federation

Socialism: A love story – Star Trek

Star Trek, in all its spin-offs and manifestations, has always been one of my favorite entertainment franchises. But lets face it, the world of Star Trek is a Utopian socialist fantasy. Realizing this fact actually makes watching Star Trek  more enjoyable. I get a kick out of watching and pointing out the absurd economic and political fallacies in the show. There are two main aspects to the socialist fantasy of Star Trek, the economic and the cultural. Economically the show is yet another instance of the classic utopian socialist fantasy of a society without money. Culturally the show reflects the prejudices and misconceptions of modern paternalistic liberalism.

Gene Rodenberry imagined The United Federation of Planets as a society that had moved beyond money. Supposedly the invention of replicator technology, in which energy can be transformed into any kind of matter, had created a post-scarcity society for which money was now superfluous. We are expected to believe that the citizens of the Federation have moved beyond greed to a higher level of human consciousness. With replicators people are now free to follow a higher purpose than the base acquisition of personal wealth. A couple of quotes form Captain Picard illustrate the general attitude towards money and wealth taken by the writers of the show:

A lot has changed in three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of ‘things’. We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions.

The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century… The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of Humanity.

This attitude towards money is utopian, wrongheaded and naive. Money is not evil or a symbol of greed. It is simply a universal medium of exchange. Money is necessary for any society functioning above subsistence level. Not using money is in fact a step backward towards primitiveness, not a step forward into the future.

Money prices are a rational way of assigning value to resources. Prices are necessary to decide how resources are to be divided up amongst people. A society without money would be impossible, even with replicator technology. No money means no prices, and thus no way to rationally decide on the distribution of resources. It would fall into the socialist calculation problem on a massive scale. Without any money at all the problem would apply not just to the state, but to every single individual in society. No one would be able to decide anything. Individuals would have no way to know how they should use their time. There would be no way to decide who gets what or what anybody should do.

Even if we assume that replicators produce all end-use goods for individual consumption this does not completely eliminate the problem of scarcity. The replicators still need energy to function. How is this energy produced and who produces it? If everyone’s needs are supposedly taken care of by replicators, who will make the replicators and why would they do this? How is it decided which people will do it?

End-use goods are not the only resources that can be scarce. Individuals, land and time are also scare resources. They require some kind of medium of exchange to assign value them to and make it possible to rationally allocate them. Why in a post-scarcity society would individuals subordinate themselves to Captain Picard? Why couldn’t everyone be captain? Why would Scotty be the engineer on The Enterprise instead of some other ship? Even if Scotty absolutely loved to engineer, how would he know what to engineer?

Land and time are also obviously scarce in the universe of the Federation. Starfleet is always out looking for new planets to colonize. How is it decided who has property on Earth, and who will be a colonist? Colonization and exploration take time, as do all other activities in the world of the Federation. People are not instantly transported from one planet to the next, nor do scientific experiments yield instant results. How do people decide how best to use their time if there is no way to rationally allocate? How much time should each person spend working for the Federation and how much time should they spend for leisure? It would have to either be centrally controlled and backed by force, or left up to the whim of the individual.

The Federation also engages in warfare with other civilizations. Why would they do this if there was no scarcity? Not only do they engage in warfare, but sometimes they lose in battle. How could they ever possibly lose if resources were not scarce? Why would they go into battle with 100 ships instead of 100,000 ships? After all, if resources are not scarce they can immediately conjure up 100,000 new ships instantly at no cost whatsoever. Obviously the idea of post-scarcity is bunk, even in the fantasy world of Star Trek. Why even write stories about such a society? There would be no conflict, and thus nothing interesting to write about.

There is certainly no private property in the Federation. In all the episodes of the show throughout the years there have been no references to private companies in the Federation. No company logos and no advertisements are anywhere to be seen. No consumer products are shown other than standard issue Federation or Starfleet gear. There is no evidence that Federation citizens are engaged in commerce or trade of any sort. No one has a private starship, or even a private shuttlecraft. It seems that people must either join Starfleet or work for the Federation. There are no other employers. Most characters are Starfleet officers, but sometimes there appear characters that are politicians, diplomats or scientists. We can safely assume that all scientists must work for the government.

Based on its premises, the Federation would necessarily have to operate like a totalitarian communist state. Unfortunately it is portrayed as a utopian dream society rather than the nightmare dystopia that all communist states in history have been. There are references throughout the show to the fact that The Federation is a perfect society without war, disease, poverty or hunger. Clearly a society like this without money, where all goods are produced by a machine and all people only work for the betterment of others can be classified as a utopian socialist fantasy. I put Gene Rodenberry in the same category as the utopian socialists Robert Owen, Charles Fourier and Jacque Fresco. These men have all envisioned perfect utopian socialist societies of one variety or another.

Fourier and Owen were 19th century utopian socialist philosophers that imagined future societies without money. Fourier called his imaginary society The Phalanx after the ancient Greek military formation. The Phalanx was imagined as a society of exactly 1,620 people living communally in a building that would be specially designed to have both urban and rural features. This idea actually gained a following in its time and 29 different communities were founded in the US based on Fourier’s ideas. The most famous were La Reunion in Texas, The North American Phalanx in New Jersey and Community Place in New York. None of these communities lasted more than a few years. They all eventually failed as the enthusiasm of the settlers waned and people moved away. The histories written about these communities don’t usually say so, but when you read between the lines it becomes obvious that lack of private property was the main reason for people leaving.

New Harmony as imagined by Owen

Robert Owen himself attempted to found a utopian community without any money or private property at New Harmony Indiana in 1825. By 1829 it had already collapsed. The individualist anarchist Josiah Warren was an original participant in the New Harmony experiment and offers some insights as to why it failed:

We had a world in miniature — we had enacted the French revolution over again with despairing hearts instead of corpses as a result. It appeared that it was nature’s own inherent law of diversity that had conquered us. Our “united interests” were directly at war with the individualities of persons and circumstances and the instinct of self-preservation.

Cybernated Government

The Venus Project, which was founded by Jacque Fresco in the 1970s is probably the utopian vision that is most similar to Rodenberry’s Federation. I would not be surprised if Fresco actually got his ideas by watching Star Trek. Despite Fresco’s claims to be some sort of innovative social genius there is not much different about The Venus Project from other utopian fantasies. Fresco claims to have invented a “New Social Design” based on what he calls the “Resource Based Economy.” In their own words:

The term and meaning of a Resource-Based Economy was originated by Jacque Fresco. It is a system in which all goods and services are available without the use of money, credits, barter or any other system of debt or servitude. All resources become the common heritage of all of the inhabitants, not just a select few. The premise upon which this system is based is that the Earth is abundant with plentiful resource; our practice of rationing resources through monetary methods is irrelevant and counter productive to our survival.

Modern society has access to highly advanced technology and can make available food, clothing, housing and medical care; update our educational system; and develop a limitless supply of renewable, non-contaminating energy. By supplying an efficiently designed economy, everyone can enjoy a very high standard of living with all of the amenities of a high technological society.

University of Global Resource Management

Yawn. We’ve heard it all before. No money. No private property. The cool paintings are probably the only thing that is actually original about The Venus Project. The idea that scarcity is artificial and resources can be distributed according to a central plan is as old as Marxism. Many have taken to calling the Venus Project “Marxism with Robots.” Fresco envisions society being planned by a central computer that decides how all resources are to be used and distributed. Ironically there have been several episodes of Star trek that seem to warn against just this possibility. Presumably central planning is fine as long as humans are doing it, and The Federation maintains that human touch. Or the writers of Star Trek just never thought that deeply about it.

While economically the Federation is a utopian socialist fantasy, culturally the values and ideas expressed in Star Trek reflect those of modern day liberalism. This is probably because the writers are California liberals and they write their own biases and prejudices into the show. Elitist liberal cultural preferences prevail everywhere in the show. To give just one example, apparently everyone in the future only listens to classical music and opera. No lowbrow styles like rock, heavy metal, country or hip-hop are ever heard. Everyone that is not in the military has some sort of academic career like a botanist, historian or archeologist. Time is spent by these people jet-setting between conferences in  their various fields on different planets. It’s like a universe filled with NPR listeners.

The Original Series episodes were mostly space adventures with a military-socialist bent. Everyone had a rank, a color-coded shirt and they all answered to the wise all-knowing cowboy captain. By the time The Next Generation came out The Enterprise had become sort of a floating UN in space, spreading human rights and social justice to the galaxy. Many of the episodes deal allegorically with the hot-button social issues of the time like gay identity, the rights of the disabled and assisted suicide from a liberal perspective. Other episodes often deal with bureaucratic structures of government and interplanetary diplomacy. One thing you never see is an episode where the crew of The Enterprise meets an alien race that has no government. This is probably beyond the imaginary capabilities of the writers.

All the societies with which the crew interact are also centrally structured. Whenever the crew beams down to make contact with a new society or a new race it is always basically the same. They go right away to meeting with the planet’s ruler or ruling body. The aliens all seem to wear the same clothes as well. Aliens for the most part are treated as members of groups, not individuals. They are given characteristics based on their group membership and they are assumed to share interests based on their race. It is a kind of intergalactic version of racial identity politics.

Liberal bigotry

Probably the worst example of present day liberal prejudices coming through is the treatment of the Ferengi, the only civilization in the galaxy whose society is based on free trade and private property. While Starfleet officers are all depicted as handsome, noble, heroic, and self-sacrificing, a sort of “New Socialist Man” if you will, the Ferengi are depicted as monkey-like, money grubbing, sniveling little wretches. Many of their physical features as well as their behavior are reminiscent of the worst Nazi stereotypes of Jews. This reveals far more about the bigoted nature of liberalism than it does about how societies with free enterprise look and operate.

The writers get everything backwards when it comes to the Ferengi. The culture is depicted as backward and misogynistic. The government is depicted as bureaucratic and oppressive, while the communist government of The Federation somehow preserves individual freedom. This may be the biggest lie of all peddled by the writers. There is never any reference to rules or laws in the Federation, while the Ferengi supposedly have a huge code of 285 laws known as “The Rules of Acquisition.” They even have an enforcement agency called the FCA to make sure no Feregi step out of line and accidentally treat their  employees well or give a customer a fair deal. Yet contracts are also supposedly sacred to Ferengi.

When the home planet of the Ferengi is visited the bureaucrats are shown to be nasty, venal and greedy — just as we would expect bureaucrats to be. But why aren’t Federation bureaucrats like this? Why is it the society based on free trade that has backward cultural values and an oppressive government when in reality we see the exact opposite? In the real world countries that have a greater degree of economic freedom also tend to have more personal freedoms, progressive social values and gender equality. But this is not how liberals would like to see the world. They dislike reactionary social values, and they dislike capitalism and economic freedom. So naturally they put the two together to please themselves.

So how can we explain this? Why is it that The Star Trek writers have these biases? Why would they create this kind of fantasy world? It is because they grew up in a system where the ideas of individual freedom, capitalism, private property and trade are all treated with hostility. Most people in this country that went to public school have been raised to have these values. The military and the government are treated as ideal social structures in public schools. Central authority is praised. The government is where all prosperity is assumed to come from. Economics and logic are not only not taught, they are actively shunned. Racial identity politics and multiculturalism are taught. Children are taught that their value comes from their membership in an ethnic group, not from their own individuality. Politicians and Generals are celebrated as heroes, while capitalists and businessmen are treated as villains. Given that all these prejudices are taught to us in school, it is not surprising that they are reflected in fantasies about the future.

101 thoughts on “Socialism: A love story – Star Trek

  1. Tim White

    You are an idiot. You and those like you are the reason we can’t have nice things. Your small minded ness dooms us all. Thanks a lot moron!

    Reply
  2. LB

    The statement “not using money is in fact a step backward towards primitiveness, not a step forward into the future” is rather obtuse and closed-minded, much like the whole article.

    Money is also a technology, which has changed very little over the past. It is actually more of an overhead that slows down transactions and progress because of the imaginary value society places upon it. The future of societal evolution is a more neighborly one where we do not need to bill our Earthly neighbors for the things we do for each other, especially when the technology of automation is advancing and freeing us from mundane labor. Ownership is also a concept of division when society is evolving closer together. We all use the resources and no one explicitly owns them. The society is growing more and more supportive of community without the need for money. Open-source concepts are a proven example of transparency and community support.

    Star Trek is a rather nice vision of how an evolving society would develop post scarcity, both artificial and natural, which is where we as a society are headed. Keep in mind that we currently have the technology to give everyone on the planet a better life regardless of the quantity of money they have although we do not currently have the mentality to do so. That will also develop with evolution as a part of the evolution of consciousness.

    The Venus Project has some nice ideas although there are better ways to do things. There are some interesting and informative videos available at http://www.moneylessworld.org

    Reply
  3. Gábor Rajnai

    Well, yes, the good old questions of supply and demand. Except, if you wake up from your great capitalist dream, you see, that the whole system is hacked.
    Resource scarcity: You mentioned something about energy and its price. Well happy to inform you that for 99.9 percent of your energy consumption you don’t pay a cent, it is coming from the Sun for free. If it is happening everyday, and even the capitalists can accept the fact, that we don’t have to pay for sunrays, then why is it so obvious, that we have to pay for energy, if it is created via basically the same artificial process? Ok, but who would make the reactors? Well robots. But there is nothing new, the current reactors are made by robots as well, you are paying money for nothing.

    Why starfleet has resource scarcity problems, awhile the everyman doesn’t. Well adress this question in a different way. Uranium is a scarce ore in Earth. As an everyman you doesn’t need it (I hope, you doesn’t plan to aquisit uranium rods in your bakyard just because it is scarce). Military needs it to produce weapons, but it hardly has to do anything with the everyman’s desires. I assume it works the same way for starfleet. They need certain stuff to produce warships, which are scarce, but you don’t need them to produce even a shuttlecraft.

    Ok, but land is scarce, and everyman needs it. Can I ask why? If there is a replicator, which can produce wahtever you want, why do you want to produce cereals in a land? Ok, you can do it, but there is no real point to do it.

    The free enterprises question: Well believe it or not, in star trek free enterprises exists. For example you can own a restaurant, even make private reserarch on your very own starhip. There are no international companies though. Today a lot of the production comes from them. As far as I see, you can’t settle down that most of the people in star trek are working for the government. Well then I ask you the question, what makes the difference for a regular employee to work for the government, or to work for an international company. They have their own management, leaders, who determine what you have to make, and what is not in the interest of the company, there is no creatzive surpluss involved. They in some cases even don’t have one person who owns the company behind them. I don’t really catch the difference in this level.
    Yes, but capitalists are making a certain driving force what makes “better products” for “lesser costs”, while central planning (never really stated in star trek but, lets assume it for a moment) doesn’t have it.
    Well, as far as I know in capitalism 1/3 of the price of every product you find in everywhere is pure marketing. So then how can you state, that any economy, which produces goods for 2/3-th price of their capitalist counterparts will be more expensive than the former one? And capitalism makes “better products”. In what context? According to the capitalism the price of everything in the market is determined by supply and demand right? And what happens if it is hacked in a way? I assume you know, that everything that is produced in the modern society has a lifespan. Maybe you know the fact that the lifespan of 99.9% of your goods, what you can buy currently is artificially deteriorated. I mean that for the same price that you are spending for a new Chevrolet, they could produce a car, which would work for 50 years. What they do is turning the remaining 2/3 of the production cost of the Chevrolet (they already spent 1/3 for bullshitting if you remember), give a lot of money and effort to highly trained personnel, who otherwise could work on interesting new ideas, who work out ways to their product couldn’t last that long. They ritually sabotaging their own products, and in the process it doesn’t become cheaper, it become way more expensive (you know how hard a task for example to adjust a steel to brittle just after four years? It has to make four years otherwise their product would be considered shit, but it shouldn’t last for ten, otherwise noone would buy a new Chevrolet. And it has to be recalculated anytime a new engine block is intended to be produced. And this is happening because the lack of imagination of the main ideologists behind the capitalism, that how they could survive in a world full of everlasting products. Don’t mention, that if the energy scarcity is the main driving force behind capitalism, then how could we afford this artificial idiocy, what is the greatest energy consumer in the whole world today? But it produces more advanced products right? Wrong. If you compare for example the two cars, with virtually the same parameters o (f.e. ccm), ne is produced in 1938 one is produced in 2010 you will see that the consumption of the latter is almost the same than its predecessor. In 70 years, with two oil crysis behind our back they couldn’t come out with one thing challengingly new (they also didn’t intended to be, because of capitalysm’s main motto “business as usual”).

    Yeah, but we need that system to create jobs. Can I ask why? We are making useless junk just to create new jobs? Then why we don’t put our scarce resources into more sound projects and gives the basic living needs to those people, who can’t find any jobs? Because of the myth of work ethics? Then this is the dumbest and most expensive moral educational project what the humanity ever involved in (of course most expensive I mean not your mistifyed green papers with a number on it, but based on those scarce resources)

    Yes, but there is not a free lunch, you have to pay for what you use otherwise noone care to develop new things. Well it is particularly funny to read this in a blog, which is operated completely free, which is hosted in a computer, what the author never payed for, and I found it via a search engine totally costless, and writing via a community web which I never payed a cent for. Then how does this adds up? These services are free because just human developers involved and nearly nothing real material is used to make their products? So raw materials are the main denominators of a service cost? Yes of course it is ridiculous. Raw materials are the cheapest parts of the whole game, if it would be otherwise, then Brasil would be the richest country in the world as it is the greatest iron ore exporter, and the US would be the poorest, because it is a net importer of every kind of raw materials. Then how do they give you these quite clever services? Because people believe, that google is, facebook is, and the serverpark where I write is a great company worth to invest in. They BELIEVE it, it is not a fact, or any rational thing.

    Yeah, but if there wouldn’t be money, then how would we pay the most for the most talented?
    Well, if we would pay the most for the most talented people, then the richest people would be NASA engineers, not Wall Street brokers I assume, so this is not the point of capitalism at all.

    But if it doesnt work, then why is it works better than There comes the real genius of star trek writers, the Ferenghis, and their rules of aquisition. You say these are laws, but according to the show these are rather holy texts of the Ferenghi society. They surely have the same kind of technology, the Federation have, so they don’t really need the money for survival, profit is their god. The same stands exactly for capitalism. It’s fundamentals are religious dogmas, nothing to do with reality. The price of the chevrolet for example has nothing to do with the scarcity of the iron ore, or coal. People believes that the Chevrolet worth that sums of money, which is by the way a piece of paper with some numbers printed on it, and people believes, it has a worth. If we look at the world today, if a UFO would land near the New York stock market, and would intend to spend its gold pressed latinums on one country according to the common sense he would invest into China as it is “the factory of the world” and dump the US state bonds, as it is has the greatest state bonds in the world. If we look in the numbers it works exactly te opposite. Is is because people believe, that if they lend money to the US they will get it back, and don’t believe, that they will get it back from China as much. (Thatswhy marketing is a so important point in capitalism, it is nothing to do with rational thinking, they try to persuade you that you will be a cool person if you buy a certain product, and try to manipulate you on the most deeper level of your animal psyche). At least Ferenghis doesn’t pretend that they are making business out of common sense, like the average fans of capitalism try to do.

    Yeah but in a central planning (never obviously stated in any show) the power would be in a minority’s hand. Why isn’t it now? You have to be really a daydreaming, if you think you have the same amount of power, that f.e. Warren Buffet has. So the upper 1% have the power today and some of them even didn’t deserve it, they inherited it from their ancestors. Of course you are saying that it is a catastrophe if the everyman gets that sum, that gives him the basic living standards, but it is a kind of OK thing, that the sons of the billionaires will get every kind of scarce resources without work.

    Yes, but the socialist system is inheritedly evil, we have seen it in the Soviet Union, which was a police state. Well Cuba was a pretty pro capitalist police state before Castro, as well as almost the whole third world, I wouldn’t dare to conclude that every capitalist state is evil based on that fact. I wouldn’t even dare to say, that economics has anything to do with human rights as well. It is a different field.

    Yeah, but then if there is no money, then who would clean the toilet? You would do, my little friend. You made the mess, you should clean it up, not to wait, that one of your slaves will clean it up after you.

    Reply
    1. Amicus Curaie

      You fall of the central planning, unreal-utopia (literally “no place”) cliff almost right away in your argument. You’d do everyone a favor by putting your great eloquence at work in the opposite direction. That is a compliment on your writing.

      Gabor, you are almost accurate that 99% of the energy we use every day _originally_ comes from the sun. However, and I hope you consider this, it is _human individuals’ ingenuity and great _labor_ which converts the raw materials of the earth and the energy we can access into things that humans need and want. People do not normally want paid for _things_, they want paid for their _time_, their _labor_, and their _ideas_of how they see/determine in their small perspective how to convert the resources and energy available to them into things that _other humans_ want. People _pay_for these things willingly, as they have made different decisions and had different opportunities with the resources (including intelligence and/or strength) they have had available to them.

      I could go on but if this interests you you will search for the confirmation yourself. People _pay_for the things they want, people _want paid_ for the time and energy they have sacrificed (self entitled idiots think things should be free for them).

      Fair? I’m sorry, all men _are not_ created equal, nor should they be. Individuals’ unique positive attributes can and should drive our interactions/trade. You may be a great writer, but how could you have time to think and write without farmers, garbage men, the oil-change guy? This is why I honor these people, they are more important day-to-day I am, just a simple law man and father.

      I tell my kids how important some under-appreciated jobs are, how relatively useless some high-profile jobs are (like theoretical physicists and lobbyists/politicians), how important agreements (contracts) are; and, as they are all quite young, I find it important often to tell them “fair is where you take the cow to try and win a blue ribbon”. Be young at heart, my friend, but not young in your head.

      Reply
  4. R. White

    You clearly have not watched much of the different series within Star Trek. Based on your gross errors on facts you perceive from your knowledge of the Star Trek universe, I find it difficult to believe you have watched more than a few episodes, and those only in a cursory manner. There clearly is private ownership or property, business entities, starships, and even entire planets. Money or credits are also used when purchasing items not produced on Federation vessels, particularly when trading with other species or individuals not within Star Fleet. Sometimes barter is used in trade with other species.

    You seem to equate technology with magic that is unbound by the laws of physics. It would be impossible to “conjure up” things as you describe because matter is required to manufacture anything with a replicator. No replicators were ever depicted that would work on the scale you describe, such as replicating a starship. There is no suggestion that scarcity does not exist, only the want of things necessary for life and the ability to improve oneself. There is clearly trade with other civilizations.

    The Federation’s prime directive limits contact with civilizations that are primitive, and rarely results in open contact without some form of disguises used to blend in with the local population. First contact usually occurs as a society is about to develop warp capability, or at the very least some practical form of interstellar travel. A presumption within the Star Trek universe seems to be that a primitive, warlike species, will not have a centralized government, and rarely will advance far enough technologically to be a welcome member of the Federation. Comparisons to the UN are not unfair, bur somewhat inaccurate. The Federation has both more and less power than the UN. For example, it is totally taboo to interfere in what is deemed a civil war, although it is permissible to prevent interference from other outside sources. An example being the Federation preventing Romulan interference in the Klingon civil war for control of the Klingon Empire.

    War between competing societies is sometimes inevitable, regardless of whether the societies are socialistic, capitalistic, or of some other variety. Whenever one society believes it can take from another by war at a lower cost than in peaceful trade, or on society believes the other is a threat to the existing order, the there will be war. Humans, like all other social animals on Earth, develop hierarchies within the social groups. The leadership within a society will use its influence and dominance of its subordinates to have the subordinates serve the interests of the dominants. The subordinates go out to fight while the dominants remain safely behind. It is another presumption in Star Trek that other forms of intelligent life will be organized into social groups like humans with the same emotions, drives, interests, and values. (After all, it really is just a morality play set in the future with the added element of life on other worlds and the ability to interact with them.)

    Who can say how our world would change if energy were abundant and virtually cost free? What could someone do with today’s technology with a 3D printer and free, unlimited energy? Add the ability to alter and reform matter at will (replication technology) and what are the limits? Yes, it is more complicated than that, but the premise is sound enough to begin discussion of the hypothetical consequences.

    Reply
    1. faithkills

      The Federation is clearly a socialist utopia. But the show had many different writers and they were not all of the same mind. So in some episodes you you might have Harry Mudd who seemed to own his own starship but in others there were blatantly overt socialist screeds about how the Federation was beyond money. In still others this philosophy was mocked when Cisco’s son wanted the Ferengi kid to give him some money. Nevertheless on the whole the Federation is a central planning propa piece.
      But that’s not why I replied. If you think replicators are the catalyst that might allow a socialist utopia you seriously missed a fundamental reality of economics.
      A replicator is merely an efficiency multiplier like a cotton gin or a washing machine. It makes some things cheap, but that makes others more valuable. If your meal only costs you a few cents, a few minutes of your days labor say, then the other things important to you will be what you work for. Wants are an infinite ordered list. If one is satisfied then you use your remaining resources to attempt to satisfy the next. When the washing machine was invented and people didn’t have to spend hours a day washing clothes they didn’t say, ok now I am happy forever. When things are made cheap, or even free (though even with replicators there is no ‘free’) people just move to the next thing to want.
      The problem for central planning is ONLY you know the order. And it can and does change all the time based on relative valuation of resources and other peoples’ valuation. No computer or central planner can determine this because your subjective valuation, and everyone elses’, change as a result of those decisions. If you subsidize high fructose corn syrup people will just eat more of the cheap stuff (and get fat) and then use the resources they might have spent on twinkies or Mountain Dew for something else.
      This problem cannot be solved. And it is why people become less happy (and less healthy) the more their lives are planned.

      Central planning is the problem.

      Socialism isn’t the problem per se, except that it depends on central coercive planning.

      Reply
    2. Amicus Curaie

      First, there are few bigger star trek fans than me (particularly TNG and voyager, DS9 I liked but it was clearly a different flavor of sci-fi). In my younger days, I loved the hypothetical technologies (including their oft references to “cutting edge” theoretical physics), but never had a lot of thought about real economics and real-life individual drives.

      But for Pete’s sake, criticizing the author for glossing over some details of the star trek world is kinda missing the forest for the trees he had pointed out, no?

      That is a good seque. The forest is a concept, the trees are actually there. I’ve found many significant flaws in “new” physics due to this tragically common error in perception. Math does not _make_ the real world, it’s _true_ function is to describe the relationships observed _within_ the real world. This failure had led to such enormous errors as talking Einstein’s proposals seriously! Despite the fact that the fundamental premises he suggested were logically contradictory and offered NO insight into the real world that we actually live, breath, eat, and die in. And no, he absolutely did not discover that mass contained enormous energy. That concept was perceived and calculated decades before him (he borrowed the premise, did not conclude it from Relativity Theory). And a diligent search and clear thinking will show you that his theory was absolutely NOT ever proven (certainly not by the few real world experiments that claim to do so) nor could relativity EVER be proven, because it is non-falsifiable at its core premises. (That’s why relativity is dead to today’s physicists, who also waste tons of money, time, and ingenuity smashing particles into each other. But they are personally invested, so they don’t want to admit to the public Einstein/Relativity was a waste, as Public might catch on that quantum physics is also). Loved imaginary star trek, “what if?”, but have come to accept that it has nothing to do with practical physics, any more than with practical economics (as the article is pointing at).

      Your last words, R White, “hypothetical consequences” say it all. Observation of the past (all the way back, but particularly post-Marx), and simply honoring the simple axioms of logic, show that we do not need to rely on “hypotheticals” to know the REAL consequences of abandoning the value of personal property and individual liberty, as opposed to totalitarian central-control of society’s (Earth’s) resources.

      Remain true to observation and logic, my friend, not ideologies. It may not be easy to see how individuals using their own “selfish interest” can remedy the problems we see in society today, but central control of resources and money (central banks issuing fiat money and collecting tax by force) has led to the greatest atrocities humans have ever endured; significantly, the fake money to pay for those atrocities with.

      Educating individuals of the consequences of making good deals and honoring those agreements, and investing in themselves and their “customers/employers” not to mention their local community (Who will take care of me when I am old or fall on hard times if I’m a “capitalist dick” in everything I do? _No one_ if I’m not one of those sociopaths getting rich of of promoting or exploiting ideologies and collect enough money to pay the self-hating who will do anything for enough money. Good thing there are not many sociopaths who are that rich. Too bad there are multitudes of self-haters who support them for a paycheck. Too bad most of the people promoting these ideologies will end up rotting away on the likes of medicaid after their life’s savings gets distributed among the likes of the sociopathic demogauges). Reaping the rewards of good choices and enduring the discomfort or pain of bad ones is the only solution that stacks up to reason and evidence. Hypothetical ideologies, based on emotional desires and child-level imagination (a powerful overlord could fix all the problems if he/they had enough power), have caused much more pain and destruction than the mistakes of individuals ever could come close to. Help those who deserve it. Be compassionate to those who need it. But for the love of all that is good, do not think that those who make uneducated or bad choices in their lives deserve to be equal to those who have the ingenuity, strength, discipline, and integrity.

      The promotion of the study of morals (simply honoring agreements and never initiating force) and logic can save humanity from itself. Ideologies which insist on “hypothetically” having the grand solution have enslaved masses to the benefit of oligarchs throughout history and today. Unfortunately many individuals are so far from morals and logic, they unwittingly finance their enslavers, hoping that the tyranny of the master will not befall them as long as they are a “good slave”. Simply evaluating actual-vs-official-inflation rates shows how obvious the tyrants abuse and lie, while hypocriticaly espousing “honor” and “national pride”.

      The real solutions might be challenging for us individuals, rich and poor alike (I am relativity poor, care deeply and sacrifice daily for my children, take no state-subsidy, and believe that my investment/sacrifice today will lead to my/our prosperity in the future). We can help each other and should help those who help themselves. – however, hypothetical solutions based on theory and cherry-picking evidence will never be a solution, it has always been the problem. Poor choices of myself and others can be made an example of and learned from, not defended and blamed on the “historical power brokers”. I know they are there, I know some of them are evil and many more are dysfunctional and/or misguided. But it serves NO ONE to wish for a day when a computer or a cross-your-fingers-benevolent-dictator will make sure no one makes any mistakes – while ignoring the responsibility of the power brokers and those poor who are willfully ignorant (not all poor, just the blaming-willfully-ignorant poor) to experience the harsh _real consequences_ of bad choices and disrespect of others’ rights and property. I’ll take that over a dreamy never-never-land of ANY ideological promise of eternal peace and wealth for all any day, and twice on Sunday.

      Reply
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  6. TheGoodNews

    Even recent history shows examples of a moneyless society:

    “In most anarchist collectives money was abolished. ‘Here in Fraga,’ the local paper proclaimed in blazing pride, ‘you can throw banknotes into the street and no one will take any notice. Rockefeller, if you were to come to Fraga with your entire bank account you would not be able to buy a cup of coffee. Money, your God and your servant has been abolished and the people are happy.’” – The Spanish Civil War by Anton Beevor

    Reply
    1. Mike P (the emptiness pro) Post author

      ROFL. Yeah the Spanish Civil War. How did that work out for you?

      “The people are happy.”

      No, just scared to death that they will be executed for using money or disobeying the will of the central planners of these glorious “anarchist” communes.

      See my other article on anarcho-socialism for why that system is actually the most tyrannical and repressive system ever conceived by human imagination.

      Reply
      1. TheGoodNews

        You mean Anarcho-Syndicalism.

        Were you actually there? Hemingway was. Orwell was. Many other observers were and provided a different take on the situation. Why should I be anymore differential to you than them? See your article? Sure, in light of your apparent “objectivity?” Central planners? In an anarchist society there aren’t supposed to be any, only local assemblies organized in a decentralized federation. These in turn would be organized into a larger decentralized confederation. (Hence, no centralized authority.) The local assembly would include you and all the residents in your community, would be non-hierarchial (in some ways like the New England town halls) and autonomous of all the other assemblies. They would form rotary committees delegated with specific task & organized on a provisional basis. Everyone would be eligible in principle to participate on these committees for a single short term only, so as not to become too aggrandizing. And the general assembly can override and dissolve these committees (if they tried becoming too hegemonic or became obsolete) by direct democratic control as opposed to a representative democracy. Power from the periphery to the center. Not the other way around. It’s not a state capitalist society like the soviet union nor mao’s china with an obvious hierarchy and permanent caste of bureaucrats.

        If that wasn’t the case in anarcho-syndicalist Spain, then you would need to provide actual examples that would contradict the positions of various observers. And again, one would still have to use what Solzhenitsyn called discernment anyway, as political bias may or may not be cutting both ways.

        “There was no unemployment, and the price of living was still extremely low; you saw very few conspicuously destitute people, and no beggars except the gypsies. Above all, there was a belief in the the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine. In the barbers’ shops were Anarchist notices (the barbers were mostly Anarchists) solemnly exclaiming that barbers were no longer slaves.” George Orwell; Homage to Catalonia.

        “Many of the normal motives of civilized life-snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc.-had simply ceased to exist.” George Orwell; Homage to Catalonia.

        “In some CNT collectives the committee automatically took less than anyone else so that they would never be accused of profiting from their position.” – The Spanish Civil War by Anton Beevor.

        Like I said niether of us were there. But numerous accounts insist industry wasn’t centrally controlled but directly administered by the factory workers themselves much like present-day Argentina. Do we see the Argentinian workers in the self-managed factories living under the terror of centralized tyranny or do you see them taking initiative during a severe economic crisis and managing there industries in a directly democratic way? If self-management in 1930s Spain was the tyranny you insist it was (based on your premise), but not so in contemporary Argentina, then the problem is not self-management (autogestion). But some other supposed factor, if any. But then I haven’t read your article. So I don’t know if you provide any support for your case or if your position is simply against the idea of self-management (autogestion). If so, then what’s the difference between a company owned by one or a few individuals and one owned cooperatively by the employees? Which one is consistently structured more democratically or hierarchically? Which one produces more satisfied, and in turn more productive workers? Are you familiar with Mondragon, the world’s largest worker’s co-op with over 80,000 employees? Hasn’t cooperative management proven itself a viable option in its own right?

        Reply
  7. Blah

    Check out TNG episode Symbiosis.

    There’s robust trade between a rich planet that produces an addictive drug–and claims its relief for a plague that no longer exists–and a poor planet full of drug addicts who produce everything else to get the drugs.

    Eventually, it all falls apart because the drug addicts forget how to maintain and repair their ships, and the drug dealers don’t know how to do anything useful.

    But the idea of market oriented healthcare providers becoming rich by selling unnecessary healthcare to poor workers? And infrastructure crumbling from neglect?

    Totally unrealistic and Sci Fi, unless you’ve spent anytime looking at U.S. economic data.

    Reply
    1. Mike P (the emptiness pro) Post author

      In what universe do you imagine that there is market oriented health care in the so-called “United States”?

      Reply
      1. Matt G. Leger

        Why on Earth (or any other planet) do you think we have the world’s most expensive health care in the US and one of the poorest rankings of outcomes of treatment, if not because our health care system is market-dominated? What would you consider “market-oriented health care” if not our system, and why not?

        Reply
        1. David Kinghorn

          Yeah right. The health care industry is one of the most tightly regulated in the country, the AMA Is a government granted monopoly, and the “insurance” agency is deep in bed with the government to keep prices high and keep out competition. Get rid of the AMA and all the rules and regulations and you’d see prices fall dramatically. In countries like Chile where you actually have close to a free market in medicine, prices are 1/50th of what they are in the US. Since when did government involvement ever bring down the price of anything?

          Reply
  8. Blah

    Actually, socialist societies are more technologically advanced and more socially liberal. Just compare France, the Netherlands, or the Scandinavian countries–the closest thing in the world to socialist societies–to the socially backward U.S., with its massive military spending, 1% of the population in prison, high infant mortality and low life expectancy, crumbling infrastructure, environmental destruction and waste, terrible science and math performance on international exams, rampant religious fundamentalism, and dependence on European and Asian scientific and engineering expertise.

    The writers of Star Trek understand the real world better than the average libertarian ideologue.

    Reply
    1. Blah-friggin'-blah

      Actually, the facts trample your claims.

      Remove African-Americans from those stats, and the US performs as well or better than your “socialist” Europeans.

      US violent crime rates, if African-Americans are exluded, are right in the middle of European rates. Even with African-Americans included, they are better than the rates of Russia and its neighbors, still clinging to much of the wreckage of their failed socialist systems.

      Reply
      1. Nathan

        What a brilliant way of manipulating data. Exclude an historically persecuted under-class from your calculations, and your average goes up. But why stop there? Why not ignore America’s poor all together? Then we’d all be rich, on average.

        And its good to know we compare favorably with failed states like Russia “and its neighbors.” Makes you feel good. I bet the Germans and the Swedes and the Dutch feel much the same way about us. They compare favorably to the US on several metrics, including health, education, personal freedom (yep), and over-all quality of life. And they do so with only a fraction of the wealth we have. Socialism. What a failure.

        Reply
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  10. Shane Fortune

    Mike P.,

    This is a wonderful and well-thought out article. As a Star Trek fan fitcion author, “Star Trek: Maxwell’s Misfits,” and a former businessman, I took a great interest in what you had to say. I am currently a public school teacher, and I have found that the difference in behavior between the public and private sector is astounding. I never heard any of my fellow salesmen/women complain about their pay to their customers. Pay is important, of course, but the customer doesn’t want to waste his or her time on our personal problems. But I know teachers who routinely complain to their students about their lack of pay, because they feel like venting and there is nothing that the students can do about it, even though their parents pay the taxes that support the teachers’ salaries.
    Some people claim that in 400 years, mankind will be very different. Why should it be? We really haven’t changed our natures that much in the past 4,000 years.
    One thing that I have noticed about Socialists Utopian Societies, whether it is the local school district, a state run university, or the Soviet Union–the guys at the top are paid tremendously well and have great benefits despite all the talk about equality. Apparently, equality is for the little people. The people at the top of Utopian Societies live like kings.

    Reply
  11. esskay

    It’s obviously pointless and particularly nerdy to devote any time to thinking about the make-up of a fictional society on a sci-fi TV show, but what the hell, I’m gonna do it anyway.

    I really enjoyed the article, and agreed with many of it arguments, however I think in the end it suffers from a lack of imagination, boxed-in Fukuyama-like thinking that there is nothing new under the sun and that we have reached the end of history.

    If you really think about it, the show is set 400 years in the future, and so much of human knowledge and mindset can change in that time. I’m not just talking about technology but cultural norms. 400 years ago from our time everyone “knew” that the king was anointed divinely by God, everyone “knew” that it was horrific for women to act on stage, but perfectly acceptable to bait bears with dogs. People would be utterly perplexed if you told them that slavery was wrong – it wouldn’t be within their comprehension to see foreigners as equal human beings or that anyone but the aristocracy had inalienable rights.

    See how much can change in this time? Opinions and ideas we couldn’t even imagine will be accept fact by almost all of society – so perhaps people could accept working without money, and putting the common good ahead of personal acquisition.

    But then we come to the big question: how could such a society develop? I disagree with your apparent axiom that any action by the government diminishes every individual’s freedom. I look to the socially democratic nations in Europe (this very different in its outcomes, aims, character and values from socialism or communism, but practically no American understands this) such as Denmark, Holland or Sweden, where the government has a larger role but better health outcomes, fewer teenage pregnancies, less crime and violent crime etc.

    If you visit these countries you can’t help but be impressed by their civic spirit, avoiding tax is not seen as heroic but a terrible thing to do as it damages the community. Unless you take a zero-sum few of freedom as the lower tax rates are the more free you are, I don’t think you can argue that these countries are any less free than the US – in fact you can argue they have more influence over their government with a proportional voting system and no money in the political system – and more freedom to fulfil their potential as they can access higher education as a right whatever their background, and don’t have to worry about losing their house if they get ill.

    There has been much interest recently in the ideas of the likes of Prof Richard Wilkinson who has shown that inequality lies behind most if not all social problems. His book “The Spirit Level” also demonstrates how high levels of inequality also increase consumerist desires for things like fashion labels, bigger cars, houses etc. As their seems to be very little inequality in Star Trek (and also no lack of freedom) it is not really surprising that they no longer “need” to pursue status symbols which merely demonstrate accumulated wealth to their peers.

    It is not inevitable, but plausible to suggest that these ideas may gather support in the coming years as people realise by investing in better healthcare, schools etc everyone benefits from lower crime, safer streets and decreasing pressure to waste money on status symbols. Over centuries such attitudes could evolve into a society where money is not required as a motivator, and such a world seem only natural to those born into it.

    In the show the Third World War is constantly alluded to as a cataclysmic, earth-changing event. In the desperate world depicted after the war with scattered populations and “very few governments” depicted in First Contact, perhaps these groups might come together and build communities where all work together for the benefit of the group.

    The Federation does seem to take federalism seriously. Planets do not have uniform cultures or laws so there doesn’t seem to be an over-arching central government on Earth which dictates all policies for the UFP. We don’t really see it in the show, because the programme deals with major interstellar issues, but I’d imagine underneath planetary governments there are several smaller units with their own (possibly direct) democratic structures, probably devolving right down to towns and villages.

    Small communities seem to be very common and very important to people in Star Trek, whether its on the ships or on planets. I envisage the charter or constitution of the UFP devolving major autonomous powers to these groups, which would be the sphere most federation citizens interact with economics and politics and in these small groups it would be in their rational interest and seem completely normal to do work which supported the community, furthermore as education standards would inevitably rise massively, people could genuinely strive to work in whatever area interests them rather than getting stuck in a job which is uninteresting but provides financial security.

    This society doesn’t seem in any way unfree or intolerant, and I’m sure “eccentrics” like Sisko’s dad and Picard’s brother, who wanted to run “old fashioned” businesses and trade with other villages or communes, would be allowed to pursue happiness however they chose. History is full of examples of small groups and communities working in a co-operative way, and a cataclysmic event like a Third World War could certainly be a way to bring people together in this way again.

    Anyway, the real flaw in ST is that a lot of the characters are black and white, in 100, let alone 400 years time we’ll surely all be a pale shade of brown, and thank god for that!

    Reply
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  13. Godwhacker

    When everything costs nothing, nothing costs anything. That’s simple enough even for a conservatard to understand.

    Reply
    1. Blah-friggin'-blah

      So who fixes the toilets in your New Socialist World?

      And how do you pay him to shovel through your shit?

      Reply
  14. Matt Black

    Not a bad analysis, except I have seen no evidence to support your claim that it their society is “post-scarcity.” Your first quote from Picard that they have “eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions” is no proof. Perhaps your assumption is that providing more than anyone and everyone could ever want to consume is the only way to do that, but some would disagree.

    In fact, the statement that they eliminated “the need for possessions” implies that they found another solution. That solution does seem to be a bureaucratic centrally planned marxist division of resources.

    There are plenty of indications that they did not have unlimited resources. There were never enough ships, as Federation ships were often overcome by enemy groups and there was often no ship within range to respond. As another commenter astutely noted, there is always a scarcity of time. Horse, car, train, plane, warp 10 starship… it’s never fast enough to alleviate the human condition.

    Energy was certainly a scarce resource as they were always on the lookout for precious dilithium.

    If there was no want for lack of things then everyone could have a huge ship to himself instead of prowling around in little stolen shuttles like Mudd did. There would be no competition for the coveted position of Captain, anyone could be a Captain.

    They could have replicated endless ships and energy weapons to overpower the Borg. If the Borg somehow repelled that energy than they could surround them with an enormously powerful shield and crush them like in a trash compactor. Or manifest a huge mass around them that would form into a black hole.

    There are no obstacles when you have infinite energy and replicators at your command, but the Federation seemed to be struggling against many. In the TOS it always felt to me like they were in a perpetual struggle for survival and the never ending search for resources and habitable planets. In the Wrath of Khan they searched for a more energy-efficient way of terraforming, the Genesis project.

    So I conclude that the bureacratic and hierarchical power structure you noted was for the purpose of dividing up limited, not unlimited, resources.

    Reply
    1. Mike P (the emptiness pro) Post author

      Excellent points Matt. Perhaps I was not clear enough in the article, but I did intend to debunk the idea that the Federation actually is a post-scarcity society. All your points are correct in regards to that. Time is also a limited resource no matter how many material goods they can conjure out of thin air.

      Reply
    2. firefightergeek

      The problem with this who story is… Harry Mudd. He was a character in several episodes and money was in fact his motivating goal.

      Also, I would point out that money was never an issue in a great many shows of that era which featured military operations. Think Sea Wolf or one of the other submarine based shows.

      Corporations were not shown in the Trek’s of old, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist.

      Reply
    3. David Kinghorn

      Great point. Remember, money as a government creation is fairly new. Traditionally, it was a market creation. A hundred years ago, people could use whatever they wanted as money, and generally chose gold or silver. I suspect that in such a universe as this, if there was a free market for money, dilithium would probably end up being money. In the book “Sufficiently Advanced Technology” by Christopher Nuttall, antimatter is used as money.

      Reply
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  16. David

    The father of the Austrian school of Economics, Carl Menger, wrote in his Principles of Economics (http://mises.org/Books/Mengerprinciples.pdf) that Communism will work when resources are unlimited. But he forgot two things: individuals and land can never be unlimited. Unless you can automatically clone Steve Jobs, Paul McCartney, Jonas Salk, George Clooney, etc.—or even your own expensive, excellent doctor, plumber, or auto mechanic—human resources will always be limited and, therefore, need a market system with prices to signal the relative cost of different people’s work skills. Beachfront property in Malibu is limited too so, once again, you would still need a market system to determine the cost of which land is more valuable to a potential consumer.

    Considering that the vast majority of people who work in Hollywood are liberal (and, therefore, economically-ignorant), it should surprise no one that this type of Utopian drivel would find its way into a network TV show.

    Reply
    1. Matt G. Leger

      So “liberal = economically ignorant”, eh? How then do you explain Dr. Paul Krugman, an unabashed liberal and longtime teacher of economics, being awarded the Nobel Prize in the field? Or Prof. Robert Reich, also a teacher of economics for many years before and after being Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor? Or Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith (yes, he of the “invisible hand”), Jeffrey Sachs or John Maynard Keynes, successful and lauded economists every one? Most of those listed still living have forgotten more about how economics really works than you or I will ever know.

      And the fact that you and this site’s author find Star Trek full of “Utopian drivel” suggests that the pointed commentary arrows of Mr. Roddenberry and the various writers have hit their mark. And while Star Trek does have its shortcomings as far as realism in depicting human(oid) societies (planetary monocultures, cultural paternalism etc.), that doesn’t mean that at least some of the ideals expressed aren’t worth striving to achieve somehow or other. But then, I suspect you’re one of those conservative web-trolls who gets his jollies baiting liberals online anyhow.

      Reply
  17. A Trekkie

    “There is never any reference to rules or laws in the Federation”… except, of course, that there are. The Prime Directive. Starfleet regulations. A profusion of trials, as in “The Menagerie” and “Space Seed” (TOS), “The Measure of a Man” and “Witch Hunt” (TNG), and Star Trek IV, just off the top of my head. There are plenty of rules.

    There are no private businesses… except that there are. Sisko’s Dad, Picard’s brother, and Travis’s Mom all seem to do quite well for themselves.

    There are no bureaucrats… except that there are. A commodore in TOS ran the Enterprise straight into the Neutral Zone because he had zero field experience and didn’t know any better–that’s a bureucrat. The manager of the junk yard in “Gambit” was definitely a bureaucrat, as was the strategy expert in “Peak Performance.” And I *know* I remember hearing McCoy grumble about politicians and bureaucrats more than once.

    There’s never any music but classical… except that there is. Riker plays jazz, Spock plays non-classical harp, Picard plays folk-style flute.

    TOS was just space adventure (unlike the politically activist TNG)… except that it wasn’t. Racial conflict (half-white vs. half-black), overpopulation (Gideon), and the story of the Yangs and the Coms come to mind, not to mention the first interracial kiss on TV.

    This may not make sense in your worldview, but the fact remains, some people aren’t motivated and guided by money alone. Some people are like Scotty, who reads technical manuals when he’s off duty because he finds it “relaxing.” Some, like Picard, are driven by their ideals. Some would agree with Kirk’s advice in “Generations”: “Don’t let them promote you… because as long as you’re there [on the bridge], you can make a difference.” And some might just be driven by the same thing that convinces Kirk to leave the Nexus a few moments later: “Sounds like fun.”

    Reply
    1. Mike P (the emptiness pro) Post author

      Like virtually everyone else on this thread you totally misunderstand the economic calculation argument. The issue is not that money is the only thing that motivates people. Obviously not. I write this blog for free because I am motivated to spread the ideas of individualism, capitalism, free markets, non-violence and human freedom. The issue is that money is a rational way of allocating scarce resources. I argue that even replicators would not solve the issue of scarcity and that without money there is no way to rationally allocate resources. Scotty may love to engineer, but he would have no idea what to engineer. There would be no way for him to determine where to best put his efforts. I am also a big Trek fan, but I can recognize the limits in some of the premises based on the socialist biases of the writers.

      Reply
      1. Michael Parks

        You are the one using phrases like:

        If there is no money or anything else with which to compensate them above what everyone else gets, why would they do it?

        Perhaps people would misunderstand you less (which, given the general tone of your article, I don’t think has happened) if you wrote what you actually meant.

        Reply
        1. Mike P (the emptiness pro) Post author

          You left out the very next question which is “How is it decided who will do it?” That is the fundamental question that is decided by prices. Who does what and why do they do it? Without money and prices how is this decided? Just saying that people will do stuff because they want to is silly and misses the point.

          Reply
          1. Darkjoker7

            You’re missing the point if anyone is Mike. Everyone does whatever they want for “the benefit and advancement of mankind” A doctor keeps people healthy so that the mechanics can keep the facilities that grow his food operational. So that the mechanics and him can eat. So that etc. It’s a system of sustaining yourself by sustaining others. In this system you hurt when others hurt. They decide who does what based on who wants to do it. There will always be people who want to be doctors. I wouldn’t want a doctor working on me that didn’t want to be in any system of economics.

            A system like this requires no money, because the currency is your abilities. So long as you do your job you’ll never want. That’s more then any Capitalistic (scarcity and inequality based) system can say.

        2. Blah-friggin'-blah

          So, who fixes the toilets? Who deals with the leaky sewers? Or any of a multitude of boring, dirty, smelly jobs that no one wants to do now, even when the alternative to “no job” is “cold, hungry and homeless”?

          In all the lofty nonsense about “post-scarcity” no one ever seems to answer the simple questions like that. Probably because most would-be political scientists are blissfully unaware that their poop doesn’t just vanish when they pull the lever on the toilet.

          Reply
          1. Damiani

            robots and machines can do the shit jobs that noone wants, like cleaning toilets etc.

  18. rizzo

    Wow, talk about not understanding a post scarcity society. Money is certainly not necessary for a functioning society. Get some education on social theory there, guy.

    Reply
    1. Mike P (the emptiness pro) Post author

      Wow. Surprised I did not notice this howler before. No doubt rizzo is an expert on “social theory.”

      Reply
  19. gary busy

    this guy is a fucking moron. he openly admits the premise is a post scarcity society, and then goes on to talk about things from the point of view of a scarcity society… if it werent for the fact that he so successfully strung words together in an admittedly haphazard manner i would suspect he were illiterate.

    my god, why would people volunteer time to maintain the energy and technology infrastructure… gee, i dont know, maybe they LIKE living in a world where they can walk up to a fucking computer and get whatever they want. jesus christ what a dumbass.

    and then he starts talking about land scarcity, in a society with multiple planets, faster than light travel, and is constantly starting new colonies on uninhabited worlds.

    and yes, to an extent replicators can address land scarcity, you just build up instead of out with your infinite resources, asshole.

    this article is a good representation of the thought disease that infects all conservatives. it is maslows hierarchy of needs, when everyone has their physical and emotional needs met, NEWSFLASH they stop being dicks and start trying to improve themselves. my god, the novelty. you mean that innate desire of human beings for new and interesting stimuli would be converted into a glorious renaissance of humanity rather than being subverted into a self destructive and unsustainable culture of consumerism? jesus christ, i hate conservative ideals. you all have your heads planted firmly up your asses.

    Reply
    1. Mike P (the emptiness pro) Post author

      In other words, in a fantasy world all your dreams will come true. I hope you realize that you are basically acknowledging that the kind of society you would like would only be possible in a fantasy world with impossible technology that breaks every law of physics.

      Reply
  20. Ian Harac

    A few points — first, by the standards of, say, the Middle Ages, we HAVE replicators. It costs so little to make a pair of pants, a plate, a knife, a horseshoe, or most other simple goods that relative to most of human history, these things might as well appear in a burst of special effects, in terms of their impact on the economy.

    As the author notes, and many commenters choose to ignore, there is still scarcity. If two people want to live on the same spot of land, there has to be some way of deciding this. If I want to “better myself and humanity” by cutting down trees for exercise, at some point, someone will say “You can’t cut down those trees, they don’t belong to you.” If I want an original work of art — the Mona Lisa, a drawing by Jack Kirby, or just something made a craftsman — the ability to get a replicated version won’t make the original any less valuable, any more than the fact I can buy a print of the Mona Lisa, or hire a talented forger to paint me one reduces the cachet of owning the actual thing.

    But Star Trek is also inconsistent. Picard’s family OWNS a vinyard — and, presumably, they use trademark law or its 23rd century equivalent to prevent the Ferengi from just making “Picard Brand Wine” and selling it across the galaxy at a discount. Sisko’s father owns a restaraunt. Scientists sometimes talk about the need for funding — even if it’s just a matter of getting the Federation to agree to fund their experiments, this implies that a)the Federation only has so many resources to pass around, and, b)the funding must be spent ON something.

    Scarcity also shows in the form of skills and abilities. If the Federation needs a skilled archaeologist to study the ruins on Beta VII, but he’d rather catalog pottery shards on Earth… or has decided to give up on archaeology for a bit… they can either order him to go at phaser-point (and you’re sure to get good results that way… there’s a reason that even in fascist and communist tyrannies, necessary intellectuals were usually given the carrot, not the stick), or you offer him something he can’t otherwise get, which means there has to BE something he wants but can’t have, no matter how much “self improvement” he performs. And let us not forget “the oldest profession” — people will exchange services for sex, or other personal favors. The moment someone says, “I will do this for you, if you do this for me”, you have an economy. And the moment someone says, “I don’t need you to do that for me, but I need that guy to do something for me, and he needs you to do something for him, so you help him, he helps me, and I help you.”, you create networks that will mandate a medium of exchange.

    Further, without some form of contract (and a means to enforce them), no sort of organized activity is possible. If you run a restaurant and the serving personnel, assistant cooks, and so on all work there because “they want to”, then you constantly have shortages of staff, because on any given day, someone won’t want to work… or will work however they want to, without regard to what you tell them to do. Meals may or may not get made, tables may or may not get cleaned off, customers may be treated rudely or well or not at all. If you rely on fresh ingredients coming from people who grow vegetables “for the fun of it”, you will find yourself with constant shortages or surpluses. So what? You’re not making money, right? You don’t care? But your customers — the people you want to feed because you like to make food for people — will quickly stop coming. Why travel to Sisko’s Bar And Grill for food that he MIGHT be able to cook, to MAYBE be served by someone who MIGHT actually try to treat you well, when you can just get a meal 95% as good from the replicator? If you can’t perform a task 100% on your own, and you have no means of exchange with other people and no means to get them to stick to their agreement — you’re screwed. (Anyone who has worked on a collective unpaid project knows that you’ll get 900 people who say, “I’ll help!” but don’t do anything , 90 people who will contribute useless work, 9 people who will do something actually useful before just dropping it for something else, and 3-4 people who will do 90% or more of the actual work, though everyone who ever signed on the mailing list will be happy to take equal credit.)

    (Some of this nonsense has been retconned to “Starfleet Personnel” don’t have money, which makes a lot more sense — their basic needs are met, and they receive some form of credit or scrip they can use for personal purposes while on duty. This makes a lot more sense.)

    Reply
    1. Andrea Clark

      Very good reply! One thing that bugs me is the inconsistency. They have moved beyond the need for money, but they love poker. I’m sorry, but poker without real stakes is boring. They must be playing for something. Poker in a post-scarcity world is as boring as a drama set in a universe without conflict.

      Reply
  21. Kevin Stott

    Agreed, everyone getting along and sharing the pie equally without killing each other for it is distinctly Un-American, and most decidedly against current “human nature.” :-P

    Reply
  22. Orson Zedd

    Alright, so I agree with you for the most part, but I think it would be fair to say that a replicator would probably make Materialism, at least, superfluous.

    Reply
    1. Blah-friggin'-blah

      More likely it would—just as we see today—make “replicated” goods low-status. People would seek out “real-made” products and use them as status symbols, just as the narrator in Fight Club mocks the buyers of Ikea glass bowls with little “imperfection” bubbles…

      And we’re right back where we started, with people seeking wealth (in whatever form) in order to purchase the things (in whatever form) that they value.

      Reply
  23. Ellis

    >No money means no prices, and thus no way to rationally decide on the distribution of resources.

    When the only resource you have to worry about is energy and the Federation can create almost unlimited amounts of it, there is no need to distribute anything. If you want something, you replicate it. If you have the urge to create something new or improve on some already existing thing, you just do it. As for land, there are thousands of planets in the federation. If you really wanted land, you could hop on a space ship and head out to some sparsely inhabited planet and stake your claim.

    Sure it’s communist, but with literally no scarcity of resources of any kind, money would be almost entirely useless.

    Reply
    1. Bob

      I think land on your current planet could still suffer from scarcity, maybe. I think that would always be a challenge to manage. Would people own land? How would that work?

      In the end, people will tend to look out for their own interest first, so conflict over any marginally scarce resource is inevitable. I think the socialist/communist/utopian idea is unrealistic just for this reason. But, that could just be my inability to imagine a way to manage a scarce resource.

      Reply
  24. Rodney Johnson

    Of course there’s $$$ in the Federation.

    If not then what are the Enterprise crew playing for during all their poker games – back rubs?

    Reply
  25. RD

    Someone has not paid very close attention to Star Trek.

    There is money. It’s called credits, which is short for energy credits.

    Now, due to the ease of massive energy generation with matter/anti-matter reactors, and the fact that 99% of everything is recycled in replicators (replicated food is made from crap, literally, and if you get a rip in your shirt or whatever you just toss it in and replicate a new one from the old), and the fact that raw materials are easy to come by when you can do stuff like set up a whole planet or an asteroid belt for mining, and that they can use whole planets for colonization, everyone can have their basic needs taken care of.

    Money, or credits in this case, is used for luxury items, i.e. non-replicable (such as dilithium) or original/real items. The officers/crew on the various series all got paid in credits, it’s mentioned once or twice, but they never play it up, as they have little use for them on board ship. Anytime someone would be getting a real item like real food or an original Stradivarius, or anything where someone had to spend time and work to create it, or whatever, then credits are exchanged.

    We know that there are private enterprises on Earth and elsewhere in the Federation. Sisko’s father owns a restaurant, the Doctor had dealings with a holo-novel publishing company on Voyager, and there was at least one freelancer on TNG, and there are such stories as Mudd’s Women in TOS, and of course Harcourt Fenton Mudd himself. I have a feeling however that all necessary utilities (communications, power generation, etc.) are government owned and operated however.

    DS9 is a much better series for looking at Federation economics due to the fact that the other series are all tainted by the fact that they are on-board military vessels where they are allotted everything that they need, either the flagship of the Federation which is supposed to have the utmost paragons of Federation ideals on board, or out in the middle of nowhere where credits aren’t any good, while DS9 is on-board a civilian station, which means commerce, under the military governance of a guy who they just wanted to get out of the way somewhere where he wouldn’t cause trouble or punch an admiral or something (before they knew about the wormhole).

    People do things because they want to do them, because they have an interest in engineering or science or writing or what have you, as has been the case throughout human history as basic needs became better taken care of. 12,000 years ago, all humans were subsistence hunters, then they learned to grow food, and the same amount of people that could hunt enough food to feed themselves and their families in a small tribe could grow enough food to feed a village. People suddenly didn’t have to worry about what they had to catch today in order to eat. Did they sit around with their thumbs up their asses? Some, sure, they could afford to do so now. But most became potters and poets, scientists and priests, engineers and philosophers.

    Reply
    1. Doug Barbieri

      It makes me think of the Matrix–when the machines created a pure utopia for their human power generators. “Whole crops were lost” because their brains rejected it. I think that society would be stagnating, personally. There has to be challenge, risk and reward for life to mean anything.

      Reply
      1. Thesk

        There is still challenge risk and reward even if what is risked isn’t monetary. In a society where your basic needs are met (and really all, but your greatest needs), what you’re risking is your reputation. You’re trying to define your identity through accomplishment, through the relationships that you build, and by contributing something to the experiences of others. We take pride today in doing things that have value. The same would hold true in a post scarcity economy. In fact, it would be more difficult to accomplish it, because no one would have settled on a job that they didn’t really want.

        What you would find is a society where if you want to become, say, a holo-novelist, you will never starve, you will never want for material possessions, but you will not be a successful holo-novelist unless you are a very, very good. In part because without a survival pressure being exerted on all the aspiring holo-novelists, people could stay at it, trying to break through, longer than if they had needed to take a job to support themselves. More holo-novels would be produced and fight the attentions of the holo-novel consumers. But that they wouldn’t starve to death doesn’t mean that anyone would be comfortable becoming the Tommy Wiseau of holo-novelists.

        Reply
        1. RD

          I don’t know if an artistic role is the best example to use. Artists never think that their own work stinks, and thus there are artists out there going along quite happy with their work who make Tommy Wiseau look like Steven Spielberg and “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!” sound like “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” After all, Tommy Wiseau certainly seems comfortable being Tommy Wiseau.

          Reply
      2. Kevin Stott

        Hmm… a reward for risk, other than profit. I’d say, that would be… learning about new cultures in alien civilizations? Perhaps getting Q to turn us into assholish space gods? lolz

        Reply
  26. NiveusLuna

    The idea that money is the only way to ration things is stupid. There are other ways, the most primitive of which is the barter system. You trade goods, trade services, or trade one good for another service. And guess what? People still do this today, even in the United States of America, even in Hollywood, California. Yes, money is the most convenient for us, but that doesn’t mean the Federation hasn’t come up with another way.

    As for deciding who maintains the replicators… I don’t know, let me think… Ooh! I know! The people who *enjoy* that kind of work! There are people to whom loafing about doing absolutely nothing is intolerable, people who constantly need a challenge, people who need to be doing something *productive*, or they become depressed.

    And this is just factoring in human psychology. What about the Vulcans? Surely a race that embraces reason would understand that having a society of narcissistic loafers wouldn’t work too well (hint: not at all). Then there’s the Betazoids, who I assume would go stark raving mad if every single blasted person around them was narcissistic, lazy, or egotistic.

    You also seem to have forgotten that the Federation has friendly relations with several other governments, chiefly, the Klingon Empire… which notes how soft the Federation is and takes a great deal of pride in *not* being soft. I would assume that this also includes a rationing system and a culture that promotes being productive. Then there’s the Romulan Star Empire. I can guarantee you they have a rationing system, likely money, as a way to hold power over others.

    Look. A lot of stories don’t go into detail about how they ration their resources. That doesn’t mean there is no rationing. I admit I have always wondered how the Federation’s economy works without money to ration things, but that doesn’t mean it’s socialist. My hypothesis is that they ration based on your contributions to society and refuse to admit that they still use money.

    Reply
    1. Mike P (the emptiness pro) Post author

      The series is inconsistent on the use of money to say the least. And my point was not that there is no motivation to do anything without money, but that without price signals there are huge problems with allocations and calculation. Its not that everyone would be lazy, but that they would not know what to do or what needed to be done. Think about how often during your day you make calculation about what to do based on price. Perhaps with no scarcity in consumer goods due to replicators, this would not be such a problem and then a state bureaucracy would decide the rest by decree. That seems to be the system.

      Reply
      1. NiveusLuna

        I want to apologize for my previous comment not addressing your clarification about laziness not being the main problem. I started typing it up before you replied.

        I’m curious as to why you think a state bureaucracy is automatically the answer to the rationing problem. I don’t really have a better solution on the scale of a planetary system or higher, but I’d like to hear your reasons anyway. I can’t come up with any.

        Reply
        1. Mike P (the emptiness pro) Post author

          No need to apologize. Perhaps I think it would be done by decree because I cannot think of any other way. People use money to ration. We decide what we can afford and balance it against what we want and make our calculations based on how much money we have. Money is what we have to offer others for what they have. You get more by being useful to others. At least, this is how it would work in a society where people respected property and there was no theft etc. But for the most part this is how it works.

          So how then would stuff get divided up amongst people without it? Its tough to imagine. In communism the state decides everything, so I just assume that’s how it would be. In the real world communism fails because the state cannot possibly know enough to look after everyone’s needs. People are far better at doing that for themselves. But lets assume replicators mean everyone’s needs for end-use individual consumption are met. The the state then makes the rest of the big decisions, like when to build a new Starship or whatever. If people want to loaf an work the replicator and hang out on the holodeck I assume they would be left free to do so.

          Reply
          1. NiveusLuna

            Good points. I’m of the opinion that communism in the style of the USSR fails because everyone in an industry is paid the same regardless of their quality of work. Communism, in the political and economic sense, simply means that the government controls all industries. That doesn’t mean that people can’t be given raises and such based on their performance and abilities. It seems to me that nobody who favors that type of communism has yet figured that out.

            As for the type of communism where there is no money and everything is shared, conflicts of interest invariably erupt once the community is large enough.

            Do you think the state rationing board in the Federation would be elected, appointed by the legislature, appointed by the executive, or what? I imagine the populace would want some kind of say in who decides who gets what.

          2. Doug Barbieri

            “I’m of the opinion that communism in the style of the USSR fails because everyone in an industry is paid the same regardless of their quality of work.”

            No, actually, it’s a problem of economic calculation. Every company is on a quota system, which is completely detached from the laws of supply and demand. They were trying to simulate that by centrally planning who would make what and how much, but that is impossible to do without reeking havoc on the economy, causing shortages, massive queues, poor quality in production and starvation.

          3. Palmer

            You’re missing the point.
            Post-Scarcity = effectively infinite resources.
            There is no issue with dividing it up, because infinity divided by several trillion citizens is still INFINITY. You talk about using money to ration, but rationing by it’s very nature requires scarcity. Which doesn’t exist in a post-scarcity sociaety. Ergo, there’s no need to ration anything.

            You conflate unrelated issues. “Money is what we have to offer others for what they have.”
            No. Money is a medium of exchange… but it is not the ONLY medium.

            The problem with money is that it is objective, whereas value is always subjective.
            What I have to offer my wife (companionship, love, and all the little things) is of incredible value to her… and absolutely worthless to Bob in the next cubicle. Completely subjective, but you are trying to call it “money” and make it objective. It’s not.

            Similarly, my financial expertise is worthless to a comic book studio in need of an artist.

            Regardless – infinite resources = no need to decide anything, nor to ration.
            ANY argument that is based on the need to ration, or to allocate resources automatically fails on those grounds. Comparisons to historical communism or other socialist systems also fail, because they are all still based on the concept of scarcity.

            Seriously… tell me why I need to assert “property rights” on, for instance, a chair… when I can obtain any number of literally identical chairs at zero cost? Why should I care that “my” chair was taken by LeChuck down the road, when I can “have it back” for free, by making a copy. Of course, leChuck would never bother stealing my chair because it’s actually more work and effort to do so. Why come to my place, pick up my heavy chair and carry it away, when he can just say “Make me a chair” and have it instantly, for free.

            Traditional concepts of property simply do not work in this kind of setting. A better comparison would be digital files, like mp3 music.
            Right now, you can make your own copy of my music files, for effectively zero cost. Now you have a copy… but so do I! I have not been deprived of anything (theft always deprives the victim of something tangible, but copying files does not, because it’s an act of creation), and we both have what we want.
            (For example’s sake, the file being copied is my own creation, and I consent to the copying)

            This is post-scarcity in a nutshell. Nothing needs to be assigned, divided or rationed, because everything is created as needed. With advanced technology, energy is effectively infinite. Between solar and geothermal power, we have more energy than we could use.

    2. NiveusLuna

      Heh. I should’ve thought that through a few more minutes before hitting send.

      You do raise some good points. Without money, a lot of people today would have no idea how to choose what to get. They’d either be left clueless, or they would just try to obtain *everything* they could. That doesn’t mean everyone would, but a lot of today’s people would be. That doesn’t mean that money is the best measure of value today, either. I know plenty of people who think that the most expensive brand is automatically the best, when I can point to a bunch of entirely free alternatives that beat the daylights out of the expensive brand.

      Based on what we know of human psychology today, yes, a lot of people would end up being loafers who refuse to do any sort of work. Why should they? They can get along just fine without being productive. There are the people I mentioned in my previous comment, but they are not nearly as common.

      And, as other people have pointed out, and you yourself have accepted, it’s possible that the human mind will simply change enough once we discover warp drive and replicator technology that these problems won’t happen.

      There’d still be the issue of where to get the anti-matter that powers everything in the Federation, though…

      Reply
    3. Kevin Stott

      Picard has it all wrong, the Ferenghis (think I misspelled that, oh well) had it right. We must all follow the First Law of Acquisition, written by Dick Cheney in the forgotten times of lore ;-P

      Reply
    4. Bob

      You do realize that capitalism is just formalized barter, with the items being traded abstracted into a valuation using coin – i.e. money.

      Barter is capitalism.

      Reply
  27. Mike P (the emptiness pro) Post author

    A lot of people are pointing out inconsistencies in terms of the use of money. This is valid. The writers were inconsistent. True Dr. Crusher does seem to use money in that episode. But then we have the quotes from Picard that I cite as well as other quotes from Kirk in The Voyage Home. So there is inconsistency here on the part of the writers.

    A lot of people are also saying that the problems I bring up would not exist. I can grant this point. If you are willing to buy into the utopian fantasy, then the problems of allocation and scarcity can be assumed away.

    But the article is also a critique of utopianism in general, not just pointing out some internal inconsistencies in the utopia portrayed in Star Trek. Why would someone imagine a society without money in the first place? What kind of prejudices would lead someone to do that? That is why I compared Rodenberry to previous utopians.

    Reply
  28. Zzarchov

    Lets look at the problems you exist:

    Money IS medium of exchange, that is all it is. You are correct. So in a post scarcity world what are they going to exchange?

    Goods? keep it, I’ll replicate my own. Metals and mining rights? Again, I’ll just REPLICATE my own. Land? Do you have ANY idea how BIG the universe is? Add in terraforming and you get a situation where everyone can have their own continent.

    Why do people work then? Most probably are useless hedonistic twits (they cover how ‘soft’ the federation is a lot during the wars and leading up to them). But find any batch of engineers, and once they have hot pockets and porn they just want to tinker and build for the hell of it.

    As for Ferengi culture, To quote Quark:
    You’re overlooking something. Humans used to be a lot worse than the Ferengi: slavery, concentration camps, interstellar wars. We have nothing in our past that approaches that kind of barbarism. You see? We’re nothing like you… we’re better.

    Reply
    1. Mike P (the emptiness pro) Post author

      I love that quote from Quark. Thanks for posting that. Your other points were good as well.

      Reply
      1. Zzarchov

        Thinking some more about this “Pr0n and Hotpockets” scenario as the industrial base of the Federation, while no doubt not intended it would explain much.

        1.) On every starship there are 5-10 enlisted engineers and everyone else is an office in some form of leadership (Hundreds). In the past there were a lot of nurses and security guards, but now even doctors are largely automated. This works for an environment where people only work at jobs they want to. Doctor (God Complex), Officers (Boss Complex), Security (for those who don’t fit into an ultra-pacifist wuss society and want to break a skull at some point), and a handful of engineers to actually do the work..if they feel like it.

        Then you have to wonder..how do they compete with a highly organized military organization like the cardassians? I have come to the conclusion that the federation must be VASTLY superior in technology to pretty much everyone else (no doubt due to their constant annexation and refusal to share technology).

        The only reason they don’t conquer everyone is because..each starship is run by people who just want to be boss, with 17 officers commanding each engineer who sometimes kinda works (but as Scotty shows..largely bullshits for praise and free booze).

        Thus the giant space battles are more a contest between a lower tech organized military (think the Spanish Armada) versus a higher tech but disorganized federation (Think modern cruise liners and freighters jury rigged with anything MacGuyvered together. ‘weapons’ made of iPhone based control systems, trebuchets throwing barrels of burning fuel, etc). Which is why only the federation seems to have the science at its disposal to stop weird space time anomalies.

        OR

        The writers didn’t really think things through because its a science fiction series.

        Reply
        1. Mike P (the emptiness pro) Post author

          I ignored the issue of combat in this piece, but if you think about it there would be no way that a society that had really conquered scarcity could possibly ever lose in combat. They could just conjure up as many ships as they needed to win any battle. You would also think that they had no reason to engage in combat since everything is provided. Where is the possibility for conflict? Since there is conflict and the Federation loses sometimes we have to assume they have not really conquered the scarcity issue.

          Reply
  29. Jason

    It really is an issue of supply and demand. In the future “economies”, the only valuable resource is power. Since we can only assume they have figured out that whole cold fusion thing, we can assume power is ready available.
    In fact, I’d say they have an unlimited supply (except when their shield are drained). As for Earth, I am sure shield power is not really an issue. So as the supply of power approaches Infinity, the demand for goods approaches zero.

    Since goods are food, clothes, shoes, banjos, etc…. Picard is correct when he says “People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of ‘things’. We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions.”

    Reply
  30. John F.

    In the opening episode of ST:TNG Dr. Crusher buys some cloth from a merchant at Far Point Station and says “I’ll take the whole bolt. Charge to Dr. Crusher.” In most of the source books they use Federation Credits for payment. It is a cashless society, except for the Ferengi who deal in latinum pressed in gold bars. In DS9 people from the Marquis (Federation defectors) have established colony worlds of their own because food they grow organically tastes differently than that from a replicator. I’m just guessing that non-replicated items are considered art or luxury items, be it food or a musical instrument. The Picard family winery is another example of private sector work where the product is sold for Federation Credits or bartered with Ferengi for gold pressed latinum. Who gets land? Colonists claim land just as the frontiersmen of the old days. You just stake your claim on space on a new planet. The military role of Starfleet is to find new worlds for people to live on and I’m willing to bet that farming colonies are still necessary because replicators can’t do everything.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Stott

      Yeah, what are Federation Credits? Do you get 200 of them when you pass Go? Also, don’t worry about land, they can just go replicate them another planet, or better yet just fly to one hahaha

      Reply
    2. Kevin Stott

      But no seriously, Star Trek is not real, it was a delusion in some failed screenwriter’s syphilitic mind, was never intended to hold up under scrutiny by the combined analytical abilities of FanBoys. I mean that in a nice way, worry about real life. BTW I really did like Star Trek so don’t call me a hater pleez.

      Reply
  31. Peyton Farquhar

    I’m disqualifying your subjective analysis out the gate simply for the assumption that money = good. Notwithstanding the rather absurd comparison of reality with fantasy, with such a biased opinion as your in favor of the status quo, there is no possible way you could have objectively analyzed the subject matter.

    Reply
    1. Mike P (the emptiness pro) Post author

      I think you are misunderstanding my point. Nowhere do I state or make the assumption that money = good. I certainly disagree that money = bad, but that is an equally subjective analysis so presumably you would disqualify that as well. The point is that prices send vital signals as to how resources should be allocated and organized. Without prices no one would know what to do or what should go where. This is not a subjective analysis at all. Prices are vital for economic calculation. If you have an argument with that position, then let’s hear it.

      It is also absurd to accuse me of being biased in favor of the status quo when I specifically put the blame on the status quo of government schooling for perpetuating the kind of economic and political fantasies we see in the show.

      Reply
      1. Doug Barbieri

        “It is also absurd to accuse me of being biased in favor of the status quo when I specifically put the blame on the status quo of government schooling for perpetuating the kind of economic and political fantasies we see in the show.”

        That is a terrific point, Mike. Libertarian thinking, and free-market, Austrian-school economics is anything but status quo. It is fashionable to hate the free market.

        Reply
  32. Kevin

    I’d imagine that finding hundreds of other species with vastly different values, such as Vulcans or Betazoids (to speak nothing of non-federation races), changes things somewhat. You ask a lot of questions about how things are decided, and I would posit that individual decisions are libertarian based. Only when conflicts arrive that the parties involved cannot settle themselves, such as land, does the bureaucracy get involved.

    Additionally, I believe that the do have a commodities system of some sort. Not money, per-se, but an exchange system of rations. They are rationed certain things, such as replicator usage, transporter usage, living space, based on their contribution to society. A starfleet officer clearly gets enough to live in an apartment (VOY: Pathfinder).

    You seem to start out with the presupposition that a society like this could never exist, and I give you that it’s improbable with just humans at the wheel. However, the addition of other alien societies would necessitate a reconsidering of our values, and may in fact lead to this utopian “fantasy”, assuming of course we didn’t immediately go to war with them.

    Reply
    1. Bob

      You do realize that a rationing system is capitalist, don’t you? They’re granted rations according to their status/job/something.

      Either way, its a mechanism for abstracting the value of one’s work.

      Reply
  33. Doug Barbieri

    Captain Picard visited his brother on his farm in France after Picard had been “borgified” and then became human again. His brother grew grapes and made wine. So how does one acquire land, get a vineyard, get a vintner, and a staff?

    Excellent article Mike. You really spell everything out well. I laughed when you pointed out that non-federation people all have academic careers and go to conferences!

    Reply
    1. B

      What is amusing is that Picard himself goes around obtaining antiquities and the like. Not replicator copies, but actual antiques.

      The idea that the want of things would disappear is false. The need for basic subsistence might disappear but the desire to acquire things would simply shift. People would still want the real 1963 Corvette split window coupe, not some replicator copy. People would prefer real wine over sythohol swill. But just like in real socialist societies the people who have the “good stuff” in star trek always seem to be either people in government (federation, star fleet, planetary government, etc) employment or criminals (smugglers, black market dealers, etc)

      Regular law-abiding people seem to live a rather bland, simple lifestyle even if all the basics are there for them. I suppose it serves to encourage people to enter star fleet or go to off to new colonies to improve their lives.

      Reply
  34. Steve Foerster

    Good points, but it overlooks the exceptional Deep Space Nine episode In The Cards, in which Federation citizens’ lack of money becomes a real obstacle for one of the characters, who has to go to his Ferengi friend for help, who initially brushes him off saying, “It’s not my fault the Federation abandoned currency based economics in favor of some philosophy of self enlightenment!” Not for that reason only, but it was one of the best episodes of the whole franchise.

    Reply
  35. Trey Reginelli

    Speaking of land: in the movie “Generations” Kirk was depicted as having a ranch in Colorado I believe. Does everyone in the Federation have access to large tracts of land? Was this bestowed upon him for his Starfleet service? Or perhaps this was benefit of being one of the Federation elite, like the elite in the Soviet or Chinese governments?

    Reply
  36. Ames Friedman

    One problem I have with the assertion that there are no private businesses in the Federation. What about Captain Sisko’s father running his own restaurant? This is on the Federation home world of Earth, and you can’t get much more Federation than that. Plus, he’s constantly harping on how replicator food is to be avoided when you can get good home cooking from Louisiana! The only thing you never see is money changing hands in exchange for his good ol’ home cooking. Does he make it and dish it out for free? Doubt it. But it’s hard to argue when the issue is never addressed. So I only have my own assumptions that one wouldn’t call it a restaurant if it was being handed out for free. It would be called a soup kitchen. Thoughts?

    Reply
    1. Mike P (the emptiness pro) Post author

      The food has to be free because there is no money. We can only assume that Sisko’s dad runs the restaurant out of his own love of creole cooking and he seeks no reward. This is ridiculous. This restaurant only makes the issue more confusing. Who decided that he should have a restaurant? How was it decided on what property the restaurant was going to be situated? I can only assume that he got a request through the Federation bureaucracy for a land allotment and built his restaurant there. With the help of replicators no doubt. But certainly it is NOT a profit making venture.

      Reply
      1. Tristan R.

        Why is it so ridiculous that he runs a restaurant just because he likes to? My cousin ran a restaurant because he loves doing it. He had to stop because of inflation. I edit video for a living and I would do it if they payed me or not. The only difference is I have to get payed to keep my heat on. What Star Trek and Picard is saying is that people have jobs because they WANT to work, they want to contribute to society. Imagine what a generation could do if they could get educated and pursue any job they want without having to worry about cost. My brother is an amazing artist but works at a car dealership because it didn’t pay the bills.
        We can’t comprehend this way of life because of our current state of social and economical evolution. But just because the TV show didn’t explain every little detail doesn’t mean that this type of Utopian society is impossible.

        Reply
        1. Mike P (the emptiness pro) Post author

          Its not so much that he wouldn’t run it just because he wants to, its that without money and prices he would have no idea HOW to run it. How was it decided that he would have restaurant? Where did he get the property? How does he decide what to cook? The food he prepares is not replicated, so it is scarce. Where does he get it? What does he give in return? How is it decided who will get a table? You can see all the problems that begin to crop up. Its not that people are necessarily greedy and would not do anything without money, its that prices and money send you signals about how to organize your time and resources. He may want to run a restaurant, but without price signals he would have no way to know how to manage it.

          Reply
          1. Dapperdan

            Your entire point is based on pure assumption and the notion that people can’t think for themselves, and is incredibly biased AGAINST liberalism (for the record I’m not a liberal, but even a blind man can see your vitriolic disdain for it). Just because money doesn’t exist DOESN’T mean people suddenly lose the ability to think for themselves. Perhaps Joseph Sisko likes creole food so much that he decides to open a restaurant just for the thrill of sharing something he loves with as many people as he can? How would he not know “HOW” to? Did the People of the future suddenly forget how to use their brains? Just open the bottom floor of your home into a dining area, and serve people food as they come in. Bingo, you now have a restaurant. Need fresh veggies? Grow them yourself!

            Another thing your diatribe is totally leaving out is that essentially every building is hardwired into a central information network that makes our current internet look like an Atari 2600. Any and all information anyone will ever need in the Federation (except for classified info, obviously) is there with the push of an LCARS button. Combine that with replicator technology and the fact that Earth probably isn’t as populated then as it is in today’s age (what with off-world colonization and all) freeing up land for grabs, and it makes the whole “Utopian Socialist” fantasy just a little more plausible.

          2. Duke Boyne Ⓥ

            But Mike, he had to stop because of inflation. Inflation stopped him. Stopped him dead in his tracks. Inflation. In-fla-tion. Don’t you get it!?

          3. Ellis

            >How was it decided that he would have restaurant? Where did he get the property?

            Maybe he inherited it, maybe someone gifted it to him, or maybe there is some bureaucracy that decides land use.

            > How does he decide what to cook?

            He cooks whatever he likes? If other people enjoy it, all the better. While the food he prepares may not be replicated, the ingredients could very well be. Even if not, some people enjoy gardening and often produce more food than they can use, and might enjoy his cooking – it’s a win-win.

            >How is it decided who will get a table?

            Kind of like most places right now, first come, first served?

            >but without price signals he would have no way to know how to manage it.

            If I had unlimited resources, I might very well open a restaurant just like this – free food for anyone who shows up just because I enjoy spreading the joy. How would my situation be any different from the Star Trek character’s?

        2. Blah-friggin'-blah

          Did your cousin wash the pots and pans every night out of enjoyment of cooking?

          Or did he hire someone—probably paying them minimum wage for it—to do the dirty work?

          Who washes the pots and pans in your Utopia?

          Reply
          1. G_Seraph

            Doesn’t he do that himself?
            In a weird way doesn’t “supply and demand” “dictate” what he has to do?
            My way of thinking might be to simplistic but consider this:
            I like cooking, so what do I have to do in order to cook? I need ingredients but dislike replicated ingrdeients (they don’t taste right) so I grow them in my garden (if I remember correct he had a garden in the yard), so now that I have ingredients I need utensils which probably were replicated, now the creative part starts -> I cook and offer my creation to the harsh critique of people who come to my restaurant and they either like it or not
            After that I have to clean up, not because I like cleaning up, but because sooner or later I realize that in order for me to cook I need clean utensils, either by washing my trusted pan (subjective value) or recycling utensils via replicator.
            And shouldn’t that work in other areas as well? The Federation has Warp 5 Ships, but I want them to go faster, so I either study on how the “engines” work and try to find ways make them faster and possibly more efficient, if I do not have the means or capabilities to do so I find someone to do it for me, and they would probably help me scince the premise is “for the betterment of mankind and boldy go where noone has gon before”, so demand for faster spaceship should help in finding supply of engineers and physicists that can help in the achievement and not because they had to be inticed by money or fame,
            granted: it has a very positive view of human nature

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