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Star Trek Economics 888

Posted by Soulskill
from the once-you-have-their-money,-you-never-give-it-back dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Rick Webb has an article suggesting we're in the nascent stages of transforming to a post-scarcity economy — one in which we are 'no longer constrained by scarcity of materials—food, energy, shelter, etc.' While we aren't there yet, job automation continues to rise and the problem of distributing necessities gets closer to being solved every day. Webb wondered how to describe a society's progress as it made the transition from scarcity to post-scarcity — and it brought him to Star Trek. Quoting: 'I believe the Federation is a proto-post scarcity society evolved from democratic capitalism. It is, essentially, European socialist capitalism vastly expanded to the point where no one has to work unless they want to. It is massively productive and efficient, allowing for the effective decoupling of labor and salary for the vast majority (but not all) of economic activity. The amount of welfare benefits available to all citizens is in excess of the needs of the citizens. Therefore, money is irrelevant to the lives of the citizenry, whether it exists or not. Resources are still accounted for and allocated in some manner, presumably by the amount of energy required to produce them (say Joules). And they are indeed credited to and debited from each citizen's "account." However, the average citizen doesn't even notice it, though the government does, and again, it is not measured in currency units—definitely not Federation Credits.'"
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Star Trek Economics

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  • by genner (694963) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:15AM (#46245773)
    A Ferengi without profit is no Ferengi at all.
    • by Chas (5144) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:28AM (#46245951) Homepage Journal

      Your penalty is 15 bars of gold-pressed latinum.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:08PM (#46246565) Journal

      A Ferengi without profit is no Ferengi at all.

      In line with Star Trek's "Every species except humans has some ludicrously rigid hardcoded trait" style, that is a Ferengi problem; but I suspect that it'd be a major issue for at least some people and some cultures in a hypothetical post-scarcity environment.

      In fact, we don't even need to hypothesize: In situations where supply starts to increase, particularly when it increases to the point where everybody who is remotely anybody can have some for pocket change, you virtually always see the creation of additional 'tiers' of artificially scarce versions. The fact that the creator bothers with this is a revenue maximizing move(and so the same incentive wouldn't exist if there were no scarcity generally, and no reason to bother with this 'revenue' nonsense); but the fact that it works... there's the rub. Everyone can have a high quality reproduction of FuzzyFuzzyFungus' masterpeice 'The Hyphae Horror', for the simple cost of printing; but they'll still pay more for the numbered-limited-to-500 edition, more still for print #1 in that edition. Why? All the prints are identical; any you value the one that possesses 'firstness'?

      I suspect that people would love to get away from scarcity in whatever areas they feel are out of their grip right now(whether they are super poor and that is food and shelter, middle class and that is healthcare and college, and so on); but, in our perversity, we seem to still crave the exclusive, the unique, the rare, in whatever nonessentials are relevant.

      • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:32PM (#46246817)

        There is only so much beach front property, downtown workspace, premium ski lodge property, 20 minutes at the top of mount everest (currently costs $100,000 plus you have to wait in line with 200 other climbers even at that price-- they should seriously wait at a lower base camp instead of right below the peak- it's killing people the way they do it now. they could wait at a lower camp- then leave for their 20 minutes at the top).

        And premium time saving options like the superpass at disney (since most of us are all really just trading hours of our lives for things ultimately).

        For normal things tho- I think we are approaching post scarcity and an inability to find work which can't be done cheaper by a machine or program. Even the lowly security guard job is about to take a 95% reduction over the next decade due to a sub $30,000 robot that can work 3 shifts semi-autonomously.

      • Also helps explains why some people labeled hipsters are so concerned about music that other people haven't heard before, or hearing it on vinyl. If you pride yourself on your musical tastes, and any Taylor Swift fan like me can come along and download the music you like, that might be damaging to your sense of self. Two solutions are to insist that scarce physical media makes a huge difference, or to only like music that I'm unlikely to have heard of.
        • by causality (777677) on Friday February 14, 2014 @01:49PM (#46247799)

          Also helps explains why some people labeled hipsters are so concerned about music that other people haven't heard before, or hearing it on vinyl. If you pride yourself on your musical tastes, and any Taylor Swift fan like me can come along and download the music you like, that might be damaging to your sense of self. Two solutions are to insist that scarce physical media makes a huge difference, or to only like music that I'm unlikely to have heard of.

          That's one of the biggest forms of foolishness that's still widespread in our societies: getting your identity from meaningless externals like this. Hey here's a crazy idea: I listen to what I like based on my own tastes and preferences and celebrate your ability to do the same if you so choose. Oh, that requires fixing one's insecurities instead of pretending they are virtues? Damn, this won't sell at all...

      • by msauve (701917)
        There's simpler example: bottled water, sold at gasoline prices.
  • Wow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by koan (80826) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:16AM (#46245791)

    He couldn't be more wrong, the more likely scenario is collapse due to over population and limited resources.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Let him live in his dream world. I'd prefer to live there, too, but too many facts get in the way.

      • Without money, how else are males supposed to indicate their status and desirability of their genes?!!


        HA HA, trick question!
        If you're still encumbered by the shackles imposed by DNA, you're a sucker. Who needs progeny when you can live virtually forever? The secret it to bang the rocks together, guys.
    • Re:Wow (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jythie (914043) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:25AM (#46245901)
      I think part of the newness of the situation would be the lack of the 'limited resources' thing. It is an extreme that is unlikely to ever take place, it is interesting to ponder how you would run a civilization when resources (raw materials and energy) are effectively unlimited. Right now our hybrid capitalist/socialist economy is more or less the best solution given the situation and human psychology, but change situation that much and we would probably need to find some new way to organize society... crow, we would probably need to scrap and rethink what success criteria to use. Right now it is wealth, society and individuals are generally judged on how much wealth they have/generate and pretty much every bit of domestic and foreign policy circles back to optimizing the economy for maximum GDP or distribution. Take that away and what do we structure around? It would be fascinating to watch.
      • Re:Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

        by PuckSR (1073464) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:45AM (#46246197)

        I think you are misunderstanding or misconstruing the argument. Post-scarcity doesn't mean that "limited resources" cease to exist. The primary driver of our modern economy(and any new economy) is energy. Energy is becoming rapidly less expensive because of modern technologies. He is arguing that at a certain point we will have to acknowledge that we have enough energy to meet everyone's basic needs. At that point, excess energy can be used to meet everyone's luxury desires. We tend to think of everyone's luxury desires as limitless, but that isn't exactly true. Our appetite for luxury goods is highly pliable. A great example of this would be video games. In the late 80s, you probably would have wanted a lot of Nintendo games. Those were a desirable luxury good. Now, you can acquire all of those games(through illegal and quasi-legal channels) and play them on a machine that costs as much as 2 beers. Yet, you don't play all of those old games. Why not? Your appetite has changed and now you are more than happy to play one new game rather than dozens of old ones. Consider it the "Brewster's Millions" problem.
        As far as "limited resources", they will continue to exist. However, we might find that their value and how we assess that value has changed dramatically. Gold will probably be the clearest example. Gold has very little intrinsic value. It is a rare metal, but materials of similar rarity do not approach anywhere near the value of gold in the current market. Tellurium, an element found with gold which is actually rarer, has similarly valuable commercial applications. However, tellurium does not trade for 1/100th the price of gold. In a world where you can have all of your needs met, what use will we have for gold? We only wear it now as a symbol of wealth. If everyone has quasi-limitless wealth, then what point is signaling your wealth? Yes, in the Star Trek economy, gold is still rare. However, since there are few commercial applications for gold, you would see the price drop precipitously.

        • Re:Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

          by harrkev (623093) <kfmsd@NoSPAM.harrelsonfamily.org> on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:06PM (#46246535) Homepage

          There is one thing that will never be able to replicate easily: human time and human skill. While a citizen might be able to "replicate" food, some people might still enjoy the touch of a real person, and feel that it carries a certain status. Let's assume that you have all of your needs met. So, you decide to open up a restaurant because you enjoy it (let's call it "Milliway's"), and for no other reason. You cook great food, and people flock to your restaurant because of the reputation. You cook for fun, so you have no desire to expand, and you can only serve a few dozen people per evening.

          Now, if you can seat three dozen couples per evening, and you have 300 dozen couple wanting reservations, how do you decide which ones to seat? First-come, first-served certainly seems fair. However, your friend runs HIS own restaurant: you want to eat there, and he wants to eat at your restaurant. So, you can bump each other to the top of the reservation list.

          Hmm. You decide that there is some food in the next town (state, country, continent, etc.) that you want to try. You do not know the person, but you want to figure out a way to exchange bumps to the top of the reservation list. Rather than having to do this manually, and having to contact each restaurant owner individually, you come up with a scheme. Each diner that you serve suddenly counts as a "dining reputation token." By accumulating, these tokens, you can use them to visit other restaurants. All of the chefs agree that this is a wonderful idea, since, by serving food, they can also get themselves to the top of the reservation lists at other restaurants.

          Suddenly, you now have a new currency.

          Of course, similar arguments can be made for other things that have more value when done by a person. Art being another fine example. An original painting can be worth millions, while a poster of the same painting can be worth $10. Both can look the same, but the inherent value is that one of them is one-of-a-kind, while the other can be produced by the boatload.

          So, it is easy to imagine an "artistic" or "prestige" form of money, where the value is determined by the human skill and artistic vision that went into it.

          Another thing is that not everything can be easily reproduced. Yes, you might be able to get a house built by robots for cheap (or even free). But there are only so many plots of land available by the side of a lake / ocean / river / etc. How do you divide up this property?

          I cannot imagine a world without money. I can imagine that the essentials are free, so that you do not actually NEED money to get by. But there will always be luxury items that will NOT be free.

          • Re:Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Grishnakh (216268) on Friday February 14, 2014 @01:04PM (#46247253)

            Your "human touch" and "original painting" ideas are bogus.

            An original painting can be worth millions, while a poster of the same painting can be worth $10. Both can look the same, but the inherent value is that one of them is one-of-a-kind, while the other can be produced by the boatload.

            Wrong. If both of them look exactly the same, down to the smallest detail, then how exactly do you convince someone to pay millions for one when they can get the other for $10? In a 3D-printed future (or better yet, a future with replicators), you won't be able to tell the difference. If some moron is willing to pay millions for an exclusive item, how does he verify it's exclusive, and not a "forgery"? He can't.

            Same thing goes for all that other "human touch" crap. Why would anyone go to a restaurant where the food is made manually, rather than in a replicator, if they can't tell the difference? Are they going to go in the kitchen and verify no replicators are being used?

            In a post-scarcity world, the only things that'll have real value are things which simply can't be replicated, mainly real estate as you point out yourself. You can't replicated oceanfront property, though I suppose you could try to make more of it the way they do in Dubai.

            But there will always be luxury items that will NOT be free.

            No, there won't. Not when it's impossible to discern them from copies. The only things which won't be free will be real estate, and maybe commissionings (i.e., you want a new piece of art which doesn't already exist, so you commission an artist to make it for you), and also anything else which is creative and doesn't yet exist (new spaceship designs, etc.).

            Instead of trying to accumulate wealth with which to buy more stuff, peoples' focus in life will change. Some people will try to accumulate wealth to buy nicer real estate, while others will focus on other endeavors, such as trying to create new interesting things (art, music, video games even), traveling, or building fame and power rather than money.

            • Re:Wow (Score:4, Insightful)

              by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Friday February 14, 2014 @02:05PM (#46247963)

              Wrong. If both of them look exactly the same, down to the smallest detail, then how exactly do you convince someone to pay millions for one when they can get the other for $10?

              The same way we do currently. You can have a perfectly good copy of a van Gogh in your living room (I do, in fact), but only one is the actual one that van Gogh himself sweated over, had standing in his home when he had mental attacks, possibly has hairs from his own cat stuck in the paint and so forth.

              Value is often not an absolute, but rather a matter of perception. Nowhere is this more so than in the art world. Even a copy by a notorious forger can sell for much more than a mass-market copy.

        • Re:Wow (Score:4, Interesting)

          by cheesybagel (670288) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:44PM (#46247003)

          Energy is becoming rapidly less expensive because of modern technologies.

          Bollocks. Some heat engines have gotten more energy efficient at the cost of additional system complexity but fuels are more expensive now.

          Wind is not cheap either if you consider the changes you have to make to the energy grid including backup energy storage and so on. Even without these changes it was not significantly cheaper than natural gas fired power stations. Solar may get to the point where it will be cheap but it certainly is not at that point right now.

      • Postulate free controllable energy (cold fusion, or whatever.)

        Now we can build basically any structure we want, anywhere we want - melt sand and rock to make your building materials, arbitrarily large with arbitrarily thick walls. Honeycomb the surface to make multiple levels of row-crop growing land in a 100% weather and biome controlled environment. Remember free energy? Artificial sunlight in the caverns to grow the plants. On the Earth, Moon, Asteroids, wherever. Need more water for the moon? Just

      • Re:Wow (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday February 14, 2014 @01:46PM (#46247747) Homepage Journal

        You and the guy you responded to are victims of your own culture. We are the weirdest people in the world. [psmag.com] This ape-like chest thumping needs to evolve out of our species, along with selfishness and greed. And the thing is, it isn't genetics that need to evolve, it's our sick culture.

    • Re:Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wiggles (30088) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:27AM (#46245933)

      Overpopulation is only a problem in India and China. The rest of the civilized world, especially Japan, is having severe problems due to negative population growth. Population is predicted to plateau and start shrinking after around 2060. [spiegel.de] I am not worried about overpopulation.

      As far as limited resources, we are only limited by the amount of energy it takes to extract those resources, and those sources of energy can and will transition to renewable sources as consumables become expensive. Indeed, we are already seeing that transition come into play with wind and solar electricity, electric cars, and efficiency drives. At the same time, we're seeing new sources of consumables come online as prices increase - see shale oil - and as technology advances to the point that we are able to extract more cheaply, effectively, and efficiently - see natural gas.

      Overpopulation and resource limitations will work themselves out naturally.

      • Re:Wow (Score:5, Informative)

        by mrchaotica (681592) * on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:50AM (#46246257)

        Indeed: it is well-known that population growth is logistic [wikipedia.org], not exponential, yet alarmist idiots keep yelling about it anyway.

        • by Patch86 (1465427)

          The problem is not necessarily that population growth is or is not exponential- it is that the peak population might be greater than our civilization can adequately support. The medium UN prediction is that world population will peak at somewhere around 11 billion in approximately 100 years. That's something like a 50% increase on today's population. Can we adequately provide for a global population 50% larger than it is now (without buggering the planet in the process)?

          Answers on a postcard, on that one.

      • Re:Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Valdrax (32670) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:01PM (#46246465)

        Overpopulation is only a problem in India and China. The rest of the civilized world, especially Japan, is having severe problems due to negative population growth. Population is predicted to plateau and start shrinking after around 2060. I am not worried about overpopulation.

        The problem is not really that the number of people is increasing in "the civilized world." The problem is that the rest of the world is getting "civilized," and China and India are at the forefront of multiplying the resources consumed per capita while also growing their populations. If everyone in the world lived at a US standard of living, we absolutely could not feed and provide energy for the populace. Especially without transitioning away from carbon-heavy energy.

        We're caught between a rock and a hard place. You don't want to kill off people or impose harsh fertility limits, because, you know, ethics and human decency, but you can't feed everyone steak in air conditioned restaurants either, and it's extremely hard to say, "No you can't have that," while having it yourself or convincing the people who already have it to give it up.

        • Re:Wow (Score:4, Insightful)

          by cheesybagel (670288) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:52PM (#46247081)

          I see no evidence for this. There is not enough oil to spend on transportation driving fuel guzzling vehicles like in the US but this is not the model used in other 'civilized' places in Asia like Japan. They use electric public transport a lot.

    • gfdsnjgsd (Score:3, Informative)

      by baka_toroi (1194359)
      Most estimates show a bell-curve type of population growth. I think it is around 13 or 14 billion where it would peak and then it will go back down.

      So I don't think he's that off. We waste tons of food a day.
    • If you can convert energy to matter and have a near limitless source of energy, where's your limitation?

      The main limitation I could see is space, but as long as you can put people off world, even that's no limit.

      The only limit is possibly that people could not feel better than the rest by having more than everyone else. I doubt the powers that are would like a system like that. I mean, what's their reason to exist anymore?

      • So your argument is that if we had infinite space, infinite energy, could transmit energy / information instantly (fuck relativity and the speed of light) anywhere in the universe...then we would have no resource issue?

        There will always be people who use their infinite energy to subjugate others and take away their space, energy and time.

    • Re:Wow (Score:4, Informative)

      by confused one (671304) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:49AM (#46246253)

      You've missed the back story.

      Prior to the utopian Star Trek, World War III was fought. Mass casualties on Earth. Those who entered into the Star Trek story were those who pulled themselves out of the ashes and rebuilt. Once Earth gained warp drive capability, humanity started spreading across the local arm of the galaxy, populating habitable planets. Population would be kept low(er) due to emmigration. Still, looking at the back story you'll see the bulk of people live in massive skyscrappers in cities.

    • Malthus doesn't have to be right either. So far, Malthus is wrong. Yes, of course we can get greedy and overpopulate and exceed the rate at which resources renew, using up our stockpiles, and at last being forced to depopulate through famine or war. Some peoples have done just that. Rwanda in 1994 may be the most recent example. Saudi Arabia may go that way. It was no accident that most of the plotters and perpetrators of 9/11 came from there. Afghanistan is another place where many children that sur

    • Re:Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:15PM (#46246643) Journal

      He couldn't be more wrong, the more likely scenario is collapse due to over population and limited resources.

      The one handy thing (much as it irks ethnic nationalists and pension-fund planners) is that, time and again, humans have shown signs of not actually wanting to breed like rabbits. Fuck like them? Sure; but add a bit of wealth and access to prophylaxis, and birthrates go down. The process gets tricky because adding the wealth and medical access usually makes the last one or two giant crops of high-birthrate babies start surviving at far greater than premodern rates immediately, while it takes time for the birthrate to fall, leading to a nasty little spike; but once you can separate hot animalistic fucking from years of tedious childcare, people tend to. Crazy.

    • Re:Wow (Score:4, Insightful)

      by evilviper (135110) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:20PM (#46246715) Journal

      the more likely scenario is collapse due to over population and limited resources.

      There's ample space across the surface of the earth for several orders of magnitude more people, without resorting to even basic technology like high-rises, let alone exotic technology like landfill in the oceans, space stations, etc.

      http://overpopulationisamyth.c... [overpopula...samyth.com]

      And just what resources are "limited"? With enough energy you can extract the carbons from the air to make more oil from scratch, pull trace elements of anything out of seawater, etc. And with cheap energy it's a no-brainer to start mining the moon, Mars, or asteroids for anything we'd want.

  • Based on what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:19AM (#46245829)

    >> we're in the nascent stages of...a post-scarcity economy...'no longer constrained by scarcity of materials—food, energy, shelter, etc.

    Tell that to:
    - The homeless in our streets
    - People blowing their savings on heating costs this winter
    - Middle-eastern residents getting blown up because there's oil under nearby ground
    - African children still dying of starvation

    >> European socialist capitalism vastly expanded to the point where no one has to work unless they want to

    Yeah...ask the Soviets or Cuba how that worked. (Or Venezuela if you need a more recent example.) Hell,. just ask Europe how that's going. (Looking at you, France.)

    • Re:Based on what? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SJHillman (1966756) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:26AM (#46245923)

      Nascent: (esp. of a process or organization) just coming into existence and beginning to display signs of future potential.

      It doesn't mean we're there yet, it means we're approaching the tipping point. Compare it to a century or two ago and you'll see that many homeless now have a higher quality of life than a good portion of the middle class did back then. Obviously not everything is going to be solved overnight - it's a slow march forward and due to the nature of countries, cultures and other variables, it won't happen everywhere at once - even within a single nation.

      • by sjbe (173966) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:33AM (#46246017)

        Compare it to a century or two ago and you'll see that many homeless now have a higher quality of life than a good portion of the middle class did back then.

        Bullshit. You CLEARLY have no idea what being homeless is actually like, nor do you have any realistic idea what being "middle class" was like 100 years ago. Let me give you a hint. My grandmother is close to a century old so she was around back then and her family could accurately be described as lower middle class. It wasn't all that different than it is now aside from some of the technology advances. Her father was a barber, her mom worked for a state agency, they had a house not so different from the one you probably live in. You seem to have some bizarre notion that people lived in caves and squalor a hundred years ago. It wasn't like that at all nor was it like that 200 years ago.

        • by WrongMonkey (1027334) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:41PM (#46246957)

          It wasn't all that different than it is now aside from some of the technology advances.

          You are dismissing a lot of important changes with that sentences. Washing machine, dryers, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, central heating and AC: these are important time and laborsaving devices that were unheard of 100 years ago, but taken for granted today. Indoor plumbing and electricity were still rare in rural areas.

          And don't even start with 200 years ago. Any lower-middle class American has a better quality of life than Napoleon did 200 years ago. In 1812, even king and emperors were literally wading through shit. The Palace of Versailles is a gilded tenement building.

        • "Many homeless" do so voluntarily, and considering they would have been in a sanitarium, they are better off. Many have access to shelters and technology like phones, and food banks. Many are evicted middle class who have everything but the house.

          Many is not most, and you sound too emotionally invested to take at face value, so your comments are rejected.

          I guarantee, based on statistics, that the house is very different. I could not find a house older than 40 years for sale around here, or many places I kno

    • Re:Based on what? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by QuasiSteve (2042606) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:31AM (#46245985)

      .'no longer constrained by scarcity of materialsâ"food, energy, shelter, etc.

      Tell that to:
      - The homeless in our streets

      In all fairness, most homeless in the streets aren't homeless in the streets because of a scarcity of food, energy and shelter. There's more than enough space, more than enough energy, and way more than enough food. The problem is that these things aren't getting to them. Whether that's because society doesn't care about them, or because a fat cat doesn't want to pay to help them out (so that the people blowing through savings to stay warm don't have to), or because the homeless themselves are refusing the help, or ... is another matter. You could suggest that it's still scarcity, but defining scarcity on an individual or even local level is a bit strange given the fairly globally connected world we live in.

      • Re:Based on what? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by idontgno (624372) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:39AM (#46246099) Journal

        You could suggest that it's still scarcity, but defining scarcity on an individual or even local level is a bit strange given the fairly globally connected world we live in.

        You mean... a scarcity which is not natural? Artificial scarcity? [wikipedia.org]

        People are poor because other people can be, and want to be, rich, at the expense of other people if necessary.

        There will never be any such thing as a "post scarcity" economy until humans stop being humans.

        • Re:Based on what? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by atriusofbricia (686672) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:02PM (#46246475) Journal

          You could suggest that it's still scarcity, but defining scarcity on an individual or even local level is a bit strange given the fairly globally connected world we live in.

          You mean... a scarcity which is not natural? Artificial scarcity? [wikipedia.org]

          People are poor because other people can be, and want to be, rich, at the expense of other people if necessary.

          There will never be any such thing as a "post scarcity" economy until humans stop being humans.

          So, in your world wealth is finite and if I have more then by definition it is because I, directly or indirectly, took it from someone that has less? What a dreary and depressing little world you live in.

          Out here in the real world wealth is created by the process of work and innovation among other things. Wealth is not this finite pool where if I have more then you have less.

          There will never be a post scarcity economy until we figure out a way for virtually limitless energy. Not very cheap, but limitless and the ways to use it to directly provide goods. That is what makes the Federation run and allows people to work more or less only when they want to. The combination of replicators and limitless energy, which at this point may as well be magic. Coincidentally magic is pretty much required to make any socialist utopia run for too long so I guess one ought not be surprised.

          One thing that is never answered in the ST universe is why would anyone want to be a waiter in a restaurant (or similar service job)? They show them from time to time but the number of people who feel their true calling in life is to bring people food and deal with crappy attitudes is vanishingly small so where do they come from?

      • In all fairness, most homeless in the streets aren't homeless in the streets because of a scarcity of food, energy and shelter.

        What you are talking about is local scarcity. Just because the scarcity is caused by distribution problems rather than production limitations doesn't mean it isn't scarce. If you live in a desert, water is going to be expensive because it is relatively had to get. That is scarcity or more properly an economic shortage.

      • by dentin (2175)

        Now that I live in Portland, Oregon, I see homelessness in a whole different light. In particular, most of the vast numbers of homeless people here are mentally impaired. It's not a matter of the resources being available, or even lack of donors to help them - it's a lack of ability of the homeless to function in society.

        In short, it's a mental health issue, and that's not something that's easily fixable with today's tools.

    • Yeah...ask the Soviets or Cuba how that worked. (Or Venezuela if you need a more recent example.) Hell,. just ask Europe how that's going. (Looking at you, France.)

      It's going fine, thanks :-)

      France
      (and yes I do live in France)

    • Re:Based on what? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DeBaas (470886) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:59AM (#46246411) Homepage

      >> European socialist capitalism vastly expanded to the point where no one has to work unless they want to

      Yeah...ask the Soviets or Cuba how that worked. (Or Venezuela if you need a more recent example.) Hell,. just ask Europe how that's going. (Looking at you, France.)

      And why would you ask Soviets and Cuba or Venezuela how European socialist capitalism is going? They don't/didn't have that.

      Better ask the Swedes or the Norwegians. Those are much better examples.

    • by dave420 (699308)
      France is doing just fine. You should try learning about it, and you'd see. Have fun with your expensive healthcare, no vacation, joke of a government, and insecure job!
    • by wolfemi1 (765089)

      Yeah...ask the Soviets or Cuba how that worked. (Or Venezuela if you need a more recent example.) Hell,. just ask Europe how that's going. (Looking at you, France.)

      The Soviets and Cuba do/did not use European socialist capitalism. Europe is currently suffering from a terrible policy of having a currency union without a fiscal union, which is the proximate cause of their problems.

  • Basic Economics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShooterNeo (555040) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:21AM (#46245865)

    The problem is simple, right out of the first chapter of a high school economics class. "wants" are infinite. Consider our daily lives in today's world. The "working poor" among us live lives right around the "poverty line". Yet they can generally afford motor vehicle transportation (even if it's the bus), to spend most of their time in air conditioned environments (even if it's the workplace at McDonalds), can call anyone on the planet in theory (even if it's from VoIP at a library), and so on. Even the shittiest life is the life of a king a thousand years ago.

    Please note that I am not trying to justify social darwinism : I do think something is rotten in our society that causes all income gains to be accrued by the rich and NONE of them go to the middle/lower class.

    If we have star trek grade technology, it merely means that the pie is a lot bigger. With Star Trek grade tech, presumably we can tap into the resources of entire stars and planets and manufacture almost anything with minimal effort. But people's desires for a slice of the pie have grown proportionally. Perhaps an impoverished person in Star Trek can get limitless food, basic medical care, and virtual reality porn. But he can't afford his own starship or planet or any of the other toys of the mega-rich. And can you imagine how expensive having a kid would be in such a world?

    • Re:Basic Economics (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Opportunist (166417) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:51AM (#46246283)

      The average Buddhist might disagree with your initial statement, but let's let it stand.

      Looking at the "Star Trek economy" it becomes obvious that certain rules of our economy do not apply to them, provided they are used as they are in Star Trek (I'll get to that in a bit).

      What kind of economy influencing technology do you have in Star Trek? Well, first and foremost, you have a near infinite source of energy with cold fusion and the ability to siphon hydrogen easily from gas giants. With replicators you have the ability to convert energy to matter, and I think it's safe to assume that the reverse is possible as well. Together with beaming, the transport of goods and energy across a planet is trivial. What's left is transport between planets. Apparently not everything can be produced in a replicator (since quite a few scripts of Star Trek revolved around them having to transport something important somewhere quickly), so these goods will still be in (relatively) short supply and valuable. But the basic human needs, food, shelter, etc is available in limitless quantity.

      Provided technology is used as it is in Star Trek.

      The alternative is of course a system where a small elite holds all the means for replication, energy production and matter transport. Whether or not this is a problem depends on how easy or hard it is to produce machines to replicate, produce energy and transport either in the first place. If it takes a lot of investment (or if patents still exist) it's likely that these means will be held ransom to ensure that those that have it can wield power over those that do not.

    • by swb (14022)

      There is something about the wants of the super rich that appears limitless and never satisfied. It's not enough to own a home, it has to be a big home, with lots of luxury details, lots of land, expensive upkeep. And it's not enough to own one, you have to have more than one. And then you need a plane, and not just any plane, but a plane that can fly transcontinental distances.

      The level of even "sort of rich" standards today would be "fabulously rich" by 19th century standards.

  • by cptnapalm (120276) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:24AM (#46245893)

    Mega City One, too, had a "post-scarcity" welfare system where few worked. It worked out rather differently.

    • They weren't "post-scarcity" at all, they just had a lot of unemployed people (due to low demand for human labor thanks to automation/AI) and a welfare system...pretty close to the point we're at right now.

    • The weren't post scarcity. They were post apocalypse. Remainder of humanity all pulled into one massive city-state, trying to survive.
  • Basic Income (Score:5, Informative)

    by wvmarle (1070040) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:27AM (#46245939)

    This is not future fantasy; it's happening right now. Just look into the current "basic income" debate in the EU: basically the idea is that all citizens get a basic income from the state, and can get more income if they go out and work. Switzerland is quite close to actually implementing this already.

    For more details on implementation (and to keep your comments to my post informed and useful) please check out the wikipedia page on the subject, or simply google for "basic info" or "basic info switzerland".

  • by Rambo Tribble (1273454) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:28AM (#46245953)
    Does he have any idea what the world water situation is?
    • by EvilSS (557649)

      Does he have any idea what the world water situation is?

      Unlimited free energy* = low cost desalination = no water problem. It's not like the water vanishes after it's used once by a human (assuming we don't pollute the hell out of it while using it). It's just unequally distributed in it's unsalted form at the moment.

      *In this fairytale senario, energy would be over-abundant, non-polluting, and virtually, if not literally, free.

      • Unlimited free energy* = low cost desalination = no water problem.

        Just because you have some magic technology allowing you to get it doesn't mean you can or should use it. Now you are talking about moving massive amounts of water around from the oceans to locations where it would not have been ordinarily. You think that will have no ecological impact? Just because we can build a city like Phoenix or Las Vegas in the desert doesn't make it a good idea*. The limitations aren't just economic or material, they are also consequential. If you do something it will have an ef

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:29AM (#46245959)

    All we see are the pro-Federation propaganda. All those pro-Starfleet shows with their fictional "Prime Directive" and an emphasis on exploration are just propaganda to paper over the federation's relentless military buildup to support their imperialist expansionist policies.

    They show Starfleet and the rich nomenklatura, but never the vast backwater gulag planets where slave laborers work tirelessly to keep the military and party elite in Saurian Brandy and Starships.

    Why do you think so many crew members wear redshirts, comrade?

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:31AM (#46245981) Journal

    "Star Trek represents a post-scarcity society evolved from democratic capitalism"
    Check, I'm with you. Limitless energy, etc. In fact, I seem to recall Roddenberry saying exactly that.

    but...

    "...we're in the nascent stages of transforming to a post-scarcity economy..."
    WTF? That's so wrong it borders on the incomprehensible.
    Clearly, this was written from the well-compensated, comfortable easy-chair in a Starbucks somewhere by an over-educated upper-middle-class American (ie, unfamiliar with the daily lives of 60%+ of his own countrymen and -women, or about 90% of the world)

    • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by confused one (671304) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:09PM (#46246567)
      There really is no shortage of anything but money and will. Clearly the reality is that you have to have money to acquire things you need. Those who don't have access to basic needs -- well that's usually a political problem or a corrupt leadership. For example, no one on the planet should go hungry -- food production is more than adequate to feed the global population. I think that's where the author is coming from.
    • Also... The author makes the statement we're in the nascent stages; and, he's making an argument that this is one way we could go. It's early days. We're approaching a fork in the road and society (regionally and/or globally) could take a different path. We are (realistically and literally) a century, or more likely several centuries, from being able to solve some of the problems in the author's plan, even with advancement in technology on the current exponential curve. Roddenberry made a realistic ass
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:33AM (#46246005)
    I believe that this is best described by Ian M Banks in his culture series
  • by kheldan (1460303) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:36AM (#46246045) Journal
    You know, concepts like socialism and even communism actually sound pretty good.. on paper, but in reality they forget one ineffable truth: Human beings like power and being in control. Money is just a way of gathering power and control. The rich always want to get richer, and the powerful just want to become more powerful. Of course, there are people who are exceptions to this, but let's be honest about them, too: even they are getting something out of the transaction when they spend their money and power for the benefit of others, even if what they're getting is a warm, fuzzy feeling of having 'done good'. Cynical as I am, I unfortunately believe that even in the fictional reality of the Federation where energy and posessions are easy to come by and essentially free, there's always going to be a group of people who want all the power and control they can amass. If someday the human race evolves past the need to be so transactional in nature and past the need to screw everyone else over if they can just so they can have all the sex, power, and money possible, then maybe we'll have a society where everyone makes sure everyone else is taken care of, but unfortunately I don't see that happening anytime soon.
  • by wisnoskij (1206448) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:40AM (#46246115) Homepage

    In the history of humanity, and to this day, we have had societies with were scarcity was the rule and others where there was enough for everyone three times over.

    Modern Western civilization (and based on some definitions, all civilization) is based on an over-abundance of the necessities of life. This invariably leads to hoarding, and monetary systems, and the rich and the poor; Because the economy can afford these inefficiencies; You might even say it needs them.

    In hunter-gather based societies, things are different. There is a very limited food supply, and a huge scarcity of pretty much everything, and their economy is therefore a lot different. They invariably, share and share alike. Ownership of resources (like the only water supply for the entire village) is not a concept that is understandable. And monetary systems do not exist.

    If you want a Star Trek style economy you are looking for a scarcity based economy.

  • Pipe-dream Utopia (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheGoodNamesWereGone (1844118) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:41AM (#46246133)
    ST's vision of the future economy (at least from TNG on; TOS wisely avoided touching on it but implied it was a form of Capitalism) is a pipe-dream Utopia. If food, shelter, and energy were in virtually unlimited supply no one would need to work, yes, but more importantly, no one would *want* to. Where would the goodies come from then? Automation? Okay then, the Machines rule the Federation. And no one would ever emerge out of their self-created kingdoms inside holodecks. The future would be more like Wall-E. There'd be no more invention, no more innovation, no more anything..... Just everyone plugged into their fantasies in their holo-simulators, a civilization of lotus-eaters. This is the sort of shit that would cause Captain Kirk to charge phasers. Rewatch "The Apple".
  • by minstrelmike (1602771) on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:43AM (#46246171)
    I believe Sowell's definition of economics is correct--it is the study of how we allocate SCARCE resources.
    Given the laws of physics and mandatory recycling of biology, there will always be a scarcity some place.
    You might have an endless pile of food but that means you have an endless stream of shit to deal with also.
    We have just realized that we cannot burn all the oil in the planet without also burning us out of house and home.

    In economics, the term to grok is 'externality." They have odd definitions but essentially it is something you think is not scarce and then eventually it becomes scarce like clean air or water after industrialization. I know people who say they can always live off hunting if the economy collapses. Ask someone who knows about population biology. If enough people start hunting deer, there won't be more than one or two year's worth of meat in most US States, maybe 4 years in Maine and Minnesota. As long as only 5% of the population hunts, the biology can maintain itself. If 40% hunted for food, we'd quickly run out of large animals.

    The natural processes of biology can handle things up to certain limits. The fish in the oceans can feed a billion of us sustainably, but not 5 billion hence the collapse of almost all the world's fisheries formerly thought to be unlimited. (I know there are 7 billion folks in the world but a third of them are starving).
  • by quietwalker (969769) <pdughi@gmail.com> on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:50AM (#46246267)

    In the timeline of a pre-post-scarcity world, we have a population of unemployed individuals which will grow as job growth - especially unskilled blue collar labor - flattens or becomes regressive. Until we're in a post-scarcity world, however, these individuals will be in a society that requires money for things like housing, food, shelter and clothing - whether it comes from the government or not.

    At some point, the government simply won't be able to provide; their budget will be scraped too thinly over the nation. This is one of those situations where we'd be hard pressed to iteratively progress - it's a "flip the switch" sort of thing. Doing otherwise will create a massive underprivileged underclass, who are likely to be quite frustrated by their life; no job or job prospects, subsistence level living, inability to focus on personal goals or desires...

    Two things can happen at this point:
          Those who have focused their lives on acquiring wealth, the super rich, the 'haves', the ones who are most defined by the benefits wealth has brought them, they can all become completely selfless altruists, and together, agree to reduce their primary value to near zero by agreeing to, effectively, eliminate money in the spirit of pure socialism. Thus, utopia is achieved.
        Alternatively, they will not do that, and at some tipping point - say, 60% unemployed - there will be a revolt that destroys the current economy, form of government, and so on, settings us back to 0 on the cultural progress - and likely technological/engineering scale, but removing the then-existing artificial constraint that says work=money.

    I really don't see the first happening. Do you? Am I overlooking some important alternative choice?

    In actuality, I think we're headed towards a more corporation-centric outcome, as predicted by many of the darker sci-fi novels out there, rather than a post-scarcity world, but hey, that's just my opinion.

  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:05PM (#46246515) Homepage

    Why not "Trekonomics"?

  • Poker (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Quila (201335) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:07PM (#46246551)

    I always wondered how people in a society with no money could play poker.

  • by BlackHawk-666 (560896) <ivan.hawkes@gmail.com> on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:24PM (#46246743) Homepage

    There is no limit to human greed so there will always be scarcity. For some, it will be simply because their desires outstretch their ability to consume, and for others, because the desires of the 1% enforce poverty on the other 99%.

  • by morgauxo (974071) on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:36PM (#46246875)

    Our energy mostly comes from non-renewable resources. Even if we produce enough that there is plenty for everybody we are all screwed when it runs out.

    There are still many parts of the world where people live in horrible conditions.

    In those parts where people live relatively well the gap between the richest and everyone else is going up not down. How can one take away from this that the problem of resoource allocation is getting closer to being solved? If anything a true solution is getting even farther away!

    Whoever posted this lives in a nice place with a very limited view of the rest of the world.

    Or...

    It's just a troll.

    Whooosh!!!!!!!!!!!

  • by bmajik (96670) <matt@mattevans.org> on Friday February 14, 2014 @12:58PM (#46247191) Homepage Journal

    a post-Scarcity economic environment in the universe of Star Trek is impossible -- especially when you consider TNG and Cmdr Data.

    All wealth is the application of human ingenuity to natural resources.

    Resources in the universe are already consumed faster than they are produced. The uranium we have now is billions of years old. We have only been using the uranium deposits on Terra for about 70 years.

    The hydrocarbon fuels on earth took somewhere between 10e4 and 10e7 years to form. We've depleted a massive amount of this resource in the last 150 years.

    The main resource that limits the speed at which we can extract and consume resources to create new wealth is the amount of human labor required to create the wealth.

    In other words, if we wanted to, we could mine all of the remaining coal in the world in a short amount of time; limited primarily to how much human labor we could allocate to this task.

    Humans continue to improve the speed that some resource can be consumed by building tools, machines, etc, that increase their productivity.

    Cmdr Data is, in a sense, the culmination of this effort. He is a synthetic human; more capable than other humans, and with (presumably) the ability to replace himself.

    He is the singularity. Once he exists, there is no fundamental limit governing the rate at which the remainder of the universe's resources can be extracted and utilized.

    All higher-order matter in the universe, whether it is uranium or hydrocarbons or anything else, represents a chemical battery of the only fundamental energy source -- star radiation.

    Post singularity -- when machines can replicate themselves by consuming resources, to build more machines to consume more resources -- it is theoretically possible that all of the star-energy "batteries" (all higher-order matter) will have been consumed. At that point, the agents within the universe will be limited to consuming energy at the rate it is globally emitted by the stars they have access to, less capture efficiency losses.

    Human conflict still exists in TNG, and cross-species conflict also exists.

    Humans consume resources more quickly than humans or societies that they are in conflict with, to give them an advantage.

    The fact that human ships with life support systems exist in the same universe with a super-human artificial intelligence suggest that resource consumption and production are not unlimited. There is still a limiting function.

    Thus, resource scarcity still exists. The resource extraction singularity has not come to pass in TNG, despite the many advantages it would bring to those entities that were in conflict with other entities.

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