One of the most well-known facts about Star Trek is that human beings no longer collect paychecks, and they aren’t obsessed with the consumption of material things. Now, most people hear this statement and assume that everything in Star Trek is free and that you can have anything you want. While that is technically true, it’s not how things unfold in the future. But, why is that?
Well, in the absence of a currency-centric economy, humans of the future are shown to be focused on self-improvement, self-enrichment and the betterment of all. With the elimination of scarcity of resources, humans have effectively ended issues like poverty, diseases, and war for all mankind. That doesn’t mean people don’t still have money or material things; rather that they have enough resources to thrive and complete their goals in life without worrying about accumulating more and more.
The fundamentals of Star Trek’s economy are:
- Focus on self-improvement of yourself/others.
- Don’t monopolize material things/resources.
- Maintain stockpiles of objectively valuable resources to trade with alien governments.
With this plan, every single human being on Earth is provided for, happy, and thriving. Sounds great right? Well, this mentality wasn’t easy to come by.
When creating Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry forced the evolution of humans by wiping out over a quarter of the Earth’s population and all major governments. The Eugenics Wars followed closely by World War 3 left the planet scarred, damaged, and irradiated. Humans didn’t have money, nor was there anything available to spend it on even if they did. Instead, a barter-type system was put in place until the First Contact with Vulcan was made in 2063.
So, barring genocide and the borderline destruction of our planet, how else could we get to the economic state depicted in Star Trek?
Well, before we can talk about the removal of money, we should first learn about its origins. Money, whether in coin or paper form, has been a part of human history for the past 3,000 years. The first known usage of money was around 1100 B.C. by the Chinese, who used miniature replicas of objects made from bronze to conduct business. Instead of trying to physically barter with 30 spears for 20 swords, people could simply trade the replica coins and transfer the goods at a later date.
This first usage of money didn’t remove the value of the goods being traded, instead, it just simplified the buying and selling portion of the transaction. However, sometime around 600 B.C., money shifted from being used to directly represent goods and started to become a basis for all transactions. People began viewing the bartering system as a lengthy (and sometimes unfair) process, so money became the new norm.
Once coin and paper money had an established valuation, people quickly learned about buying more than they actually needed. Instead of trading what little supplies you had for what you needed, people could perform work and buy whatever they wanted without having to give any possessions up. Thus began the infatuation that plagues our lives today: materialism.
Materialism (n): interest in and desire for money, possessions, etc., rather than spiritual or ethical values.
Sound familiar? Well, it should. This word could be used to describe the majority of the humans living in 1st- or 2nd-world countries. Now, this doesn’t mean humans are bad or selfish, but rather a product of our environment. All our lives, we have been raised on the mentality of “save your money for the future,” and “you need to look out for number one.” Ideas like this have lead people to develop an ingrained sense of hoarding materials, money and things. Oftentimes when people donate their time, money, or resources to a charity or relief fund, it’s usually very limited and doesn’t put any pressure on their quality of life.
The universe of Star Trek allows us to peer into a possible alternative of our lifestyle. Not just about exploring the universe, but about exploring the human condition that we have all chosen to accept as “normal.” If any of us transported into the world of Star Trek, we would stick out like sore thumbs. Our wants, desires, and needs would be noticeably focused on our own self benefit as opposed to those who grew up under a completely different ideology.
So, is this mentality even possible to break? Well, not without the removal of scarcity for food, education, and healthcare. Because these basic needs still require time or money to acquire, we can never truly rid ourselves of the need for more. The more money we have the better food, education, and healthcare we can get for ourselves and our family. It’s human nature now to want the best and to expect to pay for it.
Sadly, the world is stuck in a vicious rut. Corporations and governments want to make money so they can buy more resources, and in doing so keep up the scarcity. While people cry out for change, they will ultimately still work for money so they can purchase overpriced items that could be cheaper or even free.
Let’s use a doctor as an example. Their typical life unfolds like this:
- The desire to become a doctor and help people.
- Can’t afford medical school, gets student loans to help pay for it.
- Student loan debt begins to add up, requiring the doctor to work at higher paying hospitals and accept money from pharmaceutical companies.
- The doctor is unable to focus on helping people, instead forced to focus on making money and getting ahead so they don’t go bankrupt.
This is how a doctor’s life would unfold in Star Trek’s economy:
- The desire to become a doctor and help people.
- Medical school is free but rigorous.
- After passing medical school, the doctor is able to go abroad and help those in need.
See a difference? In the second example, access to the Medical Education is no longer viewed as a scarcity requiring thousands of dollars to pay off. Instead, it’s seen as a way to better one’s self and others and is treated as such.
Imagine, for a moment, what Dr. Beverly Crusher’s reaction would be if she was told to withhold lifesaving treatments for patents who weren’t insured… or better yet, just weren’t Federation citizens. Barring the Prime Directive (interference with non-warp species), I don’t believe any red-tape about “costs and coverage” would stop Dr. Crusher from helping someone. In her life, saving others is what it’s all about. Not buying a 3rd yacht or paying off loan debt.
Ultimately, unless the consumer stops buying things or corporations and governments decide to create a better future, this cycle will continue until the markets are broken. Star Trek’s Economic future isn’t a fantasy… it’s just a really hard future to imagine.
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