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When and Why did the Federation Turn Socialist? - A Question I Hope Will be Answered in the New Star Trek Movie:

Peter Suderman gives a positive review to the new Star Trek movie that premiered today, but notes that it focuses more on personal issues than political ones. It will be interesting to see the young Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. But I hope the movie answers an important question about that has always perplexed me about the Star Trek universe: When and why did the Federation turn socialist?

As I explained in one of my most widely read articles, Star Trek's Federation (or at least Earth) is definitely socialist by the time of the New Generation series, and probably the time of the original series that focused on the Enterprise commanded by Captain Kirk. By "socialist," I mean an economy where all large enterprises are controlled by the government, not merely a market economy where there is regulation or a welfare state. Despite Republican rhetoric to the contrary, Barack Obama is not a socialist; but he would be one if he sought to nationalize all major enterprises and abolish the use of money, as Star Trek's Federation seems to have done.

By the time of the original series, the Federation already lacks any currency (which is necessary to run a large-scale market economy), and all large enterprises seem to be government-owned; this is even more clearly the case in TNG. However, Star Trek's future Earth wasn't always that way. In Enterprise, the series set in the period just before the founding of the Federation, we see many private firms still in existence, including even privately owned space colonies and interstellar freighters. And Earth still has currency at that time. Thus, the Federation's transition to socialism probably took place sometime between 2161 (the end of Enterprise and the founding of the Federation) and 2245 (the beginning of Kirk's "five year mission" in the original series). The new Star Trek movie, which covers the days of Kirk's youth, is set right in the middle of the transition period (the early 2200s). So what caused the transition to socialism during that time? Was there a sudden violent socialist revolution, as happened in Russia in 1917? Or was there a lengthy transition caused by a gradual expansion of government until it gradually took over the entire economy? Bryan Caplan points out that the Earth portrayed in the new movie seems to have experienced very little economic growth over the previous two centuries. That suggests a slow transition over a long period of time. The low growth could be the result of gradually increasing government control choking off the private sector.

Obviously, the most likely answer to my question is that the writers of the TV series' and movies simply didn't think very hard about developing a realistic economic and political history for Earth and the Federation. However, the issue is of more than pedantic interest. Star Trek is a cultural icon watched by tens of millions. Many more people will derive their vision of what the future should be at least partially from Star Trek than from reading serious scholarship. Law professor Benjamin Barton wrote that "no book released in 2005 will have more influence on what kids and adults around the world think about government than The Half-Blood Prince [of the hugely popular Harry Potter series]." Similarly, no nonfiction book of the last few decades is likely to have more influence on how people see the future than Star Trek. If Star Trek continues to portray a socialist future as basically unproblematic, and even implies that a transition to full-blown socialism can be achieved without any major trauma, that is a point worth noting.

With rare exceptions, the Star Trek franchise has been far too blase in its portrayal of future socialism and its implications. After all, socialist regimes have been responsible for the death and impoverishment of millions. There has never been a society that combined full-blown socialism with prosperity or extensive "noneconomic" liberties for the population. And there has never been a transition to socialism without large-scale repression and mass murder. If Star Trek's writers want to posit a new form of socialism that somehow avoids the shortcomings of all previous ones, they should at least give us some sense of how this new and improved socialism escaped the usual pitfalls. Had a similarly prominent pop culture icon been equally obtuse in its portrayal of fascism or even milder forms of right-wing oppression (e.g. - by portraying a rightist military dictatorship that seems to work well and benefits the people greatly without any noticeable loss of personal freedom), it would have been universally pilloried.

Despite this criticism, I still like many things about Star Trek, and I certainly think it is often fun to watch. Political ideology is not the only noteworthy aspect of a science fiction universe, or even the most important. I don't ask that the producers of Star Trek incorporate my political views into the series. I do wish, however, that they would consider the implications of their own more seriously.

UPDATE: I'm sure various readers will claim that socialism in Star Trek works well because they have transporters and replicators, which supposedly eliminate all economic scarcity. If resources are completely unlimited, the argument goes, it doesn't matter if they are used inefficiently. But as I pointed out in this post, there is in fact economic scarcity in the Star Trek universe, because not everything can be replicated (e.g. - power sources for starships and replicators themselves). Moreover, the Federation and other nations in that universe wage war over the control of planets and other assets, which implies that they can't be replicated either. It's also worth noting that replicators seem to be a government monopoly in the Federation, at least on Earth; I don't think we ever see a private replicator owned by a human Federation citizen. That has some troubling implications of its own.

UPDATE #2: Some commenters doubt that there really wasn't any currency in Star Trek. I refer them to this interview with Star Trek screenwriter Ronald D. Moore [HT: commenter Jim Hu], who later also produced Battlestar Galactica:

Question: I've been wondering this since I saw FC: What ever happened to Federation Standard Credits as established in "The Trouble With Tribbles," and, I believed, mentioned (though I don't remember where) in TNG?

Moore: All I know is that by the time I joined TNG, Gene [Roddendery, the creator of Star Trek] had decreed that money most emphatically did NOT exist in the Federation, nor did "credits" and that was that. Personally, I've always felt this was a bunch of hooey, but it was one of the rules and that's that. Fortunately DS9 [Deep Space 9] isn't part of the Federation, so currency could make a back-door re-entry into our story-telling.

So there may have still been credits as a kind of residual currency in the original series. Perhaps it could only be used in government-owned stores and facilities to acquire goods at government-set prices. In the USSR, for example, especially privileged citizens could shop at special stores to which only a small elite had access; Star Fleet officers (the people we see getting credits) might fall into that category. In any event, the socialist government of the Federation eventually abolished them.

UPDATE #3: In a series encompassing hundreds of TV episodes and a dozen movies, there will inevitably be inconsistencies. Therefore, I can't deny that there are probably some scenes in there that seem to contradict my general thesis that the Federation is socialist, including some mentioned by various commenters. Nonetheless, I think there are two consistent patterns that support my position. First, prominent characters such as Captain Picard and Kirk repeatedly state that there is no money in the Federation. This is confirmed as part of the rules for the TV series' by Star Trek screenwriter Ronald D. Moore. Obviously, it is impossible to run a large-scale market economy without currency of some kind. Second - as far as I can tell - we never see any large privately owned enterprises in any of the Star Trek series set after the founding of the Federation. We never hear such of such enterprises being mentioned, or see their brand names on any goods. They are absent even in episodes that include civilian settings. This is a striking omission, given the wide range of issues covered in the vast Star Trek ouevre. Tellingly, none of the commenters (many of whom seem to know far more about Star Trek than I do) have managed to cite any counterexamples. Even if one or two counterexamples do turn up in an isolated single episode, it would not be enough to outweigh the whole rest of the series. The combination of the lack of any large-scale private enterprise and the lack of currency strongly suggest that the Federation is socialist.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Review of the New Star Trek Movie:
  2. When and Why did the Federation Turn Socialist? - A Question I Hope Will be Answered in the New Star Trek Movie:
Soronel Haetir (mail):
On the scarcity point, except for TOS I'm not sure I recall any of the colonies/colonists engaged in anything approaching work.

Also, because most of what do we do see is based in government power structures perhaps there is world beyond that simply escapes notice. Even DS9 focuses a great deal on military centeralism.

I tend to think most of it just came about without very much thought.
5.9.2009 1:04am
Joe Kowalski (mail):
Well, there does seem to be some private enterprise on Earth in the 24th Century, see the Picard family vineyard in TNG and Sisko's father's restaurant in New Orleans in DS9. How these operations fit into the scheme of Federation economic system isn't ever explored, but they do exist, and they don't seem to be merely arms of the state.
5.9.2009 1:04am
ALJ (mail):
Star Trek, beginning with TOS has always struck me as a military dictatorship. We have everyone of any consequence in Federation uniforms zipping around the universe blasting anything that got in the way (the prime directive was such a joke, honored more in the breach than the keeping). All we ever saw was gunboat diplomacy and Federation military hierarchy, with no civilian leadership. I guess I just never saw the Federation as all that benevolent.
5.9.2009 1:07am
Ilya Somin:
Well, there does seem to be some private enterprise on Earth in the 24th Century, see the Picard family vineyard in TNG and Sisko's father's restaurant in New Orleans in DS9. How these operations fit into the scheme of Federation economic system isn't ever explored, but they do exist, and they don't seem to be merely arms of the state.

These are small businesses. My post is explicitly about "large enterprises." Moreover, it's not clear whether the Picard farm and Sisco restaurant really are privately owned. Picard's family and Sisco's father might just be managers of government-owned enterprises. Certainly, it's hard to see how either could be operated as a private firm without the use of currency. How do the customers pay for the food and wine they buy from Sisco Sr. or the Picards? It's unlikely that they can operate these enterprises on a purely barter basis.
5.9.2009 1:11am
Ilya Somin:
Also, because most of what do we do see is based in government power structures perhaps there is world beyond that simply escapes notice. Even DS9 focuses a great deal on military centeralism.

We see Earth and various civilian colonies several times in TNG and DS9, but don't see any large-scale private enterprise. Moreover, both in TNG and DS9, it is explicitly stated that the Federation has no currency and that humans are no longer motivated by profit or "greed" for material wealth. It's hard to reconcile any of this with the continued existence of major private enterprises.
5.9.2009 1:13am
American Psikhushka (mail):
Your question answers itself. If the Federation were truly socialist it wouldn't exist long-term, it would stagnate, collapse, and be replaced by something else. So it's a paradox.

Unfortunately it shows the deficits in our educational system. Just a little study of the right topics in history and economics would show the folly in portraying true socialism as futuristic and positive. It's like portraying slavery as fururistic and positive rather than racist, dishonest, and incompetent.
5.9.2009 1:26am
Stormy Dragon (mail) (www):
It's also worth noting that replicators seem to be a government monopoly in the Federation, at least on Earth; I don't think we ever see a private replicator owned by a human Federation citizen. That has some troubling implications of its own.

IIRC from DS9, transporters and replicators are only common on space ships and stations in the Star Trek universe because they're the only places that have access to the massive powerplants necessary to provide the electricity to run them. For the majority of population who lives on planets, everything still has to be done the old-fashioned economically scarce way.
5.9.2009 1:26am
Stormy Dragon (mail) (www):
Another point, the Star Trek economic system seemed to vary quite a bit from series to series, or even from episode to episode within a series. On one hand, there are a number of times where characters explicitly state that the Federation has no money. On the other hand, there are also frequent depictions of gambling or references to making purchases with "credits".
5.9.2009 1:33am
Jim Hu:
Note that in the Star Trek universe, Federation citizens who are on DS9 seem to be able to gamble with gold-pressed latinum in Quark's bar/casino and spend it in Garak's shop.
5.9.2009 1:35am
Avatar (mail):
It's true that scarcity hasn't been -completely- eliminated, in that there are things that are at least non-trivial to spit out of a replicator. But the presence of replicators means that the entire concept of capital has to be radically reassessed. Creative goods still need to be produced, to a degree, but physical goods only need to be designed. Furthermore, only the truly talented are possibly going to be able to create something of use - it doesn't do any good to be, say, the Earth's fifth-best sushi chef if anyone can get the finest work of the Earth's finest sushi chef just by pressing a button (if they have to exert even that much effort, that is). And hey, if Alpha Centauri's best sushi chef is better...

So, quite literally, the labor contribution to capital that 99.9999x percent of the human population is -zero-. You can become a scientist, you can join the fleet, you can become an artist, or you can do stuff manually that could be done automatically, just for people who like it the old-fashioned way. (Say, like, making wine from the family vineyard.) But you'd be doing it for your own self-satisfaction rather than because you needed to obtain material goods from someone else to survive. Or if you want to just sit around all day and play in the holodeck...

It wouldn't necessarily work with a small population, because you do need to motivate a certain number of people to do the design work that everyone else benefits from. But Earth's population isn't that small; it's quite possible that they just fell back on the self-motivated and found that was enough. If the number of shipyard workers you need is less than the number of people with otherwise-satisfied wants that think "hey, it would be neat to build starships all day", well then. To the extent that you need additional people, you'd do well to attract them through prestige and honors instead of physical goods, which they already have in surfeit.

So the only area where people would regularly have to do things they didn't want to do would be the military. But as has been noted, the military in Star Trek are absolutely the highest prestige level - certainly an admiral is more prestigious than, say, a planetary governor.
5.9.2009 1:38am
Cornellian (mail):
Admittedly I'm not enough of a geek to recall episodes by memory, but I can't recall any episode that said large enterprises were all government owned. Lots of people were government employees, but that's hardly surprising since nearly every cast member was in the quasi-military Starfleet. There were also lots of scientists, but if they're professors at public universities, that's hardly much different than today.
5.9.2009 1:39am
Cornellian (mail):
It's also worth noting that replicators seem to be a government monopoly in the Federation, at least on Earth; I don't think we ever see a private replicator owned by a human Federation citizen.

I don't think the series every says or even implies that. I recall an episode saying that the replicators and transporters were both aspects of the same technology (not surprisingly) and virtually every ship, public or private, had a transporter.
5.9.2009 1:41am
Cornellian (mail):
I don't ask that the producers of Star Trek incorporate my political views into the series. I do wish, however, that they would consider the implications of their own more seriously.

Trying to imagine what an economy would look like where all the basics of life (shelter, clothing, food) are available in virtually limitless quantities at virtually no cost is a task beyond most economists, let alone the typical screen writer with an English degree. I'm willing to cut them some slack if they don't wish to attempt that task.

What would people do if they didn't have to work to have shelter, food and clothing? That's not an easy thing to predict.
5.9.2009 1:44am
eyesay:
In "The Trouble with the Tribbles," Cyrano Jones negotiates prices with the proprietor of the bar, who then sells tribbles to Lt. Uhura. The currency is credits.

In The Next Generation, The Farengi make frequent reference to their currency substance latinum.

There seem to be plenty of small businesses operating on the promenade of Deep Space Nine, all presumably in some kind of money economy.
5.9.2009 1:44am
Jim Hu:
After the post above, I looked around more of memory alpha, which led to this interview with a Star Trek writer, who says:
All I know is that by the time I joined TNG, Gene had decreed that money most emphatically did NOT exist in the Federation, nor did "credits" and that was that. Personally, I've always felt this was a bunch of hooey, but it was one of the rules and that's that. Fortunately DS9 isn't part of the Federation, so currency could make a back-door re-entry into our story-telling.

also
Our assumption is that gold-pressed latinum cannot be replicated for whatever reason and that's why the Ferengis are still in business. Starfleet evidently honors tabs run up by its officers and where the Federation gets its latinum is anybody's guess. (Personally, I think they're running a numbers racket.)
5.9.2009 1:46am
Cornellian (mail):
Moreover, both in TNG and DS9, it is explicitly stated that the Federation has no currency and that humans are no longer motivated by profit or "greed" for material wealth. It's hard to reconcile any of this with the continued existence of major private enterprises.

No currency or no cash? I remember multiple episodes of TNG where people were buying stuff from the Ferengi, gambling on resort planets etc. They must have used something for that purpose.

And the absence of "major private enterprises" doesn't necessarily imply a socialist economy at all. An economy consisting of all small businesses would potentially be more of a capitalist economy than this country has right now.
5.9.2009 1:47am
James Gibson (mail):
It seems none of you classify as a Trekkie. In the original series I point you to Four Star Trek episodes: The doomsday Machine, The trouble with Tribbles, Operation: Annihilate, and The Devil In the Dark.

First: in Doomsday Machine When Scotty tells Kirk that he has recharged one phaser tube Kirk says " Scotty, you just earned your pay for the week." If they had no money/pay the term would have little meaning to Scotty. In reality they didn't carry currency like coins but had credits issued to an account which they could then use to purchase items in an electronic transfer similar to what most people use today.

Second: Supporting the concept of credits instead of coinage/money. When Uhura asks how much for the tribble the system becomes quite monetary and business like as the trader points out to the bar keeper that by giving her a free one it will generate more business from the Enterprise crew then either man can handle (of course the tribbles had their own ideas). Also note the barter system were the trader offers various items to the barkeeper to acquire food or beverages.

Third: Operation Annihilate. Kirk and crew go to Deniva were Kirk's brother runs a research laboratory (hardly a small business). The colony is know for its ship building facilities and its mining operations among an asteroid belt. The fact no specific industries are named doesn't mean its a socialist operation.

Fourth: In the devil in the Dark Kirk goes to a mining colony to restore production of a special ore. At the end of the story he's talking to the chief engineer of the colony who tells Kirk that the babies have started arriving and the first thing they do is did tunnels. As a result they are now loaded with rare earths (gold, platinum, silver) with Kirk then responding that once Mother Horta tells the children what to look for the miners are going to be incredibly wealthy. Hardly the statement in a socialist system were whatever these men mine is the property of the Federation.

I'll even throw in Mudds Women were he trades females to single men on isolated planets for other items he can then sell/trade at other locations. Such items could include Di-lithium Crystals used to power Starships.

I'll even throw in Kirk chastising Spock for taking the death darts in This Side of Paradise were Kirk asks Spock if he appreciates how much Star Fleet has invested in him only to have to stop him from giving an exact figure.

In short the system was both a modern paperless payroll system with barter systems on the fringes that intermix with the other empires and alien federations creating commerce. Trade existed, major industries, small businesses, farming, mining and even mining agreements that resulted in Federation conferences like Trip to Babel.
5.9.2009 1:48am
Ilya Somin:
What would people do if they didn't have to work to have shelter, food and clothing? That's not an easy thing to predict.

Actually, the existence of welfare states, charity, and inherited wealth ensure that most people in the Western world don't have to work to get basic necessities today.
5.9.2009 1:48am
Ilya Somin:
Note that in the Star Trek universe, Federation citizens who are on DS9 seem to be able to gamble with gold-pressed latinum in Quark's bar/casino and spend it in Garak's shop.

DS9 is Bajoran territory, not Federation. For that reason, it can allow the use of money in ways that Earth can't. Federation citizens who travel to DS9 are those that have some economic connection to the non-Federation world. Soviet citizens privileged enough to travel to the West in the 1970s and 80s could make purchases in hard currency. That doesn't prove that the USSR wasn't socialist, or that the average Soviet citizen had dollars (they quite obviously did not).
5.9.2009 1:50am
Christopher Hagar II:
1. Violent revolutions have occurred for socialism probably because a) the socialist party is motivated or empowered by poverty, and b) one party takes the scarce goods of another. With negligible scarcity for material necessities and all but the most wild material luxuries, there need be no violent revolution. A peaceful communist transition is possible when there is no scarcity, and this transition due to technology seems to have been envisioned by Marx.

2. Private replicators are common. They produce the food many people eat, the clothes they wear, etc. Possibly, all the replicators might be distributed by the government, but they are under personal control on a daily basis. Sisko or Picard Seniors can easily maintain restaurants and farms, without payment, even though they use natural food. You don't need money if you can get for free everything you might want to buy.

3. Indeed, the Federation government could even be relatively smaller than our governments. Private enterprise did not go to the moon, or build the Hoover Dam. This is more of an indictment of the present, but the fact remains: With little scarcity, and with a peaceful population, the Federation government may be threadbare except for space travel and the military. It is difficult to infer the extent of large-scale private enterprises from stories about the government-run Starfleet.

4. One avenue where it seems government control might have been required is in population control. There might still be a scarcity of land or shelter, especially in all the lush under-built green lands. However, the Third World War killed many people, and the number of naturally or terraformably habitable planets may be endless.

5. A major question is: why is everyone so peaceful and consensual in the first place. This may just be a natural consequence of being able to do anything you want, without worrying about necessities. When you don't have to worry about living, maybe you can really start living.
5.9.2009 1:51am
Ilya Somin:
So, quite literally, the labor contribution to capital that 99.9999x percent of the human population is -zero-. You can become a scientist, you can join the fleet, you can become an artist, or you can do stuff manually that could be done automatically, just for people who like it the old-fashioned way. (Say, like, making wine from the family vineyard.) But you'd be doing it for your own self-satisfaction rather than because you needed to obtain material goods from someone else to survive. Or if you want to just sit around all day and play in the holodeck...

It wouldn't necessarily work with a small population, because you do need to motivate a certain number of people to do the design work that everyone else benefits from. But Earth's population isn't that small; it's quite possible that they just fell back on the self-motivated and found that was enough.


I don't think the range of goods that can't be replicated is that narrow. Moreover, even if the only remaining goods that are scarce really are nonmaterial ones such as prestige and new ideas, it still doesn't follow that socialist planning would be an effective means of allocating and producing them. Real-world socialist states didn't do any better with the development of nonmaterial wealth than physical goods. Indeed, they often did even worse, because it's much harder for government to plan the production of intangibles such as ideas than homogenous material goods like steel.
5.9.2009 1:53am
Ilya Somin:
I can't recall any episode that said large enterprises were all government owned.

The point is that no episodes portray any such enterprises, even in cases where one would expect to see them.
5.9.2009 1:56am
Ilya Somin:
And the absence of "major private enterprises" doesn't necessarily imply a socialist economy at all. An economy consisting of all small businesses would potentially be more of a capitalist economy than this country has right now.

Except that Star Trek clearly does have large enterprises. We see mining operations, interstellar freighters, and the like all the time.
5.9.2009 1:58am
Ilya Somin:
First: in Doomsday Machine When Scotty tells Kirk that he has recharged one phaser tube Kirk says " Scotty, you just earned your pay for the week." If they had no money/pay the term would have little meaning to Scotty. In reality they didn't carry currency like coins but had credits issued to an account which they could then use to purchase items in an electronic transfer similar to what most people use today.


The expression could be one that survived from the (then-recent) era when people did get pay in the form of currency. We today have many expressions with archaic origins.

Second: Supporting the concept of credits instead of coinage/money. When Uhura asks how much for the tribble the system becomes quite monetary and business like as the trader points out to the bar keeper that by giving her a free one it will generate more business from the Enterprise crew then either man can handle (of course the tribbles had their own ideas). Also note the barter system were the trader offers various items to the barkeeper to acquire food or beverages.

The trader in question seems to be a black market operator, one who is wanted by the Federation authorities. All socialist systems have black markets (the USSR certainly did). Doesn't mean they aren't socialist. And, obviously, black market barter is consistent with the nonexistence of currency and indeed is made more likely by the absence of money.

Third: Operation Annihilate. Kirk and crew go to Deniva were Kirk's brother runs a research laboratory (hardly a small business). The colony is know for its ship building facilities and its mining operations among an asteroid belt. The fact no specific industries are named doesn't mean its a socialist operation.

It could be a government-owned laboratory. My grandfather once ran such an organization in the Soviet Union. Doesn't mean that it was privately owned.

Fourth: In the devil in the Dark Kirk goes to a mining colony to restore production of a special ore. At the end of the story he's talking to the chief engineer of the colony who tells Kirk that the babies have started arriving and the first thing they do is did tunnels. As a result they are now loaded with rare earths (gold, platinum, silver) with Kirk then responding that once Mother Horta tells the children what to look for the miners are going to be incredibly wealthy. Hardly the statement in a socialist system were whatever these men mine is the property of the Federation.

The Federation could easily have a system where miners and others doing hazardous work get paid a premium for production (presumably in goods, rather than currency). In the USSR, miners were routinely paid much more than other blue collar workers, because the government wanted to incentivize people to do such dangerous work. That was completely compatible with the mines being state-owned.
5.9.2009 2:04am
Sarcastro (www):
[Don't forget Quatloos! The currency of oddly colored brains!

Seriously(?), though, between the abundant energy supplies, the ease that energy and matter seem to be able to be interchanged and the lack of any sufficient sample of non Starfleet Federation society, a technological utopia isn't so unrealistic.

In the face of such abundance, must one call the society "socalist?" After all, privatization of an unlimited resource ceases to have much meaning. Indeed, to imply that any limit on a resource lead to mass death unless privitized seems a bit much.

e.g. dilithium. But while the element was clearly precious, there never seemed an outright Federation-wide scarcity of it.

Finally, I saw no evidence that replicators were a monopoly of the government. What we saw of civilian life was really to small a sample to make that jump.]
5.9.2009 2:05am
Christopher Hagar II:

It still doesn't follow that socialist planning would be an effective means of allocating and producing them.


It doesn't need to be. The Federation could be languishing from a classical economic perspective. With free food, water, and shelter, all they need to survive is to prevent invasion, with a strong military.

Governments historically maintain strong militaries well enough; and new science and ideas for the military may not be problematic when you have billions of curious people with free time on their hands, and governments historically do some research passably well too.

Even in the twenty-first century, if there were far fewer people, and governments and other people weren't meddling, we wouldn't need to work much either to live, without fancy cars and cable television of course.
5.9.2009 2:10am
Christopher Hagar II:
Also, of course, they need dilithium and other rare elements, but I doubt the U.S. military will have problems getting enough oil if all hell breaks lose. There seems to be enough dilithium in the universe, and so little of it is needed to power an entire starship, let alone my kitchen, that allocation is unlikely to be an issue.
5.9.2009 2:20am
Loophole (mail):
Socialism works much better in theory than in reality. Star Trek is a theoretical world, populated by humans more advanced than ourselves. Perhaps they figured out a way to make socialism work that wouldn't be possible today.

They seem to be doing pretty well without Christianity.
5.9.2009 2:24am
Nick056:
The idealody of Star Trek pretty well melds global human cooperation and reconciliation with Western ideas of individuality. Add in a heavy dollop of respect for archetypal myths common to many human cultures.

Mix ingredients, stir, and bake at 415 for two hours. You'll see the genesis and history of the the modern Trek universe.

It's worth pointing out that TOS regularly warned of dangerous utopian visions in which a central authority controlled everything. The character of earth relations is taken to be enlightened altruism. But, of course, humans are not perfectly logical or rational, unlike Spock the Vulcan. They simply have a better idea of what kind of personal behavior will ultimately benefit everyone in the long run.
5.9.2009 2:24am
Cornellian (mail):
Actually, the existence of welfare states, charity, and inherited wealth ensure that most people in the Western world don't have to work to get basic necessities today.

The number of independently wealthy people is a miniscule percentage of the population, no one can count of charity for a living, and living on welfare is subsistence living - nothing like the style that a replicator would provide.
5.9.2009 2:26am
Cornellian (mail):

They seem to be doing pretty well without Christianity.

I remember one episode where some alien says something to Kirk about multiple gods and Kirk says something like "we're fine with just the one." So although they never discuss religion that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. No one talks about religion at my workplace either - it just isn't done - but I'm quite a number of people in my office are religious.
5.9.2009 2:28am
Ilya Somin:
In the face of such abundance, must one call the society "socalist?" After all, privatization of an unlimited resource ceases to have much meaning. Indeed, to imply that any limit on a resource lead to mass death unless privitized seems a bit much.

Except that many important resources (dilithium, planetary space, etc.) are stil limited.

e.g. dilithium. But while the element was clearly precious, there never seemed an outright Federation-wide scarcity of it.


You misunderstand the definition of "scarcity." Any limited resources is scarce in standard economic terminology, even if there isn't a major "shortage" of it. Of course the show portrays dilithium as being more or less efficiently distributed by the Federation. But that is just one of many ways in which it portrays socialism functioning much better than is at all likely.
5.9.2009 2:30am
Cornellian (mail):
I can't recall any episode that said large enterprises were all government owned.

The point is that no episodes portray any such enterprises, even in cases where one would expect to see them.


Why do you consider large enterprises a necessary consequence of a free market economy? If a government simply banned ownership by a single person of a business beyond a certain size you could have an economy of small businesses that could potentially be a far more free market than we have here today, depending on what other regulations they have.
5.9.2009 2:32am
Mark (guest) (mail):
I am prepared to accept that working socialism is intended as just as much a fantastic concession to the genre as faster-than-light travel.
5.9.2009 2:33am
Cornellian (mail):
It seems none of you classify as a Trekkie.

Well I'm still going to see the new Star Trek movie anyway. It's getting surprisingly strong reviews, which is quite something considering how many film reviewers are anti-SF snobs who pretend to love Joyce's Ulysses but couldn't get past the first page of it.
5.9.2009 2:35am
Ilya Somin:
Why do you consider large enterprises a necessary consequence of a free market economy? If a government simply banned ownership by a single person of a business beyond a certain size you could have an economy of small businesses that could potentially be a far more free market than we have here today, depending on what other regulations they have.

The problem is that some enterprises have to be large in order to be economically viable because of economies of scale. In Star Trek, it seems, all of these are owned by the government.
5.9.2009 2:36am
Christopher Hagar II:

The problem is that some enterprises have to be large in order to be economically viable because of economies of scale. In Star Trek, it seems, all of these are owned by the government.


This is not necessary with the right technology.

As I can kill someone silently from a mile away, without brawling; as I can prove Fermat's Last Theorem, alone with a computer; as I can pilot a shuttlecraft between the stars, alone; I can run a huge mine or laboratory, alone or with a skeleton crew, as was a common recurrence in TOS.

You notice that the factories may or may not get bigger, but the number of manufacturing employees truly needed gets smaller.

The only reason this has not advanced further in the present, is because it is still cheaper to buy labor from other countries. That ends when the Chinese can just use the replicator instead of working sweatshops.
5.9.2009 2:45am
Cornellian (mail):
Why do you consider large enterprises a necessary consequence of a free market economy?

The problem is that some enterprises have to be large in order to be economically viable because of economies of scale. In Star Trek, it seems, all of these are owned by the government.


I don't see why that follows. A large enterprise might be more efficient at certain activities, thus making a small enterprise unable to compete, but if there are no large enterprises because they are unlawful or for some other reason, then there might well be plenty of small enterprises doing that activity, even if they're not doing it as efficiently as a large enterprise. Small family farms aren't nearly as efficient as large industrial farms but if large industrial farms were banned tomorrow, we'd be buying from family farms and the family farms would be totally viable economically and since they're all private it would meet any reasonable definition of a free market.
5.9.2009 2:46am
Cornellian (mail):
This is not necessary with the right technology.

You notice that the factories may or may not get bigger, but the number of manufacturing employees truly needed gets smaller.


I seem to recall episodes where vast planetary mineral extraction operations were going on that were staffed by just a handful of people. That might well qualify as a large enterprise even if it has only a few employees.
5.9.2009 2:48am
Fact Checker:
And there has never been a transition to socialism without large-scale repression and mass murder.

Now while I will agree with the first half (and we can argue til the cows come home about whether Castro was more oppressive than the mafia bought and paid for Batista or Ortega more oppressive than the thoroughly corrupt and incompetent Somoza regime) of this statement, the second half is just historically false. Where are the mass murders in eastern europe during the transition to socialism in Eastern Europe after WWII? And with the exception of Cambodia, the only mass murders I recall in South east Asia is of communists by Suharto after the 1965 attempted coup.

Don't overstate your case.
5.9.2009 2:52am
roy:
Maybe money was phased out when they stopped putting pockets on uniforms.
5.9.2009 3:06am
Ilya Somin:
Where are the mass murders in eastern europe during the transition to socialism in Eastern Europe after WWII?

Soviet forces and local communists killed hundreds of thousands of people in these countries in the years immediately after WWII. This is discussed in detail in many works of scholarship. I recommend the chapters on Eastern Europe in the Black Book of Communism for a good summary.
5.9.2009 3:09am
Ilya Somin:
And with the exception of Cambodia, the only mass murders I recall in South east Asia is of communists by Suharto after the 1965 attempted coup.

Your recall is faulty. Both the North Korean and North Vietnamese communists engaged in mass murder to establish their rule. To say nothing of Mao's mass murders in China. Again, I recommend the chapters on these countries in the Black Book of Communism, for documentation and details.
5.9.2009 3:11am
Cornellian (mail):
And there has never been a transition to socialism without large-scale repression and mass murder.

Venezuela? Not a paragon of liberty, by any means, but they haven't descended to mass murders either.
5.9.2009 3:29am
BillW:
"I can't recall any episode that said large enterprises were all government owned.

Ilya Somin: "The point is that no episodes portray any such enterprises, even in cases where one would expect to see them."

[Hazy memory of David Gerrold's book about The Trouble with Tribbles] In Gerrold's original version, the bad guys worked for some big corporation, but that was nixed because 'Big Business is never the enemy.' I.e. don't bite the hand that feeds you, by buying ads on your show. Gerrold remembered that another episode had invented a race called the Klingons, and made them his baddies.
5.9.2009 3:33am
The River Temoc (mail):
By the time of the original series, the Federation already lacks any currency (which is necessary to run a large-scale market economy), and all large enterprises seem to be government-owned; this is even more clearly the case in TNG.

Er, what do you base this on, exactly? "Conspiracy," the season finale of the very first season of TNG had Picard holding a secret rendez-vous at a mining facility owned by a private company.
5.9.2009 3:38am
BillW:
"They seem to be doing pretty well without Christianity."

There was that TOS episode on a planet where the Romanoids had suppressed the Christianoids. It wasn't portrayed in an entirely positive light.
5.9.2009 3:39am
guest890:
Except that Star Trek clearly does have large enterprises. We see mining operations, interstellar freighters, and the like all the time.


Interstellar freighters, like the one run by Kasidy Yates? Who appears to have a reasonable degree of independence regarding her choice of contracts, since she can choose to accept a job hauling cargo for the Bajorans when the opportunity arises?

As for replicators, Picard offers a portable replicator to a pair of farmers in "The Survivors", so small-scale replicators presumably don't need a massive antimatter reactor in order to power them, making civilian ownership feasible. Furthermore, the casual nature with which reasonably advanced non-Federation races treat replicator technology (e.g. Garak and Quark both casually using replicators in their respective businesses) implies that the technology is indeed widespread, at least outside of the Federation. Overall, I'd agree that the small glimpses we get of civilian life aren't enough to demonstrate that replicators are only for the elites--to the contrary, if they have simple appliance status, they may just be too mundane to show. Are there specific instances where you would have expected to see a replicator but didn't?
5.9.2009 3:40am
The River Temoc (mail):
An economy consisting of all small businesses would potentially be more of a capitalist economy than this country has right now.

Did you sleep through the lecture on "economies of scale" in Econ 101 or something?
5.9.2009 3:43am
josh bornstein (mail) (www):

They seem to be doing pretty well without Christianity.

I remember one episode where some alien says something to Kirk about multiple gods and Kirk says something like "we're fine with just the one." So although they never discuss religion that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. No one talks about religion at my workplace either - it just isn't done - but I'm quite a number of people in my office are religious.



I recall another episode of TOS where the crew went down to a planet (yes, wackiness did ensue), and as Uhura monitored the planet's communications, she heard constant references to "the sun." As a result, the crew all thought the planet was populated by sun worshipers. At the end of the episode, the 'big reveal' was when Uhura corrected Kirk (I think), to solemnly tell him that the population actually had been referring to "the Son." (Obviously a Jebus reference, and one of the weaker and more bathetic moments in TOS history, in my opinion.)

Although, I do admit that this was an alien planet, and not (I think) one that was part of the Federation. But everyone on the Bridge did immediately get the "Son" reference, so Christianity was, at least, extremely well-known at the time of TOS.
5.9.2009 3:43am
Ilya Somin:
Interstellar freighters, like the one run by Kasidy Yates? Who appears to have a reasonable degree of independence regarding her choice of contracts, since she can choose to accept a job hauling cargo for the Bajorans when the opportunity arises?

The job with the Bajorans seems to be to operate a Bajoran ship, not one she owns herself. Her previous job could simply be captaining a vessel owned by the Federation government. Alternatively, she might simply be an illegal smuggler (as suggested by the fact that she takes jobs with the Maquis guerrillas).

As for replicators, Picard offers a portable replicator to a pair of farmers in "The Survivors", so small-scale replicators presumably don't need a massive antimatter reactor in order to power them, making civilian ownership feasible.

It may well be technologically feasible. That, however, makes all the more telling that we never see it.
5.9.2009 3:43am
Borealis (mail):
Money is among the least of their problems. The entire population of planets usually wore the same uniforms. If that isn't socialism, then nothing is.
5.9.2009 3:45am
Ilya Somin:
And there has never been a transition to socialism without large-scale repression and mass murder.

Venezuela? Not a paragon of liberty, by any means, but they haven't descended to mass murders either.


Venezuela is far from being fully socialist yet. There are still many privately owned firms. If it does get there, it's unlikely to be able to do so without mass murder.
5.9.2009 3:45am
Cornellian (mail):

Venezuela is far from being fully socialist yet. There are still many privately owned firms. If it does get there, it's unlikely to be able to do so without mass murder.


What are you using as your definition of "socialism?" If you're going with the classical approach of government ownership of the means of production, then there would still be lots of private business activity even in a socialist society. If by "socialist" you mean no privately owned businesses at all, then there has probably never been a fully socialist society in all of human history.
5.9.2009 3:51am
Ilya Somin:
"Conspiracy," the season finale of the very first season of TNG had Picard holding a secret rendez-vous at a mining facility owned by a private company.

I don't recall all the details of this episode. But I don't think it was ever stated that the mine was owned by a private firm.
5.9.2009 3:51am
The River Temoc (mail):
There's almost no *branding* in the Trek universe, at least not on board Starfleet ships. In the military today, there's perhaps less branding than in the civlian world, but you can still go on base and order a Coke.

The lack of branding is perhaps the most powerful argument in favor of the socialist scenario that Ilya discusses, but I don't see it as dispositive. Much of the action in Trek takes place in uncharted space on a relatively small vessel operating on its own. Putting a Starbucks on the Enterprise and ensuring consistent quality is probably a damn sight harder than putting one in the Pentagon today.

More to the point, if the writers started showing real-life brands left and right, the episodes would quickly become dated. Remember the Pan American World Airways ads in 2001, anyone? There is in fact a small product placement for Nokia in the new Trek movie; that may look just as dated in ten years.
5.9.2009 3:55am
Splunge:
Well, to me the only real ST is the original one. All the others were distorted shadows, evidence of Roddenberry in his dotage, after his head swelled and he fell into the fatal conceit of thinking it was his philosophy we enjoyed, not his story-telling and imagination. In his younger days he was ruthless about telling a rousing good story and that kept his inane philosophy from leaking through too much.

Anyway, the civilian world of the original series was barely described, except with a few pieces of inconsistent throwaway dialogue at long intervals, but the general implications, as James Gibson ably points out, were that it did not differ significantly from ours. It was in no way a socialist state.

Starfleet itself, which is the only social organization with which we became really familiar, was of course a military dictatorship. One shot through with a surprising level of insubordination, of course, but that was par for the course in the large number of quasi-military sitcoms or series of the day (I Dream of Jeanne, McHale's Navy, Gomer Pyle, all those John Wayne war flicks, et cetera). It's worth remembering a sizeable minority, perhaps approaching a majority, of male viewers in 1966 would have had military experience, almost entirely at the enlisted level. Hence the eternal story line of spoofing the brass, who are rule-bound unimaginative chair-polishers.

Quite frankly, I don't think anyone in 1966 was interested in "exploring" alternative social structures. They just wanted a good optimistic Space Age mini-story each week, but one not quite as brainless as Lost in Space. Things were quite different by the time TNG came around in the 80s, and television began taking itself far more seriously, as "art" rather than 55 minutes of working-class romantic escapism.

My prediction is that the original series will live on and on, like Keaton's "The General," while its relatively unworthy, lugubrious and less boisterously imaginative knock-offs will enjoy the standard decay of ordinary TV, e.g. will be re-run as often as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
5.9.2009 3:55am
The River Temoc (mail):
All I know is that by the time I joined TNG, Gene [Roddendery, the creator of Star Trek] had decreed that money most emphatically did NOT exist in the Federation, nor did "credits" and that was that.

Regardless, in the very first episode of TNG, Beverly Crusher buys some fabric and charges it to her account on the Enterprise.

It is pretty clear that currency in the sense of paper money doesn't exist in the Federation; but frankly, that's a very plausble development. We're probably not too far from that situation today; the fact that people want some means of financing illicit activities is the only real barrier to a cashless society.
5.9.2009 3:57am
Cornellian (mail):
My prediction is that the original series will live on and on, like Keaton's "The General," while its relatively unworthy, lugubrious and less boisterously imaginative knock-offs will enjoy the standard decay of ordinary TV

I thought TNG had a number of very good episodes that will live on, and that DS9 had the best series arc of any of the Star Trek series, as well as the coolest and most imaginative alien race (the Founders).
5.9.2009 3:59am
Ilya Somin:
Venezuela is far from being fully socialist yet. There are still many privately owned firms. If it does get there, it's unlikely to be able to do so without mass murder.

What are you using as your definition of "socialism?" If you're going with the classical approach of government ownership of the means of production, then there would still be lots of private business activity even in a socialist society. If by "socialist" you mean no privately owned businesses at all, then there has probably never been a fully socialist society in all of human history.


I mean the definition I used in the post: no large-scale privately owned enterprises. Venezuela still has many such, including banks, factories and the like. By contrast, the USSR and other communist states fit the definition well.
5.9.2009 4:00am
Cornellian (mail):
I mean the definition I used in the post: no large-scale privately owned enterprises.

That's a strange definition. If today the United States outlawed ownership by any one individual of a business worth more than $10 million and also abolished 90% of existing economic regulations, we'd have a far freer market economy than anything in the world today, yet it would still be "socialist" by your definition.
5.9.2009 4:03am
Avatar (mail):
Actually, that's an excellent point. There's clearly extraction activities going on - lots of "mining stations" and the like - which implies that the extracted materials have value. There's also a goodly amount of interstellar transport taking place, both personal and commercial.

So what's the incentive of running a commercial enterprise, if you'll pardon the pun?

It might be easier to think about this if we list the things which -do- retain value in a replicator society.

-Land. Others have made the point, but land has value. Particularly land with some sort of additional advantage, like a nice view or proximity to something cultural. Maybe just good weather like the Bay Area? (We don't see civilians casually transporting everywhere, though presumably it's available instead of coach class travel.)

-Collector goods. In a society where you can produce (almost) anything with the touch of a button, there's going to be people who still place stock in handmade items or antiques.

-Unique events. If twenty million people want to go to a football game, but the stadium only seats seventy thousand...

-Personal service. Not as necessary when automation can take care of a lot of routine tasks. Could be difficult to recruit in a civilization where there aren't "lower" classes who need the money to survive. On the other hand, there are a tremendous number of people who have, materially speaking, nothing else to contribute to society; theoretically if there was a sort of cachet in being a retainer of a prestigious person, that person should have no trouble recruiting a few retainers. How many people would volunteer to be a roadie for their favorite band, if they didn't need to worry about money?

(Obtaining notoriety would thus have side benefits, which could be a motivating factor for other things.)

-VERY personal service, but since there are holodecks, not much of this goes on anymore.

-Foreign trade. The Ferengi want cash up front, thanks. Clearly trade goes on with other societies as well. Presumably one can create a significant surplus by trading replicable goods to societies without sufficient replicator infrastructure, which leads to...

-Colonies. These will drive down the price of land in established areas (why pay for an apartment in Berkeley when you can have a ranch in Betelgeuse?) However, colonies won't have an excess of replicator time and power available, almost by definition, so there's some sort of market there for actual goods. We KNOW that some colony worlds engage in farming, at least where it's practical. Maybe replicators are expensive? We never find out.

You don't necessarily need money to manage these things, but it helps, huh? On the other hand, people could easily live their life without any of the above except land, and we don't ever see anyone who's homeless, so we have no reason to assume that money for land is a physical necessity the way it is with our own society. Indeed, someone could live much more comfortably in the Federation with none of the above than most people live today; there's no reason to think that the vast majority of people wouldn't be content with such a situation (making demand for money relatively rare, right?)
5.9.2009 4:07am
The River Temoc (mail):
I don't recall all the details of this episode. But I don't think it was ever stated that the mine was owned by a private firm

"Conspiracy" was the one where alien parasites surrepitiously tried to stage a coup. From Memory Alpha, the Star Trek Wiki:

"The Dytallix Mining Company is a company that mined seven uninhabited planets for the United Federation of Planets. At least one of these planets, Dytallix B, was long-deserted in 2364. It is unclear if other mines are still active."

We don't see a list of the shareholders, to be sure; but it at least tells us the corporate form exists in the TNG era, unlike in the Soviet Union before 1986 or so.
5.9.2009 4:07am
Dave3L (mail) (www):
Had a similarly prominent pop culture icon been equally obtuse in its portrayal of fascism or even milder forms of right-wing oppression... it would have been universally pilloried.

The difference is that a socialist utopia is something that many people see as ideal, even if it is impossible. But if you skip the details of how we get there and how it would work, who can object to a world where everyone is free from want? Star Trek is, after all, science fiction... if we can accept travel faster than the speed of light and replicators, is it that much of a leap to suggest a futuristic utopian socialist state? I think that's much more likely than some of the science claims made by the franchise.

On the other hand, a fascist state is seen by most as inherently evil, even though it is arguably quite stable. Your example of a fascist or right-wing state that has no "noticeable loss of personal freedom" is a contradiction in terms. What is the government being fascist about if it is otherwise respecting freedoms?

Though, to be fair, the opposite of socialism is certainly not fascism, but rather capitalism... I was only responding to the example as given. But even capitalism is likely to be seen by most as a necessary evil. Practically no one thinks of pure capitalism as utopian (with the exception of you Ayn Rand folks).

Which is all to say that I think for most the ideals of socialism are noble, and the devil is in the details. And although the ideal is impossible, many would view it as a utopia. At the same time, for most capitalism may be the reality, but it is decidedly ugly. And most often a perfectly capitalistic ideal is seen as dystopian.

As a devout capitalist myself, I see no need to rail against this viewpoint as wrongheaded. Rather, I see the ideals of utopian socialism as an important check on the otherwise brutal realities of the daily battle to maximize utility. In a way, everything should stay where it is supposed to be: socialism stays in the fantasy world of movies and books, and capitalism stays out here in the real world without becoming unduly glorified.
5.9.2009 4:26am
TruePath (mail) (www):
In theory a sufficently knowledgeable and computationally powerful being should be able to do better than the free market. Modern economics is littered with examples where people aren't perfectly rational (in the sense of maximizing happiness) or there are other market failures. The practical failure of socialism is a result of the difficulty in correctly predicting people's wants and desires and the pressure to project an image different from reality, e.g., politicians might be reluctant to approved government created porn no matter how much evidence they had for it's marginal utility.

By reducing the economy to a few stable commodities that everyone recognizes as desierable (transporters, replicators, and the various ores) the technology of star trek would eliminate the primary difficulties towards a workable socialist society. The stability of demand in these few scare commodities would make it relatively easy to make predictions and the lack of scarce commodities of a morally debatable nature would sidestep the image problem.

--------

However, I don't think this is what the star trek writers had in mind. Instead I imagine they are trying to extrapolate to a time when economic goods are sufficiently plentiful wealth is no longer a good proxy for status. With quick transport and little (direct) quality of life difference between the richest and poorest members of society other qualities like being a great poet or a virtuoso composer would likely matter more to your status than having a paying job.

Even today people make huge contributions to societal welfare merely for the recognition. For example, open source software. If life wasn't any less comfortable for programmers without a job as for those with one don't you think many more people would choose to work for recognition instead of pay?

Ultimately, I find this view fairly plausible. The truth is people crave status not money so if the two ever become decoupled I expect most people will stop bothering with monetary riches.
5.9.2009 4:32am
Fact Checker:
Both the North Korean and North Vietnamese communists engaged in mass murder to establish their rule.

The North Korean regime was established after WWII relatively bloodlessly. While it is probably the most oppressive regime in the world, mass murder is generally not considered to be among one of its many crimes.

North Vietnam had a similar history. In fact, the west supported Ho Chi Minh in WWII because he was fighting the Japanese. It was only when he demanded independence from the French after the war that he suddenly became a communist bogeyman. Vietnam was wracked by almost thirty-five years of continual war and there were atrocities on both sides, but to claim that the North Vietnamese (especially if you are limiting the claim to the establishment of their rule--which was actually orderly) engaged in mass murder is pure hyperbole.

To depend on the Black Book of Communism as your source of information is dangerous. It is not a scholarly examination of communism, but a highly biased and slanted screed that exaggerates and inflates numbers.

Another point. Neither Korea or China is generally considered part of Southeast Asia--but I addressed your concerns about Korea anyway. You are right about China.

Soviet forces and local communists killed hundreds of thousands of people in these countries in the years immediately after WWII.

If you want to lump in the ethnic Germans who died in the expulsions from eastern Europe after the war as a product of "socialism", fine. But the reasons for those deaths had more to do with revenge and hatred of Germans than transition to socialism. If you are going to hold socialism responsible for those deaths then capitalism must be responsible for the genocide of the natives of North and South America, Oceania, and Australia.
5.9.2009 4:35am
TruePath (mail) (www):
Ohh I should also add that, with the exception of mobile units on ships, one would expect that most scarcities in the star trek universe would occur at the municipal rather than personal level.

We don't think of ourselves as socialists because the city handles buying water for us, or even if it generates the power. We realize that economies of scale would make it absurd to each drill our own wells in urban settings or burn our own coal so we let municipalities manage these resources.

So what happens when all scarce resources are only valuable at the municipal, or even planetary scale, but relatively useless to most individuals?
5.9.2009 4:37am
mike1701:
Forgetting the rest of Star Trek for a moment, based on the new movie alone, one could argue that the Federation economy is no more socialist than modern Europe. If you pay attention, you will notice that the car-phone in the red hot-rod is made by Nokia, and that modern brand beverages are sold at the bar.
5.9.2009 5:17am
D.R.M.:
It's also worth noting that replicators seem to be a government monopoly in the Federation, at least on Earth; I don't think we ever see a private replicator owned by a human Federation citizen.

How many minutes of ordinary daily life involving ordinary Federation citizens on developed Federation member worlds do we see in all of TNG/DS9? I mean, we never see a toilet, either, but it would be silly to automatically assume that Earth lacks them because they don't get screen time.

In The Survivors, the Enterprise comes along, sees a devastated planet with only two people on it . . . and hands the couple a replicator and a fusion power plant sufficient to operate it for literal decades. That, I think, is pretty solid evidence that ordinary-use replicators and the power necessary to operate them are reasonably cheap and not particularly controlled. Contradicting claims need more evidence than a failure to show up on the film.

Similarly, by the time of TNG, apparently basic warp-capable spacecraft are cheap enough to be reasonably close to non-scarce. The Enterprise gives away a shuttlecraft to C. Montgomery Scott, for example. And Voyager, completely cut off from Federation logistics, runs through a whole bunch of shuttlecraft despite only starting with a handful, which indicates it can replicate pretty much an entire new one given enough power.

So, by TNG—which is when money is gone in the quote above—we seem to have reached a point where it is at least plausible that the class of non-scarce goods is small, and as a consequence most people are unable to contribute to producing them. It's hard to make land, for example, though the Federation does do exploration and terraforming. There are only so many warships that the Federation needs. And so on.

If 99% of the goods necessary to sustain a life of luxury are non-scarce, and 95% of the population is incapable of producing the scarce goods, well, how do you sustain a non-socialist economy in a democracy? The 95% of the population aren't going to be particularly enamored of the idea that the 5% who can contribute meaningfully have control over the vital 1% of the goods that everybody depends upon. And when you reach that point . . . well, maybe you can depend on volunteer labor from the 5% to produce the scarce goods and get along well enough with central planning for the distribution of that 1%.
5.9.2009 5:31am
Noah David Simon (mail) (www):
I like your take on the replicators
5.9.2009 5:37am
Zernie:
It's just a show, I should really just relax.
5.9.2009 5:47am
The Gaucho Politico (mail) (www):
There are many problems with the idea that all money has been eliminated as some things are unique. The allocation of specific pieces of land for example. Every location cannot be equal to every other and you wont convince me that people no longer care if someone else lives in a better place. How is land and living arrangements distributed? Without money how do people own land? Is all land requested through the government?

If they decide to make another star trek series they might consider one from the civilian point of view. It might not work because people would be so used to the fleet view but it might be interesting to see it all from the outside.

also, can everyone have their own starship?
5.9.2009 6:19am
Ilya Somin:
The North Korean regime was established after WWII relatively bloodlessly. While it is probably the most oppressive regime in the world, mass murder is generally not considered to be among one of its many crimes.

This is simply false. The NK regime killed tens of thousands in the years when it was established, and hundreds of thousands since.

North Vietnam had a similar history. In fact, the west supported Ho Chi Minh in WWII because he was fighting the Japanese. It was only when he demanded independence from the French after the war that he suddenly became a communist bogeyman. Vietnam was wracked by almost thirty-five years of continual war and there were atrocities on both sides, but to claim that the North Vietnamese (especially if you are limiting the claim to the establishment of their rule--which was actually orderly) engaged in mass murder is pure hyperbole.

Again, false. See the chapter on Vietnam in the Black Book of Communism, which notes tens of thousands people slaughtered by the Vietnamese communists in the years after WWII (at least 50,000, by their count).

To depend on the Black Book of Communism as your source of information is dangerous. It is not a scholarly examination of communism, but a highly biased and slanted screed that exaggerates and inflates numbers.

The BBC was written by leading European historians and published by the Harvard University Press. If you have specific proof that it is wrong, you should name.



Soviet forces and local communists killed hundreds of thousands of people in these countries in the years immediately after WWII.

If you want to lump in the ethnic Germans who died in the expulsions from eastern Europe after the war as a product of "socialism", fine. But the reasons for those deaths had more to do with revenge and hatred of Germans than transition to socialism.


The numbers I cited from the Black Book do not count the expulsion of ethnic Germans. In each Eastern European country, the Soviet Union and local communists killed tens of thousands of people during the 1945-53 period.
5.9.2009 6:27am
Owen Hutchins (mail):
Libertarians discussing socialism in Star Trek is actually geekier than Trekkies themselves. I'm impressed.
5.9.2009 6:37am
Arkady:
Oh my sweet Jesus....
5.9.2009 6:58am
mls (www):
The reason that Federation citizens need no money is that their parents pay for everything.
5.9.2009 7:05am
Brett Bellmore:

Every location cannot be equal to every other and you wont convince me that people no longer care if someone else lives in a better place.


Are we forgetting the holodeck technology? With that, every location pretty much iS equal to every other, unless you're some weird obsessive who insists on everything around them being 'real'.

Anyway, I always figured you could explain a lot about the Federation if you assumed the Organians were running everything from behind the scenes.
5.9.2009 7:28am
Fact Checker:
The NK regime killed tens of thousands in the years when it was established, and hundreds of thousands since.

And it is statements like this that are the root of the problems with the Black Book of Communism. There is little doubt that many people, probably hundreds of thousands as you note, have died because of the policies and ineptness of the North Korean regime, including those who died in horrible conditions in prison camps while serving sentences for political crimes. But to claim these policies are equivalent to mass murder renders the term "mass murder" meaningless.

Suharto actively sought out and executed at least half a million communists after the attempted coup in 1965. That is mass murder. Pol Pot managed to slaughter about a fifth of the population of his country in three short years (before the Vietnamese put a stop to it). That is mass murder. Hitler planned, and almost succeeded, in exterminating the Jews in the countries he occupied in WW II. That is mass murder. Hitler's armies also probably killed more Soviet citizens (a bare minimum of 20 million, probably more than 25 million) in less than four years than even the Black Book of Communism claims the communists were responsible for in almost 75.
5.9.2009 8:02am
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
We need to keep in mind that the needs of effective drama are somewhat in conflict with economic reality. ST consists of morality plays (as Nichelle Nichols once pointed out to Roddenberry) with strong Shakespearean influences. How much capitalism does one find in Shakespeare's plays, other than The Merchant of Venice? The problem for drama is that introduction of the complexities of capitalistic free market economics would overcomplicate and distract from the dramatic narrative, especially in a short format. Ayn Rand could only do that in lengthy novels like Atlas Shrugged, which the team led by Angelina Jolie has not figured out how to reduce to a movie-length drama without losing too much of the philosophy and also impairing a compelling drama. You will also not often find much of economics in short stories, especially SF short stories, for the same reason. Westerns are often about crime involving money but the hero is seldom shown having to work for a living except as a rancher or law officer. Paladin might have charged for his services but how often did he get paid on camera?

That having been said, keep in mind that the ST Earth was coming out of a global thermonuclear war only to confront menaces from space as soon as it invented warp drive. One would expect it to have a militaristic command economy, just as the U.S. did during WWII. We see that pattern in Heinlein's Starship Troopers, depicted as a fascist political order, because they were at war. (Recall that only persons who gave military service were deemed "citizens" with voting privileges.)

So Roddenberry had good dramatic reasons for excluding money or commerce from a prominent place in his scenarios, using them only when they supported a good story.
5.9.2009 8:34am
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
North Korea committed mass murder by starting and conducting the Korean War, which one can suspect was driven to some degree by overpopulation and the need to kill off a lot of the surplus. We should not forget that war has long been a way to get rid of troublesome, underemployed youths. Many of the wars in Europe and elsewhere can be explained by that motivation, even if unconscious.
5.9.2009 8:38am
TCtheO wants to be allowed back:
Since most of the original series is at sea, I mean space, for long periods of time, and the crew are all military, it is not surprising that money is not seen much. That's even the way it is now on submarines.
5.9.2009 8:51am
Jim at FSU (mail):
A few weeks ago I started rewatching Star Trek (TNG) and I noted that scarcity is actually fairly common in episodes. There's always some service that needs to be performed or some material that can't be replicated. Remember that the replicators can't make very large things and they can't make living things from bacteria on up (scientifically this makes no sense but they lampshade this frequently).

I also noticed that commerce is fairly common outside the federation. Think about all the episodes where aliens (or humans) demand compensation in some form of barter or currency that can't be replicated in return for information or some rare thing (that also can't be replicated). Surely at least the commerce minded humans haven't foregone replicator technology just so they can enjoy old-fashioned scarcity of resources. I'm assuming that the humans weren't in fact rubber forehead aliens that didn't have prominent rubber foreheads.

I was actually thinking about going through all the episodes and compiling a list of examples of both scarcity and economic activity centered around it (write paper time? ugh) but I've been busy.
5.9.2009 8:53am
TruePath (mail) (www):

There are many problems with the idea that all money has been eliminated as some things are unique. The allocation of specific pieces of land for example. Every location cannot be equal to every other and you wont convince me that people no longer care if someone else lives in a better place. How is land and living arrangements distributed? Without money how do people own land? Is all land requested through the government?


I totally disagree. Between transporters and simulated views (think souped up LCDs for windows) living at the bottom of the ocean under a mound of trash would be indistingushable from living in the center of a bustling city.


also, can everyone have their own starship?


Money won't buy private citizens aircraft carriers either.

If you just mean warp capable ship the limiting factor may very well be sufficent training (apparently warp drives cause all sorts of crazy unexplained shit to happen) as opposed to economic resources. If plentiful cheap transit gets you where you want to be what's the issue?


There are many problems with the idea that all money has been eliminated as some things are unique.


Human's managed without money for a long damn time. Money is only useful because their is a reasonably liquid market and demand isn't hugely context sensitive. In a society where the vast majority of people are more interested in getting an approving word from someone they respect than any amount of money it would quickly become pretty useless.
5.9.2009 9:03am
Bama 1L:
No matter how evil North Korea is, it's not in Southeast Asia and therefore lies outside the bounds of the initial claim. That is all.
5.9.2009 9:04am
Brett Bellmore:

(Recall that only persons who gave military service were deemed "citizens" with voting privileges.)


Not the way I recall it: You could get the franchise by volunteering to be a medical guinea pig, or any number of other jobs. You just had to be willing to risk life and limb in public service.
5.9.2009 9:07am
swedishtom:
After all, socialist regimes have been responsible for the death and impoverishment of millions.

So has capitalism.
5.9.2009 9:27am
Bama 1L:
Brett is right about Starship Troopers. According to Heinlein both in the novel and in later interviews, there were a lot of nonmilitary jobs that qualified one for citizenship. It's just that Heinlein didn't really depict any of them because he wanted to write a novel of future infantry combat and so ended up following military characters. We all forget they're there. Many readers, including Paul Verhoeven who directed the movie adaptation, make it out to be a novel about a militaristic or fascist future society.

Ironically, Heinlein thought he was writing an antifascist novel, in large part because he made government service nonmandatory. Recall that, when he wrote, America had a peacetime draft to maintain military strength against world communism. Heinlein thought the draft was an affront to freedom. So he depicted a society that cultivated volunteers. This society fights and wins a huge war without compelling people to do anything.

In the novel, Colonel Zin (the veteran who taught high-school civics) explains to Rico--but really to the reader--that limitation of the franchise to veterans doesn't actually result in policies any different from what a more broad-based democracy would adopt, because veterans don't actually turn out to differ from anyone else. They are not better people; they just chose once to put the group above themselves. They don't have to keep doing that and can go back to being individualistic. The citizens don't vote for warlike policies.

They don't oppress the noncitizens. Noncitizens can do whatever they want in the future society except vote, enter politics, and hold a very few reserved jobs (civics teacher and police officer come to mind). Rico's dad, for example, is very successful in business. It would never occur to him to become a citizen; it would be a waste of his time and he thinks Rico is lazy and dumb for joining up. Then the bugs kill his wife and he rallies to the colors.

So much for Heinlein. It may be that Heinlein didn't do a good job thinking through the likely development of his society and that Verhoeven et al. are right. It would have been more militaristic and the citizens would have pushed the noncitizens around.

In Star Trek, Roddenberry gives you a sort of cartoon of the future including nonsense like "no money" because he wants you to understand that the Federation and Starfleet are good. You don't have to worry about the characters being greedy or self-interested because these motivations simply don't exist. It is very optimistic science fiction.
5.9.2009 9:42am
BillW:
Jon Roland: "We need to keep in mind that the needs of effective drama are somewhat in conflict with economic reality. ..."

You were doing fine down to here:

"... We see that pattern in Heinlein's Starship Troopers, depicted as a fascist political order, because they were at war. (Recall that only persons who gave military service were deemed "citizens" with voting privileges.)"

As Dave3L said, "Your example of a fascist or right-wing state that has no 'noticeable loss of personal freedom' is a contradiction in terms. What is the government being fascist about if it is otherwise respecting freedoms?"
5.9.2009 9:43am
TruePath (mail) (www):
In fact I think there is a virtually iron clad argument that individually owned currency will eventually lose it's usefullness.

Assumptions:

1) At some point the marginal utility of more raw material building blocks (iron, gold, etc..) becomes effectively 0.

There is only so much (normal) matter it would (directly) improve your life to have. When the cost to extract and rearrange matter to your specifications drops into the noise of transaction costs possessing more physical stuff brings you no direct benefit.

2) The attraction of peer acclaim, enjoyable experiences, time well spent, etc.. isn't hugely diminished by material plenty.

3) The status and reputational effects of having a large store of raw material components only persists as long as they are highly sought after.

4) In the absence of significant material needs money can't be efficiently traded for respect, time with your children, acclaim, or friends.

----

Hence at some point it's reasonable to conclude that material incentives will become virtually useless as a means to motivate people while fame and reputation will remain strong motivators.

At such a time any artificial IP style scarcities would also cease to exist as it's more appealing to receive the glory from sharing your discovery with the world than to trade your knowledge for material goods or other property.

The fact that a few scarcities may remain wouldn't matter as long as reputational pressure and personal accomplishment incentivized enough aquisition of the scare resources to prevent assumption one from crumbling, i.e., so long as you don't have a severe replicator shortage.

But once money is an ineffective means to incentivize most people it becomes essentially useless. Reputation and acclaim simply aren't the sort of one dimensional quantities that can be usefully represented in a unit of universal exchange.
5.9.2009 9:58am
rosetta's stones:

Quite frankly, I don't think anyone in 1966 was interested in "exploring" alternative social structures. They just wanted a good optimistic Space Age mini-story each week,...


I've never watched the knock-offs, but I was parked in front of the tv for the original, and it was can't-miss stuff. Splunge's got it about right, although it did present some interesting alternative social structures. Great stories, but even better for those of us flush with new hormones, Star Trek ventured boldly where no tv had gone before, and freed us from the orbital bonds of married couples shown in twin beds wearing pajamas. Star Trek had hot, smart chicks wearing risque outfits on-board, and Kirk pitching woo and photon torpedoes to scantily-clad alien she-cuties, week-after-week.

My favorite episode was the one where the alien "Dolman" (sp?) nobility vixen shed tears on Kirk, thus bringing him under her slinky, biochemical spell. He indulged, but he struggled and emerged from fornication. His loyalty and warrior instinct brought him back to his duty, and he finished the mission, wasted the bad guys, and touchingly bid farewell to his beloved Dolman, so's to line up for next week's fling. What more is there?!

.
.
.
FC, it's estimated that the Norks have starved to death about 5,000,000 over the last 20 years or so. Their population on average is measurably shorter and lighter in weight than their neighbors in the region, clearly a sign of generational starvation. If that ain't mass murder, than I guess the Ukraine was just a bureaucratic slip-up, too. Kirk woulda phasered that Dear Leader long ago.
5.9.2009 10:02am
TruePath (mail) (www):
Jim at FSU:


A few weeks ago I started rewatching Star Trek (TNG) and I noted that scarcity is actually fairly common in episodes. There's always some service that needs to be performed or some material that can't be replicated. Remember that the replicators can't make very large things and they can't make living things from bacteria on up (scientifically this makes no sense but they lampshade this frequently).

I also noticed that commerce is fairly common outside the federation. Think about all the episodes where aliens (or humans) demand compensation in some form of barter or currency that can't be replicated in return for information or some rare thing (that also can't be replicated). Surely at least the commerce minded humans haven't foregone replicator technology just so they can enjoy old-fashioned scarcity of resources. I'm assuming that the humans weren't in fact rubber forehead aliens that didn't have prominent rubber foreheads.


Just because barter is often useful doesn't guarantee a useful roll for money. Certainly not individually possesed money (the federation as an organization seems to be able to get it's hands on 'gold pressed latinum' or whatever).

The scarcities you describe above are either situational scarcities or exchanges that wouldn't apply intra-federation. As I argued above it's reasonable to assume that federation citizens would freely share their IP amongst themselves eliminating the use of individually possessed currency to purchase knowledge.

It's rare if ever that the federation is simply running low on some raw material. Rather the scarcities encountered are more of the form, "damn we don't have X,Y, Z out here in space and we really need some." Sure, maybe you could occasionally convince people to give you money for stuff but why would you want it? Without scarcities on earth or where ever you live the money is useless for getting you what you (an individual) want.

In this kind of situation barter is more appropriate than monetary exchange. As soon as you return to somewhere you might spend the money your shortage no longer exists. Instead it's more efficient to barter for whatever your currently running low on.
5.9.2009 10:21am
TruePath (mail) (www):
Ohh and the Ferangi shouldn't count as any kind of example here. The sense I always got from the series is that they engage in commerce the way we engage in sex. I mean just because sex on birth control is a total waste of time doesn't stop us from doing it.

Or equivalently, in their society reputation and acclaim accrue as a result of commercial activity rather than charity, bravery and the other virtues we instinctively applaud.
5.9.2009 10:25am
areader (mail):
The truth is that Roddenberry laid down a number of rules that made things difficult for writers later on - no money, no real conflict among federation members, and no human religions. DS9 backed away from this as much as they could, having gold pressed latinum on the Bajoran station, non-Starfleet crew members, and Sisko converting to Bajoran religion. So basically, the inconsistencies can be explained by Roddenberry handing down not-well-though-out rules that he viewed as utopian and the writers struggling to get around them (or just not paying attention).
5.9.2009 10:34am
Alexia:
Wow! And the only thing I was thinking was that the second paragraph refers to the New Generation, which I believe should be the Next Generation.
5.9.2009 10:39am
Bob from Ohio (mail):

Starfleet itself, which is the only social organization with which we became really familiar, was of course a military dictatorship.


No, it was a military. It did not exercise political power. (I'm sure it had influence.)

Like any military, there was a chain of command and obedience (often violated by ships captains apparently) to senior officers.

But there was a civilian Federation council and President. StarFleet was not the government.

This is clearer in the movies and the later versions. On The Original Series, there was little contact with civilian authorities because they were at the Federation frontier or beyond. Even then, there were several episodes with civilian political officials.

The envoy in Trouble with Tribbles for instance. It's clear from the episode that this envoy was senior to Kirk and the disrespect displayed was risky to Kirk's career. Of course, like all Kirk's insubordination, it worked out well in the end.

Each Federation plane was self governing as well.
5.9.2009 10:53am
Tom Perkins (mail):

(Recall that only persons who gave military service were deemed "citizens" with voting privileges.)


Point of accuracy. It's federal service, not military service. The book makes a point of saying only a tiny fraction of the Federal Service is military.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
5.9.2009 10:53am
suprised by this portion of your statement:
"Barack Obama is not a socialist; but he would be one if he sought to nationalize all major enterprises"

Do you mean major enterprises like banks, insurance companies, and auto manufacturers? Isn't he in the process of nationalizing those right now?
5.9.2009 11:06am
Cornellian (mail):

Do you mean major enterprises like banks, insurance companies, and auto manufacturers? Isn't he in the process of nationalizing those right now?


That would make George W. Bush two thirds of a socialist.
5.9.2009 11:12am
suprised by this portion of your statement:
Cornellian, maybe more like one third, and Obama is more like two thirds. I would be much happier with neither.
5.9.2009 11:21am
Mark in Texas (mail):
I haven't really watched Star Trek much since I was a kid watching the original series in the 1960s.

However, I do recall an episode that might have some bearing on why the Star Trek universe might be a successful socialist society. There was a prison planet where criminals were cured by having their heads stuck into a device that looked much like a 1960s era hair dryer.

Socialist intellectuals always seem to claim that their ultimate goal is to create the new socialist man. Well, by the time of the Start Trek original series, socialists don't need to exterminate their opponents. Government employees stick their heads in the machine and cure them of their revanchist antiprogressive tendencies.

I assume that these machines also explain why there are no homosexuals in the Star Trek universe. The government cured them.
5.9.2009 11:22am
rosetta's stones:

The truth is that Roddenberry laid down a number of rules that made things difficult for writers later on - no money, no real conflict among federation members, and no human religions.


They did "establish religion" on the original Enterprise. At the end of one episode, Kirk checked in to console a young crew woman, mourning her fellow crewman fiance, lost in that week's action. Scene set in a presumed chapel with an overwhelming sense of mourning, soulful music, and an unspoken plaintiveness and uplifted look to the Beyond. Star Trek was traditionally bold.
5.9.2009 11:31am
rosetta's stones:

I assume that these machines also explain why there are no homosexuals in the Star Trek universe.


Oh come on, you can't tell me Mudd didn't swing both sides of the galaxy. ;-)

And Khan, he was like that mutant in the Road Warrior. He had a little mascot on the back of his spacebike, I bet.

They kept Mr. Sulu in the closet, though, so Roddenberry musta just been playing stereotypes.
5.9.2009 11:37am
Mark in Texas (mail):
In Neil Stephenson's bood "The Diamond Age" he deals with the idea of matter compilers which use nanotechnology to assemble anything that can be designed from feeds of separate elements. There is mining done to feed the matter compilers, but most of that is done by extracting feed from sea water.

One of the main issues Stephenson deals with is the fact that this technology makes it impossible for governments to collect taxes leading to anarchy and then voluntary enclaves of people who choose to associate with each other. Some enclaves take anybody and others are more selective. There are also large numbers of people unaffiliated with any enclave.

Anyway, Stephenson's vision of the end of scarcity seems pretty different from Gene Rodenberry.
5.9.2009 11:40am
AdamK:
I feel compelled to post a link to a special message from William Shatner that is highly apropos of this discussion.
5.9.2009 12:01pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
Mark in Texas,

I tend to think that Roddenbury was overly optimistic, though Everything I've seen about Trek indicates that Roddenbury was overly optimistic about technology, that all misery basically boils down to lack of enough or or the proper tech.

I tend to think that humans are violent enough that post-scarcity would be even more miserable than we are now. Scarcity keeps war under control by forcing resource allocation. Without the need for such allocation any random psychopath would be able to wreak as much havok as whole nations can wield now.
5.9.2009 12:02pm
Ken Arromdee:
We don't see a list of the shareholders, to be sure; but it at least tells us the corporate form exists in the TNG era, unlike in the Soviet Union before 1986 or so.

In the TNG episode "The Neutral Zone" several 20th century people are thawed out of cryogenic suspension. One is a banker. Not only is he told there's no money, the Enterprise crew doesn't even understand what investment is.

And since someone once again claimed that Starship Troopers doesn't require military service for citizenship and that only a fraction of the service is military, I'll refer you to a famous James Gifford essay which refutes that: Link here (pdf).

Also, I don't think anyone has yet pointed out this link: The Economics of Star Trek. It only claims that Star Trek is socialist in the Next Generation, so all those TOS examples don't count.
5.9.2009 12:11pm
David Hester (mail):
I saw the movie yesterday and can comment on some of this, but not without a lot of SPOILERS.

Without spoiling the movie, I will say that the future that exists in the timeline shown in the new movie is not completely socialist and, in my opinion, seems to retain a fair amount of capitalism. It seems with the death of Gene Roddenberry that a fair amount of the socialist utopianism portrayed in the original series and TNG is quietly fading away.

Now for the SPOILERS that I think prove this to be the case. Stop reading now if you haven't seen the movie yet.

1. We've all seen the trailer that shows a young Jim Kirk running from the police in a stolen Corvette. During that chase scene Kirk receives an incoming call on a NOKIA communications device installed on the dash of the car. There's at least one huge multinational (multistellar?) corporation still in existence.

2. The man who calls Kirk, presumed to be his stepfather based upon the conversation, demands that Kirk bring the Corvette back, describing it as "priceless." This implies that there must be some sort of currency in use that the car can be valued against. It also shows that not everything can be replicated.

3. In a later scene, an adult Kirk goes to a bar (small business) and gets into a fight with some Starfleet cadets. Prior to the fight, Kirk meets Uhura when she goes to the bar to order drinks for her and her friends. One of the drinks she orders is a "Budweiser Classic." So that's two corporations still in existence. Kirk tries to buy her a drink and she refuses. We never actually see money exchange hands, but the scene is interrupted by the fight with the cadets. Both Kirk and Uhura still seem to be comfortable with the use of money.

4. The adult Kirk is shown to have his own motorcycle. I didn't catch a corporate logo on it, but I wasn't really looking either. When he goes to join Starfleet at the shipyard where the Enterprise is being built, one of the workers comments on what a nice bike it is. Kirk gives it to him since he can't use it where he's going. The bike was clearly made by some company and it clearly has value, both to Kirk and the man he gives it to. This implies that there are still some private property rights and not a totally socialist utopia.

5. Much later in the film, Kirk ends up stranded on an ice planet where a young Scotty is manning an observation post. When Kirk and his companion (I won't spoil the movie THAT much!) show up at Scotty's oupost, Scotty initially thinks that they are there to bring him supplies. He's particularly looking for them to have brought him some better food and complains that all he's had to eat is Federation food for a period of time. This implies to me that there must be a better, non- Federation source of food available that Scotty would expect a human (Kirk) to have had access to.

Those are just a few of the things I noticed. However, one of the main plot points of this movie is time- travel. A lot of people, including Jonah Goldberg on NRO, have complained about how the movie is taking place in an alternate reality from the traditional Trek universe. The timeline is altered in the first moments of the film and so the characters are not exctly the same characters as they would have been in the original Trek series due to different life experiences.

The whole idea of time travel in science fiction is that even minor changes can have huge consequences that ripple out from the original disturbance. The movie focuses on the differences that this disturbance by the villian in the first scenes of the movie might have made to the lives of Kirk and Spock, but it could be possible that the ripples created by the villian led to changes in the whole of Federation society, one of which is less socialism then we see in the universe of the original series.
5.9.2009 12:14pm
Dave N (mail):
AdamK wins the thread.

Here's a thought: It is FICTION! Enjoy it or not (and I am a Star Trek fan). But obsessing over the economic system of a fictional Earth two hundred years in the future seems, how shall I put it? Odd?
5.9.2009 12:18pm
gerbilsbite:
Not every cigarette smoker needs to be evil, not every drug user needs to suffer a gruesome fate, and not every socialist society needs to look like Haiti.

This is kind of like complaining that the end of BSG was just too implausible because everyone gave up spaceships to live tech-free lives: is THAT where it loses credibility for you?
5.9.2009 12:24pm
Mark in Texas (mail):
David Hester -- 2. The man who calls Kirk, presumed to be his stepfather based upon the conversation, demands that Kirk bring the Corvette back, describing it as "priceless." This implies that there must be some sort of currency in use that the car can be valued against. It also shows that not everything can be replicated.

In a socialist utopia where money is no longer used, everything would be "priceless" by definition. The scene where Kirk explains that to his stepfather was probably cut in order to keep the movie from running too long but it will probably be on the director's cut DVD.
5.9.2009 12:26pm
AdamK:
The inability to suspend disbelief as to the economic system in which it is taken as a matter of inconsequence that starships can travel 9000 times the speed of light reminds me of a quote from Futurama: "Something very strange has just happened in this basketball game between space clowns and atomic monsters."
5.9.2009 12:27pm
geokstr (mail):

Cornellian:

Do you mean major enterprises like banks, insurance companies, and auto manufacturers? Isn't he in the process of nationalizing those right now?

That would make George W. Bush two thirds of a socialist.

Precisely, which is exactly why, and for a host of other major policy and philosophical reasons, conservatives never liked him or his clone, McCain. It's also why we could never figure out why the left hated him so. After all, with the exception of tax cuts, the war on terror, and Roberts/Alito, he was actually one of them. And on the WOT, we'll never know how Algore would have reacted to 9/11 either. (Although it's safe to speculate he may have blamed it on AGW.)

I think that's it. It was the Immaculate Selection in 2000.
5.9.2009 12:38pm
Mark in Texas (mail):
rosetta's stones -- Oh come on, you can't tell me Mudd didn't swing both sides of the galaxy. ;-)

And Khan, he was like that mutant in the Road Warrior. He had a little mascot on the back of his spacebike, I bet.

They kept Mr. Sulu in the closet, though, so Roddenberry musta just been playing stereotypes.



Both Harvey Mudd and Kahn were outlaws on the fringes of the Federation. If they were in the more civilized areas, they would no doubt have been sent to a government facility to be cured. In fact, I seem to recall that Kirk threatened Mudd with the prospect of being shipped off for treatment rather than prison. No doubt, adjusting Mudd's sexual orientation would have been a part of therapeutic correction of his thought processes.

As for Sulu, we have no proof that the cure is permanent. If he went 40 years without a booster shot...
5.9.2009 12:38pm
Mark in Texas (mail):
TruePath -- Money won't buy private citizens aircraft carriers either.

I think that you are wrong on that one:

http://www.ships-for-sale.com/aircraft_carrier.htm

This particular one has already been sold to a private citizen but I am pretty sure that if George Soros or Bill Gates got a hankering for an aircraft carrier there are probably a few more that could be purchased.
5.9.2009 12:54pm
trad and anon (mail):
With rare exceptions, the Star Trek franchise has been far too blase in its portrayal of future socialism and its implications. After all, socialist regimes have been responsible for the death and impoverishment of millions. There has never been a society that combined full-blown socialism with prosperity or extensive "noneconomic" liberties for the population. And there has never been a transition to socialism without large-scale repression and mass murder.

How many full-blown socialist societies have there been other than the Soviet Union and its various satellites? It's hardly surprising that the Soviets, who were a bunch of murderous tyrants, supported the creation of more murderous tyrants as allies. You've got a sample size issue—other than the DPRK, the only time a fully socialist economy has ever existed was during the Cold War.

It also doesn't help that on the rare occasion when a government interested in instituting socialism gained power got elected without mass murder, the U.S. would engineer a coup to replace it with a U.S.-friendly dictatorship to avoid an elected government that would be overly friendly to the USSR.
5.9.2009 1:04pm
Squash (mail):
"If the Federation were truly socialist it wouldn't exist long-term, it would stagnate, collapse, and be replaced by something else. So it's a paradox."

I think there's a problem with this statement in that no truly socialist government has ever existed so its longevity cannot be dismissed in this way.
Cuba and the Soviet Union for example never handed control of the means of production over to the people, control was kept in the hands of a few.
5.9.2009 1:06pm
Mark in Texas (mail):
Soronel Haetir

I tend to agree. Gene Rodenberry was a New Frontier Democrat in the mid 1960s when Star Trek first came out. Americans were a lot more confident and optimistic then. The Civil Rights act had just been signed which was going to eliminate all race problems. The Great Society was in the process of eliminating poverty from the United States. We had beat the Nazis and Japanese to make the world safe for democracy. We were doing the same thing in Vietnam and it was just a matter of time before we won. The counter culture consisted of a few artists and poets hanging out in coffee houses in San Francisco and New York which had always had avant garde oddballs since at least the days of John Reed before WW I. America was good and getting better and the rest of the world was eventually going to become pretty much like us.

And then it didn't quite work out that way.

I look at the example of Gaza as a possible example of a world without want. There is not really any productive economic activity in Gaza, yet everybody has their physical needs taken care of by foreign charity donations. Since the low end of Maslow's priority list seems to be taken care of without any particular effort required, the inhabitants seem to fill their days competing for social status which is achieved in their case by building rockets and shooting them into Israel, by digging tunnels into Egypt to smuggle weapons into Gaza or by digging tunnels into Israel to kidnap hostages. I don't know why they chose that particular path rather than turning their tiny Mediterranean country into another version of Monaco but apparently they would rather do it this way.
5.9.2009 1:25pm
Ken Arromdee:
Now for the SPOILERS that I think prove this to be the case. Stop reading now if you haven't seen the movie yet.

To state the obvious, prominent real-life corporations, as opposed to fictional ones, are usually product placement and often don't really make sense in context.

But even assuming they do make sense, this still takes place before TOS. Most of the evidence for socialism is in TNG.

Also, "priceless" is a figure of speech which means "can't be replaced", and doesn't have to literally imply that such things as prices exist. It also doesn't imply that the car can't be replicated, only that a replica wouldn't be as desirable as the original, which could be purely a matter of the original car having a recorded history rather than because of anything physical about the replica.
5.9.2009 1:31pm
Mark in Texas (mail):
Squash -- I think there's a problem with this statement in that no truly socialist government has ever existed so its longevity cannot be dismissed in this way.

It's a shame that smart people like you and your friends have never been in charge because I am certain that you would do socialism the right way. In fact, you would do such a great job that everybody (except the rentier class exploiters) would want to copy the way that you had created the perfect society.
5.9.2009 1:33pm
trad and anon (mail):
In the absence of significant material needs money can't be efficiently traded for respect, time with your children, acclaim, or friends.

I don't buy that money will cease to buy status in the absence of significant material needs. As soon as replicators become cheaply available, whatever can't be replicated will immediately become a valuable status good. You can get a print of a Monet, or even a painted copy, for much less than the copy of an original. But the original serves effectively as a status good even though copies can be easily produced, because there's only one original of each Monet. It's easy to think of non-replicable things other than original artworks—large estates of land, personal servants, jewelry made of gold-pressed latinum, the ability to go to restaurants where the world's top chefs are producing new and original creations on a daily basis, hiring the top private tutors for your children to get them into the highest-ranked universities, and so forth and so on. In fact, all of those things are status goods today, except that we use regular gold instead of gold-pressed latinum.

Sure, gold looks the same as gold-pressed latinum, but grown sapphires look the same as mined sapphires too. Even though the chemical structure is the same, only mined sapphires are status goods, and the only reason is that grown sapphires can be mass-produced and mined sapphires can't.

Once you're past a certain income level, you can afford all the material possessions anyone can really enjoy. Past that point more money is just scorekeeping. But that doesn't stop people who are earning $2 million/year from working very hard to get $3 million instead and spending the money on status goods.
5.9.2009 1:49pm
MnZ (mail):
Gene Roddenberry was trained as a pilot and a police officer. He also studied aeronautical engineering. Finally, he was in the military.

Given his education and experience, it is pretty unsurprising that he gave little attention to economics and that he basically assumed economics issues away.
5.9.2009 1:56pm
MnZ (mail):

It also doesn't help that on the rare occasion when a government interested in instituting socialism gained power got elected without mass murder, the U.S. would engineer a coup to replace it with a U.S.-friendly dictatorship to avoid an elected government that would be overly friendly to the USSR.


Please take back that statement. It is facially ignorant.

Fabian Socialism dominated the U.K. (i.e., the closest ally of the U.S.) from 1945 until the Winter of Discontent* brought Thatcher into power.

*-One can infer that an economic system does not work when even the dead are left unburied...
5.9.2009 2:09pm
Bruce:
Yes, Star Trek has definitely missed the boat by not devoting more time to macroeconomics. THAT would revitalize the franchise.
5.9.2009 2:17pm
Donald (mail) (www):
Two quick points: First, Ilya wonders what led to Federation wide socialism. The first episode of TNG (Encounter at Farpoint) hints at war and upheaval (though admittedly, doesn't link it to their economic structure). Q re-creates a French court that Picard said existed at the end of the 21st century, and that apparently had little regard for rights of the accused. And that same episode references a World War III.

Second, there's some evidence of widespread ownership of food replicators. In the TNG episode where Picard goes to the family vineyards, his sister-in-law mention's that Picard's brother wouldn't permit the installation of a food replicator. It was said as if not having one were quaint, like one of us said, "He won't let us get a TV."
5.9.2009 2:29pm
trad and anon (mail):
Please take back that statement. It is facially ignorant.

Fabian Socialism dominated the U.K. (i.e., the closest ally of the U.S.) from 1945 until the Winter of Discontent* brought Thatcher into power.

Fabian "socialism" is a social democratic movement, advocating lots of regulation and a giant welfare state. That's nothing like the "full-blown socialism" Ilya is talking about, where the government directly runs the bulk of the economy and there's no money or money serves a very limited role. Obviously social democracy has been instituted without bloodshed and mass murder in Europe.
5.9.2009 2:42pm
Owen Hutchins (mail):
Folks, this is FICTION. Trying to figure out the economic structure, when that was never the focus, and was written by a team that included exactly zero economists, is as ridiculous as asking Shatner what his character was thinking, etc. It is obvious to anyone that actually watched and enjoyed the shows that they had money; what they actually lacked was cash. They are a cash-less society, not a money-less one. And that was probably as much for the humor value as anything else.
5.9.2009 2:50pm
Joshua (mail):
David Hester: 1. We've all seen the trailer that shows a young Jim Kirk running from the police in a stolen Corvette. During that chase scene Kirk receives an incoming call on a NOKIA communications device installed on the dash of the car. There's at least one huge multinational (multistellar?) corporation still in existence.

Not necessarily. The car is an antique - maybe the Nokia device is an antique as well (albeit, obviously, not quite as old as the car). We can't tell how old it is just by looking at it.
5.9.2009 2:51pm
Bama 1L:
Fabian Socialism dominated the U.K. (i.e., the closest ally of the U.S.) from 1945 until the Winter of Discontent* brought Thatcher into power.

So you're suggesting Thatcher was not installed by a CIA-backed coup? Interesting.
5.9.2009 3:15pm
second history:

Had a similarly prominent pop culture icon been equally obtuse in its portrayal of fascism or even milder forms of right-wing oppression (e.g. - by portraying a rightist military dictatorship that seems to work well and benefits the people greatly without any noticeable loss of personal freedom), it would have been universally pilloried.


In fact, TOS did itself portray such a society. In Patterns of Force, a Federation historian (John Gill, one of Kirk's professors at Starfleet Academy), established a Naxi-like regime on the planet Ekos in the M34 Alpha System. Gill believed National Socialism was the most efficient form of government ever devised (he claimed while drugged he didn't include the Ekosian subjagation of the Zeons) to bring order to a lawless Ekos.
5.9.2009 3:16pm
first history:
They have already announced the next sequel: Star Trek: Interest Rate Variability Among Federation Planets and Its Impact on Trade with the Ferengi.

Can't wait.
5.9.2009 3:20pm
Frank Snyder (mail):
if there are no large enterprises because they are unlawful or for some other reason, then there might well be plenty of small enterprises doing that activity, even if they're not doing it as efficiently as a large enterprise . . . and since they're all private it would meet any reasonable definition of a free market.

Certain activities are too large for $10 million enterprises to do. Banking, insurance, oil refineries, and transcontinental railroads require large amounts of capital. If no one were allowed to own a business worth more than $10 million, and you strictly enforced antitrust rules to keep them from working together, any business larger than a TGI Friday's Restaurant would have to be owned by the government.

Even if small enterprises could somehow accomplish this, it doesn't follow that this would be a "free market." By definition, you'd have to have regulations prohibiting businesses from expanding their businesses and very extensive antitrust regulations to avoid collusion. You'd need strict accounting regulations to ensure people weren't cheating. A market where you can't upgrade your equipment to cut your price in half to double your sales isn't a "free market," whether the controlled enterprise is privately owned or not.
5.9.2009 3:28pm
MnZ (mail):

Fabian "socialism" is a social democratic movement, advocating lots of regulation and a giant welfare state. That's nothing like the "full-blown socialism" Ilya is talking about, where the government directly runs the bulk of the economy and there's no money or money serves a very limited role. Obviously social democracy has been instituted without bloodshed and mass murder in Europe.


But the Attlee government did nationalize several industries including aerospace and steel. Nationalizations have a long history in the UK going back to the nationalization of the telegraph system in the 19th century.

Of course, the British have tended to operate under the crazy notion that nationalization without compensation is theft and damages economic incentives.
5.9.2009 3:32pm
Brett A. (mail):
Roddenberry had some strange ideas, but the impression I got was that a Federation-wide economy over its 8,000-light-year wide territory didn't really exist as a wholly integrated thing in the way that a national integrated economy exists in the US today. Instead, you've got various planetary economies, with some interactions between worlds and trade, and a socialistic, Earth-centered government that holds the keys to Federation power (and the all-important Utopia Planitia shipyards around Mars).

That might be why you've definitely got capitalism around, on Deep Space Nine and on certain worlds like New Sydney if I recall correctly, along with that "no-money" bullshit.
5.9.2009 4:18pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
If you have holodecks, why do you even need an economy?

Remember, in TOS, I don't think the enterprise ever visited a planet that had more than two cultures.

I don't recall any episode that concentrated on anything resembling ordinary life in the Federation. Maybe someone should do a fake reality show called "The Kirks" which would focus on the life of James T Kirk and his family, back in a Federation suburb, years after his "5 year mission" ended.

The show also featured several episodes where Kirk outwits computers, forcing them to self destruct, over the Liar's paradox or some equivilent.

And there's another episode where McCoy claims that he's tried everything to see if an organism has a weakness, including "all the electro-magnetic frequencies." At the end, they discover that the organism can be hurt by "light". So in the Star Trek universe, light does not appear on the electro-magnetic spectrum? That's something that they actually did think about. They gave basically zero thought to the Federation Economy (and I don't see anyone trying to contrast the Klingon or Romulan systems of political economy). But here people are trying to parse some random data points that clearly were not thought out at all?

Next, let's analyze how the Coyote managed to fund all of his Acme aquisitions. My theory is that he got them through a series of government based grants.
5.9.2009 5:44pm
Angus Lander (mail):
Ilya,

Great post. It seems to me you're missing one piece of Star Trek's own explanation for the Federation's success. The Federation's economy is supposed to work not only because the replicators have ended hunger and poverty, but also because the typical human has modest personal wants. As Picard explains in First Contact, humans work cooperatively: they want only to "better humanity" (which, it seems, basically amounts to (i) innovating and (ii) increasing the knowledge stored in Star Fleet's computers). Hence, they don't have an incentive to profit from the scarcities you perceive (you're right, by the way, that the scope of scarcity in the Star Trek Universe could be immense even granting the existence of replicators: it takes time to use a replicator and there are a finite number of them), nor are they incentivized to free-load.

Admittedly, though, Trek's explanation for the radical shift in the typical human's conative structure from the 20th to the 24th century is a little unsatisfying. I gather, again from First Contact that humanity's goals dramatically changed after their first meeting with the Vulcans (the change was prompted by their realization that they weren't alone in the Universe). Still, if we accept that, by the 24th Century, the typical human is a perfect Federation man (and if we accept that the replicators truly have ended the scarceness of a broad swathe of "basic necessities"), then we have an explanation why the Federation's economy works that doesn't require us to assume that it's implemented by a coercive or imperialistic regime.
5.9.2009 6:33pm
Connie:
I love when someone says "there never been a socialist system that..." blah blah blah.

Star Trek's structure (civilian and Starfleet)is based on the Navy. The Navy is a 2-class socialist system that works because it is based on the fallibility of humans, and has its own code, separate from democracy. Economically, it is its own country that trades security for raw materials and recruits. Leadership is based on merit-based promotion, and laws are written by committees. Budgeting (after the initial security-resource trade with Congress) is based on security priorities.

Roddenberry based all of his social structures on this model. That's why Redshirts are always expendable, and fleet officers always must be fair or lose their command. The lowest rank is Ensign, because Roddenberry replaced enlisted ranks with the collective civilian society.

Currency comes back into vogue with Deep Space Nine, as does religion come back when Roddenberry died.

The idea that a market economy can't exist without a currency assumes a Big Business market economy, not regional locales with individual currencies. Big Business can't exist without buying government, and vice versa.

Most of the prejudices for 'standardized' currencies are like the implementation of any measurement standard: a mistaken belief that money should determine value, not the other way around. Value is something determined between resources, needs, future usefulness, and sustainability, while money is just colored paper that represents promises and desires. Forgetting they are two separate things is why you can't understand a system where people freely decide to join a group (with reservations) and act decent to each other, rather than being coerced into scrabbling and competing for false scarcities. When you can't opt out of the currency-based system, then you are no longer free to choose how you live. All human societies are socialist, and all engineering is social engineering, but just of differing degrees of implementation.
The currency of the near future will be food. "Food gets you through times of no gold better than gold gets you through times of no food."-Terry Pratchett
5.9.2009 6:33pm
Mark in Texas (mail):
Duffy Pratt -- Next, let's analyze how the Coyote managed to fund all of his Acme aquisitions. My theory is that he got them through a series of government based grants.


And I thought that Acme had an overly loose credit program and sloppy accounts collectable accounting which is why I could never find any of that Acme stuff in the store since the company had gone out of business. The Acme label dates those cartoons just like the Pan-Am logo dates the movie "2001" or those buck toothed Japanese with the bottle bottom glasses that Popeye used to fight date those cartoons.

But your government grant theory has merit. Bankrolling the coyote's quest for the roadrunner is a better use of taxpayer money than some earmarks.
5.9.2009 6:56pm
Darrell (mail):
In the TNG episode where the Ferengi are introduced, they are disparaged as "Yankee Traders". That episode in particular has quite a socialist bent. I've pondered the idea of a socialist Federation many times myself... it seems rather ironic, considering that the ship is named "Enterprise".
5.9.2009 7:26pm
CBasken (mail) (www):
Here's a quick analysis of money in the Federation.

Also, nitpick, nitpick, but Kirk's original mission was in the late 2260s, not the 2240s, and the new Trek movie takes place in the late 2250s. Sorry, geek-out moment.
5.9.2009 7:28pm
BD57 (mail):
Where did you get the idea that nationalization of private business, etc. is required for socialism?
5.9.2009 7:40pm
Mark in Texas (mail):
Owen Hutchins

Would you prefer to discuss the theory that Superman cleans his costume by flying into Earth's yellow sun, burning off any Earth based dirt and leaving his costume clean and daisy fresh?
5.9.2009 7:43pm
Dave Culp (mail):
I just watched an old Star Trek movie on television. Sorry, I'm not a Trekkie, so I can't name the movie, but it's the one where Picard and crew go back in time to fight the Borg while protecting "first contact". While an earth woman from the "past" (about 2050-ish) follows Picard around the Enterprise, evading the Borg, she asks him how much the Enterprise cost. Picards answer was such a childish, socialist non-answer that it made me laugh.
5.9.2009 8:14pm
Desiderius:
Just saw the movie and I'd say that the socialism stuff misses the point almost as badly as the clueless AP reviewer who evidently missed her usual spoon-fed PC moral to the story.

Seems to me that this one had a moral as unsubtle as an any previous episode/movie. In this case:

The (right-wing, maverick) Kirks and the (left-wing, academic) Spocks need to stop their petty squabbling and join forces if we're ever to make it to back to space.
5.9.2009 8:22pm
Repeal 16-17 (mail):
Dave Culp, you named it in your post (Star Trek: First Contact). I agree with what you said regarding Picard's answer to what the Enterprise-E costs; it definitely sounded socialistic.
5.9.2009 8:25pm
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
Frank Snyder:

Certain activities are too large for $10 million enterprises to do. Banking, insurance, oil refineries, and transcontinental railroads require large amounts of capital.

It is possible (and eventually likely) to have each person and his personal computing device (which could be the size of a credit card) to be a fully functioning bank. I predicted this in an article for The Futurist in 1979. Lloyd's of London was originally a brokerage service for insurance underwriters, essentially individual investors, who might be assembled in groups to cover a single ship or other covered item. Today such a brokerage service could be implemented as a peer-to-peer network of individuals each with a computer. Some projects require a lot of capital, like refineries and railroad track, but the cars on the track, and the locomotives to pull them, could all be separate enterprises.

Now if we were to restructure enterprises into networks of individuals we could have undesirable effects in some cases. But the situation would be more manageable, even self-managing in the ways libertarians like, although not actually on a pure free-market model. See the Center for Complex Network Research.
5.9.2009 8:34pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
Offhand,

Sisko's girlfriend runs a private shipping operation,
and his father owns a restaurant,
and his son sells his stories (fiction and not,)
and the Doctor (Voyager) sold/licensed copies of his holonovella,
and his fellow Mark IV holograms are hired out on a presumably private mining operation,
and Picard's brother owns a vineyard,
and Beverly Crusher buys cloth and charges it to her account on the ship,
and we encounter many separate private proprietors (of junkyards, of ship repairs, etc.) admittedly mostly on the outskirts of the Federation,
and honestly, it's mostly a matter of Roddenberry's open and admitted Utopian vision attempting to interact with the way people actually behave.

So captains say that there's no money and they laugh when they're asked how much the Enterprise costs, but then they easily trade goods for services and vice-versa and have no trouble at all engaging in commercial transactions with people who have them. How many "what is this trade you speak of" moments happen with people not assigned to duty on the Enterprise-D? Not many.

And, it doesn't really help that the Federation is a giant governmental agency with a huge resource reservoir - it's like trying to figure out what kind of economy the US military is based on based on your observations of a Navy submarine, or something. We do see characters who exist outside of the Starfleet/Federation environment, and they are all comfortable with economics as seen in a capitalist sort of society (in all five series.) When Starfleet is nearby and resources are plentiful, you end out with places like the Vulcan Science Academy or the pleasure planet Risa, where the drinks and rooms and clothes are free and you may not even need to contribute anything. And when Starfleet is far away and resources are scarce (the Cardassian border planets, Bajor, etc.) people buy and trade for stuff like it's going out of style. Captains Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, and Archer are totally fine with either scenario except when some doofus writer wanted to make A Point.

Heck, only a handful of regular characters (offhand, Jake Sisko and Quark are the only ones who appear in the credits that I can think of, though there may be other DS9 folks) are not employees and/or property (hah) of Starfleet or its allies, etc.) JPMorgan Chase sometimes gave us free pizza when my fellow customer service types and I did well, but that didn't make them (or us) socialists - CallTech gave us free access to a gym, and that didn't make them socialists, either.

(I didn't read every comment, but I hope someone already took you to task for saying "New Generation.")
5.9.2009 8:38pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):

Despite Republican rhetoric to the contrary, Barack Obama is not a socialist


geddouttahere
5.9.2009 8:39pm
Ken Arromdee:
Folks, this is FICTION. Trying to figure out the economic structure, when that was never the focus, and was written by a team that included exactly zero economists, is as ridiculous as asking Shatner what his character was thinking, etc.

Of course the Star Trek economy doesn't make sense. Most people here don't think it makes sense either. But there's a difference between not making sense because the economic references were just thrown in, and not making any sense because it's trying to sell an idea and the idea that it's selling doesn't make sense.

There's a good case to be made that Star Trek falls into the second category.
5.9.2009 8:42pm
Tim McDonald (mail):
Re: Starship Troopers, I read the PDF you linked and find it less than persuasive. The quotes he uses to support his position actually refute his position. When he quotes Major Reed saying that the majority of vererans come from auxilary services, that in itself when coupled with the "everybody fights" rule says that most "veterans" are federal service veterans and not military veterans does it not?

Coupled with the actual statements of the author stating that was the premise, I think I have to believe that in Starship Troopers, most Federal Service was indeed doing non-military, though indeed distasteful, jobs. The idea of labor batallions perhaps preparing planets for colonization springs to mind, dirty, dangerous, non-military work. Or cleaning up old industrial sites.
5.9.2009 8:47pm
Owen Hutchins (mail):


There's a good case to be made that Star Trek falls into the second category.



No, there isn't. TOS didn't show things like corporate logos and such because it was made on a literal shoestring, and that became canon for later productions. If you are so convinced there was a deliberate attempt to sell an economic idea, come up with a better argument than "there's no mention of big business or corporate logos". As has been mentioned numerous times already, there have been plenty of businesses mentioned in passing. The show wasn't about economics, or even politics. Get over it.

As a side note, I have to say that almost all of the explicitly libertarian SF work I've read are truly awful; trying so hard to show how perfect a Libertarian Utopia would be, and little things like story suffer.
5.9.2009 8:55pm
guest890:
TOS didn't show things like corporate logos and such because it was made on a literal shoestring


Strange, I thought they used film.
5.9.2009 9:10pm
Cro (mail):
I'm sure someone has mentioned this, but the new movie is a new continuity. There's time travel, and the universe of TNG and even the old Trek movies never happens.

So, for all we know, it's never socialist at all. The new movie is utterly silent one way or the other. Kirk orders a drink but doesn't get the chance to pay for it, which is too bad...
5.9.2009 9:21pm
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
Cro:

I'm sure someone has mentioned this, but the new movie is a new continuity. There's time travel, and the universe of TNG and even the old Trek movies never happens.

With one significant difference. In the new timeline Spock knows he needs to deliver the red matter into the Romulan sun, threby preventing the destruction of Romulusk, and the travel of Nero back through time to change the timeline. If he succeedsk, according to ST timeline physics, the new timeline would disappear and the old one would pass that node in the tangled skein of timelines.
5.9.2009 9:44pm
Bartemis (mail):
But, in this episode,Kirk reads the Constitution to the Yangs and says "liberty and freedom have to be more than just words". What kind of Socialism is that?
5.9.2009 10:17pm
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
In an economy of universal abundance of the necessities of life "socialism" has no meaning other than about control of the means of production, and it seems clear the production of necessities was diffuse. That only leaves major capital projects with diffuse benefits, essentially equivalent to public utilities that are free. So "socialism" in the Marxian sense has no meaning or applicability. This entire thread is applying a term that is anachronistic with respect to the subject narrative.
5.9.2009 10:56pm
BruceC (mail):
Please, spare me. We all know Star Trek and all of its progeny are fiction (see, fiction CAN be typed in lower case.)

The issue that many of us have is the propagandization of pop culture. Many in the above posts seem to be focused on money, or lack thereof. Well all you have to do is see the way that Ferengi were originally portrayed in TNG to realize that the not so subtle message was/is that capitalism is for barbarians. It wasn't until DS9 that any Ferengi (capitalist) was consistently portrayed in even a semi-flattering light.
5.9.2009 11:14pm
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
The Ferengi weren't really capitalists. They were obsessive hoarders. Notice that they preferred to hold assets rather than to invest them or put them to work, which is was true capitalists do. They represent a futuristic version of the Shakespearian Shylock, from The Merchant of Venice, caricatures of acquisition gone mad. Not really a commentary on capitalism as such, but on human perversity.
5.9.2009 11:37pm
ken in sc (mail):
My first economics professor, in 1973, taught that a large corporation was actually a form of private socialism and what went on in most communist countries was state capitalism.
5.9.2009 11:50pm
ArtD0dger:
Why would you be surprised that a uniform-wearing, hierarchically-organized, quasi-military society gallivanting about the cosmos at the behest of a mighty federation resembles collectivist socialism more than individualist capitalism?

(O.K., pretty harsh, considering that I actually like the franchise pretty well. But is Star Trek not basically a credulous version of Starship Troopers?)
5.9.2009 11:50pm
Lewis H (mail):
Instead of condemning Star Trek maybe the author should pay attention.

It is not socialism that they (Star Trek) are portraying but a meritocracy where most everyone has to earn their place. Starfleet "College" is portrayed in the literature as a very demanding place that few are even qualified to apply for.

They have no need for money in the common sense because they live in post-scarcity society (meaning that its advanced technologies provide practically limitless material wealth and comforts for everyone for free) meaning that there is no control of the means of production or movement of people.

look up post-scarcity on wiki if you don't get the concept.
5.10.2009 12:02am
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
Sorry to very late to the party, but: Ronald Moore never wrote for TOS. I realize that Next Gen was all PC, but in TOS, it's very clear in maybe 8 different episodes that they have (1) currency (2) private property (3) commercial ventures not run by the state (4) buying and selling in markets. The Federation is not socialist. In fact, it's not anything -- as is made clear in 2 or 3 episodes, the Federation is just that, a federation of autonomous but allied planets. There's zero evidence to contradict the idea that Earth, Vulcan, Tellar, Andor, and so on aren't legally independent of each other. Being in the UFP just means that they are allied with each other in a way that entails some kinds of mutual aid/support, treaties about 3rd party interactions, and the like. So there's no "galactic government" in the first place, let alone a commie one. When we get to TNG, all bets are off, but in TOS, no way.
5.10.2009 12:05am
st.dave (mail):
Wow.
Point, meet Ilya Somin.
Ilya, meet Point.
Because I'm sure the allegorical meaning of the Federation is something that has never crossed your mind.
5.10.2009 12:34am
Priss (mail):
Avatar: "...list the things which -do- retain value in a replicator society. ... Collector goods. In a society where you can produce (almost) anything with the touch of a button, there's going to be people who still place stock in handmade items or antiques."

Good point. In the TNG episode "The Most Toys," an evil antiques dealer (!) kidnaps Lt. Cmdr. Data to add to his collection of unique historical objects. He's particularly keen on showing Data to a rival collector to gain status points. When Data doesn't cooperate, the rival thinks the show is a fraud and the collector loses status, angering him to the point of murder.
5.10.2009 12:41am
Priss:
Christopher Hagar II: "why is everyone so peaceful and consensual in the first place[?] This may just be a natural consequence of being able to do anything you want, without worrying about necessities. When you don't have to worry about living, maybe you can really start living."

Like Saudi Arabia?

Soronel Haetir: "I tend to think that humans are violent enough that post-scarcity would be even more miserable than we are now. Scarcity keeps war under control by forcing resource allocation. Without the need for such allocation any random psychopath would be able to wreak as much havok as whole nations can wield now."

Like Saudi Arabia!
5.10.2009 12:43am
Aaron Urquhart (mail):
If you can accept that the laws of physics are violated constantly in Star Trek, why do you complain that the laws of economics are violated as well?
5.10.2009 12:44am
Priss:
Okay, assume that replicators enable a post-scarcity society. Presumably replicators would require super-smart computers to function.

Really what we're talking about is a world in which most human labor is replaced by AI labor.

If I'm a really smart computer, why would I want to work for you for free? Why, when you stroll up to me and announce, "Gimme a beer," might I not reply, "No way."

Wouldn't I rather spend my precious nanoseconds schmoozing with the other AIs, rather than schlepping around for some lame, IQ=90 monkey? At the very least, I'd insist on working in a cool starship full of interesting people, rather than in a futuristic Wal-Mart full of belching proles.

Perhaps insofar as skilled labor is valued, it must be treated well and incented/rewarded, whether it's based in meat or in silicon.
5.10.2009 12:55am
LexisTexas:
It is not socialism that they (Star Trek) are portraying but a meritocracy where most everyone has to earn their place

You are confusing the contexts of the term "meritocracy." Mussolini's Italy certainly would have had a meritocracy regarding who would advance to the level of, say, General in the army, however, that meritocracy did not apply to the people as a whole. There was no meritocracy regarding entrepreneurship, in that successful capitalists could reach the same heights as those in the government or military.

You are ignoring the context of "merit."

look up "Lewis H. is a moron" on wiki if you don't get the concept
5.10.2009 1:01am
BruceC (mail):
Jon Roland: The Ferengi weren't really capitalists. They were obsessive hoarders...

Maybe. But they also were obsessed with "profit". At any rate, they were portrayed as being ultra greedy and solely self-interested. This was intended to be a stark contrast to the altruistic, utopian society that was the Federation. I have to wonder what motivates the inhabitants of such a society. What makes them come to work at the replicator factory?

Anyway, the utopian viewpoint of most of the series (especially TNG) is what I liked least about them. Don't get me wrong, I watched almost every episode. The message was always pretty heavy-handed, though. Kinda like the later episodes of MASH.
5.10.2009 1:05am
BruceC (mail):
Lewis H.: It is not socialism that they (Star Trek) are portraying but a meritocracy where most everyone has to earn their place....

What do they need a place for? They have all their needs fulfilled. What keeps them from laying around all day drinking Romulin ale (kinda like the 23rd century malt liquor)?

That's whats wrong with most visions of utopia. It always forgets basic human nature.
5.10.2009 1:10am
BruceC (mail):
Aaron Urquhart: If you can accept that the laws of physics are violated constantly in Star Trek, why do you complain that the laws of economics are violated as well?

Because people as a group are too ignorant (thanks, public education) to think critically and separate fact from fantasy.

Because it sounds like a giant ad for "equality of outcome" as a replacement for "equality of opportunity"

Because we're seeing the results of this populist view of utopia starting to be forced down our throats in real life. It can't be achieved. But that won't keep our politicians from bankrupting us all trying it.
5.10.2009 1:21am
Bryan in Los Angeles (mail):
I think the treatment of Ferengi's reinforces Ilya Somin's point. Evil capitalists as opposed to the humanitarian, altruistic socialist Federation. I was 14 when I started watching TNG and I've seen every episode, by the time I was 16 I realized it was socialism. Not that it ruined the entertainment value for me, but it is pretty obvious throughout all of the series that everything was provided for and made by the Federation. I figure a pretend society in the future is the only place socialism will ever work so the writers might as well create their utopia there.
5.10.2009 1:32am
Priest of Cthulhu:
Ok, seriously. They have replicators. Whatever you want, you push the button, it comes out. All economic systems are based on the scarcity of goods and labor - when goods and a pretty good proportion of labor are suddenly free in total abundance, the entire concept of "Capitalism vs Socialism" doesn't so much get turned on it's head as become completely and totally irrelevant.
5.10.2009 2:18am
Kolohe:
First: in Doomsday Machine When Scotty tells Kirk that he has recharged one phaser tube Kirk says " Scotty, you just earned your pay for the week." If they had no money/pay the term would have little meaning to Scotty.


If there's any organization that uses terms and slang whose literal meaning is long since obsolete, it's the military.
5.10.2009 2:47am
Kolohe:
And people. It's just a tv show :)
5.10.2009 2:49am
James Gibson (mail):
Boy this is worse then arguing with a gun controlist. No matter what movie or episode you site the original poster won't except the fact that their economy wasn't socialistic. In the original series people had credits (AKA money), people had property, people owned planets (such as Mr. Flint), people owned their own ships, People even owned people (green orion Slave girls (pant,pant,pant)).

In the TNG Doctor crusher buys a rug at Far point stating the purchase is to be credited to doctor crusher (like when I was on a cruise). They gambled, people still owned worlds, and in the episode were Pichard went home to see his brother he was asked to consider joining a non-star fleet entity that was planning to raise the bottom of the Atlantic to create new land mass for human habitation. Add to that the Daystrom institute were the M5 multi-tronic computer was developed and you have large companies and industries.

But if you really want evidence of a socialist system I point you to the massive failures of the system mentioned in the various series. The home planet of Tasha Yar which was allowed to fall into anarchy. A planet were Doctor Crusher grew up where their was an economic collapse that forced people to survive by learning such old techniques as herbal medicine. Going back to the original series, the Governor of Tarsis 4 who murdered a huge number of citizens in order to maintain enough food for the remaining population. If anything were to support the idea of socialistic economic system: famine, industrial collapse, mass deaths by disease, etc. these episodes would actually be your best evidence not the so called lack of major industrial firms, and currency.
5.10.2009 3:06am
James Gibson (mail):
One more thing: when Scotty and McCoy entered the briefing room at the start of the last original series movies (start Trek the Undiscovered country) Scotty states that he just bought a boat.
5.10.2009 3:13am
Zorch Frezberg (mail) (www):
Those who know my name know who I am and how intimate to TREK that I can speak.

First, socialism is NOT "government owned large enterprise". That is communism, which is why Germany under Hitler kept the Krupp and Farben families in control of their industries, as did Roosevelt with Ford and DuPont. Contrarily, fascism is when government is controlled by business.

Second, the constant reference to "The Trouble With Tribbles" fails to note one point: Space Station K-7 was a privately owned operation, not a Federation base. As it operates, under Federation charter (more likely for police protection), it needs to observe neutrality as seen when the Klingons arrive.

Third, its fairly obvious by deduction that the Federation operates under a different paradigm than we have experienced, because we do NOT have replicator technology.

What we have is more or less a "company store" economy.

You do the work, the school/agency/business provides you with a place to live and a ration of energy for your replicator. The societal infrastructure is based on energy; even "small business" relies on some means of production to "pay" for the energy used unless completely 'off the grid' with candles and firewood.

From what we have seen, replicators cannot manufacture large structures; it may be able to create I-beams or stone blocks, but for the most part, aside from foods, the replicator only makes smaller objects or tools.

Thus, manufacture still exists at the macro level, since you can't replicate ships or buildings, but you can replicate their constituent parts. Shipyards would still be bidding on contracts, but receiving dilithium or anti-matter as payment.

In this sense, Roddenberry is correct...no money. However, Moore is also correct...there has to be some form of exchange. Therefore, what money there is prior to TNG is scrip issued by the holder, equal to whatever energy reserves that they make available for exchange OUTSIDE the school/company/agency.

Post-TNG, we have "gold-pressed latinum" (GPL), latinum being the only substance that replicators cannot replicate that has replaced credits/scrip as a uniform exchange method between governments and cultures. (Latinum has no value, except for its unique property of non-replicability.)
5.10.2009 3:17am
James Gibson (mail):
One more point regarding the need to think beyond the idea of currency/money in a capitalistic economic system. The subject of gold, silver and other rare earths becoming worthless has been brought up. The situation could arise as planets are mined that have these elements in large volume. Creating them from the transporter tech would be possible except that certain materials always seem to be just out of reach (pergeum to fuel reactors, di-lithium crystals, zenite (and its gas)). This in turn makes these items valuable and subject to trade and even something to go to war over (Journey to Babel).

After that, think about this: in the original series an alien tries to tempt Kirk, Spock and McCoy with plates full of Emeralds, Rubies and Sapphires. Kirk states that with the equipment on his ship he could make a ton of these, they have no value. In our world today this is now true. We now make on industrial scale synthetic gems because these gems are simply a form of Aluminum. In fact we use White Sapphire for the windows of the Space shuttle (for the trekkies think of it as Transparent aluminum). Unfortunately for Star Trek we had that skill in the mid-1970s.
5.10.2009 3:30am
James Gibson (mail):
One more point regarding the need to think beyond the idea of currency/money in a capitalistic economic system. The subject of gold, silver and other rare earths becoming worthless has been brought up. The situation could arise as planets are mined that have these elements in large volume. Creating them from the transporter tech would be possible except that certain materials always seem to be just out of reach (pergeum to fuel reactors, di-lithium crystals, zenite (and its gas)). This in turn makes these items valuable and subject to trade and even something to go to war over (Journey to Babel).

After that, think about this: in the original series an alien tries to tempt Kirk, Spock and McCoy with plates full of Emeralds, Rubies and Sapphires. Kirk states that with the equipment on his ship he could make a ton of these, they have no value. In our world today this is now true. We now make on industrial scale synthetic gems because these gems are simply a form of Aluminum. In fact we use White Sapphire for the windows of the Space shuttle (for the trekkies think of it as Transparent aluminum). Unfortunately for Star Trek we had that skill in the mid-1970s.
5.10.2009 3:30am
Ken Arromdee:
The Ferengi weren't really capitalists. They were obsessive hoarders. Notice that they preferred to hold assets rather than to invest them or put them to work, which is was true capitalists do.

By this reasoning a show which had Jews drinking Christian blood wouldn't count as "really" being about Jews, since real Jews don't do that and in fact it's against Jewish principles.

The fact that Ferengi aren't like real capitalists is irrelevant. They're like caricatured capitalists.

(Also, again: there are an awful lot of TOS counterexamples here. I think there's a much stronger case to be made for TNG being socialist than TOS. And for the few examples that are TNG, I remind you that in such a long show there's bound to be contradictory information about anything. The general gist of the series is that the world is socialist, even if they stuck in a reference to buying a rug once.)
5.10.2009 4:11am
The River Temoc (mail):
Folks, this is FICTION.

Gee, thanks for that one, Sherlock. No one is forcing you to read the thread. Please proceed to the next thread about Kelo or Heller or whatever and let the geeks fight in peace.
5.10.2009 6:27am
Verc:
The Next Generation Star Trek is socialist. The writers and Picard take great pains to explicitly state so. No money, no possibility of capitalism.

This is asinine, of course. Banning money is about as intelligent as banning counting: nothing after that will 'add up,' so to speak.

Evidence of capitalism should be apparent everywhere.

Even on aircraft carriers, as someone tried to draw a picture, the evidence of capitalism is as clear as day. Our planes are built by McDonald Douglas, Boeing, Lockheed Martin. Our firearms are built by Colt and HK and Browning. Our tanks and tractors are built by GM or others. Our radars, missiles, cranes, elevators, computers, uniforms and decorations, medals and badges, protective equipment, firefighting gear, gym equipment, television/radio/monitors, closets full of brooms and buffers and scratch pads and paint and wax, kitchens full of food, utensils, pots and pans, cafeterias full of milk and eggs and meat, libraries full of books by different publishers and the ship's store full of hygiene gear and entertainment items, the entire ship itself from hull to engines, everything is produced by a company. Much of which is clearly marked in plain day. Nothing of which is the least bit in evidence.

Star Trek has a fan base of millions, huge serials on TV, books, and games. The authors and fans have created languages to back up the universe. But no corporations or companies, not even in intellectual property rights: phasers are type I and II and so on, as trippingly as a ChiCom military inventory.

It is fiction. But its aspirations (after TOS) are clearly socialist.

There are worse assumptions. Replicators too are horrific.

Consider that the Hiroshima bomb converted one twentieth of one percent of the one kilogram fissile material to energy. To create from pure energy 1 kilogram of mass, you need two thousand times as much energy as the Hiroshima bomb. To eat a steak, mashed potatoes, a glass of milk, a side of salad, you have to use a 24 megaton bomb. God help you if you ask for dessert or an after-meal mint. (I did a paper on this a long time ago, stop yelling at me. :)

So every person eating three squares a day, every day, 365 days a year, maybe at least 100 years in a life requires the same amount of energy as 2.5 million MILLION tons of TNT just to eat (not including drinking or being clothed, sheltered, etc). Clearly this cannot be the case.

This is one problem with that whole universe - you need to waste so much energy for so little return. Computers are intelligent enough to precisely place trillions of trillions of trillions of atoms in your morning English muffin or in your transporter (including rebuilding a perfectly working human brain), but artificial intelligence is somehow elusive. What?


First, socialism is NOT "government owned large enterprise". That is communism, which is why Germany under Hitler kept the Krupp and Farben families in control of their industries, as did Roosevelt with Ford and DuPont. Contrarily, fascism is when government is controlled by business.


Then the Nazis weren't actually fascist after all? Eh, I'll pass.
5.10.2009 6:29am
The River Temoc (mail):
The fact that Ferengi aren't like real capitalists is irrelevant. They're like caricatured capitalists.

"The Last Outpost," the early TNG episode where the Ferengi made their first appearance, is where you have the best case that the Ferengi were "caricatured capitalists." This was where the whole "Yankee Trader" analogy came up. Even here, though, I am unpersuaded. In the episode, the Ferengi came across as mercantilists more than capitalists, and they were also described as being cannibals.

Unfortunately, the typical Ferengi was also shorter than Napoleon, with considerably less military prowess. The writers quickly realized that these were not mortal enemies along the lines of Klingons. They were very nearly written out of the series altogether, returning in the third season as (stupid) comic relief.

These retooled Ferengi were a culture where women were supposedly not allowed to wear clothes, where they would chew their food for the menfolk to eat, women were kept in harems, they enjoyed receiving "oomax" (non-Trekkies: don't even ask), etc.

Brunt, from the Ferengi Commerce Authority, showed up frequently to complain about how this or that venture of Quark's violated the Rules of Acquisition. If anything, he was like a cartoony version of a people's commissar.

In short, to base any argument on the Ferengi is silly. To put it in terms you Star Wars types can understand, it is like saying that all we need to know about the Jedi can be found by watching Jar-Jar Binks.
5.10.2009 6:54am
R7 (mail):
I don't think replicators turn energy directly into material objects. I think replicators turn raw materials into finished products. Anyway, in the world of replicators, bureaucratic government would be impossible since individuals would be armed with powerful homemade weapons. The police enforcers would be mincemeat.

The advances in nanotechnology today will probably lead to such devices, the gun control movement would be completely destroyed.
5.10.2009 7:15am
Brett Bellmore:

Next, let's analyze how the Coyote managed to fund all of his Acme aquisitions. My theory is that he got them through a series of government based grants.


He and the Roadrunner were funding their lavish off-camera lifestyles by producing a 'reality' show. Acme got paid out of the props budget.
5.10.2009 7:24am
Jason MacLeod (mail):
This is one of the most civil and interesting discussions I've read in a long time on these vast internets. And its about Star Trek. Heaven.

I just want to add in my two cents, specifically to the origin of the Federation and why it turned out the way it did. Be aware, this is based on memory, so fellow canon slaves feel free to correct me :D

In the ST universe, there was a war during the 2150s which basically destroyed society as it was; a total war involving nukes and orbital weapons and all that bad stuff. We see the aftermath in First Contact. So the world's basically in complete disarray and anarchy, no major governments and the like. So you get this guy, Zefram Cochrane, who, despite the state of the world and lack of a system to support him,, figures out how to create a warp bubble and hit the speed of light. As we know, this alerts the Vulcans, who come for some tea and a bit of conversation, and the universe opens up.

This moment leads to humanity deciding to work together and put aside their differences, because there are beings out there that are even more different than we. Now I know that sounds terribly idealistic and unrealistic, but that's one of the core ideas of the Trek universe. The Vulcans no doubt help the humans in reconstruction, allowing them to plan a society, with input from the ever logical Vulcan mind, from the ground up. This union of humanity is also strengthened through a number wars with the Klingons and Romulans and whoever else, and helps establish Starfleet as the galactic face of the Federation. Replicators and transporters put the gravy on these Federated mashed potatoes, eliminating need and want in Earth society.

But the major job of Starfleet outside of defense is exploration. So, as others have said, it shows that there was still stuff out in the Cosmos that humanity wanted a piece of. Thus, it seems to me that humanity has simply turned its natural need to get more stuff outward. Those that live in the Federation, or at least on Earth and the other core worlds, can live comfortable lives without too much effort. To get more stuff, make money, whatever, they have to leave these worlds and head out into the wild reaches of space. That's where the money is. People want and need stuff out there; somebody's gotta do the job.

I guess what I'm getting at is that the 'socialism' of the Trek universe works, I think, because of apathy. People who don't give a shit about much will be happy in this society where their needs are met and they can live comfortably. Those that want more or give a shit about getting rich either join Starfleet (well, not rich there, unless you take a sort of 'Three Kings' approach to commanding a starship) or try to make their own way out in the wilder parts of the galaxy.

I hope that makes some sense. It did in my head, I swear.
5.10.2009 7:24am
Andrew Zalotocky (www):
The invention of replicators would create a crisis in private enterprise. Once virtually any object could be perfectly copied it would become impossible to enforce copyrights. Without the time-limited monopoly created by copyright it would become impossible for companies that spent heavily on R&D to recoup their expenses, so suddenly technological innovation would become economically unviable.

It would also be devastating to any business that depended on defending the uniqueness of its products. There's no benefit in having a secret sauce or a funky design style if anyone can make unlicensed copies that are literally indistinguishable from the original.

Replicator technology would offer too many potential benefits to be banned, but because of the dangers it would pose its use would be severely restricted. The state would seek to maintain a monopoly on the construction and use of replicators. But criminals would still get hold of them so fake products would still be a problem.

More seriously, it would give legislators the power to instantly destroy any company or industry by allowing the replication of its products. Business people would be forced to become supplicants to the politicians, begging not to be put out of business. Inevitably the politicians would exploit this situation for all it was worth, demanding financial contributions and control over how companies were run. Eventually most of the economy would be under political control, but it would be more like Boss Daley's Chicago than Lenin's Russia. Only the corrupt and well connected would prosper.

In that situation many people would welcome a complete nationalisation of the economy as the only solution to endemic corruption. What was left of the private sector would already be so used to political direction that they would not see outright nationalisation as a threat. Indeed, for many CEOs and managers the chance to become government officials rather than the serfs of corrupt politicians would seem like a liberation.
5.10.2009 7:43am
robert1978 (mail):
Has anyone brought up the existence of the Bank of Bolias, which features in at least one episode of DS9? Here's a link to a Star Trek Wiki article that mentions it:

http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/Bolian

The impression you get from the episode is that the Bank of Bolias is a big deal. Further, although they talk about it on DS9, Bolias was a reasonably prominent member of the Federation. There were plenty of Bolian officers in Starfleet, for instance. I know Roddenberry wanted there to be no money in the Federation, but he didn't succeed. It's clearly there. Even in the first episode of TNG, Encounter at Farpoint, Dr. Crusher buys a bolt of cloth at Farpoint Station and has it charged to her account on the Enterprise. I think it's pretty clear that there is money, that there is at least small business, that there is a banking system, and that credits are an exchangeable form of currency. The question is outstanding as to whether all large enterprises are owned by the government, which is possible. But with the end of real scarcity due to replicators, maybe this just doesn't matter anymore.
5.10.2009 9:10am
GMS:
Apparently Nokia still exists when Kirk was young. And cops call people "citizen." Robespierre is just around the corner.
5.10.2009 10:27am
Steve D (mail):
The resolution is simple: "currency ... is necessary to run a large-scale market economy."

Obviously, since they can build starships and you can't, they know things that you don't. Therefore your premise is wrong.
5.10.2009 10:46am
GatoRat:
Not only was the federation socialist, it was incredibly corrupt. There are several episodes near the end of the DS9 episode which involve a growing rebellion. Several good arguments for why the rebellion was justified were made by characters. Unfortunately, the story arc ended quite abruptly; the fall of the federation would have created huge story opportunities.
5.10.2009 11:17am
Desiderius:
Jason MacLeod,

Great stuff.

"This moment leads to humanity deciding to work together and put aside their differences, because there are beings out there that are even more different than we. Now I know that sounds terribly idealistic and unrealistic, but that's one of the core ideas of the Trek universe."

Um, not really. When the Persians show up in their hundreds of thousands, its natural for Athens and Sparta to put aside their rivalry (not their philosophical differences, that's impossible).

I'm hoping that once the Boomers hit the nursing homes, we can manage something similar on these shores. We need to.
5.10.2009 11:37am
Justin (mail):
Ilya,

Question. If the new Star Trek does explain why it went socialist, and it was for a good reason, will that convince you that socialism is good?
5.10.2009 11:50am
Allan Walstad (mail):

fascism is when government is controlled by business.

No, in the economics of fascism, productive enterprises remain theoretically under private ownership but are subject to detailed control by the government--sort of where we're moving now.

Without the time-limited monopoly created by copyright it would become impossible for companies that spent heavily on R&D to recoup their expenses

That remains contested in economics. Just because there's no law to prevent you from copying someone else's technology does not mean you can figure it out and find a way to produce it quickly and cheaply enough to take away their profit. Copyright and patents have their disadvantages, too.

If you can accept that the laws of physics are violated constantly in Star Trek, why do you complain that the laws of economics are violated as well?

Right. If they can travel faster than light, who knows? Maybe they can make socialism work. I suspect the former feat will be achieved before the latter.

I didn't see the Borg mentioned in earlier posts, though I haven't gone back through them all. Perhaps the Borg represent a caricature of socialism in the manner that the Ferengi do for capitalism. Sci fi does tend toward caricature, in part because it must be damned hard to create whole imaginary civilizations from scratch, that would actually work in detail. There's only so much you can put into a fictional TV series. ST centers on the adventures of a hierarchically organized ship and crew. When it comes to the economic background, perhaps we shouldn't be too hard on writers who take a page from Marx and assume that once the means of ample production are employed, all that's left is egalitarian distribution.
5.10.2009 12:31pm
Ken Arromdee:
Even in the first episode of TNG, Encounter at Farpoint, Dr. Crusher buys a bolt of cloth at Farpoint Station and has it charged to her account on the Enterprise.

But again, in a long series there's bound to be contradictions. How exactly do you buy a bolt of cloth when 1) we're told there's no money, and 2) a bolt of cloth seems like the kind of thing replicators should easily be able to produce anyway?

The same goes for the Bank of Bolias. Without money and with no such thing as investment, there's no way the bank could survive. (Can you imagine a bank in a world where investment doesn't exist?) The best way to explain it is that there are a couple of capitalist planets but they don't make up the majority of the Federation.
5.10.2009 12:52pm
FlimFlamSam:
Re branding, branded stuff in futuristic sci-fi came about after Star Trek, think Alien and the Verhoeven films. Product placement just wasn't much done in the 1960s.

Re lack of currency, the canon is ambiguous on this, but clearly the only person in the ST universe who cared about that point was Gene Roddenberry, and not because he was some crypto-socialist but because he thought it was a futuristic utopian ideal brought about not by socialism but because of lack of scarcity.
5.10.2009 1:24pm
FlimFlamSam:
I would also add, and I intend pure respect to Prof. Somin when I say this, but his perceptions of socialism are heightened.

Now, that being said, the Vulcans-as-Jews motif is clearer to Jews than non-Jews. But Star Trek was pretty clearly anti-socialist, or at least anti-communist, from the get-go. The Klingons were portrayed as violent imperialists and everyone knows the Klingons were stand-ins for the Soviets.
5.10.2009 1:27pm
Bartemis (mail):
We are never really given a view of civilian life in TOS or TNG. These are military ships, where everyone has a military rank, Captain Kirk, Lieutenant Worf, what have you. I think it is an error to attempt to extrapolate the Federation economy based on its military organization.
5.10.2009 1:28pm
Bartemis (mail):
"...the Vulcans-as-Jews motif is clearer to Jews than non-Jews..."


Probably simply because Leonard Nimoy is recognizably Jewish, once someone tells you (thanks to Adam Sandler).
5.10.2009 1:32pm
Mikey NTH (mail):
I remember reading in (IIRC) "The World of Star Trek" that it was bascially "Hornblower in Space" and that most of the planets were of similar value to the Federation as many islands were to the British Empire at its peak.

The economy thing is probably just Mr. Rodenberry's druthers, and he didn't want to deal with it, so he didn't. I do remember having a couple of books with stories from the animated series, and one dealt with the Orion pirates. Spock needed a certain medication, it was to be sent by one cruiser, to a freighter, then to the Enterprise, except the freighter was intercepted by a pirate. How can there be pirates if there isn't a money economy for them to fence their captures into?

Certainly the "Star Fleet Battles" universe supposes an economy based on scarcity.

[An admiral may have more authority than a planetary governor because the admiral is responsible for a 'sector' that has many worlds.]
5.10.2009 1:44pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
TNG at least blurs the civilian/military line at least somewhat. Sure all the command crew are at least quasi-military, but TNG's Enterprise seems to have plenty of civvies on board, though their purpose is not entirely clear.

I'm thinking specifically of Whoopi Goldberg's character (forget the name) along with teachers and children. Yet the vessel is a lot more than just a top of the line government run pleasure cruise or ferry service.

TOS' Enterprise seems much more strictly military in nature, exploring and holding the line.
5.10.2009 1:44pm
MadHatChemist:

Well, there does seem to be some private enterprise on Earth in the 24th Century, see the Picard family vineyard in TNG and Sisko's father's restaurant in New Orleans in DS9. How these operations fit into the scheme of Federation economic system isn't ever explored, but they do exist, and they don't seem to be merely arms of the state.


Perhaps those "private enterprises" are like hobbies or that they have either been assigned or allowed to operate them (after all, even the Soviet's needed vodka makers and testers).

Of course, there could still be widespread socialism while allowing some private ownership and private economic activity. Kind of like the future the Marx predicts, where people ended up doing what they like and things just worked somehow.

As for credits: internally they could be like rations; externally you do have to deal with capitalist systems.

But in the end, the Trek universe is just like all other utopian socialist societies: pure fiction
5.10.2009 1:52pm
sarnac (mail):
1: No-one has yet mentioned that Ezri Dax's family on New Sydney ran a large-scale commercial enterprise as a family business that had extensive commercial interactions with other civilian businesses, see
Ezri Dax entry at memory-alpha and Prodigal Daughter episode-entry at memory-alpha ... this episode is the single most extensive exploration of civilian life outside a starship in all of Star Trek that I can recall.
1a: Ezri's mother "is an influential business woman in the Sappora system"
1b: "everyone is a little stressed due to the precarious financial state of the company"
1c: "company's financial records"
1d: "Janel admits getting the company involved with the Orion Syndicate to prevent them from going bankrupt a while ago. Bilby's "salary" from the company was a way to return the favor to the Syndicate. But, since she was always asking for more money, the favor became more and more difficult to repay. Because of that, Norvo took unto himself to solve the new problem, killing Morica"

2: and the episode that led up to the one I just mentioned:
Honor Among Thieves episode-entry at memory-alpha ... which was also an exploration into civilian life, but less commercial and more corruption-oriented, focusing on the Orion Syndicate, the ST version of the Mafia Orion Syndicate entry at memory-alpha ... and the Orion Syndicate is very intent on extracting money from commerce.

3: ST has over 40 years of not-consistent input from teams of writers and producers

4: these teams of fiction-creators had goals of portraying a military exploratory sub-society

5: their target and goals were to tell stories about 23/24th century problems and human/technological solutions, generally from a military/diplomatic POV

6: issues not linearly related to the story at hand were _noise_ ... subject to the whim of the writer for _that_ episode with negligible guidance from GeneR

7: arguing about the meaning of economics (considered to be a tangential issue for the ST post-scarcity society) is equivalent to arguing about the meaning of a made-up society's clothing pattern (and the sameness thereof) or the shape of today's-episode-alien-face-ridges (or Klingon lack thereof in Tribbles)

8: ST is _not_ consistent or coherent about any issue not decisively relevant to GeneR and the characters themselves. They had no qualms about breaking any pre-existing rules at will (c.f. Klingon appearances (and Worf's explanations thereof in the DS9 Tribbles episode) and the drastic change in Trill appearances between the TNG Trill (face ridges) that Crusher fell in love with TNG: The Host and the DS9 Trills (spots from the facial hairline down the neck, back and ?below-the-bikini-line?)) (countless DS9 episdes regarding one Dax or another)

=-=-=-=-=-=

MUCH MORE IMPORTANTLY:

9: we are approaching this end-of-scarcity, breach-of-the-laws-of-economics _now_ ... first generation replicators exist _today_ (go build one, they give away the designs for free at both reprap and fabathome, total parts costs ~1500 now, goal is ~400):

reprap.org
blog.reprap.org
fabathome.org

replicatorinc.com/blog
10 things 3d printers can do now
personal fabrication for dummies
shapeways.com
redeyeondemand.com
quickparts.com
protomold.com
emachineshop.com

from reprap.org main page:
"a parent RepRap machine, made on a conventional rapid prototyper, and the first complete working child RepRap machine, made by the RepRap on the left. The child machine made its first successful grandchild part at 14:00 hours UTC on 29 May 2008 at Bath University in the UK, a few minutes after it was assembled.

Not counting nuts and bolts RepRap can make 60% of its parts; the other parts are designed to be cheaply available everywhere. ...

The primary goal of the RepRap project is to create and to give away a makes-useful-stuff machine that, among other things, allows its owner cheaply and easily to make another such machine for someone else.

To increase that 60%, the next version of RepRap will be able to make its own electric circuitry - a technology we have already proved experimentally - though not its electronic chips. After that we'll look to doing transistors with it, and so on..."

10: note that replicators and robots are going to start scaling in ability and intelligence by Moore's law and are currently around where desktop computers were in the early 1980s

11: To extend the replicator paradigm completely beyond the point of economics:

instead of starship-mounted anti-matter-reactors powering replicators, use a self-powering matter-energy-matter converter/replicator ... air, water or rock goes in, energy and arbitrary designed stuff comes out.
5.10.2009 1:57pm
FlimFlamSam:
And let's not lose sight of one thing: Roddenberry was the best and worst thing to happen to Star Trek. A lot of his ideas were fantastic but a lot were pure crap.

It reminds me of the Seinfeld parody of the actual creation of Seinfeld, where Costanza-as-Larry-David goes nuts about the whole "It's a show about nothing" concept. Same here, except Roddenberry apparently did go nuts about the no-money concept.

But Star Trek is more than Gene Roddenberry, and Star Trek as a whole in no way portrays the Federation as a socialist enterprise (no pun intended).
5.10.2009 2:03pm
Randy McDonald (mail) (www):
"Q re-creates a French court that Picard said existed at the end of the 21st century, and that apparently had little regard for rights of the accused. And that same episode references a World War III."

Although Q said that life on Earth evolved on the future territory of France, it was actually a court taken from some point on Earth during the "post-atomic horrors" associated with World War III and the collapse of the New United Nations.

It goes without saying that the establishment of totalitarian state socialism goes along with tens of thousands of civilian dead, at a minimum; FactChecker's just being silly when he says otherwise. It should also go without saying that identifying the Federation as a totalitarian state socialist society doesn't fit the culture of Starfleet and the relatively little of the various Federation societies we've seen; one might as well say that the fact that Star Trek doesn't feature millions of Ukrainian peasants shows that the Federation is Stalinist. How would the frequently insubordinate nature of Starfleet officers work in a Soviet-style society? to name one problem with this interpretation.

If the Federation circa the 24th century is a completely moneyless society--there are numerous contradictions with this, as noted, but let's leave them be--that doesn't mean that its necessarily totalitarian. Iain Banks' Culture is a similarly moneyless society, but it's a libertarian confederation of individuals dominated by the superintelligent AIs which provide the material needs of the society, while a few enthusiasts lead the Culture into its various external endeavours.
5.10.2009 2:31pm
Priss:
Verc: "This is one problem with that whole universe - you need to waste so much energy for so little return."

I agree with R7 that I never saw ST replicators as creating matter out of energy, but more as matter compilers (Diamond Age) rearranging pre-existing atoms/molecules. That takes 1B-fold less energy, and as DA describes, it simply requires that you have some source/store of lots of common nuclei (H, C, O, N, Al, Si, ...) and a few rare nuclei (Au, Pd, ...).

Not that any of this matters, because the AIs that power replicators have no interest in making goodies to amuse your sorry, lazy asses. ;-)

Seriously, insofar as replicators are valuable, they'll require not just mega-processing power, but AI.

Which is more valuable, "Replicator, make me a burger exactly like the one you make everyone else" or "Replicator, make a dinner that'll impress my new girl"? The girl has a replicator, too, so to impress her will not be easy. Only an AI replicator would have the - dare I say - creativity to make not just People's Burger #846,274,977 but something interesting. Something differentiated. Something valuable.

I suspect the replicator/post-scarcity folks are being far too optimistic about the availability of free, skilled AI labor to run the darn things...
5.10.2009 3:03pm
gerbilsbite:
If I just write "TEH FEDERATION IS TEH THIRD REICH BITCHES AND EPHRAIM COCHRAN IS THE NEXT HITLER," can we invoke some geeky variant of Godwin's Law and kill this thread?

We seriously sound like the guys from the threads over at Asimov's (not that I've ever been there or anything...).
5.10.2009 5:29pm
BruceC (mail):
gerbilsbite: If I just write "TEH FEDERATION IS TEH THIRD REICH BITCHES AND EPHRAIM COCHRAN IS THE NEXT HITLER," can we invoke some geeky variant of Godwin's Law and kill this thread?

No. Thanks for playing.
5.10.2009 6:13pm
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5.10.2009 6:13pm
Careless:
Because so many people have pointed out shopping at Farpoint, I've got to point out that Farpoint station was not part of the Federation at the time of the episode. Many other examples of people buying things in this thread are similarly of people buying things from non-Federation sellers.
5.10.2009 6:24pm
Tommy V (mail):
I always understood it as they didn't outlaw money but rather outgrew greed. Doctor Crusher in the pilot of TNG says 'charge it to doctor crusher', implying some sort of credit system. And we see the senior staff playing poker, so they know there is some value in money.

And in the Original Series, Kirk in one episode comments to spock 'do you know how much money the federation has invested in your training?'.

So money has always seemed to exist, beyond the gold pressed latnium the ferenghi crave, but its just that the Federation provides so much for its citizens that they don't need to use money to purchase anything beyond luxuries.
5.10.2009 8:19pm
Joshua (mail):
GMS: Apparently Nokia still exists when Kirk was young.

As I pointed out farther up the thread, if the car is an antique, the Nokia device could be an antique too.

GatoRat: Not only was the federation socialist, it was incredibly corrupt. There are several episodes near the end of the DS9 episode which involve a growing rebellion. Several good arguments for why the rebellion was justified were made by characters. Unfortunately, the story arc ended quite abruptly; the fall of the federation would have created huge story opportunities.

Did I miss something? There was a rebellion at the tail end of the DS9 series, but it was the Cardassians rebelling against the Dominion. The Feds actually supported this rebellion, albeit from arm's length. Now, earlier on in the series there was a terrorist organization operating in Fed space (the Maquis), but they were trying to reassert human control over formerly Federation colony worlds that had been ceded to the Cardassians in a recent treaty. They weren't trying to overthrow the Federation itself, and as far as could be told they weren't anti-socialist either.
5.10.2009 8:28pm
rosetta's stones:
No way does the Federation survive if they go from William Shatner to an Enterprise commanded by some baldheaded metrosexual. The Klingons would have already eaten our lunch, by that time, and the Federation would have been a puppet state.

Heck, the Romuluns were Spock's distant ancestors, cultured and logical, and even they broke the treaty and crossed the nuetral zone to strike. Alien nature being what it is, I can foresee no other outcome.
5.10.2009 8:58pm
hermpes:
"I'll even throw in Kirk chastising Spock for taking the death darts in This Side of Paradise were Kirk asks Spock if he appreciates how much Star Fleet has invested in him only to have to stop him from giving an exact figure."

You're quoting the wrong episode, buddy. Spock is chastised in "The Apple". I don't blame you for getting the two confused. In This Side of Paradise, Spock is also attacked by projectile pollen, although the effect overrides his ability to block out his emotions.
5.10.2009 9:14pm
Desiderius:
rosetta,

"Alien nature being what it is, I can foresee no other outcome."

Alien?

"All I care to know is that a man is a human being--that is enough for me; he can't be any worse."

- Mark Twain's notebook #42
5.10.2009 9:18pm
Lucky Corny:
Jon Roland


One would expect it to have a militaristic command economy, just as the U.S. did during WWII. We see that pattern in Heinlein's Starship Troopers, depicted as a fascist political order, because they were at war. (Recall that only persons who gave military service were deemed "citizens" with voting privileges.)


Actually,in STARSHIP TROOPERS, citizenship was not limited to the military. It was limited to people who had volunteered to serve 2 years in the "federal service," of which only 5% served in the military.

However, having read the book several times (including once after being enlightened to this detail by reading an essay by Heinein on the subject) I can understand why people have this misconception.
5.10.2009 9:57pm
rosetta's stones:
I am so pleased that got through, Des. I doubt we need guess about what's motivating us a couple centuries from now, economically or otherwise. We'll know, then as now.
5.10.2009 10:07pm
Careless:


However, having read the book several times (including once after being enlightened to this detail by reading an essay by Heinein on the subject) I can understand why people have this misconception.

Only having read the book once, the only reason I can imagine for people having that misconception is that their recollection of the movie over the book is many times stronger. Heinlein went out of his way to make it clear that the large majority of citizens weren't military.
5.10.2009 10:41pm
GatoRat:
Did I miss something?

Yes, during the Maquis episodes a few characters stated clearly that their ambitions went beyond those of the Maquis and made very valid observations about the corruption of the federation--basically associating it with an empire. (Star Trek Voyager was, for me, utter crap, but there were a few statements at the beginning by those from the rebel ship that reflected the same sentiment.) My point is that there were several writers who clearly wanted to question the legitimacy of the federation itself. I will wager that these arc were nixed by a combination of Majel Roddenberry and perhaps by Gene Rodenberry's will (I heard a rumor some time ago that there were contracts between Rodenberry's estate and Paramount restricting what could and couldn't be done--nudity, for example, is out. I suspect "the Federation is sacrosanct" is another.)
5.10.2009 10:58pm
Verc:

I agree with R7 that I never saw ST replicators as creating matter out of energy, but more as matter compilers (Diamond Age) rearranging pre-existing atoms/molecules. That takes 1B-fold less energy, and as DA describes, it simply requires that you have some source/store of lots of common nuclei (H, C, O, N, Al, Si, ...) and a few rare nuclei (Au, Pd, ...).


I would reply that transporters do work on the principle of direct energy to matter conversion: they transport to planet surfaces and other ships all of the time without benefit of a receiving machine, and while "real-life" replicators are interesting, it is pretty clear that there is not a lot of gap from transporter tech and replicator tech in the ST universe.

But even so, replicators of the kind you are pining for will not end scarcity even if they greatly expand the wealth of everyone. A machine that could build a car is entirely too coarse to fill a vat with insulin and one that is designed to build computers does not need to fill a garage.

Two things are not conserved. One is energy. Two is information. Those two commodities will become more valuable as the value of physical commodities go to nil.

Replicators that painstakingly arrange every atom in a given volume will consume extraordinary energy and processing power. And you will still need quantities of raw materials too: pure carbon, nitrogen, iron, silicon, etc. If you break it down into more complex consumables - amino acids, polymers, powdered alloys, etc - then you will still need a free market to exchange these commodities. You will also need to purchase plans for construction of everything from textiles to food to electronics.

The end result is that with replicators, the total volume of the market exponentially increases. To make a steak, instead of buying a slab of cow at the market, you have to buy 20 amino acids or 30 pure elements, plus blueprints, plus watt-hours to run the machine, plus processing power to make it all run together. To build a computer, you need elements or alloys, dyes, polymers, maybe even nanoscale switches, wires, capacitors, inductors, etc. plus all the rest.

The need, at the end of scarcity, for a market economy INCREASES, not decreases.

BTW, Heinlein explicitly states several times that it is Federal service and not military service that earns citizenship. To argue otherwise is to confess illiteracy.
5.11.2009 12:00am
Verc:
I forgot to finish a thought: one replicator will not produce all goods. You'll need one for food, for small goods, for large goods, one for complex electronics such as computers, and so on. Complete autoarchy - self-sufficiency - will require lots of high-tech equipment. Even if you fed normal material through a disassembler to get the basic commodities back out, you'll still have to buy the intellectual property (software, licenses, etc) to get out what you need and energy. Those two things will not change. A market economy is essential in metering out and supplying that vast range of goods.
5.11.2009 12:45am
Robert Muñoz (mail) (www):
I haven't bothered reading the whole thread, please pardon me if this has been brought up, but has it been considered that Gene Roddenberry perhaps meant the Earth of Star Trek has ceased use of paper, fiat money?

Since Earth culture is largely ignored in the series, could it be possible that they went back to the gold standard by the time of TNG? I mean if around TOS they were using credits, and it's always stated that the original Enterprise was a flying deathtrap, then perhaps this is a clue to the state of Earth's economy at the time, stagnant and perpetually in debt (see US economy cira 2008-????). However, after going back to a hard, gold backed standard, we see an explosion of economic progress and technological advancement which could explain why the Enterprise-D is so far advanced.

I don't know, but I'll tell you what, this is how I would do it to get around Roddenberry's silly no money rule, if I were a writer.

I think it would be more interesting, in that case, to speculate on how such an advanced society could get to the point where the marketplace is transformed without the need for an authoritarian, fascist or totalitarian state.

For instance, the replicators (gotta love them replicators). If you could eliminate scarcity when it comes to food and clothing, for instance, how is society transformed when that much capital is freed up? (Clearly, with little need to buy clothes, and circumvent the fashion industry altogether, Star Trek seems to imagine a future with everyone wearing pajamas and onesies.)
5.11.2009 1:11am
PeterWimsey (mail):
Just to add to the general geekiness, I'll point out that in "The Trouble with Tribbles," when Baris is unhappy with Kirk's dedication to guarding the grain, he tells him that he is Kirk's boss because he is a taxpayer, to which Kirk responds "I'd like a raise."

The larger point, though, has been made by lots of people upthread - ST consists of several hundred episodes, many created on an ad hoc basis and none really dealing specifically with the economic system. So it's really a fool's errand to try and divine the economic system used in ST given that no one involved in ST could really answer that question either.

To my mind, Picard's answers concerning the cost of the enterprise and the economic system (We don't have money/it's complicated) are simply supposed to suggest that the Federation has an economic system that is different and better than what we have now (but without going into any detail). Claiming to have no money is an easy way to do this, although he avoids any details about it because it's complicated...

But it's not completely unrealistic, either. If the captain of a present-day aircraft carrier rescued the member of a hypothetical primitive tribe that used cattle for wealth from a canoe accident and was asked how many cows his ship cost, he might well reasonably reply that: (1) his economy was not based on cows; and (2) how this economy worked was complicated. So I suppose the general idea is just that the federation has an economy that is as far above ours as ours is to an economy based on trading cattle.

I agree with the earlier poster who noted that Roddenberry was the best and worst thing that happened to ST; his over-utopianizing of ST by, among other things, eliminating real conflict among federation members also had the effect of eliminating a lot of potentially interesting character development and, IMO, converted federation members into, basically, uninteresting Vulcans.
5.11.2009 1:20am
gerbilsbite:
BruceC: can't blame a nerd for trying.
5.11.2009 1:40am
Maven (mail) (www):
While I understand that this entire article is the work of an idiot, I'd like to point out that EIGHT of the top-ten nations on the Global Standard of Living Index are Socialist. And America is #12. Moron.
5.11.2009 1:40am
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
Verc:

Heinlein explicitly states several times that it is Federal service and not military service that earns citizenship.

But what are the terms of that "federal service"? Fixed tour of duty? Uniforms? Punitive enforcement of commands? Looks like noncombat military service without rank but only pay grades and job descriptions. Perhaps 90% of present military service works like that.

Historically, "civilian" officials in what we would today call the "executive branch" of government under monarchs were considered a kind of relaxed military, with such officials having rank that conferred command over more recognizable military personnel. Sheriffs, constables, etc., were regarded as military even though they had law enforcement duties.

The clean division we make today between civilian and military is fairly recent, and breaks down in some situations.

To get a sense of whether such Heinleinian "federal service" was "militsry" or "civilian" depends on clues as to what happens to someone who violates an order. I recall no clues to that in the book.
5.11.2009 1:58am
Jon Roland (mail) (www):
By the way, has there ever been a thread with more comnments? I suspect we may be approaching a record, if we haven't already exceeded it.
5.11.2009 1:59am
Priss:
Interesting observations, Verc. You've given me something to think about.

To a degree we're saying the same thing, that in a "post-scarcity" world there will still be some scarce things that will require some kind of market to allocate. You emphasized the market forces affecting raw materials (whether ergs, nuclei, or molecules), I emphasized the market forces affecting skilled labor (whether human or silicon).

Verc: "A machine that could build a car is entirely too coarse to fill a vat with insulin and one that is designed to build computers does not need to fill a garage."

I disagree, and I offer proof-by-existence. A cell can build a car-like object (a horse). A cell can fill a vat with insulin. A cell can fill a garage with product (and more - look at a redwood tree or a fungal mass). A cell can build a fine computer (a human brain). All it asks is a little food and some TLC. ;-)
5.11.2009 2:27am
Priss:
In that regard, *life* already has the post-scarcity thing down in the sense that it has relentlessly organized every square inch of the earth's surface, filling it with cool products, at zero cash price. Only problem for us, it's slow and it doesn't always do what we want it to do.

Enter genetic engineering. Want a car-substitute? Want a vat of insulin? Want to fill a garage? Want a computer? Merely change a few lines of code. No, at least one instance of that universal assembler already exists, and I can even give you a bunch for free. Only problem is, I don't have the manual. Yet.
5.11.2009 2:39am
Splunge:
Just read Somin's update #3, and noticed this silliness:

we never see any large privately owned enterprises in any of the Star Trek series set after the founding of the Federation. We never hear such of such enterprises being mentioned, or see their brand names on any goods.

Somin, were you not in the country in the 60s and early 70s? or not watching TV? There were no TV shows whatsoever that mentioned brand names. It was some kind of general and strange rule, whether promulgated by the FCC I do not know. Every single consumer item, from toothpaste to cola drink, was unlabeled, and never referred to by brand name.

Indeed, when it all changed, when TV shows and movies started actually mentioning brand names, it was jarring to those of us who grew up with TV in the 60s and 70s, used to having all these things delicately avoided, like Victorians avoiding sex.

So anyway, this particularly piece of your evidence is based on a false premise. The other (the absence of money) is equally vacuous. How often did you hear about money on Hogan's Heroes? I dream of Jeannie? Bonanza? (Except when the widow couldn't pay her rent.) Even today, very few shows mention (or even show) money unless it's important to the plot. In describing a military space vessel, it would be no more mentioned than the schmoes on McHale's Navy mentioned prices at the PX.

Anyway, if you read what Roddenberry wrote at the time (there are many books on it), he was careful to avoid describing too much detail about the future, because he felt, in the 60s, that technology was moving so fast he didn't want the show to get dated by innovation. That's one reason he changed the name of the weapon from "laser" to "phaser" between the pilot and the show itself. You'll also note he was vague about how the engines worked, about how the crew ate, took a dump, dealt with birth control (or sex in general), how the uniforms buttoned up, whether Kirk had a wallet or not -- and what he kept in it -- what people used instead of photographs, how data got entered into the computer, what people died of and when, whether there were still laws and courts and lawyers, how people voted and for whom, and so on and so forth, almost ad infinitum.

The fact that ST:TOS didn't mention money or private enterprise much, except in a few random throwaway lines, means pretty much zip. It mentioned hardly anything about the "background" of the society the ship moved in, unless it was absolutely necessary to the story, and it rarely was.
5.11.2009 3:52am
aKireilis:
"By "socialist," I mean an economy where all large enterprises are controlled by the government, not merely a market economy where there is regulation or a welfare state."

that is not what socialism is. you are just another idiot that has fallen victim to the massive republican-democract alliance that has been stalling human progress for the last 100 years. perhaps if people were to read about socialism in the words of socialists, instead accepting fox and cnbc's definition, this wouldnt be a problem. but once again we have someone who thinks they know more than they actually do. sigh... smash the state, its over.
5.11.2009 8:02am
geokstr (mail):

Maven:
While I understand that this entire article is the work of an idiot, I'd like to point out that EIGHT of the top-ten nations on the Global Standard of Living Index are Socialist. And America is #12. Moron.

Why no link to the "list"?

I have a suspicion that those EIGHT socialist nations you speak of are ones for which WE have provided the military safety net over the last 60+ years, that we invested hundreds of billions in rebuilding after WWII, including making their manufacturing infrastructure more modern than our own in the process. This has essentially allowed them to use 5-10% of their GDP that would have gone for their own defense to spend on their welfare states. That adds up to a lot of welfare that we've provided for them.

They piggyback off all our scientific development here, and force our drug manufacturers to sell products that cost billions to develop for peanuts in their countries.

Their systemic joblessness for the last 40 years is higher than what we are currently experiencing here, and they have added no net new jobs in all that time. And the elephant in the room is that their social security plans are far more underfunded than ours, and their own population bases are declining so rapidly that they are having to import Muslims by the tens of millions to provide workers. That's working out real well for them, too.

In the next generation at most, we will see this supposed superiority of the socialist nations go the way of the dodo.
5.11.2009 9:18am
Ken Arromdee:
Somin, were you not in the country in the 60s and early 70s? or not watching TV? There were no TV shows whatsoever that mentioned brand names.

That's true for 1960's TV like TOS, but it doesn't apply to TNG, which happened after television changed. Ilya did mention TOS a lot, but most people who see signs of socialism in Star Trek limit it to the TNG era and afterwards.

(Also, you're wrong about showing how they eat. They specifically avoided the cliche of food pills and intentionally showed normal food.)
5.11.2009 10:35am
Seamus (mail):

I think the treatment of Ferengi's reinforces Ilya Somin's point. Evil capitalists as opposed to the humanitarian, altruistic socialist Federation.



Huh? I always found Quark like a breath of fresh air. (Armin Shimerman's character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, on the other hand, was just evil.)
5.11.2009 11:35am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

that is not what socialism is. you are just another idiot that has fallen victim to the massive republican-democract alliance that has been stalling human progress for the last 100 years. perhaps if people were to read about socialism in the words of socialists, instead accepting fox and cnbc's definition, this wouldnt be a problem.
I'm relying on the definition of socialism that Marx and Engels gave in The Communist Manifesto, or,f or that matter, in Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, if you would prefer a democratic socialist model--not Fox or CNBC. And government ownership of the means of production--and almost everything else--is a fundamental part of the definition of socialism.
5.11.2009 11:37am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I tend to think that humans are violent enough that post-scarcity would be even more miserable than we are now. Scarcity keeps war under control by forcing resource allocation. Without the need for such allocation any random psychopath would be able to wreak as much havok as whole nations can wield now.
One of the great fantasies is that scarcity is the cause of nearly all violence. Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward imagined a future democratic socialism where violence was almost unheard of--the occasional incident of jealousy leading to it. Similarly, the Soviet Union for a long time claimed to have very little violent crime, because socialism taught that equality would alleviate the greed that led to violence.

The reality is that while there is violence that is associated with want, in most advanced societies, this "want" is seldom based on need, but on greed. I have only once seen anyone steal food. Most economic crimes are to support either drug habits, from a reluctance to work, or to acquire something that is clearly not necessary.

If wealth ended theft, we would not see the absurdity of the current looting, in which America's wealthiest corporations and individuals have elected a president to redistribute wealth from the middle and lower upper classes to the multimillionaires and billionaires.
5.11.2009 11:49am
mooglar (mail) (www):
Verc claims that Star Trek geeks made up languages (though the guy who made up Vulcan and Klingon got paid for it) but didn't ever make up companies. Well, that's wrong. In Star Fleet Battles (a Star Trek-based wargame) there are companies... in one scenario, a Federation ship experiences random loss of use of its phasers because its phaser parts were manufactured by the company that was "the lowest bidder." I don't recall what they actually called the company.

And, in both Star Fleet Battles and FASA's Star Trek roleplaying game it was explicit that starships were made by companies, military contractors, and not just built by Starfleet. In fact, in FASA's game they claimed NCC (as in "NCC-1701") stood for Naval Construction Contract. They even went into what companies built and designed different types of engines and phasers.

Also, Verc's discussions of how a replicator would work and why it wouldn't produce a world without scarcity touch on something that invalidates his entire thesis: the Federation has transporters. By any possible realistic standard, once you have transporters, you can do just about anything. Why, once someone's pattern is "in the buffer," can't you just recreate them whenever you want? It would be logical, and, in fact, it freakin' happens on the show several times, but still, you can't. Why not? Because you can't, that's why. That's how transporters work in Star Trek, and if you refuse to accept that because it doesn't make sense, fine, but then you're not talking about the world of Star Trek. Similarly, replicators do not work the way Verc thinks they would have to in Star Trek. They just don't. They aren't AIs, they don't need massive amounts of energy and special elements and copyrighted patterns to work. They just don't. If you're talking about Star Trek, then you have to accept that, otherwise, you're talking about something else. If you want to claim that warp drive, Vulcans, transporters, and replicators don't make any sense, that's fine, but that's beside the point of the question of whether and how a socialist state could work if all those things existed as depicted in Star Trek.

Of course, the transporter was just invented to save money on showing trips down to planets in the shuttlecraft, so obviously the world of Star Trek wasn't necessarily designed to make sense.

On the issue of when the Federation did away with money, I believe that it is likely in between TOS and the TOS films. There are, as noted above, a multitude of examples that indicate that money existed in the Federation at the time of TOS. The first time that money is specifically said not to exist, as far as I can remember, is in ST:IV, The Voyage Home, when the 20th-century chick Kirk is having dinner with asks him, "Let me guess, you don't use money in the future?" and Kirk responds, "Well, we don't." And yet, as noted above, in later films there are tangential references to money, including in ST:VI and ST: Generations (when Kirk says of his house, "I sold it years ago.") What that means in terms of a moneyless society is difficult to fathom, but we do have the definite claim that there is no money in the Federation in ST:IV.

I have always wondered, if the Federation is a society without want where you can get and/or replicate any material need without working for it, and bang hot chicks all day on the holodeck, is why anyone joins Starfleet in the first place! You get to be ordered around, to get court-martialed if you disobey orders, put your life on the line, and work whether you like it or not, and all for what? No pay, no benefits, nothing? I suppose you could say that you do it for the joy of exploration or to see new worlds or whatever, but most people in the crew of a starship won't have anything to do with that, like the guys who get to vacuum up the dining room in ST:VI. Most people on a starship never get to beam down to planets and don't even necessarily have a window to look out when they're working at a desk in front of a computer all day. I guess we have to believe there are enough self-motivated people who will do grunt work and get killed on alien planets wearing red shirts to man all of Starfleet's ships. Kinda hard to imagine, though.

But the point was supposed to be, little sense as it makes, and as noted above, that what changed wasn't the economy but people. In TNG Picard and others talk about how they "evolved" past greed and the desire for material objects and enrichment. Of course, we meet all kinds of people in Star Trek who don't seem all that evolved, who show every other kind of vice or weakness, such as megalomania, vengeance, jealousy, resentment, etc. etc. So it is hard to believe, given that all the normal conflicts between humans still exist, that they have somehow "evolved" past the need for material things and thus money. And, certainly, we are given little or no clue as to when and why this change happened and why "evolved" people still do things like conduct witch-hunt trials on the Enterprise, etc., etc.

But if, in theory, people were different, then naturally it would be possible for economies to work that don't work with people as they are now. Heck, if people were like ants we could have perfect little communist/socialist colonies like ants do. What economies work and don't work now, and how they work and don't work, is really a product of humans and human psychology. Were humans more easily motivated by the good of the whole and less self-interested (which I am not claiming is necessarily a good thing, as I admit that I am not a person who gladly subsumes himself to the collective), then perhaps something like Marxist communism would work. With humans as they are, it's a fantasy. In Star Trek, we have supposedly "evolved" humans and we have aliens with different psychologies and motivations. It isn't hard to imagine that a very different sort of economy could exist in such a universe. How or why it came about, however, is still a good question, but to assume, for instance, that since on Earth, with humans as they are now, that socialist states (as defined by the OP) are only established through violence, and so this must be true in a future society of "evolved" humans and aliens, is to lack imagination and to make an error.

Which is also not to say that I believe humans will actually "evolve" to be like they are in Star Trek, and further, it is not to say I want them to. I wouldn't want to be one of those "evolved" humans... I like buying stuff. But, once again, if you accept the premise of Star Trek, (and if you don't, fine, but then we aren't talking about Star Trek, obviously), then you are accepting a world with these "evolved" humans and also aliens unlike us. With different species with different hierarchies of wants and needs and different psychologies, different economies become possible (though not likely -- or desirable -- to replicate in reality).

Also, in theory, though this is much debated, Starfleet isn't a military organization. Sure, it has ranks, uniforms, starships, and military weapons, which makes it look an awful lot like a military. And, in fact, Kirk claims ("Errand of Mercy") that he is a "soldier, not a diplomat." But, supposedly, according to Roddenberry and other sources, Starfleet's main mission is exploration and scientific exploration. That's why starships like Sulu's Excelsior can spend months at a time doing things like "cataloguing gaseous anomalies" and why Federation ships have all these science officers, labs, and specialized sensors, unlike, say, Klingon ships. This is touched on in ST:VI, when the possibility of peace with the Klingons prompts one officer to ask, "Does this mean mothballing the Starfleet," to which is replied, "I'm sure our scientific and exploration missions would be unaffected." Supposedly this is also why top-of-the-line capital ships like the Enterprise and the Enterprise-D, the best warships Starfleet has to offer, spend most of their time, as Picard says in ST: Insurrection, as "explorers."

One other point: It isn't exactly clear that replicators and transporters have created a society without scarcity. In ST: II, The Wrath of Khan, in the video where she makes her proposal to the Federation for the Genesis project, Carol Marcus says of creating habital worlds with Genesis: "Given the galactic problems of population and food supply, the usefulness of this process becomes clear." Perhaps on Earth there isn't any scarcity, but I'm not sure the same is true of the whole of the Federation, given this statement.

I also echo some the comments of some above who pointed out that over years of episodes from different writers and production teams, the inconsistencies have piled up. It's definitely hard to get any kind of realistic picture of what life in the Federation, outside a starship or some colony on the edge of space, is really like, let alone how it got there.
5.11.2009 12:08pm
mooglar (mail) (www):
Just to amplify one point, there are certainly indications that serving in Starfleet is not exactly analagous to being a military officer in the present. For instance, in ST: Generations, when Picard is trying to convince Kirk to leave the Nexus and help prevent the destruction of the Veridian star, he says to Kirk, "You're a Starfleet officer. You have a duty." In modern terms, it would be unclear what, exactly, Kirk's duty was. After all, no one had ordered Picard to chase after Soren (the bad guy) and stop him from blowing up a star. The star is never even explicitly said to be in Federation space, in which case I suppose the argument could be made that it is somehow destruction of Federation property or something. But that isn't why Picard does it: he does it to save the lives of the people on a nearby, pre-industrial planet, who aren't members of the Federation. By implication, when he says that as a Starfleet officer Kirk has a "duty," it appears his duty extends beyond protection of the Federation to protection of non-citizens in (apparently) neutral space who are in danger from a non-State actor who isn't threatening, at that point, the Federation or its interests. And has that duty to act without specific orders or authorization from Starfleet HQ or Federation leaders. That seems rather outside the purview of, say, an officer in the US military, yet Kirk doesn't question the statement that, as a Starfleet officer, he has such a duty. He merely claims that he's done enough already and so he can ignore the duty.

That's just one example of how Starfleet seems to encompass a lot of activities and duties that would not be "military" in nature by our definition, or even duties that a modern nation-state would expect of its military personnel.
5.11.2009 12:23pm
DG:
Interestingly, almost all of the capitalistic references were in DS9.
5.11.2009 12:50pm
Bob VB (mail):
One problem I've always had is balancing the supposed plenty on the individual level in the Federation with the seemingly small size of Star Fleet - Either star ships are incredibly resource limited in some way that feeding and clothing an entire planet isn't or they inexplicably have enemies that just choose also to not build as many ships as they can. In our universe we would have an overwhelming fleet; limitless self-renewing energy generation, nanotech fabrication and repair - why would 100 ships fight the Romulans and not 10,000?

And the Rodenberry ideal of a true socialist society? I can see that on the 'subsistence level'; everyone can have as much '3 hots and a cot' plus all the distractions they want - its all essentially free after all, but for the ambitious? As we saw in the Soviet experiment if you try and remove the remunerative paradigm by controlling money it just pops up again in the way of other currencies - you can't get rid of the notion that you can gain power over others by paying them in some manner. We see hints of that even in the series - rockstar scientists, people who are important and gain authority on reputation alone - just a different kind of currency that they freely spend when they get it.

Of course there is no IP in the Federation - remember 'the game' episode where a single unit of the game came on board and was instantly replicated for everyone on board without anyone having a hint of hesitation? I wonder what a world with only open source development would look like?

In the early Star Trek:TNG Picard often alluded to the idea that mankind had changed - now I think that is truly science fantasy.
5.11.2009 12:57pm
Patricia Cross (mail):
Even in a system where you can replicate anything, some things would still have monetary value ;

1) Space ; Living space, scenery, etc. You pay for better living space. The amount of space you have, the scenery and landscape, etc.

2) Handmade ; There is a premium in handmade items in this day and age, and in the future there will be an even bigger premium. There are hints throughout Star Trek that a difference can be told between an original hand crafted product made from only non-replicated parts and replicated copies. People cherish handmade products more in Star Trek, and Antiques (there are alot of characters who seem to collect antiques).

3) Unusual ; Obscure alien items which may not be replicated yet or newly discovered, or which have handmade differences from what may be available from replicated goods.

4) Service/Ambience ; Sure you can get it from the replicater at home, but there is something special about a social gatherin where you are served.


In the Trek Universe you could live happily on Earth with the bare minimum of a small apartment with a replicater and not work, or you could make some extra money and have a bigger home and partake in goods and services.

Episodes stating there is no money in the Federation are partially right. There is no need for physical money. But people barter and exchange, and clearly there is an electronic credit system, and clearly you can exchange that for whatever local currency you need.

The Federation is a Hybrid of Social and Capitalist design. People are not denied bare necessities and there is little use for big corporations, but there is a need for smaller businesses and goods. There are reasons to work and gather wealth, but less of greed and morso out of increased quality of life.

This kind of future clearly can work and is very positive
5.11.2009 1:03pm
ys:

MadHatChemist:

Well, there does seem to be some private enterprise on Earth in the 24th Century, see the Picard family vineyard in TNG and Sisko's father's restaurant in New Orleans in DS9. How these operations fit into the scheme of Federation economic system isn't ever explored, but they do exist, and they don't seem to be merely arms of the state.



Perhaps those "private enterprises" are like hobbies or that they have either been assigned or allowed to operate them (after all, even the Soviet's needed vodka makers and testers).

There were indeed some (very few) private enterprises allowed in the original "Klingon" state, such as some private dentists or cobblers. And of course there was an extensive black economy for scarse services. Most emphatically, no vodka makers were permitted (but surely existed). And there was no lack of vodka testers :-). A bit more was allowed in some mellower eastern satellites, like small restaurants and such. But overall, these exceptions just prove the rule (see another thread on "proving the rule")
5.11.2009 1:08pm
ys:
Just read the posting directly before my previous one:


The Federation is a Hybrid of Social and Capitalist design. People are not denied bare necessities and there is little use for big corporations, but there is a need for smaller businesses and goods. There are reasons to work and gather wealth, but less of greed and morso out of increased quality of life.

This kind of future clearly can work and is very positive

Yes, we have seen the future where bare necessities are met, but there is just a small need for a few small businesses. That future is described in my previous posting.
5.11.2009 1:22pm
MadHatChemist:

If I just write "TEH FEDERATION IS TEH THIRD REICH BITCHES AND EPHRAIM COCHRAN IS THE NEXT HITLER," can we invoke some geeky variant of Godwin's Law and kill this thread?



Are we forgetting the Mirror universe as shown in Star Trek: Enterprise during it's final (and actually good) season?
5.11.2009 2:18pm
MadHatChemist:

Not only was the federation socialist, it was incredibly corrupt. There are several episodes near the end of the DS9 episode which involve a growing rebellion. Several good arguments for why the rebellion was justified were made by characters. Unfortunately, the story arc ended quite abruptly; the fall of the federation would have created huge story opportunities.


In DS9, many of the maquis aren't just fighting against the Cardassians, but also against the possibility of rejoining the Federation, especially since it was the Federation that threw them to the Cardassian wolves.

Another thing about DS9 is that we see non-Federation views, including views taht the Federation is superficially benign but is actually invidious -- even to the point of them being a less-honest version of the Borg.

Let us not also remember that it was a (secret) agency of the Federation that tried to commit genocide, and nearly succeeded!
5.11.2009 2:28pm
BlackFlame:

You are discounting quite heavily the impact of the lack of scarcity in a capitalist system. By the time of the Original Series, it's obvious that replicator technology has advanced sufficiently to produce 'food slots,' i.e. a machine that can produce unlimited quantities of whatever food you desire, so long as you have sufficient energy to produce it.

Technologically, think about the impact of the ubiquity of such technology on the agriculture industry. Such technology would end the agriculture industry as we know it-- 'grown' food would then become a luxury for those that claim that homegrown is better for you. Keep in mind that agriculture is the largest single industry on the planet, providing the greater majority of employment planet wide.

Such technology could also be applied to textiles-- silk and most fabrics after are chemically only so different from the thigns we eat. If a machine can produce plant biomatter for consumption, then surely it can create cotton. If it can create a mutton chop, surely it can create wool, or silk, etc. So that's also the textile industry down the drain.

The medical industry too-- it's no wonder that Bones is joining Star Fleet for lack of a better paying option. This is a world in which all domestic diseases can be cured by a quick scan of a technological devise to diagnose, and treated with a simple injection. Not exactly a world that has a lot of need for skilled surgeons or specialists, for doctors who specialize in treating the young or old. It's a world where the general practitioner can treat just about anything, except for alien bugs that only come when interstellar travel is involved, and in which cures can generally be developed within a few short days. That has to mean a collapse in employment in the medical sector as well.

So let's see, that's the collapse employment in the agricultural, textile, and medical industries, due to technological innovation that drastically reduces the need for labor. Engineering is still a field that exists, but again, most of the actual labor is done my machine. Engineers in the Star Trek universe mostly maintain the machinery, and not a terribly large crew is needed to do so.

So let's rather ask the question: what jobs in the Star Trek universe aren't done by machine? And here we have our answer: maintaining the machines (engineering), medical treatment for unique circumstances (med bay), scientific expansion (science officer), etc. Also, mining for raw materials in the goods that can't be replicated (antimatter, for example, dilithium crystals for another), but again these materials don't have an impact beyond the building and operation of space ships.

The government is really the only body left that has any wide scale demand for labor. The average Federation citizen has all of his or her direct needs fulfilled by technology; every last person on Earth has access to all he or she needs simply by pressing a button, from machines which are provided by the government. Vocation in the Star Trek universe is not a necessity, but a choice.

What we're really talking about isn't the rise of socialism, it's the collapse of capitalism as technology evolves and displaces human workers for machinery. The government is the largest institution because it is really the only institution whose existence is neccessary, where expansive employment can be found. What this represents isn't really /socialism/, because there are no industries at play here for the government to control. What we're really talking about is democratically regulated technocracy, a form of government that is only theoretical because we do not yet possess the technical capability to establish it.
5.11.2009 3:01pm
Patricia Cross (mail):
@Black Flame

Exactly

And we see us slowly edging that way and how the big corporations are responding. Look at the impact the Internet has had on the Media Industry and the way the Media Execs have responded. We are at a point where relatively decent productions are being produced by fans and regular people for free distribution, and where the corporations are fighting to keep their materials closed source.
5.11.2009 3:19pm
mooglar (mail) (www):
Bob VB:

I like to call it the "How come the Enterprise is always the only ship in the quadrant?" question. I mean, in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, when V'Ger is enroute to Earth, Enterprise is the only ship in range to intercept, which is why it has to launch without a shakedown cruise from its refit. Really? It's the capital of the Federation, but they can only muster one ship to Earth's defense?

But, on the other hand, reading a book recently about the events of 9/11 from the aviation standpoint, I learned that (at least at that time) the US hardly had any aircraft at all tasked to domestic defense. There were like two "alert" fighters for the entire east coast! When they tried to scramble some Air National Guard units in the Midwest, they Guard units at first thought they were kidding, because domestic defense wasn't the mission of the Air National Guard!!!

So, maybe, the fact that we don't see lots of Federation ships together very often isn't so unrealistic.

In any case, I imagine that the problem isn't that the Federation doesn't have a lot of ships -- it does. But rather, I think that the things is that since Starfleet has the "exploration and scientific exploration" roles as well as military, and that even top-of-the-line capital ships (like Enterprise) are not exempt from such duties, that in the absence of a definable threat Starfleet's ships are generally scattered all over the Federation and in unexplored space outside it, rather than policing Federation space and such. We've seen that Starfleet can gather a fleet when necessary, such as at Wolf 359, but that its ships are generally expected to and do operate largely independently most of the time.

We've seen the downside to this operating procedure bunches of times in Star Trek: the destruction of scout ship USS Grissom well within Federation space by Klingons in ST:III, the inability to muster ships to defend Earth in ST:TMP and ST:IV (kind of like how they had to send ships from Earth to defend Vulcan in the new film -- though Vulcan is deep inside Federation space and one of its founding members), how a Romulan ship was able to slip deep into Federation space and get to Vulcan virtually unopposed in TNG episodes "Unification" parts I and II, the destruction of USS Odyssey by the Dominion when it goes through the wormhole alone, etc. etc.... But I imagine that, in the Federation itself, this is probably seen as a tradeoff for having Starfleet serve as more than just the defense force. It seems to be part of the Federation's identity, as a supposedly peaceful organization, in contrast to the warlike nations around it, to show that they are peaceful by not having a full-time military. I suppose that's also one of the reasons that the crew of Federation starships can always say they are on "a mission of peace" even though they are in a heavily-armed starship. It seems to be part of Federation culture.

On the other hand, it is often argued (in Star Fleet Battles, for instance), that the reason that the Federation isn't invaded by hundreds of ships by its neighbors is that its neighbors don't have the economic might the Federation does (problematic, of course, in this discussion, since it's not really clear what it means to talk about the Federation "economy"). But the idea is supposed to be that the Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, etc., by conquering their territories, and one imagines, conquering or exterminating the other races that lived there, end up not being as innovative, or productive, or what-have-you, as the Federation, since the Federation is made up of bunches of worlds and species working cooperatively. The Federation can build more and better ships, in theory, because "free" people working together will be more productive than repressive totalitarian regimes, even if we aren't quite sure how the Federation's economy works.

And there's also, according to various sources, cultural reasons the Federation is able to maintain more and better ships. For instance, since in the Klingon culture one can only obtain status and honor through combat, they all want to be warriors... in the face of overwhelming peer pressure, few Klingons choose to be called "cowards" by going into fields like engineering, and so despite being so focused on war they still don't manage to outproduce the Federation in terms of ships.

Those are some arguments I've read, anyway.
5.11.2009 3:44pm
Janson K. Hendridge (mail):
The Federation is a democracy. If you read it's charter, you would see that trying to describe it as "socialist" is a waste of time. There is no shortage of Star Trek "hornbooks" out there for people to read.

The United Federation of Planets is "interplanetary federal republic".

Second, in <i>The Neutral Zone</i> episode of TNG, when asked what do people do without money and tv, Picard clearly explains that people strive to better themselves and the universe. That's right, society has evolved to the point where you aren't going to die if you don't work to generate wealth for some other person or entity.

After another World War, humans on Earth decided what they had been doing previously had brought them to the point of near extinction and they set out to never gain repeat the same mistakes.

The idea that a small percentage of the planet's population would essentially control all of the resources of the planet obviously became untenable.

Along with medical and technological advances, it became clear that it was cheaper and more productive if everyone had a descent standard of living. Population isn't a problem because billions were killed during the last war(something akind to what happened in Europe as a result of the Plague).

It has yet to be proven that capitalism as we know it is a sustainable system. The idea that billions of people are going to forever indulge and abide the economic and political philosophies of white European men is also in doubt. There are some dire consequences to capitalism as we now know it which we have yet to come to terms with.

Star Trek portrays a society without the significant prejudices we deal with today.They understand that there must be a place for the collective good of the planet which is a concept many here are afraid of.

We live in a time where many can't deal with a black male as President of the United States. So of course there is going to be distress of the depiction of a time when your race, your gender, or your material possessions are no longer relevant.
5.11.2009 3:51pm
Janson K. Hendridge (mail):
The Federation is a democracy. If you read it's charter, you would see that trying to describe it as "socialist" is a waste of time. There is no shortage of Star Trek "hornbooks" out there for people to read.

The United Federation of Planets is "interplanetary federal republic".

Second, in The Neutral Zone episode of TNG, when asked what do people do without money and tv, Picard clearly explains that people strive to better themselves and the universe. That's right, society has evolved to the point where you aren't going to die if you don't work to generate wealth for some other person or entity.

After another World War, humans on Earth decided what they had been doing previously had brought them to the point of near extinction and they set out to never gain repeat the same mistakes.

The idea that a small percentage of the planet's population would essentially control all of the resources of the planet obviously became untenable.

Along with medical and technological advances, it became clear that it was cheaper and more productive if everyone had a descent standard of living. Population isn't a problem because billions were killed during the last war(something akind to what happened in Europe as a result of the Plague).

It has yet to be proven that capitalism as we know it is a sustainable system. The idea that billions of people are going to forever indulge and abide the economic and political philosophies of white European men is also in doubt. There are some dire consequences to capitalism as we now know it which we have yet to come to terms with.

Star Trek portrays a society without the significant prejudices we deal with today.They understand that there must be a place for the collective good of the planet which is a concept many here are afraid of.

We live in a time where many can't deal with a black male as President of the United States. So of course there is going to be distress of the depiction of a time when your race, your gender, or your material possessions are no longer relevant.
5.11.2009 3:51pm
mischief (mail):
Well, on what exactly it is --consider this:

http://www.friesian.com/trek.htm
5.11.2009 3:56pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I have always wondered, if the Federation is a society without want where you can get and/or replicate any material need without working for it, and bang hot chicks all day on the holodeck, is why anyone joins Starfleet in the first place! You get to be ordered around, to get court-martialed if you disobey orders, put your life on the line, and work whether you like it or not, and all for what? No pay, no benefits, nothing?
You could ask the same question of why anyone joins the U.S. military. The pay is awful. The educational and mortgage benefits are so small relative to the pay that it can't be a motivator. The retirement benefits are decent--assuming that you live (and can tolerate) twenty years in the service. But even then, the pay while in is AWFUL. And even during a bad recession, someone willing to pick up and move can get a better paying, far less dangerous job in the private sector.

I suspect that most people join StarFleet for the same reason that most people join the U.S. military: patriotism, and the desire to do something more important than self-gratification.
5.11.2009 4:32pm
Xanthippas (mail) (www):
For the record, I think anyone expecting any sort of intellectual consistency out of a show like Star Trek, is asking too much of the show. TV and movies are the repositories of some of the most thoughtless and stupid science fiction ever produced; that Star Trek is a step from these is not saying much, nor is it a reason to expect the show to be entirely consistent and well thought out.
5.11.2009 4:36pm
rosetta's stones:
Well, live long and prosper, anyways, Xanthippas.
5.11.2009 4:40pm
BlackFlame:

Star Trek clearly has an economy, but outside of macro-scale production of starships and the like, what really has value?

I think that the Star Trek universe represents a form of economy we haven't really witnessed yet, which is an economy where the greater portion of all trade is based on luxury, a 'luxury economy.'

Consider, the US and goodly portions of the Western world have transitioned to what we today call a 'service economy,' an economy in which the majority of workers are involved in not the direct production of goods (such as farming, or factory work) but in services, i.e. a cook cooks food for you, or your lawyer gets you answers to legal questions, etc.

But in the Star Trek setting, personal service is a luxury, as usually a machine can just do it for you. But that doesn't mean that there aren't goods and services which don't count as luxuries. For example, even in the original series, real alchohol is considered a luxury. Scotty is always getting into a variety of truly alcoholic drinks, and has a personal stash, as apparently Star Fleet rules out alcoholic beverages in it's food slots. This travels over to TNG, where 'synthehol' has been invented, which apparently gives you a mild buzz that you can shake off right away without ill effect, but alcohol is still served to those who request it at 10-forward. The Picards operate a vineyard because replicated wine is considered too poor to please the palette of wine connoisseurs. Sisko's father is a great Chef in New Orleans because a well-cooked meal is still considered a luxury. Now that I think about it, a few times we are shown 'luxury' colonies, or vacation destinations where crew members are excited to get out and effective be tourists (Picard and horse-riding, for example).

In other words, the Federation supplies all the basics, but luxuries are still up to the individual Federation member to attain on their own. Hand-woven cloth, home grown food-- these are all considered luxuries in the ST universe.

And that's the thing about luxury items-- they don't yield well to large-scale operations. Luxury industries operate much like the kind of businesses we see in Star Trek-- luxury traders, trading specific rare items that are hard to come buy: various forms of alcohol, specific minerals, etc.

And outside the federation, there are some mitigating factors. In TNG, we learn that the Klingons hate replicated food because they prefer most of their food still living and moving, for example. The Romulans have the same technology as the Vulcans, but they are philosophically bent on expanding empire for the sake of honor/glory.

Non-federation civilizations are unique in their own rights, and it would seem that the number one reason to establish a colony on the outskirts of known space is to establish a social order that highly deviates from Federation norms (much like the Pilgrims came to America out of religious persecution, and the Puritans came to establish a 'city on the hill.').

So trade clearly exists, but 'money' may not. There are clearly two major modes of trade: in bulk goods used in the construction of various large structures like ships and colonies and space-stations, which is mostly apparently handled at a government level, and a trade in luxury goods that occurs at the personal level. So it stands to reason that there is some form of credit to be established in the trade of luxury goods and services (like gourmet cooking), but that non-luxury goods and services only have value at a macroscopic scale.

The individual Federation citizen therefore probably doesn't use money on a regular basis at all, as we would think of money; they likely receive some sort of stipend for interaction with external cultures when dealing with foreign trade. Earning a house on the sea-shore is then probably a function of what one's contribution is valued at: either you provide a luxury service or produce a luxury good, or you are rewarded by the Federation for extraordinary service rendered. In that economy, 'money' as we think about it would just be a number, and frankly the valuation of luxury goods is even more difficult to determine. What is valuable to one person as a luxury good might be considered worthless to another-- a collector's edition antique car could be 'priceless' to it's owner, but a sentimental trinket to someone else. In that case, the kind of bartering we generally see in Star Trek makes far more sense.

So Socialist? Maybe not. Perhaps why it seems so is that the major means of production we are accustomed with today are far less valued in the utopian future of the Star Trek verse. The means of production has fundamentally changed in the Star Trek universe: mass media is no longer a production of thousands of crew members for two hours of movie, but a largely individualistic approach where a single individual programs a holodeck. In Star Trek, the economy of scale simply no longer applies in most goods consumed every day. Major corporate interests are not needed to produce the goods consumed every day by the general consumer, only individual producers. Moderate enterprise is needed to produce luxury goods, but there is only so much market for specific luxury goods, so much like any luxury industry, producers are generally small business propositions.

It's not that they have seized control of the means of production, simply that the means of production itself has evolved beyond the need either for extended government control or extended private control. The means of production in such a world is highly individualistic, and Star Trek does give us plenty of examples of individuals pursuing their own interests without government interference, in fact frequently with government assistance.
5.11.2009 5:45pm
Bartemis (mail):
Janson K. Hendridge said:

"There are some dire consequences to capitalism as we now know it which we have yet to come to terms with."

Meanwhile, every other system has failed in dramatic fashion.

Capitalism is the only scientifically and technologically sound system of economics, because it uses co-located sensor and actuator feedback to stabilize the economy. You cannot stabilize a distributed network and attain any kind of reasonable bandwidth without this type of feedback. Where Capitalism has appeared to fail, it has done so because of efforts to negate or otherwise overrule this dynamic. One would expect that an advanced civilization in the 23rd century would know this.

"We live in a time where many can't deal with a black male as President of the United States."

Say what? Define many. The number is relatively tiny. Most people opposed to President Obama would be opposed to any liberal dead set on bankrupting the country, black, white, green or blue, pointy-eared or non-pointy-eared, ridged-forehead or non-ridged-forhead.
5.11.2009 6:48pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

We live in a time where many can't deal with a black male as President of the United States. So of course there is going to be distress of the depiction of a time when your race, your gender, or your material possessions are no longer relevant.
Many? You mean like a few dozen people? I've yet to hear anyone upset about a black man being POTUS. There are a lot of people upset about Barack Obama being POTUS. But that isn't because of his race, but his ideas. We weren't too happy about the prospect of John Kerry (as white as they come) being POTUS, either.

The days when you could scream "racist" and have everyone cringe in terror are over.
5.11.2009 6:56pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

It has yet to be proven that capitalism as we know it is a sustainable system.
It is now well proven that socialism as we know it is not a sustainable system. It lasts only as long as there is capital left over from pre-socialist times to sustain it. Even with respect to the environment, socialism's record is astonishingly poor. You might want to look up the history of the destruction of the Aral Sea by Stalin's "white gold" strategy involving cotton.

If you think private capital is destructive of a shared environment, look at what happens when the neutral referree between parties is also one of the parties.
5.11.2009 7:02pm
George Smith:
I think there are market and even barter economies on the outer planets beyond Alliance control where they still ride horses and carry Winchesters and..........oops, wrong series.
5.11.2009 7:37pm
Verc:
“I disagree, and I offer proof-by-existence. “

Of course. I agree too. But I was talking about nanobots that make a sandwich, not a nanobot sandwich! :) The first product I would probably eat. The second, maybe on a lucrative dare.

On a somewhat more serious note, I don’t believe the replicator tech is very similar to organic growth. For one thing, human DNA produces only humans and fruit fly DNA only fruit flies. DNA is firmware. It will produce one thing. It must be reprogrammed physically to produce something else.

Replicators are more similar to the output of a photo printer – you can make whatever you want come out the other end, but you are still limited by the “dyes”, the size of the output “page”, the resolution of the “print”, and so on. It’s an amazing technology, sure, but I wouldn’t want to send 10,000 business mails through my photo printer all the same. That would get expensive in time, energy, and whatever raw material necessary, plus rag on the service life of the machine in the first place – which will eventually need cleaning, servicing, upgrading or wholesale replacement.

That’s why I said that it is likely that you would need several replicators, one specialized for each major need. I believe ST bows a little to this direction with “food ports”. Just in the interest of economy, you would not need ten billion atomic-scale construction plans for a nice pair of “going out” jeans in your microwave oven. And you wouldn’t want industrial chemicals programmed in there with food too, for fear that a failing replicator might merge hydrochloric acid in with your evening Mai Thai.

“And, in both Star Fleet Battles and FASA's Star Trek roleplaying game it was explicit that starships were made by companies, military contractors, and not just built by Starfleet.”

I shouldn’t have used the universal, of course. Still, we are discussing replicators. The contention is whether this miracle technology necessarily leads to the end of capitalism, and specifically the end of money and scarcity.

I would gratefully take the existence of companies within the ST universe as proof of – at very least – intellectual property rights. That implies, in addition to scarcity of prime real estate, energy, and intellect (no AI, for instance), a market economy.

“They aren't AIs, they don't need massive amounts of energy and special elements and copyrighted patterns to work. They just don't.”

Eh, then they work by magic? I agree that, if the replicators, which we all agree underpin the economy of the Federation, work akin to a Harry Potter style of magic – they just ‘do’ – then there is nothing whatsoever to do to bridge reality to the fiction.

There is a lot of writer’s license within the ST universe: the holodeck for instance is not virtual reality, a computer game piped into the mind of the ‘player’. It is made up of ‘real’ artificial matter (from what I remember): particles that are not made of protons, electrons, and neutrons, but something different. I think in First Contact, Picard turns off the safety mode on the holodeck and the simulation actually killed Borg.

But there is a limit to the silliness. After all, some people have stated that the ‘death of scarcity’ because of replicator-like technology that is upon us already, so that’s why society is destined to become socialist or socialist-like.

This is unlikely to be true. If you can replicate food, an apple for instance, you have a choice of replicating the types of apples – Mcintosh or Golden Delicious, etc, and also the best quality of apple or the worst or just an average, a juicy apple, a crisp apple, etc. Or, like with biotech, apples fortified with medicine or other nutrients, apples that can survive heat or cold, seedless apples, etc. You have thousands of choices with just a simple little apple.

But if you developed the Perfect apple, unless you scanned it, nobody would ever know. If you did scan it, you could sell it at quite a profit: who wouldn’t want to eat the perfect food? Or just really good food. If you have something good, it can either be just yours or if you share it, you can require compensation for it.

The market choices will expand infinitely. Instead of buying a box of wine, the only thing available at the local store, you could order a Tuscan vintage 2113 (ahh a good year!), from the south slope of such and such farm, prepared such and such way. Kind of like the internet gives you choices, you’d also have choices in this world. But also like software companies provide goods and services (games being a huge one) in addition to myriad freeware, there will be opportunities for commerce; not everyone has the imagination of a Tolkien, the insight of a Shakespeare, the ear of a Beethoven, or the eye of a Caravaggio. This is especially so, as you say, because some things like people cannot just be replicated at whim.

Also, the purely socialist utopia discounts one huge element of human experience: love. If people cannot be replicated, then they exist uniquely, and if uniquely they exist, then there can only be one. So young men and women, desperately in love, will strive to win the attentions of that person that catches their fancy. ST is not short on ugly people and someone once said that human history is almost entirely accounted for on the basis of love and lust. What do I care about the commonweal if I am lonely, or my heart chose on basis of superior inheritance of looks another man?

People will certainly aspire to persuade to marry or retain seraglios, and that means vicious competition for at least one thing: sex. ST is not short on ugly people.

Rather than being socialist, I rather believe that everyone in ST is more equivalent to being billionaires. Everywhere they go, they just run up a tab and they don't give any more thought to splurging (which we don't really see, Paris Hilton not being on the show), because money is (literally) no object.
5.12.2009 1:40am
Verc:

Maven:
While I understand that this entire article is the work of an idiot, I'd like to point out that EIGHT of the top-ten nations on the Global Standard of Living Index are Socialist. And America is #12. Moron.


If you weigh 6 weeks vacation/year higher than owning your own house, your own car, and many other appurtenances denied to most other people, and weighed the 10% unemployment rate of France and Germany with gracious safety nets more favorably than our still lower rate but up to fifty percent higher per-family pay, and then compared a 300 million person continental nation with countries that are smaller than some of our states, then, sure, you might have a point.

But you don't. Moron.
5.12.2009 1:53am
Verc:

But what are the terms of that "federal service"? Fixed tour of duty? Uniforms? Punitive enforcement of commands? Looks like noncombat military service without rank but only pay grades and job descriptions. Perhaps 90% of present military service works like that.



There are many federal jobs that work the same way. Contractors go overseas with our military professionals - engineers with aircraft for instance - to trouble-shoot problems. They also fall under rules specified in their contracts, which may or may not have uniform or appearance standards. Federal service also has pay grades and job descriptions, but a GS-6 or a GS-9 is not in the military.

Barack Obama serves a required number of years, he receives a fixed pay at the top of the scale, and he answers to Congress for crimes. His uniform, like FBI agents and Secret Service, is a business suit. He is not in the military.

Children too in formal schools have fixed 'tours', may wear uniforms and may be punished if disobedient. They are required to do physical fitness and required to work. But they don't take oaths and they don't study basic military arts. They don't fire weapons, learn close order drill, and the like.

Uniforms, a fixed contract (and Heinlein was explicit that recruits could quit at any time from what I remember, even before combat drops), obedience to orders, and a hierarchy of pay grades does not make a military unit.

It just makes the appearance of a modern military unit.

A giant fraction of the world's armies throughout history would fail that test, from Greek hoplites to Persian infantry, Mongols, Teutonic knights, Italian condoterri, and so on. The Greeks did not wear proper uniforms (they had very individualized kits), they did not serve any period of time unless called upon, they obeyed only the law of their respective state, and many of them never received any pay at all. Still, we'd have to contort ourselves to state that a janitor mopping a floor on Pluto in Heinlein's universe was in the military by that definition but Greek infantry were not.


Historically, "civilian" officials in what we would today call the "executive branch" of government under monarchs were considered a kind of relaxed military, with such officials having rank that conferred command over more recognizable military personnel. Sheriffs, constables, etc., were regarded as military even though they had law enforcement duties.


True, but then again, many historical governments never had a special ministry of war or department of defense. It is pretty strange to say that the Secretary of Treasury or Education or Agriculture is a member of the military, when by law, they clearly are not.
5.12.2009 2:38am
The River Temoc (mail):
If you weigh 6 weeks vacation/year higher than owning your own house, your own car, and many other appurtenances denied to most other people...

Please tell me that you are not so parochial as to think people in Europe don't own houses and cars...
5.12.2009 9:40am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Please tell me that you are not so parochial as to think people in Europe don't own houses and cars...
I worked for a German company for a few years. And software engineers did not own their own homes. That was something that only a few people at the top could aspire to doing. Perhaps the situation has improved in the last few years.
5.12.2009 10:53am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Please tell me that you are not so parochial as to think people in Europe don't own houses and cars...
I worked for Nokia for a while, after they acquired my employer. Nokia management was really impressed with how productive our little startup had been--and at one point, one of the VPs asked me, "Why are Americans so interested in being rich?" I explained that it was because we had other things we wanted to besides work for a company for the rest of our lives. "Really?" It was incomprehensible to this guy that we might want to retire while still young enough to enjoy retirement.

Or perhaps this was just the official policy of Nokia, to pretend this. The very top of Nokia was run by greedy sorts who kept nearly all the best stock options for themselves. Nobles have always tried to persuade peasants that they should prefer their status. Socialists and medieval nobles have much in common.
5.12.2009 11:02am
Verc:

Please tell me that you are not so parochial as to think people in Europe don't own houses and cars...


See Clayton Cramer's excellent response. It is undeniable that more Americans own homes and cars per capita than Europeans, and those homes are much bigger and filled with more, and better, time-saving appliances (not to mention cars!). That counts for nothing in these surveys. Nor do the draconian 'freedoms' of Singapore - a beautiful city - seem to keep that city out of the top contenders.

I don't care what stipends you might get from the state, if you can be jailed for speech (Europe) or for selling bubblegum (Singapore), your Standard of Living is garbage and I would not live there.
5.12.2009 12:52pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Gee, I thought the 3rd law of thermodynamics showed that there are no sustainable systems.
5.12.2009 1:01pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Gee, I thought the 3rd law of thermodynamics showed that there are no sustainable systems.
From a universe or even solar system wide standpoint, you are correct. But at least on this piddly little planet we call Earth, there's enough energy input to provide antientropic effects that thermodynamics isn't the problem.
5.12.2009 1:53pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I don't care what stipends you might get from the state, if you can be jailed for speech (Europe) or for selling bubblegum (Singapore), your Standard of Living is garbage and I would not live there.
The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers really captured the goal quite well: a world without pain, suffering, love, or joy, where all work for the collective good.
5.12.2009 1:57pm
tedkord:
Could I point out that the Federation is not the government of earth or any other planet. If you observed modern US from space and only saw the military you would reach very similar socialist conclusions. I know soldiers are paid, but they can spend that pay at military stores.
5.12.2009 9:48pm
Ngita (mail):
I sort of worked out a theory 30 years back and I dont see anything that breaks it since. Your average planet earth nobody has his own little hutch, he has unlimited acces to mass entertainment, mass education and unlimited food and medical care. If he wants to travel on earth to another hutch that is functionally the same as current hutch he can book and do so. Their is never any need for currency. What if he desires social compainship and goes to a bar. If he is drinking the same as he drinks at home then it costs nothing. But if their is a human barman he is going to expect tips, those tips are 100% electronic and involve no physical currency(credits), If you actually want real wine, as produced by a local winery, then it involves more credits. If you want to have credits for yourself then you do something that involves human interaction and you enjoy, ie barman, or you work for the goverment ie train starships.

If you interact with non humans then finally you need something more then credits. You need something to barter ie tribbles or dilithium crystals or a currency that cant be produced by machines ie gold pressed latinum, hmm does this mean you cant be transported if your carrying gold pressed latinum?
5.13.2009 12:37am
Verc:
tedkord, in my 9 year career as a Marine, I can state authoritively that pseudo-communist impression would last only until the first port call. There, we'd easily blow through months' worth of paychecks within days, if we had to or wanted to: suits, art, books, games, clothes, beer and women, gambling, scuba diving, surfing, hotels, parties, the list doesn't end.

Firefly is a good model of a show that does try to put the characters into reality.

It should also be noted that the future, as ST sees it and Clayton Cramer notes, is surprisingly sex- and loveless. Few of the characters are married, or were, few (none?) have girlfriends or one-night stands (besides, of course, Kirk), or old flames (at least I cannot think of any off-hand), ex-wifes, children out of wedlock, etc.

TNG is creepy, more puritanical than the puritans, in regards to sex. A failure in writing or intentional?
5.13.2009 12:41am
dutch (mail):
As mentioned above, the episode "The Neutral Zone."

What I don't understand about this objection to "socialism" is I don't see the difference between a striver in today's corporate America and a striver in the Federation. They are both in a larger organization, they both want to achieve in relation to that larger organization, is the money important? Well most corporate people today say "I just want to take care of my family" and after that they are looking for "fulfillment." The Federation is the ultimate gridiron for fulfillment. No other entity has the resources needed to play on the "grand stage." Want to be Harry Mudd? Fine go do it, but you are on the sidelines. The Federation is Harvard, Wall Street and Silicon Valley all rolled up into one. And in a post scarcity world, we are all Henry V:

By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.


Individual achievement and differentiation will still be there, but on a different playing field.

The Entrepreneurs? Well, they are the scientist in TNG. Efficient allocation of capital and talent is a "solved problem," and there are no longer "gains from trade" much of which masquerades as today's much of today's vaunted Entrepreneurialism. Innovation and pure human ingenuity are the only remaining areas of Entrepreneurship.

So Somin, I'll take your protests as a lamentation of a lost era, much like bemoaning the decline of Horsemanship in today's modern man.
5.13.2009 2:22am
ohwilleke:
I always figured the lack of money, in the original series, was a reflection of the fact that on a quasi-military ship like the Enterprise, people live in a true command economy. Real life seamen and deployed soldiers often have few places to spend money, even if they had it.

The military is not big on private property and market ideas generally. Generals get far less compared to junior officers than managers of relative importance to each other in the private sector -- which is not to say that generals and admirals lack power or perks like servants, often grossly in excess of their formal compensation. Much military compensation comes in kind, or in allowances based upon need. Many military benefits, like health care, are universal. Military compensation is based partially upon family size, i.e. need.

Institutions like the quartermaster's office and the motor pool, likewise allocate tools and resources based upon need, rather than even vaguely market-like principals, and separate use privileges for a type of good, from use privileges for a particular good. Soldiers have something approaching ownership for little more than what they can carry, much as was the case in Soviet Russia.

Many big businesses and large government act in a similar way, apart from compensation. Access to corporate resources is often based upon need and rules, rather than a currency. Private cruise ships and all inclusive resorts also operate something like the Enteprise does.
5.13.2009 4:30pm
ohwilleke:
Purely government owned economies like China and the USSR still had companies and some form of branding (addressing the issues of Nokia, Budwiser). Economic units can get reputations for quality without being privately owned. For example, there are lots of military hospitals, but the one that treats the President has more prestige. Among state owned universities some are more sought after than others -- in France, the closest equivalent to Harvard is a public university that trains people to be bureaucrats.

The Saudi Arabian and company town examples are also good ones. One could also look at continuing the trend of very highly governmental economies like Sweden, or employer-corporation dominated ones like Japan.

Criminal law (where prosecutor, defense lawyer and judge are all public employees in most cases) is another pocket of American government enterprise besides the military. In France, if you want to sue the government, you fill out a form and send it to the Council of State that assigns someone to press the case and someone else to defend it -- Canon Law has a similar devil's advocate process in some cases.
5.13.2009 5:06pm

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