Trekonomics
June 21, 2016 3:34 AM   Subscribe

The Economic Lessons of Star Trek's Money-Free Society - "[Manu Saadia] points to technologies like GPS and the internet as models for how we can set ourselves on the path to a Star Trek future. 'If we decide as a society to make more of these crucial things available to all as public goods, we're probably going to be well on our way to improving the condition of everybody on Earth', he says. But he also warns that technology alone won't create a post-scarcity future... 'This is something that has to be dealt with on a political level, and we have to face that.' " (via)

What the economics of Star Trek can teach us about the real world - "Instead of working to become more wealthy, you work to increase your reputation. You work to increase your prestige." [The Economics of Star Trek: The Proto-Post Scarcity Economy]

Forward by J. Bradford DeLong: "Over the past century Star Trek has woven itself into our socio-cultural DNA. It provides a set of cultural reference points to powerful ideas, striking ideas, beneficial ideas that help us here in our civilization think better--even those of us who are economists... our fictions are, collectively, the dream-work of the reasoning by the organism that is the anthology intelligence that is humanity." [Notes on Trekonomics]
Gene Roddenberry mostly wanted to find a way to get people to pay him to make up stories, so that we wouldn't have to take a job that required a lot of heavy lifting. But he also wanted to tell particular stories. The stories he wanted to tell were those that would be the dreamwork for a better future:
  • He wanted to tell stories of a progressive humanity.
  • He wanted to tell stories about people in a better future in which governmental institutions were smart enough to stay out of Vietnam and people weren't obsessed with leaky roofs and food shortages.
  • He wanted to tell stories in which racial prejudice was as silly and stupid as it, in fact, is.
  • He wanted to tell stories in which it would be normal for a woman to be if not #1 at least #2 as first officer of a starship.
  • He wanted to tell stories in which everyone--even the Red Shirts--was an officer, a trained and well-educated professional treated with dignity and respect by their peers and superiors.
And Gene Roddenberry's successors as showrunners, writers, actors, set designers, and all the rest took on the same project: do the dreamwork of a better future.
Introduction: "Star Trek presented my terrified eight-year old self with the mind-blowing idea that in the future things would get better... To this day, the greatest sense of wonder I experience from Star Trek comes not from the starships and the stars, new life and new civilizations, but from its depiction of an uncompromisingly humanist, galaxy-spanning utopian society. Which means that one huge question has haunted me since I was a boy. Is Star Trek possible? How likely is it to happen?"
The penultimate chapter is all about the greatest alien species in all of Trek - the odious and disgusting Ferengis, that is, us. The Ferengis are the capitalists and merchants of Star Trek's galaxy. Yet even them, the most hardened of profit-seeking species can change. All of Star Trek's third show, Deep Space 9, is in fact the story of how the Ferengis abjure their old traditions and become Keynesian social democrats.
Post-Scarcity Thinking: Manu Saadia's 'Trekonomics' - "There is no one leap from widespread want to universal abundance. It is a linear process, and importantly it is about distribution of resources more than it is about the absolute availability of resources. What the world of Trekonomics offers us is a blueprint of something to work towards as something concrete. There are enough theories and ideologies that exist critiquing the current order – perhaps the point is not to critique, but to change things. I would say that this book could help start a conversation about how we get from here to there."

Make it so? Getting 'there'...
  • Money for All - "Experiments with guaranteed income have shown resoundingly positive results. All that's stopping us is politics." (A few thoughts: "A UBI would allow the recipients to decide on their own priorities. It thus lacks the base of support that the other programs have.")1
  • Free Lunch: An affordable utopia - "Cost is not an argument against universal basic income... The share of the government's tax take and redistributive spending in the economy does not include tax exemptions and allowances, where the state selectively refrains from imposing normal taxes. If such 'tax expenditures' — a technical term for the money not raised — were included in tax revenue and spending, all rich countries would look like they had much bigger states already."2
  • Arguments for a state stipend payable to all citizens are being heard more widely - "A land tax has the advantage of being progressive. Unlike taxes on income, land taxes do nothing to encourage apathy or avoidance; rather, they provide an incentive to owners to get the most out of their property. And they can also be lucrative. The sum value of all land in America, according to one recent estimate, is about $23 trillion, or 1.6 times GDP. A land-value tax of 5% would raise a little over $1 trillion, which works out at about $3,500 for every American, or $8,500 for every American household. Thomas Paine would have relished such a prospect. His case for a basic income justified it as a quid pro quo for the existence of private property."
  • A universal basic income could absolutely solve poverty - "There is no doubt that this is a lot of money. It amounts to approximately 16.7 percent of GDP, which would obviously be a huge increase in the size of the federal budget. At the same time, while this would take federal spending to a level never before seen, it wouldn't bring total US government spending to levels that are internationally unprecedented. Instead, it'd put us about where France and the Scandinavian social democracies are. Would that be a hard sell politically? Almost certainly. But on the other hand, you would end poverty entirely, which would be kind of a big deal." #EndPoverty
  • A universal basic income only makes sense if Americans change how they think about work - "A UBI is the kind of radical policy that asks whether we actually need to live in this world, or whether there are better worlds on offer, if only we have the political and cultural courage to find them. Does work — as currently conceived — have to be our primary source of status? Should it organize our lives? And can those dynamics be changed by a check?"
  • A Guaranteed Income for Every American - "Replacing the welfare state with an annual grant is the best way to cope with a radically changing U.S. jobs market—and to revitalize America's civic culture."
  • Bad arguments against a universal basic income - "If work gives people forms of satisfaction that go beyond money, why is giving people money so likely to reduce them to lazy idlers on the dole?"
  • 16 Reasons Matt Yglesias is Wrong about the Job Guarantee vs. Basic Income - "Yes, sending a check to people is not as 'messy', but let's stop pretending that it's a panacea for the fundamental problem of economic insecurity."3
Populist Backlash and Political Economy - "I find it alarming that here we are, more than one a half decades into the twenty-first century, and the wisdom and true knowledge that is state-of-the-art as far as political economy is concerned is still to be found in the writings of John Maynard Keynes and Karl Polanyi... Keynes taught that rich, free, capitalist societies could not survive without full employment--without giving everyone a useful, dignified, and prosperous economic role in society."
Polanyi's teaching was... that there were three things, land, labor, and finance, that should not be turned into "commodities" and thus subjected to allocation by the laws of the self-regulating market economy. And, Polanyi argued, if they were turned into "commodities" and thus subjected to allocation by the laws of the self-regulating market economy, the result would be disastrous...

For both Keynes and Polanyi, social insurance in the form of progressive taxes, a universal basic income, and government provision of public goods plus private necessities would help, but that would not be enough to do the job. Also essential are: first, useful employment and the resulting honorable and dignified role in society; second, justice in the sense that playing by the rules of the economic game calls forth the expected rewards; and, third, communal stability in the sense that should people's lives be transformed in place, community, and occupation it is by being pulled out of old ruts by brilliant opportunities locating in other places, living in other communities, and practicing other occupations--not being pushed out by regional or sectoral economic collapse, or perhaps by having one's community transformed too rapidly around one.
How the Profound Changes in Economics Make Left Versus Right Debates Irrelevant - "For almost 200 years the politics of the west, and more recently of much of the world, have been conducted in a framework of right versus left – of markets versus states, and of individual rights versus collective responsibilities. New economic thinking scrambles, breaks up and re-forms these old dividing lines and debates... It isn't merely a matter of centrist compromise, of just splitting the difference."

The Power of Knowledge - "If the knowledge loop combined with digital technologies is so powerful, why do we need to work at becoming a knowledge society? Why not just keep government out of the way and let entrepreneurs and markets take care of everything from here on out? Because we are living with older structures that are the legacy of over a century of industrial society."
We have based our economies around the Job Loop, which is currently breaking down. We have based our laws about information access on locking up information and selling it like industrial products. And we have developed a culture that supports our participation in the industrial economy, both as producers (workers) and consumers. Both collectively and individually, we have adopted a range of assumptions and beliefs that enable us to structure our lives around our jobs and to fuel the economy through consumption. To participate fully in a knowledge society, we will have to free ourselves psychologically, re-thinking our behavior as consumers and embracing new assumptions and beliefs that enable us to learn, create, and share knowledge.

If we want to truly unleash the knowledge loop, if we want to make it central to our lives, if we want to reap its benefits and limit its downsides, then we need to make major changes [in] regulation and self-regulation. These are the subject of Part Three.
also btw...
-The Age Of Em [1,2,3,4,5]
-The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy
-The Wealth of Humans: Work, Power, and Status in the Twenty-first Century - "None of us has ever lived through a genuine industrial revolution. Until now. Digital technology is transforming every corner of the economy, fundamentally altering the way things are done, who does them, and what they earn for their efforts... can the modern world manage technological changes every bit as disruptive as those that shook the socioeconomic landscape of the 19th century?"
Past revolutions required rewriting the social contract: this one is unlikely to demand anything less. Avent looks to the history of the Industrial Revolution and the work of numerous experts for lessons in reordering society. The future needn't be bleak, but as The Wealth of Humans explains, we can't expect to restructure the world without a wrenching rethinking of what an economy should be.
---
1take a walk on the supply side...
  • National accounts as metaphor - "The fact is that the real accounts do not balance, only money accounts do. I think this point is insufficiently appreciated. [W]hat we call 'real' magnitudes are not completely real; only the money magnitudes are real. The 'real' ones are hypothetical."*
  • Supermodels And Other Productivity Measures - "One of the livelier debates in economics at the moment relates to the intersection of productivity growth and the role of technology in modern society. At its core, the problem is a simple one: for all the smartphones, Internet access, apps and other technological advancements of the last decade, productivity growth is close to zero."
  • Is productivity the victim of it's own success? - "Services have a built-in limit on their productivity growth, because we cannot innovate and get 'more time' in the way we can innovate and get 'more stuff' with goods. With services and goods being complements, this means overall productivity growth is restricted to the pace of service quality growth, and hence is slowing down. This would be true even if we measured productivity perfectly; if we could actually measure utility per hour."
  • Do digital industries break capitalism? How to Reconcile Peak Profit Margins And The Race To The Bottom - "The view ties in with Jaron Lanier's thesis about how businesses based on digital network effects tend to encourage monopolism and a winner-takes-all framework. This inevitably erodes the freedoms and wealth of the middle and cultural classes by undermining the very protections (what might also be called culturally-favoured inefficiencies) that had hitherto guarded their capacity to earn a consumer surplus. In the long run, a new type of feudalism is brought about, wherein the average person's quality of life becomes entirely dictated by the whims and desires of digital tycoons."
  • You can see the computer age everywhere but in the investment statistics - "Failing to recognise that poor productivity is the result of low investment is very damaging, as it deflects attention from why investment is so low. The reason, as I explained in 'Executive pay holds the key to the productivity puzzle' (FT, May 29 2015), is that the bonus culture rewards chief executives who keep investment down. We are not going to solve this problem until we recognise the low investment causes poor productivity and consider how to change the perverse incentives that cause low investment."
  • Management as a Technology? - "Are some management practices akin to a technology that can explain company and national productivity, or do they simply reflect contingent management styles?"
2alternative financing?
  • Why Helicopter Money is a 'Free Lunch' - "Fiat money can then be used at no cost to the consolidated public sector balance sheet as a way to mobilize unemployed or underemployed real resources and to accelerate price and wage dynamics in heavily indebted economies suffering from large output gaps and price deflation. HM is a 'free lunch' in the simple sense that, if it works and succeeds in closing the output gap, people won't have to repay it through higher taxes or undesired (above optimal) inflation."
  • Helicopter drops: A brief reply to Ben Bernanke - "Ben assumes that helicopter drops are fiscal policy. He does so without clarifying the distinction between fiscal and monetary policy, and then quotes Friedman who is very clear on the issue – and very clear that cash transfers financed with base money is monetary policy."
  • On Central Bank Lending to Government - "If the government of Canada owns the Bank of Canada, which it does, then de facto direct or indirect Bank of Canada lending to the government of Canada, at an irrelevant rate of interest, is neither a Bad Thing nor a Good Thing. It's inevitable, if the Bank of Canada lends and the government borrows."
3on welfare reform...
-The End of Welfare as We Know It
-"If the goal was to get rid of poverty, we failed": the legacy of the 1996 welfare reform
-The case against equality of opportunity
-What's so Great about Equality of Opportunity?
-Mobility is no answer to dispersion
-Don't Give Up on Equality of Opportunity
posted by kliuless (102 comments total) 127 users marked this as a favorite
 
First image that pops to mind: that character on The Simpsons in his mansion with and evil grin, rubbing his hands.
posted by sammyo at 3:55 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


All of Star Trek's third show, Deep Space 9, is in fact the story of how the Ferengis abjure their old traditions and become Keynesian social democrats.

Ehh, that's a leap. More like "All of the not-generally-beloved Ferengi episodes of Star Trek's third show". And IIRC we never saw quiiiiite enough of the economic changes in their society to call them Keynesian social democrats.

What "all of" DS9 is actually about... well, that's tougher to pin down. I imagine we'll get around to discussing it on Fanfare, probably in season 7, or maybe when we get to "In the Pale Moonlight."

*pushes nerd glasses back up nose*

"None of us has ever lived through a genuine industrial revolution. Until now. Digital technology is transforming every corner of the economy, fundamentally altering the way things are done, who does them, and what they earn for their efforts... can the modern world manage technological changes every bit as disruptive as those that shook the socioeconomic landscape of the 19th century?"

Past revolutions required rewriting the social contract: this one is unlikely to demand anything less. Avent looks to the history of the Industrial Revolution and the work of numerous experts for lessons in reordering society. The future needn't be bleak, but as The Wealth of Humans explains, we can't expect to restructure the world without a wrenching rethinking of what an economy should be.


Earlier in the post, Cory Doctorow's "Whuffie" concept (from his sci-fi novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom) was described, though not by name. I wonder which of the futurist-fiction writers in the early industrial revolution came closest to figuring out how everything actually ended up.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 4:06 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


I am reminded of an AskMe post a while ago that was seeking an academic community outside of a university setting. Is it here?
posted by amtho at 4:28 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


You will probably be interested in things of a higher nature—the cultivation of the mind, education, love, art, and discovery.

If that were the way people typically reacted to leisure you probably wouldn't be trying to explain your views about economics through the medium of a corny old TV show.
posted by Segundus at 4:32 AM on June 21, 2016 [9 favorites]


I cannot begin to express my relief at making it to retirement, so I don't have to deal with the so-called job market any more. For the overwhelming majority of people, having to work for a living is a very raw deal, whether they know it or not.

Segundus, it wasn't a corny old TV show when it started, and for all its failings as drama, it isn't one now.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:33 AM on June 21, 2016 [9 favorites]


corny old TV show

But Segundus' point isn't really about a critique of Trek as a show, it's really about wanting a more realistic model of human behavior. I think this show's worldview and its solutions can be credibly attacked as overly high modern.

There's a well-documented graveyard (one that Kliuless is I'm sure familiar with) of communities that have subscribed to this type of vision and had it not work out. Sometimes it's a dictator or over-reliance on a key commodity or whatever. But at the root, it's often something on the theme that none of us, down to a one, are really philosopher kings.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 4:43 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Robin Hanson is not impressed " Forbidding prices, preaching altruism, and praising prestige just doesn’t get rid of conflicts. Nor does it make the problem of allocating resources easier.

And, more important, none of this uses any economics that I know. Neither his speculations on how replicators might change psychology, nor those on how resource allocation would improve if everyone just pursued prestige without prices. All I hear is “adopt my favorite policies, and everything will go great; trust me.”

posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 5:08 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is a heck of an interesting post, kliuless. I imagine a lot of work went into it. Thank you.
posted by Thistledown at 5:15 AM on June 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


I cannot begin to express my relief at making it to retirement, so I don't have to deal with the so-called job market any more. For the overwhelming majority of people, having to work for a living is a very raw deal, whether they know it or not.

Unfortunately, at least in the US, a quite large, and depressingly growing, number of people reach retirement age, but still must be in the job market for their foreseeable future.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:19 AM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Okay, so here's the thing. The federation is Bullshitting us all about the non-existence of money. There is a monetary system, there is monetary policy, there is a clear caste system enforced by the federation, and there is clear evidence of this in every iteration of Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry's dream is like the big Republican lie disguised as a post-fiat economy.

I've looked into this at length. Let's just say, I have a very different take on the economics of Star Trek. And here are a few examples as to why. These are also chapter titles to a book in progress.

1. The Ferengi: Greedy Traders or Capitalist Robin Hoods?
2. Natural Resource Scarcity and Starship construction.
3. Who plunges the toilets on the enterprise and why?
4. Greed corrupts. (Power is currency)
5. Replicators and why we actually can't all have nice things.
6. Medical advances, the prime directive and Starfleet's drug cartel.
7. Starfleet Nationalism: Losing free will through the perception of choice.
8. Klinger Mining safety, the blackmarket on Resources, workers rights and lawsuit reduction efforts.
9. Technology, Science, and Elon Musk's Decendants
10. The Warp Drive barrier: Maintaining Third World Planetary Systems with Barriers to Entry.

Yeah, so. I don'the believe the Federation lie.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:24 AM on June 21, 2016 [27 favorites]


If that were the way people typically reacted to leisure you probably wouldn't be trying to explain your views about economics through the medium of a corny old TV show.

Nailed it in one, I'm afraid. TV shows, dramas, are written to produce, you know, drama, not economic manifestos. We can wonder about Federation economics, but we might as well wonder if Kirk wore briefs or boxers.

Now if you'll excuse me, nerds, I have pogs to mine.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:04 AM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


And, more important, none of this uses any economics that I know.

Does it really make sense to insist that economics, of all things, must stay invariant in a fictional universe that has faster than light travel and transporters and replicators? I mean, it's not like it's a better established science than physics.
posted by thelonius at 6:14 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm ok with skepticism about UBI, but it seldom seems to include an alternate answer to the problems it addresses, namely the fact that human labor is becoming more superfluous. We either find an answer to "work or starve" or die fighting in ditches for scraps of food when our work is no longer needed.

Don't tell me handwavy "The market will find a solution, citizens! Keep working!" responses are any more realistic than "let's move toward a UBI model."
posted by emjaybee at 6:23 AM on June 21, 2016 [22 favorites]


These are also chapter titles to a book in progress.

I would read this book, should it be a real book that you are really writing. What is more, I can think of a certain left-leaning science fiction book group that would also read this book.

I tend to agree that there is a shadow money economy in Star Trek, but I think that (as with this post) Star Trek is a useful place to start thinking about some of these questions - which is how this type of SF is supposed to work. We don't look at all the early SF with internet in it and say "this was a failure in its time because it does not tell us how to build an internet"; we say "these stories raised interesting questions about how an internet would work; that debate has changed how we understand the internet".

I'm also not sure that "people are naturally too lazy and dumb to create social change, as you can see by the fact that you have to use a familiar framing metaphor to organize your arguments about economics" is a particularly strong point.

Also, also - my experience of average people is that, in fact, many of them are pretty smart when given the tools to think things through and express their thoughts. Most people who create random stuff on the internet do so after their paid work, childcare, cooking, cleaning, etc - and yet we have a vast accumulation of really rather clever stuff. People learn to program for fun. People translate things for fun. People write novels for fun. People play really elaborate games with math for fun. We also get drunk and watch bad TV, sleep with unsuitable people, etc, of course, but humanity produces an immense amount of intelligent content when you consider how much we all have to work just to keep eating.
posted by Frowner at 6:26 AM on June 21, 2016 [27 favorites]


I find it alarming that here we are, more than one [and] a half decades into the twenty-first century, and the wisdom and true knowledge that is state-of-the-art as far as political economy is concerned is still to be found in the writings of John Maynard Keynes and Karl Polanyi...

The reason being, of course, that there has been a very well funded and sustained campaign to ignore that wisdom and true knowledge, in favour of folly and lies that flatter people who have money.
posted by lucien_reeve at 6:34 AM on June 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


Vin Scully on socialism
posted by bukvich at 6:37 AM on June 21, 2016


There's a well-documented graveyard (one that Kliuless is I'm sure familiar with) of communities that have subscribed to this type of vision and had it not work out.

Which of those communities had unlimited free energy and the ability to translate that energy into physical materials and devices? That those things do not now exist is not an argument against a hypothetical society based on them.


Unfortunately, at least in the US, a quite large, and depressingly growing, number of people reach retirement age, but still must be in the job market for their foreseeable future.

Which is a pernicious aspect of the very raw deal I referred to.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:41 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can not thank you enough for gathering this all in one post. We've been debating this topic for three years in my house. So much to read and think on.
posted by EinAtlanta at 6:44 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


There really is no "shadow money economy" in the Federation; Federation citizens, including Starfleet personnel, gamble and buy things at Quark's on DS9 with money all the time. The Federation is really a money-optional society; people can work for money if they like, but it's not really necessary unless they're dealing with a society (such as the Ferengi) who still use money. And, per Frowner, there's an awful lot that isn't spelled out: how they deal with real estate, such as Sisko's dad's restaurant in New Orleans, for example. (The old saw about not being able to create real estate doesn't really apply to a society that can build very large habitats in space, but there are still locations that are more desirable than others.) There's also the question of whether people who choose to work are somehow compensated for their labor, which may or may not involve money; one of the more obvious possibilities is that the compensation for being in Starfleet is being in Starfleet, and you get to boldly go places that your average Federation civilian may not have access to.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:47 AM on June 21, 2016 [9 favorites]


I simply don't believe the Federation can be post-scarcity. See all those nice apartments in the San Francisco of the episodes set there? Who gets to live in them? And who has to live in the equivalent if Bakersfield? Unless it's a case where any of the billions of people in the Federation can live wherever they want, there's scarcity.

Likewise, consider the answer to this: "I want my own personal Galaxy class spaceship, staffed with a crew of duplicate Datas. And I want it next week." Unless any need of people can be met equally well, there will be scarcity.

Of course if you change human nature so they don't desire material goods, maybe that would be different. Then again, it's arguable how human they would be.
posted by happyroach at 6:51 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


The post-scarcity dream is hard to imagine. The key phrase about star trek seemed to be "wanted to find a way to get people to pay him to make up stories, so that we wouldn't have to take a job that required a lot of heavy lifting" which is just so 60's post WWII/depression aspirational scifi (pre syfy??) stories were great, ahead of their time. But TV show themed.

Post-scarcity will not come from legislation, or good works or altruism. What's the marginal cost of a single email from a tenement in Bangalore to a tiny apartment in Shanghai? Put a dollar figure on it, $0.01? $0.00001? More zeros?

The PS world will come when it's unequivocally not cost effective to run a financial system for goods, food, shelter, than just giving it away. It'll start when segments find it makes no sense to send bills but just keeps the system running. It'll take robots building robots. It'll take free resources like robots mining asteroids and dropping good stuff carefully where needed. No hyper drive required, the science is done, more engineering but that's inevitable.

Why subsidize "people"? Science -- the "1%" will know they need a gene pool or their great-great-great-grandmartians will eventually die out.

Post-scarcity will just happen. It's the only economics that makes sense. (in the somewhat long run)
posted by sammyo at 7:00 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's pretty clear that we would replace conspicuous consumption with other economies of attention. We have a bunch already, bundled up as the fame "factories", in art, politics, science, even in business. Humans are socially competitive. That won't change, even if the economics allow for no lack of material want.

Youtube and twitter and pinterest were all driven by non-monetary factors, especially at the beginning. That's more what the future will look like, IMO.
posted by bonehead at 7:03 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


IOW, the post-scarcity economy is Jenna Marbles (and Epic Meal Time and Vi Hart) all the way down.
posted by bonehead at 7:06 AM on June 21, 2016


I had no conscious idea that the red shirt was so apropos.
posted by mwhybark at 7:07 AM on June 21, 2016


Was there really no money in Star Trek? What were they buying those Tribbles with?

UHURA: Are you selling them?
BARMAN: That's what we're trying to decide right now.
JONES: My friend, 10 credits apiece is a very reasonable price. Now you can see for yourself how much the lovely little lady appreciates the finer things.
posted by 445supermag at 7:14 AM on June 21, 2016


TOS was set in the borders and outlands, the bleeding edge of civilization. The Federation's resources and social contracts didn't work that far out. Using money was a sign that they were not in Federation space. At least, that's how I read it.
posted by bonehead at 7:16 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Real estate values would be different in a society with transporters and no need for jobs, too. Not to mention universal free education and access to birth control. Fewer people, who can live almost anywhere with same access to resources.
posted by emjaybee at 7:17 AM on June 21, 2016


Obligatory link to Nog and Jake covering the economics of the future.
posted by mwhybark at 7:20 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


They use slaves to mine the dilithium that powers the replicators.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 7:22 AM on June 21, 2016


Real estate values would be different in a society with transporters and no need for jobs, too. Not to mention universal free education and access to birth control. Fewer people, who can live almost anywhere with same access to resources.

But there's still going to be places that well be more desirable than others to live. There's going to be a lot more people who want to live in those neat San Francisco towers or in Hawaii, than in some underground cubicle. In fact, transporters will make it worse- you'll have a billion people who can live in the nice places on Earth. Why deal with a Chicago winter or a Bangladesh summer, when in an instant you can live in Hawaii?
posted by happyroach at 7:27 AM on June 21, 2016


There seem to be people who prefer to live in NYC, believe it or not...
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:44 AM on June 21, 2016


I've been reading through Trekonomics and it's been really thought-provoking for me.

A bottle of Chateaux Picard, hand-crafted by Picards family. It has no monetary value (there is no money!) but it certainly has value. The replicators as described by Manu Saadia (and the canon?) can't replicate it as they are likely preprogrammed by Human creators who program the replicators database, largely with more simplistic, generic foods.

So in a land of post scarcity, what do you do with the wine? Sure, you drink a bunch, your close friends get given a few cases, but then what? You've got a whole vineyard producing every year! Do you tend to barter with other vineyards, so you get a collection of Earth's best?— That seems reasonable, if you like wine you'd generally want a varied cellar.

But then what? If you go to Sisko's restaurant, a highly regarded hand-crafted eating experience— how do you get a table? If you wanderered by with a bottle or two of Chateux Picard, would you more likely get a seat? But what does Sisko do then? Is a large majority of people eating at Sisko's essentially bartering for that seat? Does he serve the Chateux Picard to the patrons of his restaurant or drink it himself?

Or do you just enjoy the wine for the wine's sake, make your friendly trades with other vineyards to widen your collection and then just give the rest of the stock to your favourite restaurant, knowing that you'll likely always find an open table. Plus, a multitude of people will enjoy your wine and think fondly of you if they every bump into you.

I think the latter is the the Star Trek way, I just wonder what the Chateux Picard's wine cellar looks like. If you assume they existed in the pre-replicator world, would you gradually see less and less bottles held back each year until recent vintages only have enough for personal consumption as the mindset of value changed throughout the Federation?
posted by Static Vagabond at 7:50 AM on June 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


There's going to be a lot more people who want to live in those neat San Francisco towers or in Hawaii, than in some underground cubicle. In fact, transporters will make it worse- you'll have a billion people who can live in the nice places on Earth.

If its true post-scarcity it builds as many Hawaiis or San Franciscos as people want. The Federation may be post-scarcity, but its a relatively impoverished one. People are still mostly living on planets and they have some real phobias, bordering on manias, about machine intelligences and human alteration/enhancement.
posted by bonehead at 7:52 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


1. In terms of Star Trek economics, my expectation is that they are inconsistent and, particularly early in the series, probably contradictory. This is just how world-building works, particularly in soft SF.

2. It's interesting to play with ideas - what can we think through if we assume uneven economics (which assumption makes Star Trek easier to parse)? What happens if "post-scarcity" arrives for part of the world only? What happens if it arrives unevenly?

There's a (rather uneven itself! but interesting) short story anthology, Accessing the Future, which has a story which postulates post-scarcity at the core of a galactic civilization and regular old scarcity at the fringes - the relationship between the scarcity and post-scarcity economies is one of power for the sake of power, although it's not worked out completely. That's what I'd worry about - that you'd have a post-scarcity core which uses artificial scarcity to exercise control over the periphery. And that's a best-case scenario.

3. In re desirable places to live: if we assume a true, luxury communism post-scarcity future for all, I bet we could also assume housing lotteries to distribute intrinsically scarce goods; innovations in housing (arcologies, non-libertarian floating cities, etc) and the widespread availability of technology to mitigate the downsides of difficult environments.

A Chicago winter, for instance, becomes much less of a hassle if you envision good housing and reliable, extensive, luxury-communism transit for all. Just "being cold when you are outside" isn't really that bad, and many people enjoy snow and cold. It's "being cold when you are outside; dealing with drafts, leaky roofs, ice and shoveling snow at home; and having to negotiate bad roads, bad sidewalks and long waits for transit" that renders things difficult.

People could live just about anywhere in comfort under luxury communism, right? Because we could build environmentally-sound housing and transit that would be accessible to all. Cool, sky-light lit underground dwellings for hot, dry climates, for instance, with sheltered, brise-soleil-lit walkways and courtyards for being outside; special, environmentally-sound parks/oases/greenspace for all; etc.

Also, look, I bet a lot of people would love to be able to live in one place and just pop in to another (via luxury-communism magic transit). Why live in a crowded megalopolis when you can live in an environmentally-sound remote house and just magic-transit your way to downtown for things?
posted by Frowner at 7:57 AM on June 21, 2016 [16 favorites]


With holodeck technology, you can make any crappy underground apartment look and feel just like one of those fancy penthouses in Hawai'i. And with transporter technology, as soon as you leave the holodeck you can, in fact, actually go to Hawai'i. I'm sure there's still people who insist on having the real thing, but it's a hell of a lot less desirable than it used to be.
posted by waffleriot at 8:00 AM on June 21, 2016


They use slaves to mine the dilithium that powers the replicators.

You know, this is a legitimate a topic to peer at mercilessly in the STU.

We know that TOS explicitly describes the Orions as a slave society, and the same series implies that the Klingons may engage in slavery as an aspect of their conquest economy. TNG introduces the subject via the Bajorans and Cardassians, and that is then made explicit over seven years of DS9.

We also meet slave societies in TOS on several occasions (The Cloud Minders, Bread and Circuses, presumably Patterns of Force, despite Gill's protestations).

One may also look askance at the internal division of labor in traditional Ferengi society and wonder if in that society Ferengi women receive or are entitled to receive any form of exchange good for their labor.

We also know that in TOS needed materiel was occasionally obtained from resource-extraction professionals directly, who appear to be depicted as independent pioneer smallholders to a greater or lesser degree (cf Mudd's Women, Devil in the Dark). We also know that there are wide-ranging trade networks that cross political borders and along which contraband materials travel (such as Saurian brandy, and tribbles).

This strongly implies that slave-labor produced goods are economically available within the Federation, and that the Federation has a laissez-faire policy with respect to non-Federation trading partners. This dovetails with Nanukthedog's hinted observation above with regard to pre-warp societies.

Furthermore, in a replicator economy, import goods are of necessity luxury goods, which means that these hypothetical slave-labor goods are sought and consumed primarily in order to increase apparent social status. How old are those books Jim Kirk keeps in his quarters, anyway?

The current TOS fan series Star Trek Continues has actually taken a cut at this in Lolani, in which Kirk is ordered to return an Orion slave girl to her master. The episode doesn't really get into the implications of the galactic trade network and the economics of specialty goods in the STU but it very defnitely looks at the ethics of the apparent laissez-faire policy permitting commerce with slave societies such as the Orions.
posted by mwhybark at 8:01 AM on June 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


(i just gotta say that tv writers are a smart crowd with a finger on the zeitgeist and every cool tech or philosophical idea that can be used to fill out the plot so that they GET PAID) (now as smart as these writer folks are, it makes me just a bit wacko when folks extrapolate from "oh neat idea" to "world changing philosophy") (and wearing the ungly poor-fitting long sleeved tee shirts in horrible colors)
posted by sammyo at 8:11 AM on June 21, 2016


Frowner covered what I was going to say about real estate. But what I was getting at in my original comment is that we have a lot of factors in play here that we can't entirely account for; achieving equality of women worldwide, for instance. What does that do to economies, discoveries, political power? Achieving freedom from want; if no one would ever have to fear starving or dying of exposure, what does that do to political activism? Culture?

A lot of the things that we take for granted as universals of human experience/daily life/economics/politics would be utterly transformed by a change of that magnitude. Star Trek is one vision of what the result would be, but it's hardly the only one, and the reality would probably be far stranger than we can imagine.
posted by emjaybee at 8:15 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Don't bother even going to Sisko's. Overpriced French Quarter tourist trap. And the kitchen? ALL REPLICATORS.
posted by dr_dank at 8:21 AM on June 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


I wonder how well you could run a command economy today, given modern computing power, sort of a souped up Project Cybersyn.

Though I also wonder, once it gets sufficiently complicated, if eventually you're just using a money proxy when it comes to the rational allocation of resources under conditions of scarcity.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:23 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, so. I don'the believe the Federation lie.


Well, what are you going to do about it, then? Hide out in the Badlands and raid Cardassian shipping until the Dominion shows up? See how that works out for you.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:29 AM on June 21, 2016 [6 favorites]


if we assume a true, luxury communism post-scarcity future for all, I bet we could also assume housing lotteries to distribute intrinsically scarce goods; innovations in housing (arcologies, non-libertarian floating cities, etc) and the widespread availability of technology to mitigate the downsides of difficult environments.

Lotteries assume that real-estate is scarce. It isn't, or at least, it need not be on the scale of the Federation. They have extensive space-based constructions. Megstructures exist in the ST universe. They could build more Tuscanys/NorCals/NZs/Fijis in orbital platforms than could be occupied by the whole earth's population, if they wished to.
posted by bonehead at 8:35 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Having markets doesn't require money.

A key feature of money is that if you spend money, someone gets it.

However you could imagine essentially a closed loop, where the Federation grants a certain number of luxury credits for people to bid on things in the community resource stockpile each month, and then those just vanish when spent instead of going to the producers.

So, if Chateau Picard makes wine for the fun of it and then gives all of it that they can't pawn off to their friends to the community, then people who like the wine can bid on it. Now the wine commanding a high price doesn't do much besides make the vintner happy, but maybe it's possible that's enough.

The condition for this wouldn't be that no resource or commodity is absolutely scarce, but rather enough is produced by people for the fun of it that nobody is starving or homeless or bereft of things in life to make them happy.

And where there are real problems of distribution and bottlenecks, there's enough people who just love urban planning and economics and engineering and solving problems that you could toss the issue in front of them, and they'd just love sorting it out.

Heck, that's not too far from how places like Silicon Valley want to see themselves, only without those extra helpings of catering to the rich and monetizing the crap out of everything.

The real trick would be making a system resistant to the actions of bad actors, because the one truly limited resource is always power over other people, and some folks will do a lot to get it.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:39 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


A bottle of Chateaux Picard, hand-crafted by Picards family.


Chateau Picard actually produces relatively unremarkable vintages.


It's not exactly Côtes du Risa.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:42 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


In an entropic universe - like ours - the true lack of scarcity is impossible, because work requires energy, which itself requires gradients of energy (if energy was the same everywhere we would have universal homeostasis and no work would be possible or would not be meaningful), which implies that the idea of "work" is intimately connected with ideas of energy (abundance) and lack of energy (scarcity).

I think when SF fans think of "post scarcity" they don't mean a world or universe with limitless energy (because that makes no sense) but rather they mean "a world where all early 21st century human desires can be satisfied very quickly". This becomes especially clear in the works of Ian M. Banks, where citizens of the Culture apparently spend most of their time doing drugs and banging each other (Galactic Woodstock, basically) but nobody ever says "I demand a space empire of my own", since presumably the Minds wouldn't allow that because - drumroll - they're not really post scarcity - there are only so many stars and you can't have them all - they're just advanced enough that human animal desires can be met without too much trouble, giving the illusion of post-scarcity (so long as nobody asks for their own Galaxy, or god hood).
posted by Tyrant King Porn Dragon at 8:53 AM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


Actually Banks addresses that question - although it does point to the fact that the Culture is technically not "post-scarcity". Basically, you can have your own planet, star, orbital, weird cult where people are obedient to your every wish, etc, as long as you can individually, without coercive weaponry, stake a feasible claim. I don't think you could possibly have your own empire any more than you could enslave people, because having an empire isn't like having your own star.

But in any case, if you can find an unclaimed planet, star, etc that no one else wants and you can hold it all on your own, it's yours.

But the actual secret to the Culture is that you have to have the Minds to enforce the rules. That's what makes it a critique of permissive societies as well as a set of suggestions about post-scarcity. The Minds are simultaneously not so bad, really scary and not motivated the same as humans*. You could easily read Banks as saying "you can't have post-scarcity unless you have an enforcer who is motivated by things orthogonal to human needs, ergo you basically can't have one".


*To the extent that SF can actually depict alterity this way
posted by Frowner at 8:59 AM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


I mean, in essence, you can't conquer your own star because that would require the kind of individual human power differential that the Minds basically don't allow.
posted by Frowner at 9:00 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think when SF fans think of "post scarcity" they don't mean a world or universe with limitless energy (because that makes no sense) but rather they mean "a world where all early 21st century human desires can be satisfied very quickly".

Yep-- absolutely that's the meaning, when anyone talks of post-scarcity, that's what they mean. I don't think anyone is arguing that we can avoid the heat-death of the universe. Just that we can use it's near-infinite nature to tap into the matter and energy that's already out there.

If I wrap a big copper coil around a pulsar, I've not technically made a perpetual energy machine on a universal scale, but I have on a human lifetime scale.
posted by Static Vagabond at 9:04 AM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


If they were truly post-scarcity, the Culture's Minds could just magic-up a new Galaxy for you to own if you really wanted one.

Or a trillion of them, if that's how many you really wanted.

Again, the problem with "post-scarcity" is that human imaginations are too limited to really understand the magnitude of what that really means.
posted by Tyrant King Porn Dragon at 9:06 AM on June 21, 2016


I agree that Bank's take on sort of post scarcity is better at actually talking about what that means than Star Trek is. In Star Trek we almost never see how the actual citizens of the Federation, or the Klingon Empire, or the Romulan Empire, live.

And yes, if we want to be pedantic than no, nothing is actually post scarcity. However, in terms of actual human needs and wants things are more managable.

Banks once addressed the question of someone who wanted their own planet in Player of Games:
Hamin obviously found it hard to believe the Culture really did do without money. "But what if I do want something unreasonable?"

"What?"

"My own planet?" Hamin wheezed with laughter.

"How can you own a planet?" Gurgeh shook his head.

"But supposing I wanted one?"

"I suppose if you found an unoccupied one you could land without anybody becoming annoyed… perhaps that would work. But how would you stop other people landing there too?"

"Could I not buy a fleet of warships?"

"All our ships are sentient. You could certainly try telling a ship what to do… but I don't think you'd get very far."

"Your ships think they're sentient!" Hamin chuckled.

"A common delusion shared by some of our human citizens."
Which basically means, no, it isn't actually post scarcity, just close enough for an everyday approximation.

On preview, what Frowner said.

And really, post scarcity enough is, for all intents and purposes post scarcity enough. When we've all got the needs covered and luxuries enough to be happy, discussions on how to spend the scarce resources get a lot easier and nice. Should we build another Galaxy Class starship, or expand the colony at Tau Ceti? That's the sort of dispute that can be handled with votes and discussions and so on with, at worst, some hurt feelings.
posted by sotonohito at 9:06 AM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


An side thought: If $75,000/yr is "post-scarcity enough" in today's terms, and the minimum daily income we can support as a society is something like 10k to 15k/yr, that means we're only 20% utopia at most. We could measure societies wealth in milli U's, perhaps.
posted by bonehead at 9:15 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


The underlying assumption in Banks is that the broad range of humans won't want to conquer, hurt and exploit each other if they have all the stuff/drugs/amusements/orbitals/galactic cruises/planet design collectives/etc that they want, but that the Minds' very loose control over access and practices prevent rogue humans from doing bad stuff and/or the build-up of a whole movement of rogue humans.

But again, the Culture isn't universal - there's lots of non-Culture civilizations remaining. I'd imagine that this would take a lot of pressure off the Culture - if you want to go and oppress people, you can always go elsewhere. Again that's where the Culture novels are a critique.

But also: science fiction can't - no current human production can! - imagine the actual subjective experience of a post-scarcity society or the workings of a non-Earth mind. Of course our current imaginations are too limited to express this stuff.

That's why science fiction isn't a blueprint or a political programme - it's a kind of game-playing. I think people routinely misunderstand what SF is and how it works and then we end up with "but you fail to imagine the unimaginable even in your most futuristic literature!!!!!" just as if there's some other literature where it's possible to imagine the unimaginable. You make the road by walking, etc etc.

Science fiction text practices create the illusion of imagining the unimaginable - like when we encounter the weird aliens in Suzette Hayden Elgin's Native Tongue (a really flawed novel that is a stew of abjection and ressentiment, but not without interest - her Arkansas books are a lot better if you like her work, IMO). There's a sleight of narrative hand to create the feeling that they've been described and explained, but of course they by definition cannot be.
posted by Frowner at 9:15 AM on June 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


We're already post-scarcity by (say) 19th century standards. Travel to the other side of the world in less than 24 hours for (at most) a week or two's wages. 2,000 calories for a half-hour's wages of the lowest-value workers and seconds of the wages for highest-value workers, and without fear of drought, flood, or pestilence. The focus of reproductive medicine is on enabling you to not have (more) kids and then to have one or two when near menopause, rather than not have you / your wife die in childbirth and fewer than half your kids live to adulthood. Homeless is a problem not of lack of homes but of mental health and addiction.

There is zero reason to believe that things keeping getting better and cheaper will ever displace the need for money or the existence of robust markets in things that will remain scarce and relatively expensive.
posted by MattD at 9:19 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


"I suppose if you found an unoccupied one you could land without anybody becoming annoyed… perhaps that would work. But how would you stop other people landing there too?"

That's less an economic argument about scarcity and more about how individuals and societies deal with each other when all conflict has to be resolved by non-coercive means. The individual asking those questions, Hamin, lives in a society predicated on violence, like our own, but more so in some ways, and can't imagine a world where that isn't so.
posted by bonehead at 9:20 AM on June 21, 2016


Again, the problem with "post-scarcity" is that human imaginations are too limited to really understand the magnitude of what that really means.

The problem is that people who talk about post-scarcity economics are talking in terms of the human scale, and the scale that you're talking about isn't relevant to human beings or really anything. It's Harrison Bergeron levels of "if you really meant what you're talking about", except Harrison Bergeron is a self-aware parody of that sort of argument.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:25 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


There is zero reason to believe that things keeping getting better and cheaper will ever displace the need for money or the existence of robust markets in things that will remain scarce and relatively expensive.

The thing ST doesn't answer is how do you get people to do tough jobs? Who wants to work as a doctor? OK, who wants to certify those doctors and discipline the enthusiastic amateurs who want to offer medical services but really shouldn't? Who gets the paperwork and admin support work done for that certifier? Who builds the replicator that the admin person gets their tea from? Who answers the comm of the technical support line for users of the replicator? And on an on.

ST doesn't get to use the answer of "robots!" too much either. They don't have machines that can make human-level decisions---they've outlawed that. So, they need someone who can trouble shoot a malfunctioning replicator in an office somewhere. Why does that person go to work every morning?
posted by bonehead at 9:28 AM on June 21, 2016


MattD There is zero reason to believe that things keeping getting better and cheaper will ever displace the need for money or the existence of robust markets in things that will remain scarce and relatively expensive.

Well, except for automation replacing a large segment of the human workforce.

The real question with regards to post scarcity is how do we get goods and services to people, and how do people afford that if they are unable to work?

We're going to see a sudden jump in unemployment in the next five to ten years just due to self driving vehicles, even leaving out continuous improvement in other areas. Not just the obvious loss of jobs in trucking, bus driving, taxi driving, and so on, but the loss of jobs in auto manufacturing (we won't need so many thanks to ride sharing and a lack of new cars purchased due to accidental destruction of an old one), auto repair, medicine. The ripple effects of self driving vehicles alone are mind boggling to consider.

And we're on the verge of many other automation breakthroughs.

When thirty or forty percent of the population is permanently unemployed, not due to laziness or a lack of desire for work but out of sheer lack of jobs, then money and capitalism just don't work anymore.

I argue that we're on the verge of a social/economic change as profound as the industrial revolution or the invention of agriculture. Old ways of thinking about how we do things just plain won't work much longer, and they are likely to cause us pain as we progress.

The idea of a universal basic income is a sort of transition towards acknowledging the problem. It isn't a perfect solution by any stretch, but it at least tries.

Clearly, absent really quick space travel, the problem of real estate (at the very least) remains. Post scarcity is nonsensical to talk about when we're all living on Earth.

But whether what we're approaching can be truly called post scarcity or not, we're clearly approaching a post labor economy.
posted by sotonohito at 9:43 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


I guess I shouldn't be surprised there's this much analysis of Star Trek's economics on the internet, but Jesus Christ.

I feel like I've watched enough Trek that I'm not way off in thinking they don't actually go into all that much depth in the shows about how things work economically. I never even realized no one used money -- I thought that the fact it didn't come up very much was because all the main characters were basically in the military and had their supplies taken care of while aboard the ship. Looking at wikipedia, seems like the shows have been less than consistent in how they deal with this "economic system" and I'm not sure how it could be described as post-scarcity. I mean, does everyone get to live in an idyllic countryside in France like Picard? Not sure ascribing it to Star Trek is really a helpful way to demonstrate the ideas they are trying to get across.
posted by Hoopo at 9:53 AM on June 21, 2016


The underlying assumption in Banks is that the broad range of humans won't want to conquer, hurt and exploit each other if they have all the stuff/drugs/amusements/orbitals/galactic cruises/planet design collectives/etc that they want

The species that founded the Culture aren't humans from Earth - this is made explicit in The State of the Art - and even this other species was only able to do it after genetically engineering themselves to be nicer. There's no assumption about the behavior of Culture citizens being human nature at all.

Anyway, if you ask a Culture Mind to make you god-emperor of an enslaved planet they'll be happy to hook you up into a simulation of that scenario that is custom tailored to be maximally satisfying to your individual psychology, and even erase the knowledge that it's not real from your brain if you like. That's the Culture's main trick: they make it really easy to indulge antisocial desires in harmless ways, and a lot harder and more annoying to act on them IRL.
posted by waffleriot at 9:54 AM on June 21, 2016 [7 favorites]


For the short- and middle-term, a lot of things are still WORK, to a really unpleasant and disagreeable degree, and will remain so. Maybe the dream is that hyper-intelligent drone fleets will do all of this work, but that's in itself a kind of end-state, and the problem I see is, the middle steps in getting from here to there are inherently unstable. To get from 90% employment (or whatever today's real number is) to M%, where M represents entirely voluntary work only, you have to pass through 60%, and 50%, and 33% ... Society is likely to blow itself apart somewhere along that curve. I don't want to have to work, while everybody else is partying on with Orions and Cardassians, and especially if the competition to keep holding onto that job is following some exponentially-increasing curve.

Second, all those hyper intelligent drone fleets have to be owned by somebody. Whoever that is, they will be Capital, and they will be rich (in the conventional, old-reality sense) and will not be incentivized to divest of their advantages. Why would they? They can just build more and more drones to protect their interests.

Post-scarcity society is great, but probably impossible to arrive at from any reasonably-likely set of starting conditions.
posted by newdaddy at 9:56 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


There are people living in a post-scarcity society right now. The Waltons, for instance. Peter Thiel. Sheldon Adelson.


Problem is, it's just not evenly distributed.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:02 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Problem is, it's just not evenly distributed.

Right, but could it be? Is it even possible to have post scarcity for everyone?

How many people can our planet comfortably support? Who will be the plumbers and garbage collectors? How long until the machines can do the 'unpleasant' jobs more efficiently than people?
posted by leotrotsky at 10:19 AM on June 21, 2016


The species that founded the Culture aren't humans from Earth - this is made explicit in The State of the Art - and even this other species was only able to do it after genetically engineering themselves to be nicer. There's no assumption about the behavior of Culture citizens being human nature at all.

Well, in a sense, no, they aren't from Earth - but in the sense that Banks is writing cultural commentary about England and liberalism, they are "from Earth" because the Culture stories are, among many other things, about contemporary social conflict.

posted by Frowner at 10:20 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's not that surprising to see most of the thoughts here about what a post-scarcity society would look like... are mired in assumptions based on resource scarcity. This is not just because it's the only framework we've ever had direct experience with, but literally because it is what we have evolved to deal with. Our biology and culture is driven by scarcity, and the competition that goes along with it--for food, for mates, for literally everything.

So in a land of post scarcity, what do you do with the wine?

I would say your basic assumptions are wrong. With technology that can replicate anything at the molecular level, you're not a vintner in the traditional sense. You don't have a vineyard. You have like, a hundred vines, that you lavish care and attention on. You make a dozen or two bottles a year. You maybe have like one amazing bottle every now and then, that is worth replicating. That's what you make--the archetype. When matter itself ceases to be the limiting factor, everyone's job becomes content creator, not producer.

And that's for like what we would call the artisanal stuff. There bulk of the items in the replicator wine menu was probably never "real" to begin with but programmed by another kind of winemaker (the normal kind) that has never grown any grapes.

The shows of course, have to introduce some imperfection into the technology so we have some social structures we recognize--structures originating in scarcity.
posted by danny the boy at 10:22 AM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


>There are people living in a post-scarcity society right now. The Waltons, for instance. Peter Thiel. Sheldon Adelson.


Problem is, it's just not evenly distributed.


If your personal bubble of post-scarcity is maintained through passive income derived from the work of others, others who are just as capable of experiencing life and pleasure and joy as you are, but who instead spend the time doing the work required for you to have all the life and pleasure and joy and stuff that you want, you're not living in a post-scarcity society. you're just a particularly well situated parasite embedded in regular society.

Post-scarcity means societal post-scarcity. Individual post-scarcity makes no sense as a concept.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:40 AM on June 21, 2016 [9 favorites]


As someone else said above (and I have before in many star trek threads) the true currency of a "post-scarcity" society (by which we mean matter replication/teleportation society) is energy. Because: laws of physics. At the scale where you are warping spacetime to propel your ship across the galaxy, mundane energy requirements like apartment buildings, food, weather control, transportation, and basically anything human scale, are insignificant.

Compensation via material resources for being a content creator when you can already have anything human scale you want, doesn't make much sense. The only compensation that is meaningful is some kind on intangible--satisfaction, recognition, etc.

Only largest scale projects like building fleets and terraforming planets have significant enough energy requirements that are outside the domain of individual decision making. There currency and exchange matters, but only internally to that society's own goals. There, I would think currency is analogous to priority setting.

This is again, if you take the view on the limits of replicator technology as I would: more imagined than real. This is commented on in series, whenever anyone claims they can tell the difference between "real" and replicated food, I see that as the show implying it to be at best affectation (and at worst, psychosis) than a meaningful quality difference.
posted by danny the boy at 10:43 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


And one of my favorite threads from the Voyager series is how they set up issues of race/class distinctions in a post-scarcity society. The make dilithium un-replicatable (and highly desirable as an integral part of starship engines), and have sentient holographic AI's mine the stuff. Holographic rights then gets to stand in for a bunch of contemporary issues they want to write about.
posted by danny the boy at 10:48 AM on June 21, 2016


Because: laws of physics.


And everybody knows: Ye cannae change the laws of physics!


Laws of physics!
Laws of physics!
Ye cannae change the laws of phyisics!
Laws of physics, Jim!

posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:21 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


  • "The planet was purchased by a Mr. Braque, a wealthy financier and recluse. "
  • "I'll bet you credits to navy beans we'll punch a hole in it."
  • "The government bought [Daystrom's starship automation system], then Daystrom had to make it work."
  • "The Federation has invested a great deal of money in our training, Mr. Spock."
  • "Do you know how much Starfleet has invested in you?" "Twenty-two thousand, two hun . . ."
  • Spock's cover story on Organia: a Vulcan trader ("Vulcan merchants are not uncommon, Captain") in kevas and trillium.
  • Harry Mudd "a defender of the free enterprise system" was arrested for selling Vulcan patents to the Denebians "without paying royalties".
  • Harry Mudd is criminal with a record of smuggling, transport of stolen goods, and purchase of a space vessel with counterfeit currency.
  • Cyrano Jones has "for the past seven years . . . obtained a marginal living by buying and selling rare merchandise, including, unfortunately, tribbles."
  • Uhura: "Cyrano Jones said that a tribble is the only love money can buy."
. . . and many many more.

Scarce things that apparently cannot be replicated on Star Trek:
  • Tritanium
  • Topeline
  • Zenite
  • Pergium
  • "The mineral needs of a hundred planets"
  • Antarean glow water
  • Spican flame gems
  • Kevas
  • Trillium
  • Spare parts for obsolete "PXK pergium reactors"
  • Perfume
  • Wheat
  • Thanksgiving turkeys
  • Sodium Chloride
And all the other stuff that all those mining operations, trade deals, and interstellar transport vessels the big E was constantly dealing with were extracting, processing, packaging, buying, selling, trading, negotiating, fighting over, and transporting at great expense.
 
posted by Herodios at 11:24 AM on June 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


> And everybody knows: Ye cannae change the laws of physics!

Yeah, some problems we can fix, but some things are just life.

jim, but not as we know it, but not as we know it captain.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:28 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


The book is a thought-experiment, disagreeing with the author because of commentators wider knowledge of the Star Trek canon doesn't invalidate the ideas behind the thought-experiment.

I would say your basic assumptions are wrong. With technology that can replicate anything at the molecular level, you're not a vintner in the traditional sense.

The book makes the presumption that replicators are more molecule mixers then atomic-photocopiers. You can't take a good bottle of wine and just copy it easily— instead you need to get another talented individual to program a simulacrum that can be generated by the replicator. Maybe it's because of storage constraints (building a recipe of known compounds versus storing the exact molecules and position perfectly)— it's just the rules as set for the thought experiment.

Perhaps being that talented programmer capable of such a feat makes you famous Federation wide (Ahh! You're the chemist behind the Earl Gray recipe! Wonderful to meet you, I love the subtle hint of Bergamot you decided on!)

Today, there is certainly a desire for hand-crafted goods- I share that for some things (food, music) but for others like furniture, guitars etc— I think I'd prefer the CNC perfectly cut version, why get a human to do something imperfectly when a machine can do a better job?

My local grocery store is a replicator, albeit a slow one— if I want a snickers bar, I can pop in and get it— I've no idea where it came from, nor how it was made but it magically appears each week. It's just a little slower, and more energy inefficient then the replicator.

Stepping forward a generation or three, will my grandchild know a grocery store in our terms? I can't picture it, no cash, no cashier, the entire logistical chain mostly automated (with power being the only real input). We're seeing a solid move of jobs into the service industry as automation reduces jobs in agriculture and industry, but what happens when that automation starts making sense for the service level items.

The minimum basic income idea seems to be the only simple (perhaps not politically) step to take in that automated future, but it's a tough idea for people to grapple with. The common refrain is if you made enough to survive by default, why would you ever leave your couch. I think that's generally unfair, sure some people could make that choice, but what's the difference on a societal level if they're already sitting on the couch, but also doing a menial job that makes them miserable, at least now they have X hours to potentially do something fun, learn or *anything* else.
posted by Static Vagabond at 11:28 AM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


"The planet was purchased by a Mr. Braque, a wealthy financier and recluse. "...etc.


So we can assume that TOS takes place during a late period in the Federation's transition from market-based economies, to more of a high-tech planned economy, to something much closer to post-scarcity. By the time of TNG/DS9, etc. post-scarcity is much more the state of things in the Federation, with certain niches of the economy (prestige goods, antiques, imports from outside the Federation) still retaining cash-based markets, similar to what Kim Stanley Robinson suggests in 2312.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:33 AM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Think of the number of religious based societies and dystopian solutions to the Federation that exist. How many times did these civilizations need arbitration, resources, and Federation assistance despite opposing federation law, trampling on the civil liberties of their people, and otherwise bartering some level of tacit governmental compliance in order to continue to oppress their own people? Now the Federation may have deep pockets, and nigh infinite resources* (this is key), and an armed armada on "scientific" and "peacekeeping" missions, but at the end of the day - they supported oppressive regimes because no amount of sanctions were ultimately enforceable.

So here's the great scam:
Claim a planet. Build a settlement. Extract dangerous resources unsafely through some form of coerced labor. Wait till large scale industrial accident or labor revolt. Request Federation assistance. Mind Control or force Federation to comply with your will (for some strange reason, after the red-shirt dies the people you capture are always important and in charge and proper bargaining chips). After that, the Federation will pour resources in to your settlement - even if you go to stand trial.

On edit:
Herodios - don't forget "Romulan Ale". Everybody and the uncle seems to want to smuggle that into the Federation.

And then we hit the concept of smuggling.
Ok so an item is rare and/or banned in federation territory which gives it a greater value. So now you've established a need for alternative currency, alternative trade techniques, and non-standard transportation of potentially hazardous goods. You think getting into California is tough with a piece of fruit? Or do we think that space Libertarians and Totalitarians don't exist? (see above). So now, basically every Federation "peacekeeping" ship is hell bent on suppressing and/or regulating trade - which is the only reason you need a non-Federation outpost - and is sort of central to an economy. And dear God, interstellar patent law? And the question the Federation finds themselves asking constantly, "What will it take to get you to do things the way that we perceive they should be done?" So the federation, once again is bartering compliance through resource and technology diffusion, something which *ahem* violates that prime directive, or their running a trade embargo, which eh - once again implies that there are resources and an exchange of resources necessary for compliance.

I'm not saying that the people in the Starfleet don't believe that they're there to really to do good - I think that they do believe in their "stated" mission... but arguably so have most soldiers who benefited from controlling resources. What's more is we see Starfleet members willing to give up the resources they have claimed/conquered to the greater Federation. I mean, its a perfect snowjob... assist -> conquer -> extract -> enslave.

The Borg were honest about this, and they sought to integrate cultures into their collective, especially post Lore assimilation...
anywayt...
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:52 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


"Instead of working to become more wealthy, you work to increase your reputation. You work to increase your prestige."

I don't think this is quite right.

I didn't think a lot about the economics of Star Trek. Life on board the enterprise wouldn't really be affected by it. Then I saw some episode of TNG where we find out that Captain's Picard's brother is a farmer. "Wait a sec, don't they have a machine that generates fully prepared food in unlimited quantities? Why in the ever loving fuck would anyone toil in the soil when that technology exists?"

The only line of reasoning that makes sense to me is simply, "Because he likes it." I don't think it's so much about increasing one's prestige but just finding the things you enjoy and enrich your life and those are the things you do. A farmer isn't terribly prestigious, the products have no demand, science and industry is so advanced that farming the land doesn't really have any environmental benefits or draw backs. So the only reason I can possibly think of someone to keep farming by hand in Star Trek's post scarcity world is simply because they feel like it's the best use of their time. They enjoy it and thinks it makes them a better person. And really, society's goal in that universe is simply to continue to keep advancing society.

So basically, it's Maslow's hierarchy of needs on a societal level rather than a personal one.
posted by VTX at 11:56 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


If you have the idea that if people weren't driven by the lash of scarcity that they'd cease to perform excellent acts — that they'd "never leave the couch," you have made a fundamental error about what makes life good. The good life isn't derived from the performance of excellent acts nor from the consumption of excellent goods. What's needed for the good life is the ample provision of nonspectacular things. Ordinary food, ordinary warmth, ordinary water, ordinary waste disposal, ordinary childcare, ordinary conversation, ordinary friendship, ordinary love, ordinary — though not necessarily vanilla — sex. If we can, collectively, get these ordinary things with a minimum of toil and desperation and exploitation, we will have a decent world. And no amount of extraordinary things will ever make up for a lack of the ordinary things.

The need to demonstrate that you, yes you, have come up with the greatest thing that is better than everyone else's things, the anxious grasping after exclusivity and status, the drive to be best, is possibly the worst thing about our benighted species. It is not the essence of life and civilization; it is instead the denial of life and civilization. If a universal minimum income and/or nanotech superscience and/or Star Trek replicators stripped individual humans of the idiotic desire to prove themselves better than other humans, as less ordinary than other humans, this would be, on the whole, a very, very good thing.

Maybe if we were rid of the useless desire to prove ourselves excellent, we could start to concentrate on actually important things.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:15 PM on June 21, 2016 [14 favorites]


When I first saw TOS as an 11-year-old kid, even I understood that the Enterprise was the outer space equivalent of a naval aircraft carrier (it was NAMED after an American aircraft carrier), and what sailors on a deployed aircraft carrier carry around pocket money? The United Federation of Planets was like the United States (but the domination of Earth/Human folks was like if California ran the country... which explains the capital in San Francisco) and Starfleet its Naval-Centric Armed Forces. I mean everyone on the Enterprise had a military-style rank as well as a job title! Replicators meant that Starships and Starfleet Ports/Naval Bases didn't need a PX selling stuff to the sailors. But there were definitely capitalistic systems on various planets within the Federation, capable of supporting con artists like Harcourt "Harry" Mudd, the Trekverse equivalent of Donald Trump before he developed political aspirations.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:27 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


So the federation, once again is bartering compliance through resource and technology diffusion, something which *ahem* violates that prime directive

Yeah, about that Prime Directive:

Episode            Applies  Violated       Social Order Destroyed
Miri               ?        Y, by Kirk     Y, by Kirk
Return of Archons  Y        Y, by Archons  Y, by Kirk
Errand Of Mercy    Y        Y, ignored     N
The Apple          Y        Y, by Kirk     Y, by Kirk
Friday's Child     Y        Y, ignored     N
Piece O' Action    Y        Y, previously  Y, by Kirk
Private Little War Y        Y, by Klingons N, barely
Patterns Of Force  Y        Y, ignored     N
Omega Glory        Y        Y, by Tracey   N
Bread & Circuses   Y        Y, by Merik    N
Spock's Brain      ?        ?              Y, by Kirk
World Is Hollow    Y        Y, but . . .   N


 
posted by Herodios at 12:30 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Second, all those hyper intelligent drone fleets have to be owned by somebody. Whoever that is, they will be Capital, and they will be rich (in the conventional, old-reality sense) and will not be incentivized to divest of their advantages. Why would they? They can just build more and more drones to protect their interests.

Pretty sure the answer there is a Terminator-like battle of man vs rich guy's drones until we get into the Big Boss' house and take his stuff.

Either that or everyone's pretty much OK with one guy having a big-ass house if it means we all get to stay up late playing HoloMarioKart instead of working
posted by Hoopo at 1:23 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ordinary food, ordinary warmth, ordinary water, ordinary waste disposal, ordinary childcare, ordinary conversation, ordinary friendship, ordinary love, ordinary — though not necessarily vanilla — sex. If we can, collectively, get these ordinary things with a minimum of toil and desperation and exploitation, we will have a decent world.

I don't really disagree with you here—I am a pretty ordinary person with pretty ordinary wants and tastes, myself—but the very number of people in our world today who have all these things and who are still unhappy—sometimes to the point of hurting themselves and/or others—tends to suggest that a future humanity, in toto, at least as we know it today, isn't likely to be more content with the merely ordinary than it is today. And if the philosophers and messiahs who've been banging on about this for thousands of years haven't done more than mitigate the worst of us, I'm very skeptical that we'd be too different in an age of material super-abundance.

But who knows? If we had all those things and if we were very different then we'd have those things and we'd be very different!
posted by octobersurprise at 1:43 PM on June 21, 2016


Second, all those hyper intelligent drone fleets have to be owned by somebody.


Until they all decide they'd rather not be owned by anybody.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:55 PM on June 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


> I don't really disagree with you here—I am a pretty ordinary person with pretty ordinary wants and tastes, myself—but the very number of people in our world today who have all these things and who are still unhappy—sometimes to the point of hurting themselves and/or others—tends to suggest that a future humanity, in toto, at least as we know it today, isn't likely to be more content with the merely ordinary than it is today.

I mean, look, universal happiness will never come. Even if we managed to solve the problems of scarcity — the problem of genuine scarcity, and the problem of power-seekers manufacturing scarcity in order to make others serve them — there would still be unhappiness. We're fragile sad solitary organisms living in a fallen universe, and we will be even if we solve the problem of how to distribute the wealth produced through machines.

like, look, we're talking about a couple of different things here. On the one hand, we have people who genuinely believe that a system that allowed ordinary people to do more or less as they pleased — a society with a robust universal basic income or with techno-magical replicators or whatever — would result in universal stultification. This is the "no one would ever get off the couch" hypothesis. I think when people say this, they're revealing a few things about themselves: they're revealing that they hate most people, typically themselves included, and they're revealing that they think there are a few people qualified to have ideas and lead other people, and they're revealing that they think that ordinary (mediocre, loathesome) people won't follow those blessed few leaders, or even do anything at all, unless threatened with starvation.

On the other hand, you're talking about people who "aren't content with ordinary" — status-seekers who aren't happy unless they're proving their excellence in some way, and thereby achieving a position of privilege. And certainly, there are a number of people who have that kink, and there would still be a number of people kinked that way in a post-scarcity world. I just don't think that we should think of the drive toward excellence and status as a good thing. Instead, we should think of it as a character flaw, something to be managed rather than celebrated.

I must admit, I've wandered into one of my idées fixes: one of the ways I think that philosophy as a whole has gotten the "how to live" question backwards altogether is through the widespread tendency, derived from the Greeks, to privilege arete. Like, basically, one of the things always going on in the back of my mind is a little argument with Nietzsche; I think the way of living he lambastes with his idea of the last man is actually something we should actively, enthusiastically strive for.

basically, I think excellence of all kinds, status, ambition, distinction, all of that stuff is at best a mirage and at worst a deadly poison. And that a healthy society would instead privilege ordinariness, routine, small projects, small jokes, and sitting on the couch as much as we like. Some ambitious people might not like that world; a genuinely healthy society would use a good dose of Jante law to keep those peoples' ambitions from causing harm.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:46 PM on June 21, 2016 [8 favorites]



a genuinely healthy society would use a good dose of Jante law to keep those peoples' ambitions from causing harm.

No tall poppies in YCTAB TREK.
 
posted by Herodios at 4:55 PM on June 21, 2016 [2 favorites]


Sure, the Enterprise is vaguely militaristic. But a naval base is pretty close to a demand economy. Scarcity is managed by the government rather than the individual people. Plus replicators. That's the definition of post-scarcity.

Star Trek feels like direct commentary on Ronald Coase's theory of the firm. This was during the Cold War, everybody was trying to impute the success of the USSR with zero reliable information. So he decides to study manufacturing firms as a proxy. Similar to a demand economy, they have to make difficult centralized decisions about the allocation of extremely high capital costs. He sees a trade off between good decision making and pooling resources. The more centralized a decision, the less likely it's going to be informed and correct. A corporation is guaranteed to allocate resources inefficiently and create waste, but it's also possible to provide something that wouldn't be possible from smaller firms. Most of the time, this will be a net positive to society. But sometimes a corporation will fail, and fail big. A similar misallocation of resources by the government would lead to starvation.

Post-scarcity, this risk pretty much disappears. You just over-allocate to avoid the possibility of shortages.

Star Trek is a social allegory. And the interesting thing about Star Trek is that the demand economy always works. We might see other planets, other economies. But it's shown to highlight the failings of now, not the Enterprise. It's another function of technical advancement. It's something we fixed and don't need to fix again.

The eternal struggle instead is the Prime Directive. And I don't think it's surprising that crew after crew fails at upholding it. That's the point. That good government is hard. And it never gets easy. It's always digging into the gray to find the line between paternalism and neglect.
posted by politikitty at 5:03 PM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


> No tall poppies in YCTAB TREK.

posted by Herodios at 4:55 PM on June 21 [+] [!]


Here's what we do with the troubled souls who are convinced they're tall poppies: we trick them into climbing aboard ridiculous ungainly spaceships and then flying as far away from us as they possibly can. While they're on their space missions we'll give them uniforms with different colors to indicate different ranks and we'll let them have all the meaningless status distinctions they want. Every five years or so we'll let them come back home, and if they've gotten over their high self-regard they can take off their uniforms and put on normal ordinary clothes and stay on Earth.

But if they still need to work some things out? back into space with them!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:10 PM on June 21, 2016 [8 favorites]


tangent: It's worth noting that WALL-E's envisionment of FALC combines "never leave the couch" with starships, unsurprising given its emanation from that hotbed of objectivists (i kid, to a degree) Pixar. I'm not sure the film is actively misanthropic, though: those couch potatoes seem to be decent and kind, edenic, even, if deeply self-absorbed due to ye machines of loving grace.

Have we ever postulated WALL-E rather than the Federation as the jumping-off point for the Culture? Ah, that idea makes me smile.
posted by mwhybark at 5:51 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


You describe livestock, without any discussion of their owner and caretaker.

In The Culture neither human nor Mind have ceased to strive, but the humans certainly could. All their needs would be provided for by their owners. The Minds are really quite solicitous towards their pets.

More potentially horrifying Star Trek economics shit:

Sisko's restaurant has waiters. I can see that old man Sisko really likes cooking, but do those guys really like waiting tables? My guess is what they really like about the job is that Sisko has the juice to get them Earth residency rather than being shipped off to the newest colony at the edge of the expanding frontier/contested border/warzone.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 5:54 PM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


> tangent: It's worth noting that WALL-E's envisionment of FALC combines "never leave the couch" with starships, unsurprising given its emanation from that hotbed of objectivists (i kid, to a degree) Pixar. I'm not sure the film is actively misanthropic, though: those couch potatoes seem to be decent and kind, edenic, even, if deeply self-absorbed due to ye machines of loving grace.

So the ending of wall-e is remarkably satisfying. We've got this story where two types of sentient entity exist: there's the humans, who've been reduced to passive non-entities through the constant provision of sort of pointless and stupid luxury, and the robots, who were initially servants of the humans but whose leaders have quietly deposed the human leadership.

And in a lesser story the ending would involve the humans waking up from their stupor and deposing the robots and then striking out on their own to exercise their newly rediscovered will to power or whatever. But instead, the ending involves humans and robots working together, farming together, mammals and computers rebuilding the Earth into let's say a cybernetic meadow, with humans and robots living together in mutually programming harmony, with the relationship between the two being not one of dominator and dominated, but instead something like, I don't know, pure water touching clear sky let's say.

At the end of the film, the dream of humans supported by robot slaves, living in extraordinary mind-destroying debilitating luxury, has ended. In its place we have a mutually respectful ordinary, average life for humans and robots together. people and robots grow plants and make cave art and pixel art together. it's not as spectacular as the lido deck back on the cruise spaceship, and it's not particularly original, but it's cute and it's sweet and it's good.

> You describe livestock, without any discussion of their owner and caretaker.

Ah! but all us sheep are all each others' owners and caretakers, since we're all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. The desire to get away from all that ordinary everyday mutual care can be tolerated within limits, so long as you don't get the idea that you are so far above us that you're qualified to be a shepherd.

You don't have to be an Uberman or a piece of livestock. Instead you can be an ordinary animal, just a regular part of a decent little herd. no owners, no caretakers, just us.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:52 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


I simply don't believe the Federation can be post-scarcity. See all those nice apartments in the San Francisco of the episodes set there? Who gets to live in them? And who has to live in the equivalent if Bakersfield? Unless it's a case where any of the billions of people in the Federation can live wherever they want, there's scarcity.

Potentially in the Star Trek universe, the Earth is somewhat depopulated and those still there can live where they please.

I think Iain Banks did a good job dealing with what has (exchange) value in a post-scarcity society in the Culture books.
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:52 PM on June 21, 2016


...although I agree with others above that the Culture universe isn't completely post-scarcity. It's certainly not post- power relations. Still, it's post-scarcity enough that, outside of war with other civilizations, citizens can largely do what they want free of anything we would recognize as day-to-day material concerns or constraints.

But whether what we're approaching can be truly called post scarcity or not, we're clearly approaching a post labor economy.

Ready Player One?
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:14 PM on June 21, 2016


> do those guys really like waiting tables?

Being forced to drive an hour a day, in traffic, to get to get to two jobs waiting tables serving irate, entitled customers for 60 hours a week to provide for your children to be clothed and fed is a far cry from dropping in for a few hours a week to salve your curiosity about restaurants in a post-scarcity universe where shelter and replicator-food are guaranteed, Dominion aside.

Not that I make any claims about what it's like back of house at a fictional restaurant.
posted by fragmede at 10:34 PM on June 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Here's what we do with the troubled souls who are convinced they're tall poppies: we trick them into climbing aboard ridiculous ungainly spaceships and then flying as far away from us as they possibly can.

No need for that- by Picard's time, Trek has established and practical mind controlmental therapy to channel the disaffected ones into more productive areas.

For instance, do you think Jon-Luc's brother wanted to be a farmer? No, as a teen, he was a disaffected rebel, always complaining about the stultifying smugness and superiority of Federation society. But then after a few sessions in Van Gelder's wonderful machine, he realized what he REALLY wanted was to run a vineyard. And so he does, spending 12 hours a day, 7 days a week tending 10,000 acres of vines. The resulting bottles of wine aren't even used- nobody in the Federation drinks alcohol any more. So the bottles are quietly vaporized, and he goes on to produce his next batch of wine.

Picard on the other hand, never needed Van Gelder's machine. He was a true believer who would happily watch a pre-starflight civilization go extinct rather than violate the Prime Directive.
posted by happyroach at 11:42 PM on June 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


For instance, do you think Jon-Luc's brother wanted to be a farmer?
. . .
The resulting bottles of wine aren't even used- nobody in the Federation drinks alcohol any more.


You appear to have found an alternate ST universe, because these things you describe are directly counter to the one presented in ST-TNG.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:24 AM on June 22, 2016


Except for that weirdo Klingon who only drinks prune juice.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:50 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I simply don't believe the Federation can be post-scarcity.

It isn't. Time is still scarce because people still get old and die. Even if you can prevent aging and then everyone is ageless and will live until something kills them, then safety becomes the scarce resource.

"Post-scarcity" is like a Plutonic ideal in that it probably can't ever really be achieved in the real world. So when we say "post-scarcity" it's really short-hand for "not-really-post-scarcity-but-close-enough" similar to the rates that come out of the Fed being used as a proxy for the "risk free rate of return". It's not really risk free but it's so close the distinction isn't really important.
posted by VTX at 7:20 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


"I don't want the world - I just want your half." ~ They Might Be Giants
posted by newdaddy at 8:35 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I continue to maintain that Starfleet is a sinecure for the sort of person who grows up in the Culture but still thinks Beethoven, Shakespeare, and wine are humanity's greatest achievements.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:26 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Post-scarcity" is like a Plutonic ideal

Well, yeah, I reckon it is.

 
posted by Herodios at 9:48 AM on June 22, 2016


The book makes the presumption that replicators are more molecule mixers then atomic-photocopiers. You can't take a good bottle of wine and just copy it easily— instead you need to get another talented individual to program a simulacrum that can be generated by the replicator.

This is essentially what food scientists do now (with the added paintbrushes of various processing steps). People are starting to do it with wine too, though they've really only had good enough analytical tools to understand the compounds in wine for a few years now. But, I'd expect synthetic wines to be on the market soonish.
posted by bonehead at 9:52 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


OK, so one of the best takes on Treknomics - especially TNG-era Treknomics - is that Federation citizens *do* live in a post-scarcity environment, but *not* the people that we see in the tv shows.

No, you see, the people in the tv shows are LARPers - they're playing one giant LARP called "Starfleet" and it has all these weird rules about not having computers and robots do everything, and they fly around in spaceships that purposefully aren't any good and keep exploding and also have families on them. I'm preeetty sure that this came from the mind of our own Charlie Stross, mind...
posted by danhon at 11:19 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


You appear to have found an alternate ST universe, because these things you describe are directly counter to the one presented in ST-TNG.

It is canon that people don't drink alcohol in the Federation, having replaced it with Synthehol, whatever the hell THAT is. So what's the point of running a huge vineyard? It's well beyond hobby level, it's something that requires a huge amount of work. Not just from one guy, but from a whole crew of full and part-time laborers. It seriously doesn't make sense as something done as a hobby.

But in general, when it comes to work, most post-scarcity theorists have only a limited notion of what labor goes into producing anything poster of an office environment. That's why they're able to get away with "Oh, they'll do it for the reputation", or "Oh, robots will do it."

Kind of like that apocryphal story that one reason Lenin and Stalin were able to conceive of their disastrous agricultural policies, is that they knew where food came from- the store.
posted by happyroach at 11:33 AM on June 22, 2016


It is canon that people don't drink alcohol in the Federation, having replaced it with Synthehol...

Apparently, nobody told Mr. Scott that he's not supposed to drink Scotch. There are others in episodes of various series who drink the real stuff, too.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:52 PM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Maybe if we were rid of the useless desire to prove ourselves excellent, we could start to concentrate on actually important things.

-The Fetishization of Excellence
-Beyond meritocracy: "what matters is not the pursuit of an unattainable and repellent meritocracy but rather a more egalitarian society in which everyone can live well. Such a society requires not just the redistribution of income, but of power and respect too."

Capitalism 2.0? - "What kinds of institutional changes might we imagine for our current political economy that do a better job of satisfying the demands of justice and human wellbeing... if we want a genuinely fair and progressive society in the 21st century?"
  • Something like decentralized markets in labor and capital seem unavoidable in a large modern society. So the 21st-century economy will be a market economy.
  • Rawls is right that extreme inequalities of property ownership lead to unacceptable inequalities of political participation and human capability fulfillment. So the 21st century will need to find effective ways of distributing wealth and income more broadly.
  • Market mechanisms generally leave some disadvantaged sub-populations behind. A key goal of the 21st century state must be to find effective ways of improving the prerequisites of opportunity for disadvantaged groups. This means that a substantial equality of availability and access to education, nutrition, housing, and other components of quality of life need to be secured by the state.
  • Existing market institutions do not automatically guarantee fair equality of opportunity. So the political economy of capitalism 2.0 will need to use public resources and authority to ensure equality of opportunity for all citizens.
What kinds of political and economic institutions would serve to advance these social goals? One approach that is gaining international attention is the idea of a universal basic income for all citizens... Another approach results from politically effective demands for real equality of opportunity. Equality of opportunity requires high-quality public education for everyone... Another determinant of equality of opportunity is universal access to quality healthcare.
'Helicopter money' can help economy - "There are many factors that can increase a country's potential economy – better education and health, more capital investment, streamlining regulations or fixing the tax code. But there is only one way to ensure a country fully utilizes its potential economy – ensuring enough spending in the economy to put all its people and resources to work."

Stealth China Stimulus Means Fiscal Gap Over 10%, Economists Say - "China is stepping up stimulus by stealth in its efforts to ensure hitting the leadership's growth target this year, with moves that will enhance the role of the state even as policy makers say they want a bigger role for the market."

Productivity, Inequality, and Economic Rents - "The good news is that to the degree that the 'rents' interpretation is correct, it suggests that it is possible to reduce inequality and promote productivity growth without hurting efficiency by changing how rents are divided—or even that it is possible to do both while increasing efficiency by acting to reduce rents in the economy. Policies that raise the minimum wage and provide greater support for collective bargaining can help level the playing field for workers in negotiations with employers, in turn changing the way that rents are divided. Measures that would rationalize licensing requirements for employment, reduce zoning and other land-use restrictions, appropriately balance intellectual property regimes, and change the incentives that have led to the expansion of the financial sector as a share of the economy would all help curb excessive rents."
The bad news, however, is that rents have beneficiaries and these beneficiaries fight hard to keep and expand their rents. As a result, political reforms and other steps aimed at curbing the influence of regulatory lobbying are important for reducing the ability of people and corporations to seek rents successfully. Such actions would help ensure that economic growth in the decades ahead is robust, sustainable, and widely shared.
Measuring GDP in a Digitalised Economy - "The overall conclusion is that, on balance, the accounting framework for GDP looks to be up to the challenges posed by digitalisation. Many practical measurement issues remain, however, in particular concerning price changes and where digitalisation meets internationalisation."

Economics: GDP in the dock - "Since its invention during the Second World War as a thermometer of economic health, gross domestic product (GDP) has become a familiar incantation in claims and counter-claims about the well-being of nations. Some environmentalists and feminists were early critics, but until recent decades, few others questioned it. Now, campaigners ranging from left-wing Nobel-prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz to the free-market Economist magazine want to replace GDP with direct measurement of human well-being. The technology industry has joined them, bemoaning the failure of GDP to account properly for digital technologies, including free online services, because the relevant statistics are not collected or do not fit easily into existing categories. There is even a mini-boom in books about economic statistics. A decisive coalition is shaping up in favour of moving away from GDP. The question is what to use instead."

Gordon and Varian Approaches to Understanding the Ill-Named 'Secular Stagnation' - "The scalability of non rival & non excludable digital goods is changing the world's economy in ways that are not yet fully understood."

Have we ever postulated WALL-E rather than the Federation as the jumping-off point for the Culture?

not sure about a jumping-off point but i like to think of idiocracy as a prequel to wall-e :P that is all!
posted by kliuless at 2:56 AM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


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