Star Trek’s Post-Economy: Beam Us Up, Scotty?
|February 15, 2014||Posted by Staff under Editorials|
The Economics of Star Trek — The Proto-Post Scarcity Economy
This excerpt of Medium, either late 2013, late December, or early 2014, January or February, is one of their Editor’s Picks by Rick Webb.
People can get paid doing zero work. We have the capacity to feed everyone, even if we don’t have the will. It’s not a matter of scarcity; it’s a matter of the organization of labor and capital.
In today’s terms, a ‘healthy’ economy now is one at or near full employment. A healthy economy now is one where everyone has a job. But in abundance, jobs are actually unrelated to a healthy economy. Everyone’s fed and housed and tons of people simply don’t need to work. Right now, we have them working making stuff we don’t need. Is that any better than them not working?
It seems pretty clear cut that jobs are optional. The Federation is based on a philosophy of self improvement and cultural enrichment. We’ve never seen people who sit around and literally do nothing, but then why would we?
The big challenge here is how does society get someone to do the menial jobs that cannot be done in an automated manner. Why would anyone? There are really only two options: there is some small, incremental increase in your hypothetical maximum consumption, thus appealing to the subconscious in some primal way, or massive societal pressure has ennobled those jobs in a way that we don’t these days.
Private ownership still exists — the biggest examples are Sisko’s restaurant and Chateau Picard. The Maquis routinely refer to “our land,” which they presumably owned. Some spaceships were privately owned. Finally, Captain Kirk says in the Nexus, “This is my house. I sold it years ago.”
Star Trek is, essentially, European socialist capitalism vastly expanded to the point where no one has to work unless they want to. The amount of welfare benefits available to all citizens is in excess of the needs of the citizens. Therefore, money is irrelevant to the lives of the citizenry, whether it exists or not. Resources are still accounted for and allocated in some manner, presumably by the amount of energy required to produce them (say Joules). And they are indeed credited to and debited from each citizen’s “account.” However, the average citizen doesn’t even notice it, though the government does, and again, it is not measured in currency units — definitely not Federation Credits.
If robots do all the dirty work, and the US is hugely rich, does every single person really need a job? Are we going to let all of that money pile up in the 0.1% ruling elite, or can it be distributed to everyone? Does wealth being distributed to the people in an equal manner mean communism absolutely? What happens when the surplus is more than enough?
Ed. Notes: Fiction has paved the way for reform before: e.g., “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” helped abolish slavery. Perhaps the popularity of Star Trek can make real now what’s already possible.