A Utopian Star Trek Society – Making Economics Redundant

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The society of Star Trek invented by Gene Roddenberry is sometimes held up by fans as something we should strive towards. In the Star Trek universe, they don’t use money: people strive towards bettering themselves and humanity. Doesn’t that sound like communism to you?

If we tried to apply these principles in our world today, it certainly wouldn’t work. That’s been demonstrated in communism. Money is a much better way to carry out transactions than bartering: with bartering there needs to be a double-coincidence of wants. A baker may barter a few loaves of bread in exchange for a haircut with a hairdresser. Now, the baker only needs his hair cut once every month or two. Between haircuts, the hairdresser has nothing to barter and thus cannot have any bread on the table.

As for striving towards bettering ourselves and humanity? It doesn’t work in communism: communism gives people incentives to do as little as possible as they aren’t individually rewarded. Free-market economics (or capitalism) works simply because it gives people individual incentives to work and perform better: wages for workers, profits for companies and dividends for shareholders. Economics uses the fact that people act in their own self-interest to lead to an optimal outcome for society. I’d argue that economics is the single most important invention ever: one which paved the way for science, technology and pretty much every single aspect of life we experience today.

I was watching Visions of the Future on the BBC the other day and it did lead me to wonder whether we might be on the verge of this Star Trek age where we might be able to do without money. There are two bits of technology which I believe would allow this to happen.

totality bites
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First of all, nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion promises to be an abundant source of energy which is inexhaustible. Limitless and pollution-free, nuclear fusion could render the assumption of scarcity in economics out of date (that society doesn’t have enough resources to meet human wants). With an infinite amount of energy, we could do anything: mitigate global warming, travel to other planets, whatever we like.

Secondly, molecular assemblers or “replicators” as they are known in Star Trek. The development of replicators depends on further research into nanotechnology but the promise is that they can produce more or less anything at the touch of a button by constructing objects atom by atom. The only limitations would be the amount of energy required to replicate the objects and knowing what we want to produce with them.

Many scientists believe that nuclear fusion and molecular assemblers are both viable technologies and may only be about 50 years away.

In a world with limitless energy and the means to create anything that we wanted, nothing is scarce. We could immediately create anything that we want in order to fulfill our wants and needs. And it’s that fact which would render economics redundant. If everything costs nothing to make, why would you need money?

Passage
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So what would be the effect of such technologies on society? Wealth is more or less meaningless and there is no reason for money to exist, so there will be no such things as city stock traders or economists. In fact, anyone working in the primary and secondary sectors would be made redundant by replicators. The important people in such a society would be the scientists and engineers: in a world where we aren’t limited by resources, we are only limited by our ideas. Scientists and engineers are the people who will come up with those new ideas.

At first glance, the utopian society as described in ‘Star Trek’ can seem like a communist society which would never function in the real world. I believe that today we are beginning to see the glimpses of technology which would bring society into a new age where we are no longer constrained by resources, scarcity and economics. The only constraints would be our ideas and dreams. Gene Roddenberry’s dream of our futuristic society might not seem so farfetched afterall.

28 thoughts on “A Utopian Star Trek Society – Making Economics Redundant

  1. I just wanted to single-out one line for comment since I’m passing by rather fast:

    `Now, the baker only needs his hair cut once every month or two. Between haircuts, the hairdresser has nothing to barter and thus cannot have any bread on the table.’

    This is not a complete argument against the principle, though. If the payment were “a month’s worth of bread”, the hairdresser would be fine. But the system is not so small. When you add more bakers and/or more hairdressers, the problem becomes quite complex. When you add other species (say, grocers and aircraft pilots) as well, it becomes ludicrously complex and it seems far from obvious to me that such a system would necessarily be unstable.

    However, by the same token, money would probably *have* to be invented as an *expedient* common ground to save people remembering N! such weird facts as “grocer A thinks a flight to Moscow is worth 3 cabbages”, etc.

  2. “The important people in such a society would be the scientists and engineers”

    No, the important people in such a society would be the “creators”: the artists, the inventors, the performers, in other words, people who produce not material property, but intellectual property.

    Also, I believe that such a system would cause unimaginable (literally) changes to our social and cultural systems.

  3. That would cause irreversible ‘damages’ to any value of any material product, it’d be like rapid hyperdeflation of money for every single economy in the world, which would cause irreversible change to society as we know it – and it’d be extremely interesting. Value would shift from being in materials to being in ideas, there is still a need for money. Films and information exist regardless of the material cost, the value of them would not be the useful value of the material but the useful value of the information.
    This is somewhat different from communism or marxism as things like luxuries don’t properly exist there, but that everything has a basic labour cost. Rather than adding to the economy and taking as fit, you’d add nothing and take as fit (if you’re working with making materials of course). Society has changed so much that basic Marxist economic policy does not work.

  4. Good observation Tim! Also, the hairdresser would only need a certain amount of bread. So once he’s cut someones hair and got his months worth of bread, he won’t cut the hair of any other bakers.

    I do wonder if we still need money in this scenario. My thoughts are that the only reason people need to charge for art or information today is because they too need to eat and to be able to purchase scarce goods. If they don’t need to do that, I see no reason why they would need to charge for their art or intellectual property.

    Intellectual property or ideas are inherently free and non-rivalrous: the fact that somebody else has some knowledge doesn’t stop you from having it as well. Chances are people will pursue film and art because they enjoy doing it and will share it with the rest of society because they want to have as big an audience as possible. After all, if value shifts from materials to ideas, you want your ideas to be seen as far and wide as possible.

  5. One of the main constraints will be finding a safe, clean powersource that can replaced all current technologies. It will be interesting to see if in the future zero point energy ends up being a viable source of energy.

  6. I read a complete lack of faith in human beings. To dream of a world without money is not communism but an ideal that shifts power from a corrupt few to a truly expressive and free race. A new focus on Learning, Art and Science, a discovery of our true selves and the universe. If children are not brought up with the programming of the current corrupt system they may decide to cut hair of their own free will?
    Its only fear that holds us back, i have faith there are enough decent people to hold the peace and make it work, free energy is already out there just suppressed.

    Peace to everyone.

  7. People wouldn’t chose to work with boring and straining jobs if there didn’t have to. With nuclear fusion reactors and replicators, somebody or something has to do the boring and straining jobs for that technology as well. In an large society without currency and where people doesn’t know each other there will bee no cooperation, helping, giving credits for example. Everybody want to be an scientist or an culture worker but no one wants to do the necessary things. communism is an stateless structure with no military or government, there wouldn’t be any federation, president or star fleet. There will yet be people with more resources than other. As far as I know that goes against the communistic manifestation, why work when you can have fun. Maybe you will have the pleasure of being flying with an state of the art star ship if you chose to do the cleaning on board.

  8. hmmm, after reading the article im still having a couple of thoughts that i cant dismiss..
    A-
    as we are on this globe with around 6 bilion ppl and the everage household consists out of lets say 4 persons…. that would mean that we need 1.5 bilion “replicators” to suply 1 for each home on earth to provide for clothes and food and goods etc. and as we have seen with todays common items such as tv’s, radio’s, cars etc. these items a lot of ppl take now for granted, are still not available after an everage of lets say 70 yrs to a vast majority of ppl here on earth… so these “replicators” will probably also be unavailable to a large majority on earth if they become accessable in the future! So for atleast 70 yrs the inventors will make a huge profit from it…. and probably only in the wealthy economys/country’s….. still an money based econemy in my vew…

    B-
    The same principle goes for the nuclear fusion energy.. becouse the costs of building the first few plants will be huge and the investors want their money back and with profits… and to break that chain of money circle i dont see it happen…

    c-
    to close with a nice thought… for example: if i reproduce a disign pair of jeans from a top designer on my replicator, i guess i would have to pay some sort of sucsession rights… afterall im copying a brand product…!! hahahahahah

  9. answering Franzzznl.

    A- If the rich gets replicators the poor can have our food.

    B- With an ecological economic the nuclear fusion energy will bee financed by externality cost and benefits ex: fines, taxes, subsidize and credits. The world will hopefully in our future become an socialistic reformation capitalism based on ecological economic instead of economic growth.

    C- Al originators material can be financed by taxes based on all democratic elections. If you wanna replicate something out of the ordinary you simply have to pay for it.

    • I hear all these comments, but if theultimate power source is created that would leave a void in many “industries”. But Industries as we know them woul not be necessary if the replicators came online. and Money because of replicators would be obsolete because you would be able to replicate money. Replication of unlimited amounts of currency would render it non negotiable and worthless, therfore money is gone. Perhaps our better natures would arise in small groups first where we would work communaly and then on greater spheres of societies, once toil had been removed. I hope that we do not become sloven lazy cultures because there is no longer toil for the rewards of few resources. The few resources would be abundant, so would they have to be regulated, distibuted so that we don’t create waste?

  10. Of course, the one problem with all the speculation is that it relies upon evolutionary thinking not revolutionary action. Evolution of social change takes 3 x as long as the economic or political change.

    My best guess is that the technology would take several centuries even with our current speed of adaptation.

    What would be really interesting in the Star trek utopian ideal is ‘What would happen in a revolutioanry context’ The earthlings got warp drive, the vulcans arrived shared technology, albeit slowly, so then money became useless??? thats when specuialtion becomes interesting how does society react overnight??? all needs met?? Star trek shows a truly anarchistic society with individualsassisting each other as needed with an authoritarian structure whollistically guiding them. Buit no matter how hard I try I cant work it backwards even with Star Trek filling in bits to see how it got there so calmly.

  11. Dave: The Star trek utopia ideal and revolutionary action doesn’t work, anyway not in my reality or theory. If some alien lifeforms would make contact they would most likely with theirs superior technology force us back to exchange trade market. I don’t think all of the technology in star trek will take as long as several century’s and i don’t think all of it is possible.

  12. Star trek does not show an truly anarchistic society with no laws or law enforcement by an high power. The united earth federation has many states and a president with military powers at it’s fingertips (star fleet) etc. Mvh Leonard.

  13. For those who might say, naw the idea of utopia or technology like startrek need to remember we are even now living in some variant of startrek.

    1. Cellphones – obvious startrek as the originator of cell & car phones got the idea from startrek itself and a related person got similar ideas for cd’s and other.

    2. Medical tricorders are getting close to some varient of ST similar.

    3. Jordi’s visor is in fact a reality – for a non-birth blind person can see in 2demensional b/w…. but its very very expensive..and is only handmade.

    4. pc’s in a sense are ST.

    Also, you can use history to prove that technology will eventually get to any scifi idea eventually.

    1. Bill gates once said (fact) that we would never need more than 640k.
    True up to a point, but in reality video & music editing proves that wrong.

    2. One guy in a patent office at turn of century that his office should shut down per everything that can be invented has been. (he was way way off).

    3. IBM founder or principle stated we would never need more than a handful of mainframes ever.

  14. Also, our ram & hd space is getting bigger & bigger space in smaller smaller packages..

    I remmber spending $3000 for 128k in the early 1980′s.. ram ..
    I even remeber spending $8000 for a 10meg HD.

    I recently bought 8gig ram for $19.
    I recently boguht multi-terrabyte for very little.

    Point being,…. dont ever say it cant be done, its only a matter of time.

    Even medical and other, we are doing things today in nearly all areass that people of our past would litterally consider us either godlike or sataniclike.

    Godlike in that we can save lives that wwas impossible before.
    Satanlike in that we are doing today the very things that Hitler himself was trying in the camps (thoguh maybe more humanly).

  15. if replicators become avaialbel…all people could get one.

    If all people have replicators it wouldnt matter if you were rich or not.
    Because cash would become uselss in the counterfiet sense.

  16. Yes, everything is possible, and i believe many things in Star Trek works and maybe someday will come true. However I do not think communism or real socialism is a realistic description of how a society should be organized. Eventually the poor will be richer and the rich porer, if everyone had an replicator (which eventually will be the case I hope) money can still exist maybe not in wool and paper. Somebody has to do the dirty jobs, cleaning plasma conduits for example?

  17. Money was and is needed in communist and socialist societies, so the true ideal of communism and/or socialism has never been achieved in reality. As such, the modern world has used money for exchange of economic activity in all sorts of economic and political systems.

  18. The existing problems in the wold is mostly caused by big institutions interfering with the free market and peoples liberty, taxes is not the problem but inflation (of the (FIAT) money supply) not being back t up by real goods with constant value. Gold and silver for example etc. Another problem is concerning big states, unions and banking systems etc etc. We should have federations instead of unions. Let technology make the monetary system redundant over time all by its self.

  19. I would like to add, I like this conversation and would like to add to it.

    Someone said “people wouldn’t be interested in “menial jobs”. I would like to add, you’re probably right. But, only in some ways. That is, if you assume that society and technology looks like it does today. Which, if you have Replicators, chances are technological advances would be relevant with these tasks.

    In other words, who says menial jobs will be done by humans? Secondly, humans may not have to do menial jobs all the time, if they follow some of the basic rules and laws that would apply to that particular society. Most of the tasks that most humans do now, would be removed by technology, so then we’d be up to higher purpose of life. So, the only real value to life at that point would be to work at something you like to do, for sake of being productive. Imagine if you had all day to work on yourself, you probably wouldn’t turn to drugs to just escape reality, because, reality would actually be very cool. You’re fed, you have a place to sleep, so what’s next. The domino effect.

    Though, we could end up with unproductive people, but that would ethical dilemma for very few. If you don’t have to work all day at a menial job, etc, and you could own a ten thousand dollar item, without having to fork over ten thousand dollars, there no desire to steal, etc. You have everything you need. We could, feasibly spend more time raising a child to want and desire to be a part of Life, even the federation to travel the stars? In other words, there would be nothing to bitch about and opportunity would always be there for everyone.

    However, let’s not forget the idea of being able to “qualify” for certain jobs as well. Then, you’d have a bit of caste system, but not really, because you still can have xxx number of people to qualify for jobs. As far as fixing things and maintaining all this wonderful technology, there is solution for that as well. The idea being…

    If the replicator produces all the things you desire, you’re going to want to fix it. Everyone could qualify for that job at different levels. Some people would qualify for diagnostics, some at maintenance and others at engineering, etc. If it is the source of ones ability to have things that we normally wouldn’t have access to, you’re gonna want to fix it.

  20. I agree with you completely. I believe that the system would work but people can’t barter. They must do what they can to assist in society and society will help them back. People must feel the need to do a greater good and come together as a race.

    Unfortunately we are not ready for this because people are still bickering about small things that occurred years ago to their heritage. We are only held back by ourselves from doing these great things and most people are still driven by their basic animal instincts.

    Greed drives a lot of people currently, and we still have battles over land and beliefs. Once we begin accepting each other, then we will all be able to work successfully side by side. I believe we are getting closer to this eventual conclusion but are still far away from it. Unless of course some dramatic event occurs (i.e. we are forced to come together as a race against some outside entity).

    Only then will the drive of the human race show itself and we’ll be able to accomplish a lot more than we have already.

  21. I don’t believe in the authoritarian system of the federation. I believe space travel and exploration will be individual. Greed and egocentric thinking are only natural and good. Separate the intelligent and long-term greed from the short-term and unintelligent greed. Knowledge often makes human good but people need something to believe in as a driving force in life and as a fellowship. Greed have forced my brain to develop more compassion for all life, it’s intelligent greed and it have served me well over time.

  22. Well I have to say I disagree with the idea that because you take away money you have to bring in bartering. My basis is me (although the world is not populated solely by me so in effect this may never happen), I have no problem with working hard on a farm or some construction site and to get no direct compensation in return for the effort I put in. If a society were to exist that had my belief that we should work for each other (the greater good) then Mr Baker would hand out his loafs until his flour ran out and Ms Hairdresser would give haircuts until the end of what she saw to be the end of her day. I enjoy working for a living and I know that a lot of people hate it because they're stuck doing something they don't want to do but in a utopian society everybody would be able to fill every role and for those that can't they would find a solution to what it is they don't want to do.

    Most importantly in all this… People would need to realise that you can't just go on having big families; until we reach other planets like our own or we start terraforming then families need to get smaller otherwise Mr Baker would always run out before lunch time and most people would be going around in a shaggy beau font.

  23. Personally, I believe that society has two separate paths that it can take:

    1 – Star Trek (TV series) – Everything is fine, things are taken care of, and civilization is advanced. Smart people create more smart people.

    2 – Idiocracy (Movie) – Everyone is really stupid, people talk mostly in several versions of slang, with horrible accents, the "average" intelligence that currently exists will be that of a genius in the future. Stupid people reproduce at an accelerated rate and smart people are breed-ed out of existence.

    Here is a link / address to a page explaining the movie Idiocracy http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387808/

    In my mind our future is going to be like this movie. Look around, people are getting dumber and dumber; all society does is promote stupidity, which continues to spread like wildfire.

  24. What you all seem to be neglecting to remember are the undesirable jobs. There will always be waste management and other jobs no-one wants to do. There will always be a need for janitors, garbage men and women, plumbers and sewer workers.

  25. I think Arnold said it the best in “Terminator II”, when young John Connor see’s the two little kids shooting at each other with their toy guns. He say’s to the Terminator, “We’re not going to make it, are we?”, and the killing machine responds, “It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves.” Unfortunately, if you look at our history you’ll have to admit – It’s true! But, Why? Why has “Mankind” been killing eachother since the beginning of time? And more importantly, Why haven’t we been able to recognize and stop this self desctructive mind set? It is odd however, the first sign of a disaster people (in general) are tripping over themselves to help their fellow man. Take 9/11 in NYC, or Hurricane Katrina, or the tsunami in Japan. People lost their lives in the attempt to help others that needed it. I believe the argument could be made that we are “Wired” to help each other. So, who’s the enemy, Capitalism? Has our selfish desire to better ourselves over shadowed our ability to “Love Our Neighbors”? I guess the final question is this: “Where would we be today, or where could we be tomorrow if we all pulled together with the focus of “Bettering Mandkind” and not just our selves?” Sad to say, but I believe it will only be in the wake of a global catastrophic disaster that man will learn this ever-important lesson.

    Technoligy, I feel, is handicapped by Capitalism. Do drug companies REALLY want us to find a cure for cancer? Does “Big Oil” really want to see an electric or hydrogen powered car? Do power companies really want a free unlimited source of power? These are the true obsticles against evolving to the next level.

  26. Undersirable jobs could be rotated as was tried in the kibbutz movement.

    “Certain jobs are regarded as so distasteful, that they are filled by a permanent rotation system in which almost everyone serves his turn…The only exemptions from this rotation are the ill, the aged, and teachers.” Kibbutz: Venture in Utopia by Melford Spiro.

    Also in Anarchists Spain:

    “Each group cultivates a portion of dry as well as irrigated land. And each group, in rotation, performs its share of more agreeable work as well as especially unpleasant work.” The Anarchist Collectives by Sam Dolgoff.

    I imagine in a moneyless society like Star Trek, the people might out of necessity find practical remedies.

    I

  27. No one has mentioned that Robots and Androids would be used to do all the jobs no one wanted to do. We are not too far from that either.

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