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Star Trek Economics 888

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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  • 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: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.

  • 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.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Friday February 14, 2014 @11:55AM (#46246351)

    The meaning of "middle class" may not have changed much, but the meaning of "poor" has changed a very great deal, as has the distribution of the population between the two classes. The poor now have a vastly higher quality of life than the poor did 100 years ago, in terms of creature comforts, available resources, availability of healthcare (in most parts of the Western world except the US), etc. etc. plus there are many fewer of them in relation to what you would call "lower middle class". Arguably (I wouldn't agree with this), there are none left in the Western world, except the homeless. (I'd say this may have been true in the mid-to-late 20th century but rising energy prices have messed that up for everyone.)

    So yeah OP is talking some bullshit but there's a valid point there nonetheless.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • by Ex-MislTech ( 557759 ) on Friday February 14, 2014 @04:40PM (#46249771)

    "Some day socialism will finally work when products magically appear infinitely cheaply."

    When robots walk around with hands that are 3D printers, and they can print hybrid
    graphene carbon nano tube solar cells and stick them to all the structures on the planet perhaps.

    And the robots can print more robots...

    Maybe we will have to wait for robot to mine the moon for HE3 to power a Fusion reactor ?

    http://www.kurzweilai.net/poss... [kurzweilai.net]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    http://fti.neep.wisc.edu/galle... [wisc.edu]

    I don't like some aspects of socialism, but if we can have a star trek world,
    and power becomes so cheap its not worth metering then we are closer
    then most ppl think.

    This is part of Kurzweil's singularity.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    It will need the power, and it is coming closer.

    Think a billion solar roofs...or more...

I am more bored than you could ever possibly be. Go back to work.