Summary: Star Trek excites our imaginations, including those of economists imaging a world beyond scarcity. How will the economy run with almost unlimited wealth? This post looks at improbable aspects of this vision, including the robot revolt, and asks if our future will resemble Jupiter Ascending more than Star Trek.
- The Solution: robots
- The oddity of Star Trek: AI slaves
- Conclusions: what it means for us
- For More Information
The release of chapters to Manu Saadia’s book Trekonomics sparked articles about the economics of Star Trek highlighting its absurdity — an inherent conflict in this fictional universe which raises and important point about our near future.
Let’s start with the best description I’ve seen of Trek’s economics, “The Economics of Star Trek: The Proto-Post Scarcity Economy” by Rick Webb at Medium. He describes it as a market economy whose productivity allows the government to easily provide a high basic income allowance to everybody. Even with replicators and ample clean cheap energy, it’s not the impossible dream of a post-scarcity economy in which every person is a god (no starships for everybody). Here’s the key passage of relevance to us.
The amount of welfare benefits available to all citizens is in excess of the needs of the citizens. … Citizens have no financial need to work, as their benefits are more than enough to provide a comfortable life, and there is, clearly, universal health care and education. The Federation has clearly taken the plunge to the other side of people’s fears about European socialist capitalism: yes, some people might not work. So What? Good for them. We think most still will.
However, if they so choose they can also get a job. Many people do so for personal enrichment, societal pressure or through a desire to promote social welfare. Are those jobs paid? I would assume that yes, those jobs are “paid,” in the sense that your energy allocation is increased in the system, though, again, your allocation is large enough that you wouldn’t even really notice it.