that value to many Christianists has taken on a meaning that is Trumpian rather than universal.

That's economic value through our lens. Someone else in the universe might me in a different state of evolution and through their lens our value might be quite close to Zero than infinity :-)

Actually, math is math, and 60 septillion, is closer to 0 than it is to infinity.

"No matter what I say, I’ll get in trouble, but let me estimate that there’s one intelligent civilization per galaxy."

Has our galaxy's been found?

You need to step outside Brazil to find it.

(couldn't resist)

Because, then you can see Brazil!!

It would seem though, as it is priced in dollars that property closer to the Earth would be of higher value. I would say one might be able to purchase an entire galaxy on the edge of the observable universe for less than a small flat in Hong Kong. Like they say in the real estate business: location, location, location.

"And to think it all cost nothing to produce": bah! What do you cost seven days of God's time at?

It's a little cheaper, he only worked for 6 days.

Yeah, but how long was each day. It certainly wasn't Earth time.

amazing that it took humans to bring on the 5 day week.

Typical estimates using the Drake Equation vastly overstate the probability of life and, moreso, sentient life. They often rely on the existence of planets within a habitable zone. But these ignored numerous idiosyncratic factors that made sentient life on Earth possible in addition to liquid water:

1. A molten iron core created a strong magnetic field to protect the atmosphere from solar wind.

2. A large moon to stabilize our orbit and to absorb life killing asteroid strikes.

3. Jupiter clearing debris from the solar system and itself absorbing asteroids.

4. The molten core also warming the earth enough for live to survive at least two ice cataclysms.

5. Enough cosmic radiation to create mutation but not so much as to destroy all life.

The earth could very well be alone in the galaxy as having sentient life.

I suspect you're probably right on the galaxy, but there are 100 billion+ of those...

Wikipedia claims 2 trillion galaxies in the Obs. Universe.
(see 1st paragraph (in lead))

That analysis is a little too anthropic for me. I'm sure there are other sets of circumstances under which life could have evolved; I just don't know what they are. You're basically saying that the conditions that produced us are the only conditions that could produce any intelligent life, and there's no evidence of that.

It's weird to imagine that Apple is worth 1/600th of the value of the entire planet. This seems wrong. Apple's value is largely a matter of perception. It's value could be cut in half in an instant through revelation of scandal or malfeasance. Or a competitor could create something that renders much of Apple irrelevant. Compare that to all the minerals that make up the earth. Or the overarching value of the biosphere that makes life possible. Apple fades into insignificance. This is the problem with economists equating value with a dollar figure.

The 2014 world GWP is around $78 trillion. Apple's revenue in 2014 was $180 billion. Which is a ratio of 433 to 1.

Yeah, putting a value on the earth seems nonsensical. Value can’t exist without it. To us, its value is infinite.

It looks like a free lunch, but what about the inflation?

And what about Universal Climate Change! The Heat Death of the Universe is approaching. The End is Nigh!

A good way to prove the subjectivity of value. At this point, I'd be more than willing to trade any ownership I could have of the universe (minus earth) for the mere $600 trillion that earth is apparently worth. Or $20, for that matter.

If Earth is worth $600 trillion, your share is around $80,000. Not too bad but not exactly f*** you money.

It seems like you should give a time discount to very-distant values, equal to the time it would take for a ray of light to get here from there. Special relativity for time discounting ;-)

One suspects that no matter what the value is, the Ferengi will have found a way to monetize it.

Declare the galaxy a public good with all humans on earth getting an equal share. I am willing to sell my shares a week from today. The bidding is now open.

The problem is that barriers to trade are just a tad high.

If we accept the notion that the universe is expanding much more quickly than we can reach anything, even traveling at the speed of light, then the discount value of virtually all of these assets is zero: We can't get to them ever. And, given reasonable discount rates, we'd never attribute any value to them.

This seems to me a lot like a proven versus unproven reserves problem in resource extraction. Most of the theoretical value is in the unproven reserves (stuff we can never reach, even traveling at the speed of light.) Some tiny fraction exists in proven reserves (stuff we would reach traveling at the speed of light at this very moment) but the rate at which planets shift from proven reserves to unproven is very fast.

"If we accept the notion that the universe is expanding much more quickly than we can reach anything, even traveling at the speed of light, then the discount value of virtually all of these assets is zero: We can't get to them ever. "

The galaxy isn't expanding away from us. So, umm, after the first 100-400 billion stars are picked through we can consider the Big picture.

Meanwhile, far below and back on Earth:

how much could a huge Coronal Mass Ejection accompanied by X4+ class solar flare(s) aimed oh so cosmically right at our shuddering planet cost us? (Presumably, ISS personnel get a few hours' heads-up to abandon ship.)

This question doesn't have an answer in the abstract. The value of something only exists in the context of a willing buyer and a willing seller. Everything outside the Solar System is virtually worthless for a human to own because humans have no way of getting there. From the perspective of a human it is basically one big, highly detailed open access painting.

So is that opening bid?

In the 1880s, in NYC and in the Midwest, there were hundreds and hundreds of talented musicians and comical performers and actors whose grandchildren, in the 1960s, starred in , or wrote for, that vast explosion of creativity you think of as "nostalgic 1960s TV shows" but that I think of as "the golden years of American television shows".

I mean, I prefer Mozart and Shakespeare, but I have to admit that the value of all that 1880s USA talent sure did show up in the efforts and inherited genius that our beloved 1960s TV classics demonstrated (the 50s were produced by people who did not care enough about talent and the 70s TV shows were belated, from the point of view of eternal art, mostly)

so, in entertainment dollars, what is the value of the entertainment knowledge of the people who lived in the 1880s in NYC and the near Midwest ,and who had grandchildren who starred in every 60s show from The Beverly Hillbillies to Gilligans Island, and so on? how many beautiful homes in the LA area were paid for out of the accrued and inherited value of people who entertained each other in the 1880s, and who passed on their skills to their grandchildren, one way or another?

(can you tell I know lots of real estate agents?)

I would consider the habitable portion of the Universe. If we cannot survive beyond Earth then we are dead. Considering the scarcity involved, $600 trillion is a very conservative estimate.

Hypothetically, the observable Universe has value in energy, extraction, short-term survivability, structural integrity and seed material. The rest of the Universe has value in structural integrity and seed material. The last two should be discounted accordingly.

Tyler, this is highly and insanely speculative.

Still, it's much better than any projection of what Earth's temperature will be in 2050 AD, so I think we need to take it VERY SERIOUSLY.

The Cowen Conundrum :When the Redditors reach 60 Septillion, will Earth exist?

This reminds me of Steven Wright's joke:

"You can't have everything. Where would you put it?"

Thats all well and good; but I only put my skin in the game when the Earl Scheib index is +100

$600 trillion for something that makes $75 trillion a year does not sound like good value. You must be expecting business to drop off.

Is there any value without consciousness? Talk about speculation...

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