Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Impossible Monetary Economics of Star Trek (Part 2)

In reply to a previous post, a reader suggested that the problem of scarcity in the Star Trek universe has mostly been solved, so human economic needs such as to accumulate wealth wouldn't necessarily apply. I disagree. The problem is that scarcity can be a technically insurmountable or a subjective problem, and therefore cannot be eliminated by technical means, in reality, it cannot be eliminated by any means. You can replicate a da Vinci with some level of precision, but there will always be only one original da Vinci, therefore its scarcity cannot be waved away with technology.

Were you to move from Andoria to Earth, you would inevitably face some sort of scarcity. You would surely not be able to live wherever you wanted, even if you were extremely wealthy (think about a Bill Gates' hypothetical wish to live in the White House). Even if you could trade your place on Andoria for a place on Earth, some sort of moneyed transaction would for sure take place, unless the decision, instead of being taken by free people, would be made through central planning. I don't think, however, that Rodenberry envisioned the Federation as a totalitarian system.

Love cannot be replicated or easily replaced, so it will always be scarce (as we've seen happening in many Star Trek episodes). Death itself was not vanquished in the series, so there's scarcity of life and health.

And where there's scarcity there will be money, or some sort of quasi-money. How it's labeled doesn't really matter, as long as it serves the same functions of money, that is, a social networking tool that allocates scarce resources efficiently in a complex and decentralized economy, contemporaneously or across time. After all, money and its financial derivatives are the human invention that got the closest to working as a time machine, allowing wishes to be transferred from the present to the future (think about savings) or vice versa (think about credit).

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