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How Federal is Star Trek's Federation?

While teaching my Federalism seminar recently, I made an analogy to Star Trek's United Federation of Planets. That got me thinking about the role of federalism in Star Trek. How much power does the Federation's central government have, and how much is left to the individual planets? Does the central government's Star Fleet have a monopoly of military force, or do Vulcan and other planets have their own local forces? Does the Federation subsidize planetary governments heavily, or are there hard budget constraints? Despite five Star Trek TV series and numerous movies, these questions haven't really been answered. Unfortunately, the academic literature on Federation law isn't much help either (see also this supposedly comprehensive volume on Star Trek and the law, which almost completely ignores federalism issues).

The evidence in the TV series' on these points is contradictory. On the one hand, the Federation seems to have a socialistic economy with a massive welfare state and no currency, which would require a high degree of centralization and planning incompatible with meaningful federalism. In the absence of a currency and price system, central planning seems to be the only way to coordinate a complex economy to even a limited degree. On the other, member planets apparently have considerable autonomy. For example, Vulcan seems to have very different laws from Earth. And Vulcan's economy seems to have a large market sector dominated by family-owned enterprises. In Deep Space Nine, the planet of Bajor applies for Federation membership. Although Bajor is at least a partial theocracy with a government heavily influenced by religious leaders, anti-Federation Bajorans never argue that Federation membership would lead to the end of Bajor's quasi-theocratic political system (as it surely would if the highly secular Federation denied political autonomy to member planets).

How to reconcile the evidence? I would suggest that it is only Earth that is socialistic, while the other member worlds have free market systems or mixed economies. The human-dominated Star Fleet military is the only Federation military force, and is tasked with collecting tribute from the nonhuman planets for redistribution to Earth. But as long as they pay their taxes, which subsidize Earth's welfare state and Star Fleet itself, they are largely left alone to govern their domestic affairs as they see fit. The Federation is essentially a big protection racket (in both senses of the word: providing external security, and also "protection" against its own depradations). There is even a good historical precedent. The 5th century BC Athenian-dominated Delian League also collected tribute from the other member states (which had no independent militaries) and used it to finance government spending on welfare benefits and the Athenian Navy, an analogue to Star Fleet. As long as the allies paid their tribute, Athens mostly left them alone and did not try to influence their domestic policies.

This theory explains a lot. For example, it is now clear why Star Fleet is so completely dominated by humans. I don't think we have ever seen a nonhuman Star Fleet admiral, and there are very few nonhumans serving even as lower-ranking officers. Except for a few collaborators like Mr. Spock (who is criticized by his fellow Vulcans for accepting too many "illogical" human ways), the nonhumans can't be trusted to force their own people to pay tribute. It also explains why the human-dominated Star Fleet military force seems to have near-total control over Federation foreign policy (e.g. - Star Fleet officers such as Capt. Picard make major policy decisions without any significant civilian oversight).

Furthermore, in one of Star Trek movies, a Klingon spokesman denounces the Federation as a "homo sapiens-only club." Taken literally, this is too obviously false to be effective propaganda; the Federation surely does have nonhuman members. But this propaganda line makes sense if it actually refers to the fact that Federation and Star Fleet are tools for expropriating wealth from nonhuman planets and transferring it to Earth.

Why don't we ever see Captain Kirk or Capt. Picard on tribute collection runs? Because the Enterprise is one of Star Fleet's most advanced warships, and is therefore reserved for more difficult missions, such as going "where no man has gone before" in search of new wealthy star systems to occupy and tax. Note the term "no man," which further underscores human control of Star Fleet.

How does the Prime Directive fit into this? On the surface, it seems incompatible with an imperialistic Federation. But remember that the Prime Directive only applies to planets which are at a much lower level of technological development than the Federation itself. That is, only to planets that are not wealthy enough to be worth the cost of occupying and taxing. Star Fleet Command wants to prevent glory-seeking captains like Kirk from taking over underdeveloped worlds that are likely to drain more revenue than they bring in. The Prime Directive serves this goal, while also cloaking Federation imperialism in a veneer of righteousness that has been all too successful in fooling generations of TV viewers.

I highly doubt that this is the interpretation of Star Trek that Gene Roddenberry intended. However, it does account for the available evidence, doesn't it?

UPDATE: Commenters note that there actually has been one (though only one) nonhuman Star Fleet Admiral. I stand corrected. But most likely she's just a token exception that proves the rule. Moreover, all she does is preside over the trial of one of the few other nonhuman officers in Star Fleet (Worf). They wouldn't trust her to preside over the trial of a human!

UPDATE #2: Some commenters claim that scarcity (and thus economics) is irrelevant in the Star Trek universe because they can manufacture anything they want instantly using replicators. Not entirely true. Some crucial raw materials, such as the dilithium crystals that power their starships clearly can't be replicated. Same with the replicators themselves (you never see them try to replicate a replicator). Ditto for the Latinum that the Ferengi use as currency; if the Ferengi could replicate latinum at will, the currency would rapidly collapse due to hyperinflation caused by constant replication. Thus, there is scarcity in the Star Trek universe, even if many goods that are scarce today are much easier to produce for them.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. National Review's Star Trek Weekend:
  2. How Federal is Star Trek's Federation?
Perseus (mail):
I believe that they did use credits and debits in the original Star Trek series. E.g., On Deep Space Station K7, Cyrano Jones sold a Tribble to the barman for 6 credits.
9.19.2007 3:33am
Cornellian (mail):
Assuming replicators and cheap, limitless energy, as seems to exist in the Star Trek universe (apart from lawless border regions like in DS9) it's not clear what kind of economy would exist, or whether terms such as "socialist" or "capitalist" could even apply to it. If we were all given replicators tomorrow with a lifetime power supply what would our economy look like? (assume they can't be used to make nuclear bombs or similar things). Would we have a socialist or capitalist economy if no one did anything because all the food, clothing, shelter and toys just appeared on command?
9.19.2007 3:37am
CDU (mail):
What evidence do you have that the Federation is a massive socialistic welfare state? It seems that what the writers are trying to portray is a post-scarcity economy. They're not always entirely consistent in doing so (probably inevitable given the number of different writers and producers that have taken a crack at the franchise over the last forty years), but a post scarcity economy seems to be what they were aiming for, particularly during the Next Generation era.
9.19.2007 3:38am
Brian K (mail):
This theory explains a lot. For example, it is now clear why Star Fleet is so completely dominated by humans. I don't think we have ever seen a nonhuman Star Fleet admiral, and there are very few nonhumans serving even as lower-ranking officers.

I think this can be explained by 1) the show is made for and by humans and it is natural for humans to want to see themselves in power and to put themselves in power and 2) it costs a whole lot less money and takes less time to use a bunch of humans rather than heavily dressed up humanoid aliens.

haha...but i realize this defeats the purpose of your thought exercise.
9.19.2007 3:41am
Christopher M (mail):
I don't think we have ever seen a nonhuman Star Fleet admiral


Not quite true.
9.19.2007 3:41am
Tom R (mail):
Not only dominated by humans, but by North American humans. Riker might even be - gasp! - a Canadian! Oh, no, wait, he's from Alaska. Picard - a nominally French Englishman - is about as exotic as the series' producers' imaginations could stretch. It often reminded me of William F Buckley's remark that liberals are very big on the value of other cultures, but don't realise there are other cultures.

It was really just a lack of imagination on the producers' part. The show's original "writer's bible" in the mid-1960s just used the term "Earth Federation" (eg, when discussing the Prime Directive), according to David Gerrold's book The World of Star Trek (1973). At some point this morphed into the "United Federation of Planets" whose HQ, naturally, was on Earth - in San Francisco, even.

Having said that, (a) in the DS9 episode "Home Front", we were told that the Federation President Jaresh-Inyo was a non-Terran humanoid (and had been criticised by his political foes for not having sufficient appreciation for the threat the Dominion posed to the auld sod).

And to be fair, it wasn't until 37 years and five series into the franchise that an actual white American male was cast as the Captain.



See "If Jean-Luc Picard were a real Frenchman..."
9.19.2007 3:43am
Avatar (mail):
Trying to analyze a society with replication technology by traditional economics is tough. Significant quantities of goods can be created out of base matter for nothing more than the energy cost (and you'd figure that the Star Trek society would have a well-developed power infrastructure, given that they can make arbitrary bits of it the same way) and the time cost on the replicator (similarly, we can conclude that there are indeed a lot of replicators around.)

The society isn't totally free from the need to gather raw materials, but there are only limited numbers of materials that cannot by synthesized, and futuristic mineral extraction is highly automated anyway. To put it bluntly, satisfying consumption needs is no longer something which occupies a significant part of the productive labor of mankind in Star Trek. The cost of providing basic goods - or even quite complicated goods by our standards - is so low that there's no reason to set up a means of exchange in order to regulate the distribution of those goods. And anyone who wants something more complicated is welcome to set up their own infrastructure, which is pretty easy to do, and churn out their own stuff...

Of course, the one scarce resource that can't be replicated is land, which would explain all the colonies around. We can easily see why the colonies would rely less on the magic macguffin of replication technology (if you only have a few replicators and some of them break, and you don't know how to grow crops or have the infrastructure to do it, a lot of people are gonna starve...) And if the Earth can be considered "fully developed" after hundreds of years of fully-technological lifestyle, then those who want to obtain more space need to move off the planet of necessity.

(What would you buy land WITH? Goods? But they can get the goods without giving up their land, so why should they? More desirable land? But then why do you want to give it up? Maybe you guys just want to trade land? Then why bother with the financial element?)

So why would you need any medium of exchange at all? Well, foreign trade - not everyone you run into has your level of technology, and anything that's not replicable is automatically valuable as a trade good. And there's always the case where an "authentic" non-replicated import has a cachet that a non-replicated version might not. For that matter, purely attributed values (wine grown from honest-to-goodness grapes by honest-to-goodness people, instead of the same exact thing snatched out of the ether) would exist for domestic goods as well.

(But then what do you give those people in return for bothering to grow the wine? Either they're dedicated hobbyists who want to share their vintage, or you have to produce something that they specifically desire in traditionally-crafted fashion... so you'd use money for that kind of transaction.)

What's the point of taxation in such a society? The government certainly won't lack for volunteers - the opportunity to organize things and boss people around appeals in any age, material reward notwithstanding. But it won't need a tax on general labor to obtain the things it needs - ships, buildings, materials are all produced out of materials that are capable of being built by themselves, at some bottom level. The government is certainly capable of owning its own means of production, and an emergency that entailed seizing civilian resources wouldn't need to justify such a seizure with a taxation framework - "we're requisitioning half your reactor output" might count, I guess?
9.19.2007 3:44am
PoNyman:
As a partial answer to Cornellian: Neal Stephenson has a book out called The Diamond Age where replicator type machines are heavily used. It is an interesting take on what kind of affect they might have.
9.19.2007 3:45am
CDU (mail):
Besides Diamond Age, the other canonical Sci-fi examination of a post-scarcity economy is Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.
9.19.2007 4:12am
Juliana Klovquist (mail):
Bajorans have their own military ships, as do Vulcans.

The Prime Directive governs contact with pre-warp societies. But there have been pre-warp societies that are otherwise technologically advanced and wealthy.

There is no proof of tax collection.

Starfleet makes major policy decisions "without civilian oversight" because Starfleet is not purely military. It is also the diplomatic and scientific arm of government. If you put the State Department and NASA and NIH and the Armed Forces, etc., out in space, that agency would make a lot of on-the-spot decisions, too. But it would not be fair to say there is no civilian oversight, because that agency has a primarily civilian purpose and is mostly staffed by civilians. Many Starfleet officers -- though in the "chain of command" -- simply conduct scientific experiements and research. Also, the democratic accountability argument makes little sense in a society where there are no scarce resources that need divisive politics to allocate them.
9.19.2007 4:16am
fishbane (mail):
I'd say that this is the single-most geeky legal thread ever, but unfortunately for me, I've discussed this before, and the Diamond Age comparison even came up. Along with various bits from Vinge, Brin, Egan, and other authors. A bottle of wine and some smart people are an evil, evil thing.

And I don't even _like_ Star Trek.

Here are my kool-kid keys - take them. Sigh. I guess I'm a geek.
9.19.2007 4:20am
Ilya Somin:
in the DS9 episode "Home Front", we were told that the Federation President Jaresh-Inyo was a non-Terran humanoid

Yes, but the President is just a figurehead. All the real power is controlled by the human-dominated Star Fleet. In that episode, Star Fleet imposes martial law with little or no civilian supervision and only another Star Fleet officer (Sisko) is able to get the decision reversed.
9.19.2007 4:57am
Ilya Somin:
Bajorans have their own military ships, as do Vulcans.

Bajor's warships are piddling by Federation standards, and only exist as an independent force because Bajor didn't join the Federation and therefore remained an independent state (albeit under de facto Federation neocolonial domination).

I'm not aware of any Vulcan warships outside Star Fleet control, except in Enterprise (which takes place before the Federation is founded).
9.19.2007 5:03am
Brickfielder (mail):
The ultimate post-scarcity economy is Iain Banks The Culture, a future society sufficiently weird that it's often claimed by both libertarians and socialists.

The fault in the thesis that the Federation (why am I doing this?) is a protection racket is that you're assuming 21st century economics. What, pray tell, is the possible tribute the federation could be collecting that they could not replicate without the fuss and bother?

I do not think the Federation is actually all that well-drawn and the structure, to the extent it was ever defined, seems to roughly replicate the UN and that's a clear failure of imagination. Still, making it into a tribute empire is really stretching the available material.
9.19.2007 5:13am
Cro (mail):
It seems to me that Roddenderry envisioned a Marxist utopia. Literally, a post capitalist state where the lack of material need allowed people to act on their better natures. Picard says exactly this on several occasions.

In other words, human nature and the nature of economic activity has changed. That means that current notions of how economics work do not apply in the Star Trek universe. It really is an alternate reality where Marx was right, at least about human nature.

On politics, there's a state. That's not a Marxist utopia, since the state is supposed to become useless. However, I think we can account for the continued need for government by the existence of alien races (including the evil capitalist Ferengi). You can't have a utopia if other races conquer you.

Additionally, large projects like terraforming and exploration might require such a large degree of organization that a society without corporations might create some agency to carry them out. How else to do it without a profit motive?

In short, Star Trek is a universe where human nature has changed. Thus, trying to analyze it with today's outlook isn't going to work. The same rules don't apply since Marxism worked in their universe but not in ours.

I don't think Marx was right, but I think Roddenderry did. It's pretty clear in TNG what he had in mind.
9.19.2007 5:49am
Cornellian (mail):
I seem to recall in one of the ST:TNG episodes Picard and Riker are going to some Starfleet admiral asking for permission to assemble a fleet to do something. The admiral says "I'll have to take this to the Federation Council", which certainly implies some civilian oversight of Starfleet.
9.19.2007 5:53am
PEG (mail) (www):
Yarr matey, this be the best thing I read all day! You made my day, arr!

(This post in pirate-speak in honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day)
9.19.2007 7:00am
kdonovan:
I don't buy the argument that replicators (and nearly unlimited energy) means the end of economics. It has just reduced the marginal cost of goods to (near) zero. There is still a considerable amount of 'labor' to be done: engineers, architects and scientists to design all the 'free stuff'; administrators, politicians, lawyers, police and enforcers to create and maintain order; doctors, barbers, teachers, nannies etc. to provide services people want.
9.19.2007 7:14am
Gaius Marius:
"No man" was changed to "no one" in subsequent series.
9.19.2007 7:18am
Nikki:
Another post-scarcity economy is depicted in John Barnes's series - the one that begins with A Million Open Doors. (For all I know his Mars series does too, but I haven't read it.)
9.19.2007 7:34am
The River Temoc (mail):
I think that this "tribute state" theory ignores a lot of what we saw on ENTERPRISE -- namely, that Earth is more akin to Sweden than the U.S. Earth was a diplomatic giant, but a military weakling, because its technology was far behind that of Vulcan. Once the planets formed a political union, this technological gap closed, although as late as TNG, we see that Vulcan has some of its own ships.

There was also a suggestion in TOS that Starfleet had ships crewed entirely by Vulcans, which makes sense given the need to maintain environmental requirements suitable for a particular species. (The post-TNG "Captain Riker" novels, which of course are free from the need for costly special effects and alien makeup, also describe how Starfleet is overcoming this problem and crewing ships with more aliens, including non-humanoids.)

Also, as a data point, I can think of half a dozen episodes where the Prime Directive applies to post-warp societies, such as during the coup in Bajor (second season DS9, if memory serves) and the Klingon civil war.
9.19.2007 7:40am
Ursus Maritimus:
How does the Prime Directive fit into this? On the surface, it seems incompatible with an imperialistic Federation. But remember that the Prime Directive only applies to planets which are at a much lower level of technological development than the Federation itself. That is, only to planets that are not wealthy enough to be worth the cost of occupying and taxing. Star Fleet Command wants to prevent glory-seeking captains like Kirk from taking over underdeveloped worlds that are likely to drain more revenue than they bring in. The Prime Directive serves this goal, while also cloaking Federation imperialism in a veneer of righteousness that has been all too successful in fooling generations of TV viewers.

It also prevents any James Tiberius from behaving like Gaius Julius and grab the whole of Gaul in order to get enough money to pay his own soldiers and use them for a military coup.

The ultimate post-scarcity economy is Iain Banks The Culture, a future society sufficiently weird that it's often claimed by both libertarians and socialists.

Since it is property-less, the libertarians have been suckered by the easy availability of entertainment, drugs and sex with hot alien chicks.

Banks achieves this propertyless-ness by postulating a fully functional AI with full civil rights in every piece of proparty, from ships down to handguns, thus leveraging the current almost universal abhorrence of slavery.
Want to live in a big and impressive house? You need to have the house find you so interesting that it will let you stay in it, or be so interesting to a current occupant that they will talk the house into it.
Want to explore uncharted territory and set up an autonomous state? You can, if you can convince the gun and the space suit and the vehicle to join you.
Want to build your own gun, spacesuit, and vehicle? Unless you recreate the whole technological ladder yourself those items simply don't exist without built-in AI.

All in all it is best likened to the rural anarchist collectives during the Spanish civil war: You can always at any time leave the collectives, but you would leave with only the clothes on your back, zero property and zero money (no way of earning 'your own' money while in the commune) regardless of how much you had when the commune was set up, and regardless of how long you worked for the commune.
And in The Culture its the same, except you might have to convince the clothes on your back.
9.19.2007 7:51am
Ramza:

I don't buy the argument that replicators (and nearly unlimited energy) means the end of economics. It has just reduced the marginal cost of goods to (near) zero. There is still a considerable amount of 'labor' to be done: engineers, architects and scientists to design all the 'free stuff'; administrators, politicians, lawyers, police and enforcers to create and maintain order; doctors, barbers, teachers, nannies etc. to provide services people want.


thus any tax will not be a tax on goods since the goverment can create them but instead a tax on people or a tax on time. You were drafted to join the military, or you were drafted to design this starship, or you were drafted to give 4 weekends a year to design the recreational and training complex for Starfleet.
9.19.2007 8:03am
Owen Hutchins (mail):
9.19.2007 8:15am
Owen Hutchins (mail):
9.19.2007 8:16am
J.L.R. (mail):
Something very important to note regarding federalism in the "Star Trek" universe -- the existence of a covert operations organization that operates outside of Federation laws and oversight.

Several episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (and also Star Trek: Enterprise) revolve around a clandestine spy agency called "Section 31." Section 31 is not technically part of Starfleet Intelligence, thus distinguishing it from real world analogues like the CIA or KGB and making it more like a secret police. Section 31 does not officially exist. Its name and "legitimacy" are owed to Article 14, Section 31 of the Starfleet charter that antedates the creation of the Federation. As far as I know there's no official text of 14.31 (at least in Star Trek canon), but 14.31 seems to allow for taking various actions in times of extreme emergency. Federation citizens have never even heard of the Section 31 organization -- they are not afraid of it because they don't even know it exists.

One of the best DS9 episodes revolving around Section 31 is "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges," which revolves around a Section 31 covert operation ostensibly designed to help install a (seemingly) more pro-Federation Romulan in place of a (seemingly) anti-Federation Romulan in the equivalent of the office of vice president. Yet an underlying purpose of the operation was to create a state of affairs eliminating recent suspicions that Section 31 exists.

Section 31 is one of several dark and intriguing elements that DS9 added to the Star Trek universe. Having a Federation covert spy agency operate without any Federation or Starfleet Intelligence oversight undercuts the utopian aspirations of the original Roddenberry vision. In the "Section 31" episodes, viewers see how, all too often, in times of war the law is silent.
9.19.2007 8:41am
George Smith (mail):
I think that the economies of outer planets would be more along the lines of Firefly.
9.19.2007 8:41am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Not only dominated by humans, but by North American humans. Riker might even be - gasp! - a Canadian! Oh, no, wait, he's from Alaska. Picard - a nominally French Englishman - is about as exotic as the series' producers' imaginations could stretch.

Back in reality this may be a statement of how far we've come (or maybe just how we like to see whitism everywhere) -- the brige of ST:TOS was groundbreakingly diverse.

I don't think there was tribute. If you can posit faster-than-light travel, you can posit a socialist utopia. All the engineers and doctors and space-captains are self-motivated their internal fountainheads -- we just don't see the stoners. I think if the producers had had an unlimited budget, or low-cost Korean animators, Starfleet would have looked liked the Democratic Order Of Planets.

Recall that Spock is half human, half Vulcan -- the inferences for the politics of mixed-race real people is left as an exercise.
9.19.2007 8:45am
Martin Grant (mail):
>"No man" was changed to "no one" in subsequent series.

Biased against collective species.
9.19.2007 8:52am
bellisaurius (mail):
I think the Delian league analogy was pretty apt. That's sounds very sensible.

I also think the later part of the OP brings to light an interesting idea of media bias. Much like the NYTimes, or one of the other papers, the stories themselves aren't overtly slanted, but taken as a whole, the story selection and presentations lend themselves to a worldview where one looks at the pattern and wonders why things work in a certain way, when the evidence seems to suggest it would work better in the way the media presents it.
9.19.2007 9:14am
tom (mail):
I don't buy the proposition that replicators and easy energy eliminate the economy either. Human history indicates that we'll all find something new to make scarce, and there will still be people considered rich and poor. For instance, in a "replicator" culture, it's likely that a premium would be placed on creativy and orginality--rather than standard "replicated" objects. We have an analogue right now in the world of groceries...Americans can buy high quality food of all types, perfectly healthy food, cheaper than ever in history --yet many people make huge outlays into "organicly grown" food, and other "high quality" food products, because the agribusiness food is, well, just plain too cheap for fashion.
9.19.2007 9:50am
Steven Horwitz (mail) (www):
As long as knowledge is dispersed and costly, and as long as humans are not indestructible and immortal, the world isn't quite "post-scarcity." Knowledge and time are scarce and thus involve opportunity costs. Human labor, to the extent it is used even in the creative work Tom notes, faces scarcity and cost as well. ST is a world where the problem of providing most basic goods has been "solved" by making their production so cheap as to be essentially free. However, as Tom points out above, people will just move on to the next thing, and knowledge, time, and labor all matter there.

More important, as long as raw materials and human labor is needed to produce *some* things, decisions have to be made about how those inputs will be allocated. Should we make more replicators or more holodecks? How the world of ST made those decisions in the absence of private property, markets, and prices remains the unanswered question from this economist's (and ST fan's) perspective. The argument made by Mises and Hayek early in the 20th century about the necessity of private ownership of the means of production for the ability to allocate capital does not disappear in a world of replicators as long as the acquisition of knowledge, and the allocation of time and human labor involve opportunity costs.

One last note: in ST IV, Kirk says they don't use "money" anymore. It's not clear from that if he means "physical money" like currency or ANY medium of exchange. Imagine a world where everything was paid for using PayPal. Would we say we no longer used "money?" We might, although I'd argue that in a technical sense we'd be wrong.
9.19.2007 10:16am
Nick P.:
The ultimate post-scarcity economy is Iain Banks The Culture, a future society

Nitpick: The Culture is a contemporary alien society, and some of the events described in the books (e.g. Consider Phlebas) occurred some thousands of years ago. The short story The State of the Art takes place in the 1970s. According to Banks, the humanoids in the Culture are not descended from Homo sapiens, and any similarity is coincidental.
9.19.2007 10:27am
Tracy Johnson (www):
The fear of taxation is probably a good reason the Ferengi never joined up. That would cut into their acquisition of "Latinum".

Odd word the writers chose, Ferengi is the Arabic word for the French since the Crusader period. Equivalent to a bunch of plunderers and traders looking for booty. Yarrr! And I confirm it be International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
9.19.2007 10:34am
Zathras (mail):
SH: "It's not clear from that if he means "physical money" like currency or ANY medium of exchange."

This is made clear in other episodes--there is no form of currency whatsoever. This comes out, for example, in the DS9 episode "In the Cards," where Jake Sisko wants to buy his dad a card, but he has no money, so he has to guilt Nog into giving him some:

Jake: "I'm Human, I don't have any money."
Nog: "It's not my fault your species decided to abandon currency-based economics in favor of some ... philosophy of self-enhancement."
Jake says "Hey, watch it. There's nothing wrong with our philosophy. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity."
Nog: "What does that mean?"
Jake: "It means we don't need money!"
Nog: "Well, if you don't need money, you certainly don't need mine!"
Jake: "Not even for my father ... the man who made it possible for you to enter Starfleet Academy."
Nog: "Oh, no -- that's not fair."
Jake: "The man who believed in you when no one else would."
Nog: "Oh, this is *so* low..."
Jake: "I can't believe you'd rather keep your filthy money in a box under a bed than use it to give him endless moments of happiness."
Nog: "Aaaaargh! All right, all right!"
9.19.2007 10:35am
The Hobbesian Father (mail) (www):
Frankly, I can't take seriously a universe where humanity has subdued human nature. No profit motive, no crime, no poverty? These are not humans, these are Borg with more attractive implants.

Since the universe is so obviously foreign to anything that humanity will ever actually experience (barring the first series, which seemed halfway decent at capturing the fact that some humans are just bastards), I refuse to think too hard about what makes the political system work. The politics are as absurd as the science, so I'm willing to just accept that the whole place runs on pixie dust and enjoy watching Worf beat the crap out of something.
9.19.2007 10:45am
pete (mail) (www):
Another interesting take on replicator technology is Forever Peace by Joe Haldeman. In that take the first world countries have monopolized the use of replicator technology and have devloped into even more massive welfare states, while denying the technology to the third world.
9.19.2007 10:47am
Steven Horwitz (mail) (www):
Thanks Zathras.

I think the real confusion here is on the part of writers who don't understand the difference between "currency" or other physical forms of money and the idea of a medium of exchange, and the necessity of prices for allocating resources that still remain scarce.

The nearly interchangeable use of "money" and "currency" and their being bound up in an argument that suggests that if a society doesn't use "money," it necessarily means that self-interest has been eliminated and working for the betterment of humanity has been adopted instead. Those don't follow in a whole bunch of ways.

The question remains: how do the people of the ST future *know* which choices will "better humanity" and which will not in the absence of some way of comparing alternative uses of inputs, to the degree that human labor and time, as well as some physical resources, remain scarce in comparison to wants? Eliminating "money" does not solve this problem, nor is its elimination necessarily evidence that it has been solved.
9.19.2007 10:51am
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
So the example of Jake and Nog suggests the Federation has a guilt-based economy?
9.19.2007 10:58am
David Hecht (mail):
1. In the STTOS episode entitled "The Immunity Syndrome" , there is reference to a starship, the USS Intrepid , entirely manned by Vulcans.

2. In the STTOS episode entitled "The Omega Glory" , Captain Tracy tries to convince Kirk to assist him with the (supposed) longevity elixir by alluding to the vast riches that would be theirs.

3. In the (admittedly non-canonical) novel Starfleet: Year One , Starfleet emerges as a consequence of the Earth-Romulan War , in a manner strikingly similar to the creration of the Delian League after the Persian Wars.
9.19.2007 11:06am
Ben P (mail):
I would maybe take issue with those who say that a replicator economy wouldn't eliminate scarcity.

I would agree on the basic premise that it wouldn't totally eliminate scarcity. But I think it would change the economy so drastically that it would be almost unrecognizable to current economic theories.


I think essentially Replicator Technology would condense all forms of property into two forms. Intellectual Property. (IE designs to be used in replicators) and Real Property.



Further, the invention of transporters makes most ways of thinking about real property obsolete as well.

The only other element that would possibly matter would be energy availability. There are a few indications this is a factor. In such a society, energy availability becomes the determiner of scarcity. If we have virtually limitless energy, we have basically no scarcity. But if we have limits on energy, there must be rationing in some fashion.

I know several epsodes make reference to "transporter credits."

I would assume that transporters require large amounts of energy, and rationing it among cadets would be sensible.


I suppose then that scarcity in such a universe would depend on the exact method of energy generation. If we're still relying on forms that generate energy from matter (and not some mystical zero point stuff) there are still concrete limits and still scarcity, but they are near zero.
9.19.2007 11:39am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
This theory explains a lot. For example, it is now clear why Star Fleet is so completely dominated by humans. I don't think we have ever seen a nonhuman Star Fleet admiral, and there are very few nonhumans serving even as lower-ranking officers.


Well other than the Intrepid in TOS "The Immunity Syndrome" which was a starship completely crewed by Vulcans, the Bolian Captain in DS9 "The Emissary," the Vulcan Admiral in the TNG episode where the Parasites tried to talk over Starfleet, the Vulcan captain and crew from the baseball episode of DS9, the nonhuman admirals shown in the movies, and various references to other non-human captains and admirals that didn't appear on screen (probably for budgetary considerations) too numerous to mention, I'd say you're right.

Except for a few collaborators like Mr. Spock (who is criticized by his fellow Vulcans for accepting too many "illogical" human ways), the nonhumans can't be trusted to force their own people to pay tribute.


I think the earlier criticism of Spock from some Vulcans has more to do with his being half-human. It's pretty clear over the course of the series that by the time he becomes an ambassador he's considered one of the most influential and well-respected voices in the Federation. Now if you want an example of someone conduct foreign policy on their own, Spock's mission to Romulus that we see in TNG is one of the most striking examples (assuming he wasn't operating under secret orders that would enable the UFP to deny their involvement) but that only occurred after he had left Starfleet and joined the Diplomatic Corps.

It also explains why the human-dominated Star Fleet military force seems to have near-total control over Federation foreign policy (e.g. - Star Fleet officers such as Capt. Picard make major policy decisions without any significant civilian oversight).


I don't think that this is true at all. Picard seems to be bound by some pretty specific orders and regulations in most of the cases and while he does exercise some discretion, he very rarely does anything that might be seen as violating them. I don't think that there have been many "policy decisions" we've seen Picard make on his own unless you define the term so broadly as it includes every military encounter where he's been fired on by another ship. Usually he seems to be following orders from Starfleet Command, the Federation Council, or an ambassador whose traveling on the ship to whose authority he usually defers unless it involves the operation of the ship. In fact in most cases Starfleet officers seem to defer to the authority of ambassadors, usually non-human ones at that.

How does the Prime Directive fit into this? On the surface, it seems incompatible with an imperialistic Federation. But remember that the Prime Directive only applies to planets which are at a much lower level of technological development than the Federation itself. That is, only to planets that are not wealthy enough to be worth the cost of occupying and taxing.


Not even close to being true, throughout TNG, DS9 and Voyager we've seen Picard, Sisko, and Janeway unable, because of the Prime Directive, to interfere with internal matters of warp-capable civilizations from the drug addicted aliens in TNG "Symbiosis" (they couldn't even tell them the drug was a placebo), staying out of the Klingon civil war even though they were a Federation ally, Bajorans (even though they were a Federation protectorate and Sisko was considered to be the Emissary, he took a mostly "hands-off" approach) to the various races Janeway encountered through the Delta Quadrant. About the only time we've seen them intervene is when there was evidence of external interference in the other culture (e.g. Cardassians supply The Circle with weapons to launch a coup on Bajor or the Romulans supplying Duras' faction), when they were specifically invited in to provide assistance or mediate a dispute, or when the other civilization launched an attack on a Federation world or ship (and not always even then).
9.19.2007 11:46am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I was going to say it, but Owen beat me to the punch.
9.19.2007 12:07pm
Ken Arromdee:
I can't believe not a single person has mentioned this very famous essay:

http://stardestroyer.net/Empire/Essays/Trek-Marxism.html

A lot of the points mentioned here have already been gone over there.
9.19.2007 12:07pm
Anderson (mail):
In the original series (the only one I deign to recognize), one of the peripheral "nonfiction" books suggested that 90% of each ship's crew were the same species (Vulcan, Andorian, whatever).
9.19.2007 12:08pm
Wombat:
As other have already said, this has been covered before. The fundamental issue is that unfettered access to replicator technology has created a post-scarcity scenario that economics is simply unable to model.

Except that anyone should be able to point out flaws with some thought:
The replicated items are not free: they cost energy/matter to create, and the Star Trek universe constantly points out that energy has a non-zero cost (how often do they break their dilithium crystals and have to go out of their way to get more?). Who decides how much of the Federation energy budget goes to domestic and military uses?
They also have an time/space opportunity cost in that the replicator can only produce so much in a given time. Even if it costs an individual nothing to wastefully produce one million doohickeys, it will cost society as a whole when they need to produce more replicators (and, probably more importantly, the cost of the real estate needed to hold said replicator) to produce the things that would have been made otherwise.
The inhabitants of the Star Trek universe seem pretty busy; I find it unlikely that they are each custom designing their own teaspoons. So who does this scut work? What happens when two or more individuals come up with their own designs and argue over which is better? I don't believe we ever see any advertisement in Federation space, does The Committee For Kitchenware Design on Earth arbitrarily decide which is the official spoon for all Federation space? Do rival spoon designers spend their lives fine tuning their designs and throwing veiled insults at their competitors when they meet with Kitchenware Design members? How do you bribe a Committee member when money means nothing? Sexual favors?
Replicators cannot create planets out of nothing. Real estate, especially on developed planets, is most decidedly not infinite. Who decides how much space you get, or space for the doohickeys you've replicated, or space for the replicator stations themselves?

Now, our evidence for how this would all work is rather limited, since the series spends the majority of its time on warships (does anyone argue over who a spoon belongs to on a nuclear submarine?), military academies, and a space colony/station that doesn't share their (post-)economic system. So we're limited to the brief views of Earth:

On DS9, I believe that Sisko's father worries about his restaurant on Earth going out of business. But why? Is all property communal, and individuals have to justify their allocation of real estate by providing some minimum community utility per cubic foot? What do his customers pay him with, happiness rendered chits? Who knows?

On TNG, I think we see Picard's brother continuing to run the family vineyards. Wait, what? Why use the sizable real estate of a vineyard when you have replicators? Any communal society would have re-purposed that land long ago, so why do the Picards still have it? Do the Picards actually generate enough happiness rendered chits from Federation drunkards to keep the vineyard from being confiscated? Who knows?

And again, there are far more logical and interesting literary treatments of post-replicator societies. Like others above, I recommend picking up a copy (today!) of Stephenson's The Diamond Age.
9.19.2007 12:08pm
dejapooh (mail):
I think we are now seeing evidence that some of our readers (and writers) are living in their parents basement.
9.19.2007 12:20pm
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
It's impossible to discuss this in a coherent way over all 5 series, as there is a good deal of contradiction. E.g., one commenter upthread suggested that "the" vision was socialistic, no currency, etc. That's plainly false w.r.t. the original series. Money and private property are discussed in at least a half-dozen episodes. Also, in TOS there's no "replicator" technology which would eliminate scarcity; indeed the scarcity of certain resources is a frequent plot point in TOS.

RE Federalism, it seems pretty plain that, at least in the TOS framework, the UFP is definitely federalistic: exhibit A is Kirk's speech to the Organians, in which he stresses planetary autonomy. Exhibit B is a similar speech he makes to the Capellans. Exhibit C is the fact that Vulcan law is completely alien to the earthlings and hence different. The Starfleet is a Federation entity, and we also know that there is a slightly annoying bureaucracy, but its scope seems pretty limited to things like outreach diplomacy and development of unaligned planets.
9.19.2007 12:48pm
David Muellenhoff (mail):
Well, as a Californian I don't have a basement, but I do spend most of my time in my garage, which is where my wife and I store our 10,000 or so books!

And that's where I find my good old Star Fleet Technical Manual, published in the 1970s, in which the Federation Charter appears as a replication (heh) knockoff of the UN Charter. Perhaps this has been covered in the articles mentioned earlier, but it always seemed to me that if the UN ever had an effective military force it would be demanding tribute sooner rather than later.
9.19.2007 12:51pm
U.Va. 2L:
Does this post and the numerous comments serve as definitive proof that law school (and thus the legal profession) is full of nerds? I don't think this topic would have sparked as much discussion before law school with my software engineer colleagues...and programmers are paradigmatic nerds!
9.19.2007 12:57pm
Daniel San:
It is worth recalling that, in the early days of the Delian league, Athens claimed that the league was a voluntary association of equals (albeit with some more equal than others). The members did not pay tribute; they made contributions to the collective enterprise. These claims even had some truth in them. The assertions of a captain of an elite vessel may not reflect the actual reality of the masses.

We should know better than to take broad statements of officials at face value. Why assume the actual elimination of money just because Picard asserted it. Legally, money does not exist among humans. For the elite, this probably works just fine. Picard may have no need to acknowledge the existence of the gray economy.
9.19.2007 1:18pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
Every one of you guys that tried to argue that Federation presidents can be other things than human need to go back to Star Trek training. What happened to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country? Anyone? Not only was he non-human, he was important enough to be talked to by major ambassadors, to order Starfleet to abandon Kirk/McCoy to their fates, and to be the subject of an assassination attempt by a bizarre coalition of human, Klingon, and Vulcan/Romulan operatives!

Another point of, you know, geekiness: Starfleet is headquartered in San Francisco, but the Federation is headquartered in Paris. One of Picard's ancestors was the first President, per Generations background material.

People in the Federation (at least, the kinds that work for the Federation or Starfleet: it's unclear how big a percentage of the population does so) don't seem to need money to live ordinary, if austere lives, and indeed, this aspect of Federation life is usually one of the things that planets cite when they want to join the Federation -- the very first episode of TNG is an interesting illustration of this: the people on the planet have a new kind of construction that the Federation wants, the Federation has trade routes and other technology that the people on the planet are secretly desperate for, because their construction method is, you know enslaving giant lifeforms that can transform themselves into whatever sort of building they want.

But lots of people buy things in the Federation, even on Earth: Picard and Riker gamble, Sisko's father owns a restaurant (in New Orleans, of all places,) Harry Kim visits a coffee shop every morning on the way to work (in an alternate timeline where he doesn't go on Voyager's mission to the Badlands,) Beverly Crusher buys fabric, and so forth. Moreover, everyone was already familiar with the Ferengi's favorite mode of exchange (bars of gold-pressed latinum) before the Ferengi were introduced to anyone other than Picard -- and the Ferengi weren't goofily evil capitalists until their second appearance, counting the Stargazer incident (and even then were more evil for their blatant exploitation and glee in torturing people with giant electric whips.) You have to get to DS9 before the Ferengi as generically corrupt businessmen show up full-time. And even then, Benjamin Sisko holds Nog hostage to make Quark stay on the station, because the economic and morale boost provided by his bar are essential to the development of the station. I'm not sure how many people in the DS9 series bought those creepy looking candies on the Promenade, but it was a sizable percentage. We have yet to see welfare slackers in the TNG/DS9/VOY era who are provided a cozy lifestyle but don't contribute anything -- even prisoners (Tom Paris, for instance) work seemingly full-time; the closest you get is the year or so in which Jake Sisko played a bored 18 year old who didn't know what he wanted to do with his time. And then he started becoming useful, and everyone (especially his best friend) got a lot less grumpy with him.

DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise all routinely encountered all kinds of economic situations that, at a minimum, demonstrated that every adult in their universe was familiar and comfortable with both barter and monetary exchange -- Voyager routinely got into deals of the "water for information" and "energy for parts" variety, and it seemed like every third Prime Directive story had to do with how they couldn't give transporter/replicator technology to particular people just to further their own attempt to get home, and what a pain that was.

Anyway, we're seeing everything through the eyes of military personnel -- you don't need to pay $6.50 in cash when you get your lunch on either the space shuttle or a ship at sea, and if you're enlisted, you don't need to buy your clothes, either. When you go on a diplomatic mission (say, to host the Japanese Emperor's surrender ceremony,) you probably won't see anyone give anyone else money the entire time. To the outside observer, the economics of Star Trek are a whole lot like the economics of Stargate SG-1 -- in ten years I think we saw the characters in Earth-based monetary exchanges perhaps twenty times, and most of those consist entirely of "I am sitting in housing that any observer should immediately recognize as being other than military-provided. I am also eating food which no one would think the Air Force bought me, because I am at my own house." Everyone on Star Trek is several weeks' travel from their own homes almost every time we see them -- and when they're not, they spend money like sailors on leave.
9.19.2007 1:19pm
kegill (www):
Like some others here, I did not expect to see someone trying to impose 18th century economics (the economics of scarcity a la Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, 1776) onto the established Star Trek Universe.

The replicator renders scarcity obsolete in the main and, at least on the starship, computers provide not only unlimited access to information (no pay to view barriers) but also unlimited access to entertainment (holodeck).

The only thing that seems "scarce" is the starship itself.

We don't know how widespread these technologies are on the planets, however. However, Star Trek is not alone in skimming over day-to-day lives -- what TV shows (in any genre) regularly show the characters going to the grocery store, paying bills, voting, showering, shaving, etc?

Read the Nancy Kress Beggars series for an examination of post-scarcity society (energy &food).

Rather than look for a pejorative (socialist, communist) to describe this future world, why not think of it (optimistically) as a place where human beings have moved "up" the Maslovian hierarchy to self-actualization?
9.19.2007 1:23pm
Steven Horwitz (mail) (www):
The replicator renders scarcity obsolete in the main

Nope, it does not. As long as time, knowledge, labor, and land are scarce and therefore have opportunity costs, the "18th century economics" of Smith (or better yet, the 20th century economics of Hayek) applies.

Folks in the world of ST still have to decide between alternative courses of action with different prospective results. They still have to decide how land will be used. They still have to decide how to allocate the limited hours in their lives of uncertain but finite length. As long as any of those remain the case, the economics of scarcity is still relevant.

Economics is not about material goods, but the necessity of choice when all of our wants, including those up at the top of the Maslovian hierarchy, cannot be satisfied and satisfied now.
9.19.2007 1:34pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
How dederated was Federated Department Stores?
(They recently changed their name to Macy*s Inc. and CEO Lundgren said "Today, we are a brand-driven company focused on Macy's and Bloomingdale's, not a federation of department stores," so I guess not very any more.)
9.19.2007 1:43pm
Ilya Somin:
What evidence do you have that the Federation is a massive socialistic welfare state? It seems that what the writers are trying to portray is a post-scarcity economy.

It is mentioned in many episodes that the Federation provides medical care, housing, education and most other material goods to its citizens for free. It is also repeatedly emphasized that they have no currency and that there is very little if any work based on the profit motive. Ergo - a large welfare state and socialistic economy. It certainly has much less scarcity than we do today (thanks to the replicators). But scarcity has NOT been completely eliminated.
9.19.2007 1:50pm
Ilya Somin:
throughout TNG, DS9 and Voyager we've seen Picard, Sisko, and Janeway unable, because of the Prime Directive, to interfere with internal matters of warp-capable civilizations from the drug addicted aliens in TNG "Symbiosis" (they couldn't even tell them the drug was a placebo), staying out of the Klingon civil war even though they were a Federation ally, Bajorans (even though they were a Federation protectorate and Sisko was considered to be the Emissary, he took a mostly "hands-off" approach) to the various races Janeway encountered through the Delta Quadrant.

The problem with this reasoning is that Star Fleet DID in fact intervene extensively in nearly all these instances. For example, they influenced the outcome of the Klingon Civil War in favor of the more pro-Federation faction. When they chose not to intervene, they usually had pragmatic reasons for not doing so (e.g. - fear of retaliation).
9.19.2007 2:18pm
Tomm:

Same with the replicators themselves (you never see them try to replicate a replicator).


Ah, but what about the self-replicating minefield that cutoff the wormhole in DS9? Each mine had a replicator and was capable of replicating itself, therefore showing a replicator could indeed replicate a replicator.
9.19.2007 2:25pm
Gary McGath (www):
Another interesting question follows: _How_ did humans come to dominate the Federation? We're clearly centuries behind the Vulcans in technology, and the Organians are millennia ahead of us. Perhaps it's that most other sentient species don't have the same interest in interstellar domination, and the ones that do (the Klingons and Romulans) have opted for gaining power through conquest rather than politics. This is an interesting area for speculation.
9.19.2007 2:33pm
Michael Edward McNeil (mail) (www):
I certainly agree with those who argue that the mere advent of replicators isn’t going to eliminate economics and an economy.  In this regard, I’m surprised no one has mentioned perhaps the granddaddy story about replicators’ effect on a vigorous economy — Ralph Williams’ “Business As Usual During Alterations,” from the old days of John W. Campbell’s Astounding Science Fiction — which discusses many of the issues talked about here.

In the story an interstellar society decides to bring down human civilization (then at more or less its present stage of development) — quietly, without a fuss, so they can take over — by providing humanity with several working instances of a replicator device, capable of replicating most anything (’cepting your baby or pet) including the devices themselves.  In addition to instructions for their use, an inscription on the machines warns humanity:  Warning!  A push of the button grants your heart’s desire.  It is also a chip at the foundations of human society.  A few billion such chips will bring it crashing down.  The choice is yours.

So, naturally, as one would expect, the society of the West immediately snatches up the new technology, ignoring the warning, replicating everything in sight.  But — funny thing — Western capitalist society and its economy doesn’t collapse.  Oh, it goes through major changes, turning almost on its head in only about a day, but it survives and thrives.

As the story goes, from the midst of the upheaval:
“Well, I’ve been thinking about it, he’s right, you know, not very many people will buy beans and chuck roast, when they can eat wild rice and smoked pheasant breast.  So, you know what I’ve been thinking? I think what we’ll have to have, instead of a supermarket, is a sort of super-delicatessen.  Just one item each of every fancy food from all over the world, thousands and thousands, all different—”

“It won’t work,” George said with weary kindness.  “That’s what I’ve just been explaining to John here.  Why should I buy my pickled hummingbird tongues from you, when I can keep a can on my own shelf and duplicate it ad nauseam?”

“Ad nauseam, that’s why,” Simond said earnestly.  “Beans, you can eat every day.  Pickled hummingbird tongues, you can’t.  You know, when we first started selling these frozen TV dinners, we ran into something funny.  The first couple of weeks, they’d go like crazy.  Then they’d die.  We’d change suppliers, same story.  Hot, then cold.  Finally, somebody got an idea.  You take the Mexican dinner, that’s a good seller, I like it myself.  You taste the first one, it’s delicious.  The next, not quite so good.  The third or fourth one, eating’s a chore, and by the tenth you can’t stand the sight of even the wrapper—”

“C rations,” I put in.

“That’s it, same thing.  The trouble is, each one is as exactly like the other as they can be made.  You eat one, you’ve had them all.  So, we passed the word to our supplier.  Now, he changes the formula every week, a little more pepper, a few less beans, a different cut of meat, so forth.  People think they are getting the same thing, but it’s just enough different to keep them coming back for more.”

“I see what you mean,” I said thoughtfully.  “In the past, we’ve sold standardization because it was a scarece commodity.  Now, the shoe is on the other foot, we’ll sell diversity.  Instead of offering the customer as choice of GE or Westinghouse refrigerator, we’ll over a choice of any referigerator build, anywhere—”  a sudden thought struck me.  “Damn it,” I said unhappily.  “We still can’t get away from suppliers.”

“Not only that,” George offered helpfully.  “Those samples you’re going to offer a choice of are practically all going to be hand-made models, remember that.  Also, you’re not going to get away with duplicating them for nothing.  I think you already broke the law when you duplicated the trademarks on those cartons.  Even if you didn’t, it’s not going to take much extension of present legislation to make it illegal to copy any manufacturered article without paying royalty.”

Not bad foresight into the stage we’re at now, I’d say, as a result of the advent of “replicators” in the computer software and media industries, not to speak of such things as automobiles one can now have built with a wide variety of individually taylored options.

Oh, and farsighted physicist Freeman Dyson wrote a fascinating piece concerning the likely impact of replicators (both mechanical and biological) in his terrific essay “The World, The Flesh, and The Devil,” which is very much worth perusing.
9.19.2007 3:03pm
Stormy Dragon (mail) (www):
Perhaps the writers just do whatever works best for the dramatic purposes of their particular episode, so trying to discern a consistent explanation for more esoteric aspects of the Star Trek universe is just a waste of time?

"If you're wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts. Then repeat to yourself, 'It's just a show, I should really just relax.'"
9.19.2007 3:19pm
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
Ilya, all your evidence for socialism is from the spin-offs. In TOS, we simply don't see this. What I can't figure out is whether my sticking to the parameters established by TOS makes me more geeky, or less geeky, than the majority of commenters here.
9.19.2007 3:29pm
Jim Hu:
I wonder what the "prosper" in "live long and prosper" means if it's a post-scarcity economy.
9.19.2007 3:51pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
I'm rather surprised no one has posted a link to the definitive essay on Star Trek = Communism: The Economics of Star Trek.
9.19.2007 4:04pm
jim:
>>Bajorans have their own military ships, as do Vulcans.

>I'm not aware of any Vulcan warships outside Star Fleet control, except in Enterprise (which takes place before the Federation is founded).

In TOS Vulcans have their own Federation ships like humans have the enterprise. This seems to indicate that Vulcan does not have "it's own" military, but that the viewer's picture of Star Fleet's demographics is skewed by the choice of which ship we view.

Else it might indicate that the Federation is a de jure centralized state, but that it is a de facto loose alliance. The Vulcan ships are Federation ships and the Human ships are Federation ships, but the Human ships don't seem to visit Vulvan very often, and seem to have a lot more to do with setting Cardassian foreign policy that setting Romulan foreign policy. The Vulcan Ships probably have their own Admirals.

And on a tangent, we don't ever seem to see a real command structure at the Admiral level. It seems like being an admiral is kind of like being elevated to the Peerage, both in why it happens and what you do afterward.
9.19.2007 4:10pm
Michael Edward McNeil (mail) (www):
(Sorry for the spelling errors in the foregoing....)

With regard to the Delian League, though I’m no expert in this area, I think Ilya and others are wrong to believe that, as Ilya said:  “As long as the allies paid their tribute, Athens mostly left them alone and did not try to influence their domestic policies.”

Oxford professor of ancient history G. H. Stevenson wrote a book with the (seemingly boring) title Roman Provincial Administration (which actually is very interesting), in the first chapter of which he makes a striking comparison between the “Athenian Empire” (i.e., Delian League) and the Roman Empire (including the Republic).  As he points out:
Athens and Sparta alike were unable to refrain from an interference in the internal affairs of Greek states which even the smallest of them bitterly resented.  Athens favoured the democratic parties against the oligarchs, and sometimes even imposed a democratic constitution on her so-called “allies.”  She deprived the local courts of much of their power, and insisted that important cases should be tried at Athens.  Finally, the tribute, which at first had been willingly paid as a contribution to the defence of Greece against Persia, came to be regarded as an imposition when peace was made with Persia and the revenues of the League were expended on the beautification of the Acropolis or on a war with Sparta with which many of the allies felt that they had little concern.

Thus, Athens’ empire had little inherent cohesion and staying power, and when push came to shove, it simply fell apart.

Contrast that (as Stevenson well does) with the Roman experience, where first under the Republic the Italian allied cities of Rome were granted full membership along with autonomy within the Roman State.  (Those Italian “allies” actually went to war with Rome — in the so-called “Social War” [90-89 BC] — in order to obtain, not their independence, but to force Rome to admit them into the Roman State!  And they won, or rather lost, whereupon the Republic did ultimately admit them, as autonomous cities, into full-fledged inclusion within Rome.)

During the Empire, this autonomy principle was extended across the whole empire (without necessarily including Roman citizenship — rather, each city-state had its own citizenship), to such an extent that historian Edward Togo Salmon, of McMaster University, could write (in Encyclopaedia Britannica’s article “Rome, Ancient”):
In the empire at large, Flavians and Antonines, like the better Julio-Claudians, aimed at stability in order that its inhabitants might live in security and self-respect.  In this they largely succeeded.  Gibbon’s famous description of the 2nd century as the period when men were happiest and most prosperous is not entirely false.  [...]

The empire was a vast congeries of peoples and races with differing religions, customs, and languages, and the emperors were content to let them live their own lives.  Imperial policy favoured a veneer of common culture transcending ethnic differences, but there was no deliberate denationalization.  Ambitious men striving for a career naturally found it helpful, if not necessary, to become Roman in bearing and conduct and perhaps even in language as well (although speakers of Greek often rose to exalted positions).  But local self-government was the general rule, and neither Latin nor Roman ways were imposed on the communities composing the empire.  [...]

Where possible, the emperors kept direct administration from Rome to a minimum (except perhaps in Egypt), and the 2nd century was the most flourishing period of urban civilization that the empire ever knew.  [...]

It is impossible not to be impressed by the spectacle of the Roman Empire in its 2nd-century heyday, with its panorama of splendid and autonomous communities.

Thus, perhaps, we see the ultimate source of the differing trajectories of Rome and Athens in history.
9.19.2007 4:14pm
jim:
>>It is worth recalling that, in the early days of the Delian league, Athens claimed that the league was a voluntary association of equals (albeit with some more equal than others). The members did not pay tribute; they made contributions to the collective enterprise.

IIRC, the members were compelled to contribute ships to the collective Navy based on their resources. If your island was two small to have the resources to contribute a ship, you paid some amount of currency instead. In theory Athens pooled these monies to build more ships.

So maybe this explains why there are Vulcan and Andoran ships, but you don't see many ships from the minor players in the Federation.
9.19.2007 4:27pm
CranstonShenir (mail):
Sarah makes a good point re: the skewed picture we get by seeing the Federation through the eyes of the military.

I do think, overall, that Roddenberry did have a Marxist / Socialist "paradise" in mind for TNG, but I don't think that was true for the original series. And even that was later retconned to represent Earth more than the Federation itself; Sisko at one point commented that yes, Earth was a paradise -- "But it's easy to be a saint in paradise" -- as an explicit contrast with how life was for Federation colonies near the Cardassian border.

As far as Picard's statement that there was no "money" in his world, the most explicit comment that I can remember on that point was in "First Contact," where he was specifically referring to the construction of the Enterprise. A 21st-century woman remarks that "I'll bet this ship cost a lot of money," to which Picard replies "the economics of the future are somewhat different." I think that it's possible to construe that conversation narrowly to refer mainly that the allocation of resources to build Federation starships did not involve "money," per se.

But overall, I do agree with the original points -- in the later series, the writers certainly did seem to confuse "money" with "currency," and with the whole concept of scarcity of resources.
9.19.2007 4:47pm
Ken Arromdee:
I'm rather surprised no one has posted a link to the definitive essay on Star Trek = Communism

I did. Nobody noticed.
9.19.2007 5:01pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
throughout TNG, DS9 and Voyager we've seen Picard, Sisko, and Janeway unable, because of the Prime Directive, to interfere with internal matters of warp-capable civilizations from the drug addicted aliens in TNG "Symbiosis" (they couldn't even tell them the drug was a placebo), staying out of the Klingon civil war even though they were a Federation ally, Bajorans (even though they were a Federation protectorate and Sisko was considered to be the Emissary, he took a mostly "hands-off" approach) to the various races Janeway encountered through the Delta Quadrant.


The problem with this reasoning is that Star Fleet DID in fact intervene extensively in nearly all these instances. For example, they influenced the outcome of the Klingon Civil War in favor of the more pro-Federation faction. When they chose not to intervene, they usually had pragmatic reasons for not doing so (e.g. - fear of retaliation).


Not quite, the extension of the Federation's "intervention" in the Klingon civil war to prevent the Romulans from supplying Duras' faction (a point I made in my original post which you truncated off). In other words, they didn't interfere in the battle between the Klingon factions* -- they merely prevented anyone else from interfering by setting up a sensor net to expose any Romulan ships that tried to cross over the border.

Same was true with the Bajorans. Starfleet arrived on DS9 when asked to do so by the provisional Bajoran government. When the Circle overthrew the provisional government, Starfleet ordered its personnel to leave DS9 -- an order that Sisko, O'Brien, Dax, and Bashir disobeyed on the grounds that there was evidence that the Circle was actually being supplied by the Cardassians (similar to the Romulans supplying Duras' faction) and allowing the Circle (unknowing proxies of the Cardassians) to take DS9 would have been to allow the Cardassians to begin reinvading Bajor. Again the extent of the involvement was to prevent the (proxies of) the external empire from further interfering in Bajor's internal development and to expose their involvement -- at which point the coup collapsed and the provisional government was restored.

Now if you want to argue that the Federation limits its "interference" in the natural development of warp-capable civilizations (the criteria for a formal first contact which you wrongly said the Prime Directive was limited to), you need to provide examples where the Federation interfered in the internal affairs of a warp-capable civilization that either (a) didn't ask for Federation intervention, (b) wasn't having their development curtailed by an outside force (e.g. a more advanced alien empire or supercomputer) or (c) didn't first attack the Federation thereby inviting a response.

* The Prime Directive as has been repeatedly explained throughout TOS, TNG, DS9, and Voyager is based on the belief that it's generally best to allow cultures to develop at their own pace without outside interference. It's entirely consistent not only for the Federation to refrain from interfering but to try to stop others as well.
9.19.2007 5:14pm
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
JDB, Ken: Maybe TNG is communistic, but TOS most certainly isn't. They have money, trade, private property, private industry which the state has no control over, profit motive, and local autonomy. Not commies.
9.19.2007 5:15pm
joe (mail):
"in the DS9 episode "Home Front", we were told that the Federation President Jaresh-Inyo was a non-Terran humanoid

Yes, but the President is just a figurehead. All the real power is controlled by the human-dominated Star Fleet. In that episode, Star Fleet imposes martial law with little or no civilian supervision and only another Star Fleet officer (Sisko) is able to get the decision reversed.
"

If I remember the episode correctly, the President was the one who made the decision to impose martial law in the first place, not starfleet. This raises another problem. Earth is just the site of Federation headquarters. Having the President of the Federation declare martial law on Earth is like having the secretary general of the UN exercising authority over the U.S.
9.19.2007 6:00pm
Burt Likko (mail) (www):
VC commenters, do recall some lyrics from another show you may have enjoyed:

If you're wondering how he eats and breathes
And other science facts,
Just repeat to yourself "It's just a show,
I should really just relax."
9.19.2007 6:02pm
Cornellian (mail):
I didn't say that everything was available in limitless suppply in the ST universe. I said everything that people typically want was available in limitless supplies (via replicators and unlimited power) in the ST universe. Every average Joe in that universe can have all the food, clothing, shelter and toys he wants without having to do anything. There are still going to be scarce things (dilithium crystals, latinum) but the ordinary Joe doesn't need those things. So there will still be some type of economy, but it's not at all clear what it would look like.
9.19.2007 6:06pm
Perseus (mail):
Maybe TNG is communistic, but TOS most certainly isn't.

Didn't TOS episode, "The Omega Glory," imply that the UFP was more like the Yangs (as opposed to the Comms)?
9.19.2007 6:10pm
Cornellian (mail):
The problem with the "Prime Directive" is that its meaning and application varied from one episode to the next, probably because different writers were involved and none of them were lawyers or philosophers or others concerned with the subtle nuances of what that term might mean. I think originally it just meant you couldn't interfere in (or even reveal yourself) to a pre-warp civilization. Later it morphed into some kind of general non-interference policy that made no sense at all. Civilizations interfere with each other all the time in the ST universe and no one considered it abnormal until the writers decided to dust off another "Prime Directive" episode, anymore than one country "interfering" by imposing trade sanctions on another county would be considered abnormal today.
9.19.2007 6:11pm
Just Dropping By (mail):
I did. Nobody noticed.

Sorry for overlooking it!
9.19.2007 6:13pm
Ilya Somin:
if you want to argue that the Federation limits its "interference" in the natural development of warp-capable civilizations (the criteria for a formal first contact which you wrongly said the Prime Directive was limited to), you need to provide examples where the Federation interfered in the internal affairs of a warp-capable civilization that either (a) didn't ask for Federation intervention, (b) wasn't having their development curtailed by an outside force (e.g. a more advanced alien empire or supercomputer) or (c) didn't first attack the Federation thereby inviting a response.

Several points:

1. It's not hard to find someone to "invite" you in. In the bajoran case, some Bajorans clearly wanted the Federation there, but others were strongly opposed.

2. During the Dominion War, the Federation arranges for the assassination of a prominent Romulan Senator and otherwise interferes in Romulan politics in order to get the Romulans to enter the war on the Federation side. none of the 3 points you discuss occurred there.

3. Star Fleet officers including Kirk, Picard, and others repeatedly violate the Prime Directive (often by their own admission), yet are virtually never punished - or even demoted - for doing so. That strongly suggests that the Directive can be violated whenever it is convenient for the Federation to do so.
9.19.2007 6:19pm
Ilya Somin:
I didn't say that everything was available in limitless suppply in the ST universe. I said everything that people typically want was available in limitless supplies (via replicators and unlimited power) in the ST universe. Every average Joe in that universe can have all the food, clothing, shelter and toys he wants without having to do anything. There are still going to be scarce things (dilithium crystals, latinum) but the ordinary Joe doesn't need those things. So there will still be some type of economy, but it's not at all clear what it would look like.

Actually, the ordinary Joe does need them if he intends to travel on a starship, trade with the Ferengi, or do a wide range of other activities that require the use of still-scarce resources?
9.19.2007 6:21pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
UPDATE: Commenters note that there actually has been one (though only one) nonhuman Star Fleet Admiral.


Not true, there have been at least two Vulcan admirals seen on screen (and more than that referred to but never shown), including the one in the DS9 episode you refer to and Admiral Savar from TNG's "Conspiracy" who was part of Starfleet's High Command that I referred to in an earlier post. In addition there was an (unnamed in the movie but later named as Igrilan Kor) Andorian admiral at Kirk's trial in "The Voyage Home." In DS9 "Paradise Lost,' the Commandant of Starfleet Academy was a Bolian although it's not clear from the picture how many pips he had on his uniform.
9.19.2007 7:48pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
1. It's not hard to find someone to "invite" you in. In the bajoran case, some Bajorans clearly wanted the Federation there, but others were strongly opposed.


In that case they had a request for assistance from the lawful leaders of Bajor in the form of the provisional government. There were several episodes during the run of DS9 where the Federation made it clear that they were there by invitation of the Bajoran government and would have to leave if the government of Bajor told them to.

2. During the Dominion War, the Federation arranges for the assassination of a prominent Romulan Senator and otherwise interferes in Romulan politics in order to get the Romulans to enter the war on the Federation side. none of the 3 points you discuss occurred there.


Go back and rewatch "In the Pale Moonlight" and you'll see that it was made pretty clear in the episode that Elim Garak acted alone in the assassination of Senator Vreenak.

3. Star Fleet officers including Kirk, Picard, and others repeatedly violate the Prime Directive (often by their own admission), yet are virtually never punished - or even demoted - for doing so. That strongly suggests that the Directive can be violated whenever it is convenient for the Federation to do so.


Cite please.
9.19.2007 8:11pm
Avatar (mail):
One points out that the Banks novels make an interesting point - that their post-scarcity economy and anarchistic freedom is underpinned by, essentially, an oligarchy of a large but easily finite number of hyper-intelligent AIs, the only reason it works so well is because the AIs don't have to spend a lot of brain time managing it and happen to like people, and the occasional exceptions are ugly as hell. In a very real sense, the inhabitants of the Culture are not so much its population as a kind of archaic and highly-spoiled pet, which it pleases the actual doers of work to keep around in large numbers.

This may be an excellent survival strategy for mankind, if you think about it. Of course, self-actualization in the empire-making department goes right out the window, but what hey, would you trade the nonexistent chance of becoming a new Napoleon for effective immortality, no scarcity of consumer goods other than what you impose on yourself, and an over-engineered set of gonads to boot? I'd go for it.

It's not fair to claim that Banks leverages sentience as a means of avoiding private property, though. There's plenty of stuff which isn't smart - you don't have to convince your house to let you live in there, though you may need to convince the local AI that you want a house there. (Fortunately, a significant part of that AI's social standing among its fellow AIs is tied up with how easily/effortlessly it can keep billions of people happy.) Also, they DO manufacture real estate in the Culture, so that's not an issue either.
9.19.2007 8:42pm
Mary (mail):
Whenever people over-analyze a work I think of this vs. this.

One can read a lot into a work that isn't there.
9.19.2007 8:54pm
jawajames (mail) (www):
There might not be a need to collect tribute from member worlds. Remember that most star systems are uninhabited, and have a huge energy output (from their star), and some amount of material resources (planets, asteroids, etc. which can be mined with automatons). The energy resources of a relatively few inhabited worlds can be gained from collecting the resources from the relatively plentiful uninhabited systems.

If 5% of the star systems in the Trek universe are habitable, that leaves 95% of the star systems to set up solar energy collectors, ore extractors, etc. The reason the Federation is so interested in exploration may be that they are constantly looking for the systems without life-supporting planets to turn into energy farms. Send a collection convoy once a year to these systems to collect all the energy from the harvesters. All the settled worlds benefit from the energy and resources harvested from the lifeless systems, and thus no member world ever needs to pay tribute, but instead reaps the abundance of many stars worth of energy. (And even settled systems could still harvest solar energy if they so desired closer energy collection).

For the relatively few resources that exist (dilithium, latinum, etc.), the worlds that can provide these resources may be able to trade or sell them for more energy.

This doesn't address the level of federalism but can also explain the lack of 'tax collection' - instead of taxing the inhabited systems, they just keep finding free money.
9.19.2007 9:47pm
Cornellian (mail):
Does this post and the numerous comments serve as definitive proof that law school (and thus the legal profession) is full of nerds? I don't think this topic would have sparked as much discussion before law school with my software engineer colleagues...and programmers are paradigmatic nerds!

The Volokh Conspiracy (bloggers and commenters) probably has a percentage of math/science/science fiction fans vastly out of proportion to the typical law school or legal blog. Plenty of law students are allergic to math and science - that's why they went into law instead of medicine.
9.19.2007 11:06pm
Tom R (mail):
> "but the Human ships don't seem to visit Vulvan very often"

... Must... restrain... crude... Kirk... joke...

Re ships: It may be like the Canadian Navy (again, restrain joke) where - someone correct me if I'm wrong - some ships are French-speaking and others English-speaking. It makes a lot of sense for a cohesive crew in an enclosed space to share the same cultural and linguistic background, if they're going into combat.

Note that in Battlestar Galactica (subtitled: "Ron Moore gets to do sentient machines, immortal nanotech hive-minds and space fleets PROPERLY this time without having to ritually bow to the pieties of St Gene Roddenberry"), it is a very sensitive issue that the wealthier Colonies (Caprica et al) dominate the senior ranks of the Colonial Fleet. And they're all homo sapiens. Even White/ Black/ Asian/ Latino doesn't seem to correlate to home Colony (eg, Zarek and Dualla are both Sagitarons).

Re replicators: I wonder whether "low cost" equates so easily to "zero cost". Since replicators work on the same principle as transporters, they would presumably need raw materials whose molecules they could re-arrange as desired.

Analogy: 10-12 years ago, if I wanted a copy of a law review article on paper, I had to photocopy it. 15-20 minutes spend hunched over a smelly machine that devoured coins. So I used to file my photocopies carefully. Now, I keep the master PDF or HTML or DOC on disk and can have the computer spit out a printed copy in seconds while I go make a coffee. Once I've finished reading and annotating the paper copy, I leave it in the toilet to read, then discard (household rule: nothing leaves the toilet except to the garbage). I can print someone off a second or third copy at little or no individual marginal cost in time or money. HOWEVER, cumulatively, it adds up. Maybe, in the Trek universe, replicators can turn sawdust into steaks but it still costs energy.
9.20.2007 12:58am
Public_Defender (mail):
I always wondered how land was distributed on an Earth with no effective currency. If two families want to live on a piece of land, how does the government decide who gets their wish?

I don't think you can call the Federation socialist or communist. Picard's family had a vinyard. After the nastiness with the Borg, he retreated to his family's vinyard. There was no suggestion that it was merely the government's vinyard on which his family lived. So Earth appears to have private property rights.
9.20.2007 7:19am
Connie:
Guys, as Mr. Shatner said on SNL: "It's JUST a TV SHOW! Time to MOVE OUT of your parents' BASEMENTS!"
9.20.2007 11:14am
Eric the .5b (mail):
There are way too many inconsistencies with the "we don't use money" line in post-TOS Star Trek, many of which are cited here. But I'll throw an obvious one in - Sisko's father runs a restaurant on a planet where it seems that most people can teleport around. It certainly looks like a business in operation, and something prevents everyone on the planet with a taste for his cuisine from beaming over and demanding dinner at once.

For that matter, who the heck is going to be an unpaid waiter in order to pursue "self-enhancement"?

Going by what's seen instead of the fluffy-headed propaganda that the Federation promulgates, I think it's clear that there's some sort of market system, even if people only have to work to pursue luxuries thanks to replicators and a minimal welfare state.

Of course, I have my own whacked-out interpretation of the latter-day Federation. To wit: we never see 99.9% of Federation citizens because they're all living in underground shared or personal holosuites living out taxpayer-funded fantasy lives. The ones we actually see, civilian and Starfleet alike, are the rare malcontent, self-actualizing ones who want real adventure or accomplishment. These "active" people do the science, business, exploration, administration, and fighting because they obsessively want to and so don't care much at all about the huge taxes they pay to support the rest of the lotus-eating, layabout Federation population.

(This concept explains why the officers were so hard on the holodeck-addict in that TNG episode. The holodecks/suites are around in the "active population" as both recreational and weeding equipment. People who find themselves preferring holo-time to their actual lives risk "flunking out" of the active society and joining the masses - or else just tend to give up and do the same on their own.)
9.20.2007 12:53pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Of course, I have my own whacked-out interpretation of the latter-day Federation. To wit: we never see 99.9% of Federation citizens because they're all living in underground shared or personal holosuites living out taxpayer-funded fantasy lives.


Sounds a little like "The Matrix" and I guess that could explain where all the energy to power the replicators and transporters comes from! ;)

Personally I'm hoping that the next Star Trek series will be an anthology like the Twilight Zone or Outer Limits with each week we get to see a different facet of the Star Trek universe instead of just ever week focusing on the adventures of 7-9 principal characters on a single starship/space station.

It might challenge the writers to start doing more stories from the perspective of characters who doesn't view the universe through the prism of Roddenberry's "vision." We didn't see that often enough in Star Trek and too often the "alien" characters would "humanize" themselves to conform to whatever "human ideal" was being preached that week e.g. T'Pol emoting all over the place, Data as Pinocchio or the ever annoying "as the humans would say (fit in your favorite expression here)" from various alien characters.
9.20.2007 2:54pm
Joshua:
Re: Eric the .5b, 9.20.2007 11:53am

I'm amazed no one has brought this point up yet, as it seems to come up all the time in discussions of holodecks' impact on society. If most people have unfettered access to holodecks, wouldn't the birth rate soon plummet to right around zero? After all, holodecks eliminate scarcity and provide virtually limitless options in entertainment of all sorts - including sexual experiences. It seems to me that technology like this would have to be strictly controlled and regulated by the Federation, if not by its member worlds, to protect its societies from the kind of demographic collapse that would make present-day Western Europe and Russia look downright vigorous in comparison.

In a more general sense, if the Federation is a post-scarcity society, it would have to be geared toward management of abundance as opposed to management of scarcity, which alone would give it a drastically different character from pretty much every real civilization ever formed by real human beings.
9.20.2007 8:42pm
Tom R (mail):
> "If most people have unfettered access to holodecks, wouldn't the birth rate soon plummet to right around zero?"

or as "Futurama" put it: "Don't! Date! Robots!"

Back on to the idea of how technology re-routes the scarcity problem without eliminating it... Six centuries ago, maps were carefully guarded trade secrets, and individual books were extremely valuable objects (being copied by hand). Today, academics put their papers, even books, on the Internet (eg, SSRN) where anyone can read them for free, and likewise Google Maps. Have we all gone nuts? Is this a latter-day equivalent of the Tulip Bulb bubble? No, far from it. If you're an academic, it makes perfect economic sense to get a high, especially global, research profile. You still need money, but you get it by being hired by a prestigious university for your research profile, rather than by hawking copies of your papers. The NYT recently took a very hard-headed business decision to stop charging money for Times Select. As Marvin Harris pointed out in his book "Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches: The Riddle of Culture" (appropriately for this thread, I first head of this book when it was rave-reveiewed in "Analog Science Fiction/ Science Fact"), even the much-derided Native Amerindian custom of "potlatch" makes good economic sense in certain circumstances. Ask the producers of the James Bond, "Lethal Weapon" or "Matrix" films how it can be a perfectly rational business decision to buy a dozen brand-new cars and then deliberately smash them up.
9.21.2007 1:45am
Tom R (mail):
> "If most people have unfettered access to holodecks, wouldn't the birth rate soon plummet to right around zero?"

or as "Futurama" put it: "Don't! Date! Robots!"

Back on to the idea of how technology re-routes the scarcity problem without eliminating it... Six centuries ago, maps were carefully guarded trade secrets, and individual books were extremely valuable objects (being copied by hand). Today, academics put their papers, even books, on the Internet (eg, SSRN) where anyone can read them for free, and likewise Google Maps. Have we all gone nuts? Is this a latter-day equivalent of the Tulip Bulb bubble? No, far from it. If you're an academic, it makes perfect economic sense to get a high, especially global, research profile. You still need money, but you get it by being hired by a prestigious university for your research profile, rather than by hawking copies of your papers. The NYT recently took a very hard-headed business decision to stop charging money for Times Select. As Marvin Harris pointed out in his book "Cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches: The Riddle of Culture" (appropriately for this thread, I first head of this book when it was rave-reveiewed in "Analog Science Fiction/ Science Fact"), even the much-derided Native Amerindian custom of "potlatch" makes good economic sense in certain circumstances. Ask the producers of the James Bond, "Lethal Weapon" or "Matrix" films how it can be a perfectly rational business decision to buy a dozen brand-new cars and then deliberately smash them up.
9.21.2007 1:45am
Cro (mail):
http://stardestroyer.net/Empire/Essays/Trek-Marxism.html

Reposting the essay link.

I don't think that the essay is correct, in that the humans of TNG have made 19th century Marxism work (and that's what it is, not the 20th century variety). There's even a period of chaos in the 21st century when capitalism collapsed on it's own. Clearly their universe is not the murderous, grey totalitarian reality that was communism. We don't see that, ever. Because those things happened in the real world does not mean they'd happen in a future where people are fundamentally different.

In the Star Trek future, humans are not motivated by the same things because human nature has changed in response to abundance. This hasn't happened in the real world, and there's no reason to think that it will. But Star Trek isn't real. That's why comparisons to the economic behavior of real humans simply won't work. Remember, in this universe Marx is right. That puts it far, far out of the realm of economics, law, or anything else.

We might as well be arguing about how warp drives are impossible or just how much energy use is implied by transporters and replicators.

This should certainly detract from its believability, but we shouldn't ascribe things to the universe that its own creators obviously don't intend. We can look at where they're coming from and point out how silly it is (which is the point of the blog post...)

Star Trek is a fantasy that chooses not to deal with the large contradictions that we would have in real life when presented with the same set of problems. Star Trek does this by limiting the scope to one starship. The larger society is only glimpsed occasionally, for the good reason that it's boring and makes it harder to suspend disbelief.

Battlestar does a much more believable take on its society because of its much darker view of human nature. Despite having all the same toys as star trek, the human beings inhabiting them are much closer to us. The broader looks at its society make it more interesting, not less.
9.21.2007 6:39am
Cro (mail):
Quick version, which I should have posted instead: Federation humans are aliens from our perspective. They are not us. They're a lot like the other aliens- mostly human with a few important differences.
9.21.2007 6:49am
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
I have to respectfully dissent from Cro's analysis. But I should point out that I am operating entirely from a TOS perspective, and what Cro says may well be correct in TNG and thereafter; I haven't given it that much thought. But w.r.t TOS, I think there's a difference between optimism about the human condition and a lighter view of the human condition. TOS is definitely optimistic, but not at all naive: a frequent plot point is precisely that we _do_ have a dark side to our nature, and the trick is to overcome it, to seek what is best in us. At its best, TOS shows the encounters with strange new worlds to be something that facilitates our own growth. Example: In response to Spock's somewhat disheartened realization "Mankind: ready to kill," Kirk points out that we can get beyond that, taking it one day at a time if necessary: "I'm not going to kill today." The show frequently explores the darker side of human nature, often (but by no means always) against the backdrop of aliens. Its optimism lies in the promise of our abilities to be better, not in a sunny future in which everyone is benevolent and social. And that's why I also dissent from the suggestion that it's "just like" the warp drive. Suspending disbelief about the technology is not a problem, as long as they make an effort to not be internally contradictory (which is why the warp drive doesn't bother me but the TNG replicators do). But if we have to suspend disbelief about human nature, then there's no point. Science fiction is supposed to be about exploring the human condition via the effects of science/technology. If TNG posits us as marxists, I think that's much much sillier than having warp drive.
9.21.2007 10:07am
Dan Schmutter:

If TNG posits us as marxists, I think that's much much sillier than having warp drive.


Good point. We know marxism doesn't work. At least warp drive is plausible!

Dan
9.21.2007 12:11pm
Durendale (mail):
Passing this on from a non-lawyer friend who is much more of an expert in ST than I. I thought his comments were valuable.

"Of course, the vast collection of written (and accepted as canon) Star Trek literature undermines pretty much every point the author makes.

In the books, Star Fleet is:

1. Not "dominated" by humans. Earth and Vulcan are the co-founders of The United Federation of Planets and it is for this reason Star Fleet command is located on Earth in San Francisco.

2. Ships of the line are financed by entire systems of planets and end up, largely, command staffed by the native species. In many Star Trek novels there are ships largely crewed by non-human species that hold prominent positions in Star Fleet (including flag rank) Vulancs, Sulamids, Denebians, Hortas, Andorians, and so on and so forth all work side by side, in great numbers, with the humans of Earth.

3. In the books, the Enterprise herself is staffed by a great multitude of different alien species.

And, of course, the main reason these things are "shown" in such detail in all of the novels but not the TV series is....budget!

That's the big conspiracy, professor. It's too friggin' expensive to staff dozens of alien ships with dozens of alien species. That, and TV shows are watched by...people! Human actors, doofus. Having a non-humanoid, 2 meter tall, 5 eyed, 8 armed Sulamid as the star of the show would be a bit of an issue for the bulk of the television viewing audience.

I'm not even going to get into an economic analysis. The author's points are largely idiotic.

"The Enterprise is one of the Federation's most advanced warships"...he states.

Uh, no it's not.

1. The Enterprise-E is a Sovereign class starship and it's primary mission involves science/exploration/diplomacy/ and any number of other things not involving blowing things up.

2. Star Fleet actually HAS pure military vessels. Again, in the books. They don't show them in the movies because such information is irrelevant to the stories of Kirk, Picard, or the voyages/adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise. But, they exist."

Blah, blah, blah. I realize the author's tone becomes largely tongue in cheek towards the end of his missive, but the whole things is largely silly.
9.21.2007 3:16pm
Tom R (mail):
I'd quibble that new "Galactica" doesn't have the same toys as "Trek" did. It's basically America society c. 2007, but with FTL interstellar drive and re-usable intra-stellar craft (and - maybe - faster hydroponics). We're told that Kobolian/ Colonial technology in the past was more advanced (enough to build the original Cylon centurions), but has been radically dumbed down - partly because of decades of war, partly as a military tactic to stop the Cylons hacking their computer networks.
9.22.2007 5:49pm
Vulcan Admiral:
We have seen at least two more Vulcan admirals in addition to T'Lara -- Sitak and Savar.
9.23.2007 1:50pm
Tom R (mail):
In fact, it's because new BStar G doesn't have the same toys as Trek that BSG is a much better drama. In Trek, too often the solution to the cliffhanger problem was finding some new form of meta-something [insert Greek letter here] radiation that would reverse the polarity of whatever was threatening the Enterprise/ Voyager/ DS9. The audience could only sit back and watch as passive spectators, waiting for the script's [TECH] macguffin to be revealed. Whereas in BSG, there's almost never any novel technology that saves the day; rather, the problem is that a tough choice has to be made, and viewers can decide for themselves what their own choice would have been in Adama's, Roslin's, etc's shoes.
9.23.2007 10:07pm