“The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.” – Captain Jean-Luc Picard
Rick Webb has written a fantastic piece about the economics of Star Trek, and then speculates about whether or not we could begin to incorporate some of these notions…
“Take a mental journey for a moment with me: what if, one day, technology reaches the point that a small number of humans — say, 10 million — can produce all of the food, shelter and energy that the race needs. This doesn’t seem like insanely wishful thinking, given current trends. There’s no rational reason why the advances in robotics, factories, energy and agriculture couldn’t continue unabated for long periods of time. Of course I’m not saying they will, but rather, they could.
“So, then, take that journey. What, then, of labor? 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 our mental exercise, those jobs are actually unrelated to a healthy economy, at least from strict economic terms. Everyone’s fed and housed and tons of people simply don’t need to work. Right now, we have them working making shit we don’t need. Is that any better than them not working?
“Is there any economic proof that we need full employment to reach full satisfaction of needs? To my knowledge, there isn’t. There’s a body of economics that goes into standards of living, and the increased standard of living. And here we get to our shitty world of unabated consumerism,Thorstein Veblen’s conspicuous consumption and George Battaille’s accursed share — the inevitable destiny of all economies to eventually produce more than they need, and, thus, waste it.
“Imagine there’s some level of welfare benefits in every country, including America. That’s easy. That’s true. Imagine that, as the economy became more efficient and wealthy, the society could afford to give more money in welfare benefits, and chooses to do so. Next, imagine that this kept happening until society could afford to give the equivalent of something like $10 million US dollars at current value to every man, woman and child. And imagine that, over the time that took to happen, society got its shit together on education, health, and the dignity of labor. Imagine if that self-same society frowned upon the conspicuous display of consumption and there was a large amount of societal pressure, though not laws, on people that evolved them into not being obsessed with wealth. Is any of that so crazy? Is it impossible?
“I think that is basically what’s going on in Star Trek. I believe the federation is a proto-post scarcity society evolved from democratic capitalism. It is, essentially, European socialist capitalism vastly expanded to the point where no one has to work unless they want to*.
“It is massively productive and efficient, allowing for the effective decoupling of labor and salary for the vast majority (but not all) of economic activity. 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. There is some level of scarcity — the Federation cannot manufacture a million starships, for example. This massive accounting is done by the Federation government in the background.”
Read the rest of the post here.
*This paragraph had the following comment attached, from R. E. Warner: “This is kind of ironic, because Marx himself argued that Marxist economies must evolve from capitlaist ones. The ownership of a replicator is the proliteriat taking over the means of production, but the manufacture of the replicator will come about through capitalist efforts.”
“MAKE IT SO!”