The Economics of Star Trek (TOS)

7 Jun

Okay, after explaining the economic systems of a children’s cartoon, I’m going to tackle the Federation, everyone’s favorite sci-fi socialist utopia. They have evolved past the need for money, everyone lives in a beautiful West Berlin-style apartment (usually in San Francisco), and we’ve eliminated racism, poverty, and… okay, not war. But underneath this cover are black markets and political corruption.

Interestingly enough, the original series does not start with this conceit. Honestly, since they’re almost always on the Enterprise, they don’t need money, so it rarely gets mentioned. But when you put “300 quadloons on the newcomer,” you know that money exists, although perhaps only in the unfashionable parts of the galaxy. In “The Trouble with Tribbles,” Kirk uses credits… which implies that there is still some need for resource rationing.

How did the Federation get there? Well, there was the Wha-or. (As my West Texan friend once said, “There have been many wars, but there has only been one Wha-or.”) World War III, which thankfully was handled conventionally, and led to Cochrane developing warp drive leading to the Vulcans coming in and setting up the setting for the series Enterprise. But… it’s much easier to start with a socialist system when the Earth is devastated from war and no one has any materials to hold onto.

With first contact with (thankfully) the nicest, logical, philanthropic aliens you could have wished for (although smug, condescending, and way, WAY too preachy), Earth rebuilt itself and became the tame alien ally that the Vulcans really, REALLY needed. But as we know from the alternate timeline, it could have (and should have) gone a lot, lot worse.

By the time we reach the movies, money has been eliminated. In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, our whale scientist jokes with Kirk that, “Let me guess, you don’t have money in the future?” “Well, we don’t!” What made the difference? Was it a post-scarcity society (a la David Weber, albeit a firm capitalist) where technology has taken care of our needs and the only economics are in rare and difficult items? For that, we need to wait until tomorrow and the Next Generation.

Now as much as I like to rag on Roddenberry being the worst kind of liberal optimist, I’d be the first to agree that I’d much rather live in that universe than the Star Wars. But I didn’t bother watching Discovery after the second season, haven’t seen a second of Lower Decks, and caught one episode of Strange New Worlds. I have seen every new Star Wars film and many of the spin-off series. Because it’s a believable universe; I can see people behaving naturally there, the Star Trek universe is sanitized for your viewing pleasure. It’s only when we toss off that peaceful veneer that the series gets REALLY good.

But what do you think? Do you still salivate for the next Star Trek episode? Would you rather watch gleaming starships than the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy? Let me know in the comments below.

One Response to “The Economics of Star Trek (TOS)”

  1. Rob Alberts June 7, 2022 at 9:19 am #

    A new episode of the Next Star Trek is more than welcome.

    Kind regards,

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