Source: Washington Post, Jul 2015
What happens in the economics of Star Trek is that automation has taken over.
If you are in economics, what you are thinking about is basically the way society works under scarcity. And it’s hard to understand the way society works under scarcity unless and until you actually spend a bit of time understanding how a society might work without scarcity. And that’s exactly what we have in Star Trek.
There’s no longer any necessity to work to sustain oneself. Machines complement our work as humans and allow us to escape the most dreadful effects of scarcity. Poverty, hunger, all that.
Instead of working to become more wealthy, you work to increase your reputation. You work to increase your prestige. You want to be the best captain or the best scientist in the entire galaxy. And many other people are working to do that, as well. It’s very meritocratic, similar to my friends who are mathematicians or scientists. And it’s extremely hard.
The nature of work is no longer tied to conspicuous consumption, or the necessity to actually feed yourself or to make money. Work has become something that allows you to increase your reputation, or your reputational capital. That’s how it’s depicted in the series.
Related Reading: InkShares, date indeterminate
In Trek’s universe, most if not all of the real-world conditions that drive economic behaviors essentially disappear. In Star Trek, currency has become obsolete as a medium for exchange. Labor cannot be distinguished from leisure.
A world where evenly distributed cornucopia is both the norm and the policy profoundly changes its inhabitants. Just like money, the compulsion to work to ensure one’s survival has simply vanished.
competition among people is completely transformed. Reputation and honors, the esteem and recognition of one’s peers, replace economic wealth as public markers of status. But these are largely optional, as there are no material penalties or disincentives for those who do not seek nor attain higher status.