The Economics of Star Trek (Voyager)

10 Jun

At first, I didn’t think I’d talk about Voyager – after all, their economics is isolated from the rest of the Federation – but there are several things in that series that tell us a lot of about what I’m calling “the volunteer economy.”

Fair warning, I hate Voyager. I thought Season One combined the worst aspects of TNG, add in middling characters (except Seska) with terrible villains (the Kazon). They refused to touch on the more interesting possibilities of the series. 1) You just absorbed a group of Maquis terrorists/freedom fighters; why are they going to follow Starfleet regulations? 2) You’re 70 years from Earth–why are we pretending Fed morality? 3) Even if you accept the first two, why aren’t you plugging in all the tech you can find in the Delta Quadrant to get home? Nope – “get that crap off my hull.” (sigh) But after years of (not-that-) gritty DS9, the fans wanted gleaming starships, and alien of the week, so that’s what they got.

And yet I watched… so I noticed a couple things. Again, Starfleet is the best of the best; you not only have to volunteer, you have to want it bad. So I understand why Ensign Kim busts his ass and takes a lot of grief (mostly from me). Doctors in the 24th Century fall under the same guidelines, but what about the Federation citizen in the street? The hologram doctor makes perfect sense; let’s face it, being a doctor now is hard work and they at least get money. Now add a hundred more diseases and aliens from a thousand worlds whose anatomy is (okay, not that) different from humans. Do the civilian doctors get perks in Federation? Travel vouchers, better housing… what convinces the doctor in San Francisco to keep dealing with sick folks? Dedication will only take you so far before you say, “you know what? Risa sounds good this time of year.” That leaves thousands of sick folks behind; having automated health care would help immensely.

The folks on Voyager lean heavily on the holodecks, the natural extension of the replicator, for the obvious reason that they can’t go to Risa or Starbase 227 for R&R. But they make it obvious in the show that–just like replicated food–they know it’s fake and that entertainment comes at a mental cost. Not that stops people being addicted to holodecks or falling in love with programmed characters. I would imagine most of the population of Earth is “online” most of the time and that holoaddiction is a serious problem. Do they ration holodeck time for civilians? What convinces the Fed on the street to bother going to work when you can hang out with Leonardo da Vinci?

One of the few sops to this in Voyager is “replicator rations.” Their engines aren’t working great, so there’s limits to what they can replicate. With the amount of coffee Janeway drinks with her rations, is she drinking decaf? You would think that caffeine, like alcohol, would be a banned substance. (Maybe that’s why DS9 was obsessed with Klingon coffee? “A true warrior needs a jolt to make it a good day to die!”)

What about Janeway’s dog from the pilot episode? You would think that Federation Animal Control would be pretty strict. Again, she’s a Starfleet captain, so she get higher consideration, but maybe the benefits of pet ownership would outweigh the “potential sentience” issue of enslaving lesser beings. You’d think the Vulcans would have something to say about that.

Better yet, let’s keep with the pilot episode. Janeway gets Paris out of prison to be her connection with the Maquis; who the hell wants to be a prison guard? Unless that’s the reason they moved it to New Zealand? The San Quentin of the 24th Century? In the real world, that California maximum security prison is on one of the most beautiful and expensive beach-side real estate in the world. (Of course, it wasn’t when they built it…)

Voyager does get better by Season Five, but when you survived in the desert of sci-fi options in the late 90’s (Babylon 5 was over, Firefly was not until 2001), it was a LONG slog. But it brings up a lot more questions than answers about the socialist utopia. Did you notice something in the show that always bugged you? Let me know in the comments below!

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