The Economics of Star Trek (DS9)

9 Jun

I’ve talked about how the Federation became the socialist utopia it’s shown as, and how there’s a dark side that no one talks about, but what really shows us the economics of Star Trek is my favorite series, Deep Space Nine. There’s nothing like the ass-end of space to show the cracks in the foundation.

DS9 is a space station run by the Federation, actually owned by the Bajorans, and is a magnet for every troublemaker in two quadrants. As a result, Commander Sisko can’t run his shop like his last posting, the USS Saratoga. (Yes, I looked that up.) He has to deal with troublesome locals with which he has to share his command, crumbling Cardassian technology, and for purposes of this post, local economics.

As Jon Singer (one of the contributors to the ST:TNG Technical Manual) is quoted, “If you could make a starship at the push of a button, you wouldn’t need to…” So there are limits to the replicator. You still need construction workers to make the ships, programmers to get the computers working, and maintenance personnel to keep everything working. I can accept that. I think how the Federation gets people to do this scut work is the perks. Sure, you can live nice in San Francisco, but good luck getting off Earth without a good reason. “Hey, you wanna move to Mars? Well, we need some ships built.”

Sisko’s dad is a chef; is convinced that replicated food sucks… and I can believe that. As the book “The Unincorporated Man” talks about in a similar scenario, he can order Springbank 12-year-old scotch from a working-man’s bar, but it’s replicated. It tastes exactly the same regardless of how you order it. It will always be the same. In the modern world, you can get McDonalds’ French fries the same anywhere in the world, and sometimes you want that, but not all the time. That fake-ness must be rampant in the Federation; you are living in a McUtopia.

That’s why Sisko goes to effort of making meals for him and his son. Sure, the ingredients are replicated, but the final product is not. When we go back to New Orleans to Sisko’s dad’s restaurant, he tells his grandson to peel potatoes. That implies that people still grow potatoes, because you could replicate peeled potatoes. There are waiters… and again, understandable, because it allows you meet different and interesting people. And of course, if you’re into cooking, you would open a restaurant and the local authorities, DESPERATE for something other than replicator food, would grant you business space.

That also explains how Quark is able to keep in business. You see, the Ferengi (Arabic for “foreigner”) only deal in gold-pressed latinum. The gold is worthless, but the latinum can’t be replicated, so it’s a worthy unit of exchange. However, how do Starfleet personnel go to Quark’s if they don’t have money? Well, they must have a deal with Quark. The Ferengi understand rent and charging for utilities, even if the Federation don’t. So in exchange for being in the best spot for black marketeering in the universe, he gives latinum to the Starfleet personnel, Sisko distributes it out (thankfully, there’s not many of them on DS9), and they use it to order Klingon coffee. So really, Quark is paying rent to himself.

Meanwhile, Quark is able to use his bar to his advantage. He can scheme and plot and get more money from non-Federation aliens to get more latinum, building his business empire. The rent from the bar and other stores (including Garak’s tailor shop) allow needed foreign exchange to fix the things that the Federation can’t (or won’t) replicate. Or go down to Bajor for shore leave (which has to be like going to a refugee camp for vacation). Thankfully, Risa is only a couple days away, which is explained away as a cultural/religious resort that is maintained by the locals who love giving away everything, including their bodies. Again, this is only maintained by weather modification that the Federation provides.

What did I forget? Let me know in the comments below!

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