Just what is the economy in Star Trek? I'll be open for a moment, I'm an Ex-trekkie, but this one thing bothered me then and it still does today. It seems that the whole of the Star Trek universe operates on some horribly mangled form of socialism. Let me break this down a bit.

So, you have the Ferengi, obviously run by capitalism, for better or worse. But at least they have a social structure that is explained by the plot. "The Ferengi are attacking because they think they can profit."

But Why does the Federation continue to run at all? You have replication tech that can produce all the food needed. And it seems that it has been distributed to the masses, because, as I remember, there was an episode where someone came from the past and it was explained to him that widespread hunger was no more (it was Mark Twain, as I recall). Why would anyone ever work? Why would someone become a Starship captain? Personal gain? Ok, I can buy that, but then how about shit jobs that no one likes? How would any of that ever get done? It all contributes to Why nothing like Star Trek would ever happen.

And sorry Tem42, the robot argument doesn't fly. Someone has to make the robots. There isn't any mention of Nanotech in any incarnation of Star trek that I can think of, and even if there were, someone has to design said robot. Of all the SF stories and shows, Star Trek seems to be the least dependent on them. Even the service ducts of the Enterprise D had ladders to human scale, and no HINT of any sort of service bot. I can't imagine that the flagship would just not have the building block of their entire society.

BTW, Economy != Money system. Anyone can create a money system, but Money does not an Economy make.

As an addendum: Replicators cannot produce all food; they're unable to produce certain spices. Also, using replicators requires energy. However, most of a natural economy is null and void, thanks to mostly-free food and energy. This simply could mean that the Star Trek universe is based upon information. An information-based economy would help to make a bit more sense of TNG and Voyager, since their missions roughly coincide; gather information.

The jobs that no one likes to do are done by machines. Haven't you read your science fiction?

I think that being taught that working is the right thing to do would be enough to keep most people doing it. Society has a lot of power over the individual. Also, it seems to be a recurring theme in star trek that these people are explorers--they're not producing much of anything, they're just keeping themselves occupied. Notice that the only 'work' they do is fighting wars and avoiding disaster. I'd like to think that humans naturally try to avoid disaster, and I know for a fact that they naturally fight wars.

Other jobs seen in Star Trek include artists, traders, therapists, doctors, mechanics, and holosuite programmers. Plenty to do.

And there's always something to buy--a vacation on Risa, strange alien art, and holoprogrames. And don't forget the joy of hoarding piles of gold-pressed latinum.

It looks to me like Federation planets mainly depend on a barter system. The replicator and Transporter systems leveled a lot of trade imbalance, but they don’t run on thin air. Technology, raw materials, power supplies, services, and information still have value.

Ships still need dilithium for their warp cores. Replicators won’t work without deuterium. And where does all that food come from, anyway? It’s converted from nutritional supplements... surely not appetizing, but it’s got to come from somewhere.

And though we’ve seen holograms and androids performing in many service positions, I can’t believe the technology is available to everyone... and even if it is, who’s maintaining it?

Also, the Federation in Star Trek does have currency. In the TOS episode, "The Trouble with Tribbles," the character Cyrano Jones sold tribbles for Federation credits. And in the DS9 episode, "Past Tense, Part One," we actually see a credit chip.

Source: Star Trek Encyclopedia

Trek's economic system has always been a bit ambiguous. As a result it has been used to advocate pretty much any system of economy. Some people (for example Saab Lofton in the preface to his (terrible) novel A.D.) see the Federation as a perfect example of a traditional left-wing socialist society in which the structures of Government have withered away (a la traditional Marxist thought about the development of a Communist society), others see it as the pinnacle of libertarianism. Personally, I think both are wrong, Star Trek has never really dealt properly with the politics of economy and probably never will, it's far too interested in the touchy-feely stuff (perhaps Gene Roddenberry decided to be as cautious about Economics as he was with religion in Star Trek).

A much, much better treatment of Economics in an SF context is demonstrated in Iain M. Banks's Culture novels, and his own essay "A Few Notes On The Culture" discusses the issues in much greater depth. The universe of the Culture is a similarly space-faring technophiliac utopia, but (perhaps due to Banks' left-wing Scottish upbringing) isn't afraid to deal with the obvious consequences of such acheivements.

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