Why Hate Anti-Star Trek?

A comment at my recent post on how innovation might be >50% of future GDP points us to a Thursday post by Matt Yglesias, favorably citing a December post by sociologist Peter Frase, who imagines an “Anti-Star Trek” society. Frase says that Star Trek society is:

A communist society. There is no money, everyone has access to whatever resources they need, and no-one is required to work. Liberated from the need to engage in wage labor for survival, people are free to get in spaceships and go flying around the galaxy for edification and adventure.

Frase says an Anti-Star Trek society shares the same access to replicators and “unlimited” energy, but is instead a hellish “system based on money, profit, and class power” because it enforces intellectual property in the designs replicators use. So, horrors, people who want to use the latest designs, rather than old or donated designs, need some sort of income, which Frase says they might get by creating and selling new designs, marketing and advertising them, or making and enforcing lawsuits.

Now it should be noted that Star Trek fiction has many cases of people using money and trading. Even setting that aside, replicators need both matter and energy as input, and neither could ever be in infinite supply. So even an ideal “communist” Star Trek must enforce limited budgets of access to such things. Lawyers and guardians would need to adjudicate and enforce such limits.

In both the Star Trek and Anti-Star Trek societies, the main source of long term value seems to be the accumulation of better designs. Yet Frase (and apparently Yglesias) is horrified to imagine that the people who contribute this main value might get paid for their contributions. After all, this might lead to unequal “classes,” where some own more than others. This even though Star Fleet displays lots of hierarchy and inequality, and spends large budgets that must come at the expense of private budgets.

The far future seems to have put Frase in full flaming far mode, declaring his undying allegience to a core ideal: he prefers the inequality that comes from a government hierarchy, over inequality that comes from voluntary trade. Sigh.

Frase also greatly underestimates how much we can spend on innovation:

People to come up with new things to replicate, or new variations on old things, … is never going to be a very large source of jobs, because the labor required to create a pattern that can be infinitely replicated is orders of magnitude less than the labor required in a physical production process in which the same object is made over and over again.

Yes the labor to create any one design might be small, but to find good designs we must search a vast space of possible designs. To search for good designs, we create candidates, try them out, diagnoses their failings, and then seek better variations. This can use up practically unlimited labor.

Quotes from the Frase post:

The world of Star Trek, as Gene Roddenberry presented it in The Next Generation and subsequent series, is that it appears to be, in essence, a communist society. There is no money, everyone has access to whatever resources they need, and no-one is required to work. Liberated from the need to engage in wage labor for survival, people are free to get in spaceships and go flying around the galaxy for edification and adventure.

The technical condition … [has] two basic components. The first is the replicator, a technology that can make instant copies of any object with no input of human labor. The second is an apparently unlimited supply of free energy. It is, in sum, a society that has overcome scarcity.

Anti-Star Trek is an attempt to answer the following question:

Given the material abundance made possible by the replicator, how would it be possible to maintain a system based on money, profit, and class power?

… Central to anti-Star Trek is … intellectual property, … In order to get access to a replicator, you have to buy one from a company that licenses you the right to use a replicator. … Every time you make something with the replicator, you also need to pay a licensing fee to whoever owns the rights to that particular thing. So if the Captain Jean-Luc Picard of anti-Star Trek wanted “tea, Earl Grey, hot”, he would have to pay the company that has copyrighted the replicator pattern for hot Earl Grey tea. … If everyone is constantly being forced to pay out money in licensing fees, then they need some way of earning money. … What kind of jobs would exist in this economy? …

People to come up with new things to replicate, or new variations on old things, which can then be copyrighted and used as the basis for future licensing revenue. But this is never going to be a very large source of jobs, because the labor required to create a pattern that can be infinitely replicated is orders of magnitude less than the labor required in a physical production process in which the same object is made over and over again. … Capitalists of anti-Star Trek would probably … pick through the ranks of unpaid creators, find new ideas that seem promising, and then buy out the creators. …

Lawyers. … companies will constantly be suing each other for alleged infringements … Marketers. … a small army employed in advertizing and marketing. But once again, beware the spectre of automation: advances in data mining, machine learning and artificial intelligence may lessen the amount of human labor required even in these fields.

Guard labor is …. to keep the poor and powerless from taking a share back from the rich and powerful. .. There is also another way for private companies to avoid employing workers for some of these tasks: turn them into activities that people will find pleasurable, and will thus do for free on their own time….

The main problem confronting the society of anti-Star Trek is … how to ensure that people are able to earn enough money to be able to pay the licensing fees … Even capitalist self-interest will require some redistribution of wealth downward in order to support demand. …

Would the power of ideology be strong enough to induce people to accept the state of affairs I’ve described? Or would people start to ask why the wealth of knowledge and culture was being enclosed within restrictive laws, when “another world is possible” beyond the regime of artificial scarcity?

Added 5:17 p 19July: Instapundit weighs in.

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  • In universe, the replicator didn’t exist until the time of The Next Generation. Dunno how Kirk pulled it off.

    It seems really hard to enforce intellectual property rights over a galaxy. If someone’s using it illegally on a starship that only occasionally lands in a port, how do you tell?

    But we do see a concept of intellectual property in a seventh-season episode of Voyager, when the holographic doctor writes a novel, and someone else distributes it without his permission. Profits aren’t the issue, it’s the right of creative control. (Also, he’s a program, not a person, so does he have those rights?)

    Although supposedly the replicators had “lock outs” that stopped them from making certain things (like weapons and poisons). This seems really hard to enforce, too, since anyone with access to a replicator can replicate the pieces to a new one. I can sort of imagine a Ken Thompson virus that allows a replicator to figure out it’s creating a replicator, but it seems like the kind of thing one could eventually work around. But if you had a perfect self-perpetuating lockout, you would also have a system of DRM.

  • roo

    If we just accept Frase’s star trek and anti-star trek nomenclature (and resisting the temptation to find all the in-show refutations of it is very difficult as a seasoned trekkie), it’s indeed hard to see how the worst conceivable anti-star trek wouldn’t be a drastic improvement over the present day.

  • Hedonic Treader
  • Pingback: Assorted links — Marginal Revolution()

  • fructose

    People to come up with new things to replicate, or new variations on old things, … is never going to be a very large source of jobs, because the labor required to create a pattern that can be infinitely replicated is orders of magnitude less than the labor required in a physical production process in which the same object is made over and over again.

    Actually, manufacturing is already a pretty small fraction of total employment. Most people work in services. You can imagine a world where open source replicator programmers spend a few hours a week creating new free designs, but who will be the plumbers?

    • Flynn


  • Sean

    We’re getting closer anyways. A modern 5 axis milling machine is practically a replicator. It just takes longer.

    There are still things in Star Trek that will have value which cannot be replicated. Land is a big one, though it will, of course, get much cheaper. And, of course, things such as ships are too large to be simply replicated.

    One episode where Picard has a delusion that shows him happily puttering away in a vineyard brings up an interesting question. Is there still a market for luxury goods such as wine grown in a ‘traditional’ manner, or is this just the hobby of a man who has credits to burn with no real expectation of income from it?

  • Aaron Armitage

    Yet Frase (and apparently Yglesias) is horrified to imagine that the people who contribute this main value might get paid for their contributions.

    I remember reading in one of Richard Dawkins’ books, in a section about the evolution of the eye, about the differences between camera eyes like we have and compound eyes like insects have. Ours are far more efficient, but there’s no pathway of incremental improvements leading from compound to camera. One lineage, however, is making the switch because it had, first, moved into dark caves and lost much of its eye function, and then come back out into the light, where the vestigial organs are regaining function, but along camera lines.

    I say all of this as an analogy to help you understand what I’m about to say next: the only pathway to a future where inequality is based on contribution rather than favorable positioning is through vigorous and compulsory egalitarianism.

    • Adrian Ratnapala

      Twaddle. And here is the reason you are wrong about just the IP:

      IP is getting crazy because no strong constituency routinely objects to it. This is changing, because ordinary burghers have ever more temptation to violate it and are getting angrier about IP enforcement. Rightsholders will have to respond by pulling back (as they did when they started allowing cheap, convenient music downloads). If they push too far, they will find that the Lawmakers are far more afraid of massed, angry voters than they are of individual lobbies.

      • Aaron Armitage

        Was this reply intended for me?

    • Adrian Ratnapala

      Sorry for the rude tone of my last reply Aaron. But yes it was intended for you.

      I don’t think we need any radical change in order to make the world better, even if we do need change. Democracy and capitalism both work pretty well in general.

      • Aaron Armitage

        Well, that’s odd. Most of your reply was about IP, which I said nothing about. Now in your second reply you’ve said something both relevant and substantive such that I can reply, which I will now attempt.

        Hanson’s argument at that juncture, to which I replied, was about the people who make the contribution getting compensated. Standard anti-free-rider rhetoric. But capitalism as currently organized most certainly does not reward contribution; it rewards favorable placement. It’s not clear that an economic system that doesn’t reward position is possible; they all include favorable positions, and it’s surely too much to expect some change of human nature such as to keep those positions from being exploited. But if it is possible, there’s no way to get there without forcibly dislodging the current rentier class. That’s all I said. Maybe you’re okay with an economic elite based on position rather than work. I would be, were it not for the highly destructive nature of the one we’ve actually got. (And please do not, in answer, cite such things as advances in computing. That wasn’t them. They only got in the way.) Maybe you’re a hardcore Social Darwinist who supports them all the more because they don’t benefit everyone else. In that case there’s probably no point in conversing because our values are not just different but directly opposed.

        I don’t think we’ve thought through the implications enough. Hanson sniff at “old or donated designs”, but if software is any guide, the open source stuff will be better. Yes, yes, signaling. But that’s unstable; if signaling is the only reason for buying an inferior good it’ll be easy to notice that and make fun of the people doing it. If anything like the current economic order is to survive, you’ll need stronger enforcement than that. Now, I don’t know who you hang out with, but a lot of people I know have completely bought the IP-enforcement dogma, that it’s just like regular property, “what you wrote a book and someone else just took it and…” (every time they say that the only “someone else” that comes to mind is a corporation with fancy IP lawyers, so it fails to have the desired effect) — underlying it, those old impulses, first evolved as a defense against freeloaders but now free-floating and often turned to the support of free-loaders in high positions: conventionalism and “why don’t they _________ like everyone else?”

        (Very early in the Wisconsin protests from earlier this year there was a Tea Party counter-protest, and one of the Tea Partiers was interviewed by the news. He was complaining that public employees often get pension plans, and said, “They should have had 401(k)s. They can robbed like everyone else did.”)

        These impulses can easily be turned, given the right memetic nudges, against allowing open source. And probably will be. If the current regime will be unstable after replicators are invented (probably much sooner than Star Trek, with nanotech), then either we’ll get some sort of hyper-IP dystopia, or else IP becomes irrelevant. Only the hyper-IP dystopia permits the continued relevance of the current elite, and so that’s what they’ll try for.

        I must finish by saying that I’m not against democracy, far from it. But inegalitarian financialized capitalism manifestly doesn’t work well at all for anybody but the financial class.

    • KarenT

      the only pathway to a future where inequality is based on contribution rather than favorable positioning is through vigorous and compulsory egalitarianism.

      I imagine that you have in mind some sort of benevolent compulsion rather than something along the lines of Pol Pot’s attempt to destroy cultural memory (and pretty much anyone who had such memories).

      How do you answer Andrew Klavan?: Free people can treat each other justly, but they can’t make life fair. To get rid of the unfairness among individuals, you have to exercise power over them. The more fairness you want, the more power you need. Thus, all dreams of fairness become dreams of tyranny in the end.

      • Aaron Armitage

        The 400 richest Americans have as much money as the bottom 50% of Americans combined.

        I only need enough power to fix that. Your comings and goings don’t matter enough to bother with, so quit worrying.

      • The 400 richest Americans have as much money as the bottom 50% of Americans combined.

        I only need enough power to fix that. Your comings and goings don’t matter enough to bother with, so quit worrying.

        You do realize the logical fallacy in this argument right? Anyone who has the power to enforce egalitarianism is by definition superior to everyone else.

        This is why communism and socialism simply do not and never will work. They are coercive ideologies because they must be. Communism and socialism are simply totalitarianism by another name.

        Meanwhile free-market capitalism, carefully watched, provides the most benefit for the most people while providing the maximum freedom and opportunity for those willing to put forth effort. Personal property rights, to include intellectual property, are central to this.

        I’m a professional writer by trade, do I not have the right to be paid for my work provided someone wishes to purchase it? Should that work not be protected from theft by someone less talented than I?

        Sorry my friend, your arguments are nothing new, but merely a different way of stating an old idea “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” The only system which has ever come close to actually providing such is capitalism, with money as a medium of exchange.

      • Aaron Armitage

        You do realize the logical fallacy in this argument right? Anyone who has the power to enforce egalitarianism is by definition superior to everyone else.

        It’s called democracy.

        Yes, yes, I know the script for this argument. You personally didn’t vote for the winner, so it’s coercion. Why, it’s just like slavery, nay, IS slavery! Meanwhile, not a peep out of you guys complaining about the plutocrats exercising power nobody ever chose to give them (no, “the market” doesn’t count as a choice of the people to hand themselves over blindfolded and shackled to a handful of privileged individuals who view them as livestock), both by directly buying the government and by economic power which owes its historical origin to highly unlibertarian actions. And owes its present to highly unlibertarian actions.

        When the ordinary people try to use the state to their benefit, there’s a hissy fit about socialism and initiation of force and communism doesn’t work. When the rich do it, it’s just campaign donations and that’s freeeeeeeeeeedom of speeeeeeeeeech. Do you ever stop to wonder why you guys are always so inconsistent?

        This is why communism and socialism simply do not and never will work. They are coercive ideologies because they must be. Communism and socialism are simply totalitarianism by another name.

        Among democracies, the further left the economic policies are, the better the outcomes, and the further right the policies, the bigger a shithole the place will be. The only arguable exception is American cities after (but not before) “white flight” began, where there are, needless to say, a huge number of confounding factors. At the state level and larger (including other democratic nations), you can compare them for just about any measure of social well-being and the left almost always wins for every measure of well-being.

        Doesn’t that strike you as odd?

        Meanwhile free-market capitalism, carefully watched, provides the most benefit for the most people while providing the maximum freedom and opportunity for those willing to put forth effort.

        Carefully watched? You’re a Bolshevik traitor against the market.

        Empirically, you’re wrong, as I explained in some detail above. It turns out that when you want to provide the most benefit and most freedom to the most people, rather than the most to the least and the least to the most, the majority of people are better off. Counterintuitive, eh?

  • 1Z

    The problems in the OP have been pointed out several times over. The answer to the questions: “why would anyone design a better replicator, if not for the profit motive?” is “for fun, since replicators mean no one will starve in the first place”

    • hitnrun

      Leaving aside that the “for…since” doesn’t follow – that’s nonsense.

      No one has ever, ever, but ever done anything useful in this world except for personal profit. All economics, everywhere, can be understood through this simple maxim. There are small exceptions, mostly in the arts when you stretch the meaning of “useful”, but in the end they simply prove the rule.

      Technology goes nowhere unless someone gets rich from it.

      • Flynn

        What about the open source movement? Yes, contributing to it raises your status in a very small community, but most people simply don’t care if you contributed to the latest Ubuntu kernel. Some people just enjoy tinkering and making cool technology the same way that others enjoy doing carpentry for fun. There will never be profit in it in terms of getting rich. However, if none of us had to have jobs, things that have intrinsic value to them would get a lot more attractive, and progress could still march on.

      • Aaron Armitage

        Most of early science was done by gentlemen of leisure just because they thought it was worth doing.

  • Evan

    Actually, manufacturing is already a pretty small fraction of total employment. Most people work in services. You can imagine a world where open source replicator programmers spend a few hours a week creating new free designs, but who will be the plumbers?

    George O. Smith makes this point well in one of his Venus Equilateral stories, after a replicator is invented people have to spend a few weeks bartering services until they come up with a currency the replicator can’t counterfeit. One surgeon gets an awful lot of servants before long. In a replicator society with no IP laws people would simply compete for scarce time instead of scarce materials.

  • Adrian Ratnapala

    I’m with Yglasias.

    The central point is not that strong IP protection to inequality leads, rather, it leads parasites to uselessly extract rents by claiming the rights to trivialities. In a dystopia where absolutely everything can be covered by some IP right, not only will vast efforts will be wasted on unnecessary lawyering and guarding, there will also be a huge opportunity cost when people refuse To Boldly Go where they might need to something unlicensed do with a replicator.

    This ultra-IP dystopia is only half a strawman. Rightsholders and potential rightsholders have an incentive to always lobby for laws that tend ever more to such a regime. Yglasias believes (and I agree) that lawmakers tend to cravenly satisfy such lobbies while ignoring important (but diffuse) countervailing interests.

    As replication becomes easier, the economic benefit of arbitrary copying grows, while the cost of developing ideas remains fixed. Thus new information technologies should, if anything, lead us to slowly weaken our IP laws. Instead they are used as a reason to steadily strengthen them.

  • Evan Harper

    Yet Frase (and apparently Yglesias) is horrified to imagine that the people who contribute this main value might get paid for their contributions.

    This is such a hilariously willful misinterpretation of Frase’s post that I didn’t bother reading any further. What is the point of this kind of bullshitting?

  • Gepap

    ” spends large budgets that must come at the expense of private budgets.”

    Sorry, but what evidence do you have of this claim? There is no discussion of taxation in Star Trek, and given that most people have no incomes nor make money purchases most of the time, what would be taxed?

    As for the issue of energy/matter (remember that they are fungible, which is the point of a replicator anyways), you are correct that they are not infinite, but this universe presuposes that humanity has reached a level of technology that allows them to harness levels of energy unthinkable to us, but still easily within the range of what the universe has to offer. You seem to greatly underestimate the immensity of the amount of energy out there in the universe.

  • Nick Husher

    First, the setting of Star Trek was designed to be a sounding board for discussing aspects of the human experience. It’s hyper-technological and utopian so there aren’t any distractions when Picard is espousing the value of reasoned discussion or whatever.

    Second, assuming the writers adhered to a perfectly-coherent vision of the future, there’s little evidence that the Federation is communist in practice or in principle. The economics are clearly different, but are mostly left un-addressed. Imagine if inhabitants of 15th century Europe were teleported to an American aircraft carrier (which is the modern-day equivalent to the Enterprise), I think they’d come away with some pretty strange notions about how our society works.

    • navin


    • Sisyphus

      Great comment.

      I think this is the key thing in understanding Star Trek as world-building – we see very little of the world that most people inhabit, and what we do see is mostly a small part of their military expeditionary force. Occasionally there are glimpses of Earth or other major settled worlds, and lots of colonies, but little in the way of the daily life of society.

      The original series and TNG both show a military hierarchy, and the provision of basic goods by the military to its soldiers is not much different from today. Their superior replicator tech and energy production just make that threshold much higher.

      I think it’s telling that the closest of any of the series to showing non-military life, Star Trek: DS9, seems to have non-military beings engaging in business ventures, doing work for others, etc. Something basically like capitalism, or possibly mercantilism, seems to exist despite replicators. People just mostly perform services for themselves or others, or trade non-reproducible goods, rather than producing goods that can be replicated. That is, they buy and sell the things that remain scarce in this “post-scarcity” world.

  • magilson

    As an avid watcher of all things Star Trek and yet completely skeptical of most of the future premise it contains I have to say these are not the points I gathered from it. Instead I read the plot lines, most especially in TNG, as the realization of the New Socialist Man; the one sticking point that never could quite come to fruition in our day and age.

    As others have pointed out, replicators did not always exist in the series. It was invented to further this plot line in TNG. It was constantly repeated that man is improved, man is capable of self-control now, man is truly free to grow, man is now only limited by man’s own imagination, etc. And the issue of matter or energy is not as big an issue as it might seem. If you can have inanimate matter you no longer care about (read:waste) you can use this technology, coupled with, in the scheme of things, a small amount of energy easily provided by matter/anti-matter. Seriously, the universe is huge. There’d have to be a really, really big population before it was an issue. Like seriously huge. These are all non-problems when you can travel faster than light. The one honestly “scarce” resource they dealt with in the entire series was “Dilithium crystals”.

    I mean seriously, if a little box in your wall can literally deliver whatever you want, why the heck you worry about a paycheck so long as the power grid kept on truckin’. At most, and I really believe this, you’d have to worry about paying someone to do a crappy job you hadn’t managed to automate. So I don’t see IP as the issue in the future. It’s more an issue of managing the time between pre-Bad Job Automation and “now”.

  • roystgnr

    Star Trek economics are an odd combination of “everyone here has everything they could ever want” and “everything truly expensive-looking you see is under the control of someone high-ranking in a single central hierarchy”, with “how exactly does this hierarchy prevent outsiders from controlling similar starships/etc too” handwaved away.

    And after Riker duplicated himself, I figured the transporters were a bigger economic plot hole than the replicators. Population demographics are already pretty well correlated with “willingness to copy ones self” when the imperfect copying process takes decades of personal expense. What happens when perfect copying is cheap and the timescale of that exponential growth changes to minutes?

  • Dan

    If I had just invented the replicator, there would be no incentive for me to spend time and energy trying to protect my intellectual property rights. I have a machine that can instantaneously fulfill any and every material desire. Will I start enjoying the good life now, or hang around in courtrooms listening to lawyers drone on and on? If I did try to protect the secret, I would be under constant threat from either redistributionists or would-be profiteers. Wouldn’t my safety best be assured by giving the secret away, letting everyone have their own replicator, and then just getting on with enjoying the endless abundance at my command, while basking in the glory of being the benefactor of humanity? Since a true replicator can reproduce anything, including itself, I’ll just turn the prototype loose and it will churn out enough personal cornucopia machines for everyone in no time. Then the only question would be why anyone would want to give up all that luxury and go flying off into what Karl Urban’s Dr. McCoy reminds us is “Disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.”

    • Replicators don’t automatically make software. Someone’s gotta program the house-cleaning machine you just replicated into existence.

    • Tracy W

      I liked the explanation of Star Trek society as:
      “Actually about 99.9% of the population spends their entire lives in the Holosuites, and all we see on TV is that 0.1% of weirdos who prefer real life. “

      • Finch

        Presumably the folks who prefer holosuites would rapidly die off…

    • Look at what you spend your current income on. A lot of it–say, living space, entertainment, status markers, hiring other people’s time, etc–is non-replicable.

      You would have every incentive to use your replicator to get filthy rich.

      • Arnold

        That’s what the holodeck is for.

  • Becky Hargrove

    One Star Trek episode that stands out in my mind is where a visit to the 21st century found a civilization set back far from the abilities of the present. Why this concerns me now is that were the U.S. to default in a major way, arguments both from the left and the right would encourage people to “live better” without money. Money is so tied to government that when government is broken, it seems money is also worthless. But it remains the best measure of physical resources and manufacturing, it just is not the best measure of human ability. People need to know the difference for wealth creation so that they can make good choices in the future.

  • Buck Farmer

    Could status-signalling serve as a sufficient motivator in a post-scarcity society?

    I’m thinking along the lines of Voltaire’s wit and the court of Versailles. In that case there is a muddling between signalling innate qualities for mating access and for resource control.

    In a Star Trek society, you could still use signalling to compete for mating access (which is presumably still scarce) and resource control (assuming that there is some resource scarcity…like fleets of starships can’t be replicated).

    Robin, do you have any intuitions on whether this is sufficient to generate innovation? Would there be costs to human freedom / social flexibility if we move to a more Nietzchean / Carlylesque hierarchical status competition model vs. the current market-competition model? Is this a utopia or dystopia or neither?

  • Kyle Smith

    There’s a reason Gene Roddenberry created the Ferengi – he absolutely hated the capitalist mode of production and the nature of capital itself. He was no fan of most of American thinking, either, as anyone who’s a fan of Star Trek can recall from the first episode of The Next Generation when Q wears a US Army uniform from the 20th century and rambles something about needing to crush the communists – and Picard rushes to the defense of humanity saying that they’ve long since evolved past such childish ways.

    The blog is largely based in what can only be described as an absolutely horrible opinion. Greed is intrinsic to evolutionary survival so its quite cumbersome baggage we carry around – but it’s the most important thing for us as a species to sociologically overcome if we are to persevere to wrestle the likes of the “commanding heights” of space, to borrow slightly from Lenin.

    Not to mention the utter futility of the argument the man makes. Intellectual Property enforcement right now is largely a farce – sure there are grandiose stands by corporations and advocacy groups channeling money into elections to get laws passed – but these laws are flagrantly disregarded in the extreme. People seem to think that somehow Napster going down was “the end of an era” – anyone with any knowledge of the internet knows that peer-to-peer file sharing has only grown more extensive. There’s not a single piece of software, right now, that’s not available in a pirated format. Operating systems, SPSS (or any of the quantitative / qualitative software), and certainly any kind of normal application/office software or games.

    It’s also kind of funny because the massive IP protection movement has simultaneously created such draconian protections of software that it causes the software to malfunction. There’s endless stories on the internet of the difficulty of making a game work or making some application work because of some DRM put on the software to protect it – and rather than spend 2-4 hours on the phone or days in e-mail exchanges to get it to work – they just go pirate it and it works flawlessly.

    There’s a reason it works flawlessly – the best programmers rarely work for major corporations – and the ones that do often seek to undermine things.

    Then again, to get back to the big picture, Roddenberry was aware that humanity wouldn’t just magically change its thinking one day. Roddenberry had to create the Third World War where the vast majority of the world died off in nuclear fires, orbital bombardment, and all the typical results of massive war (disease, famine, etc). It was only after the Third World War caused such massive loss of life, and it was only after the shear luck of humanity’s first warp flight being noticed by the Vulcans that humanity began to change its thinking.

    In Roddenberry’s canon of Star Trek the Vulcans acted like parents to the entirety of the human race. They limited our access to technology coming out of the war holocaust to tame our greed and other “illogical” tendencies to work for the better good. Humanity then spent several generations under careful tutelage and restriction of the Vulcan hierarchy to get to space.

    In other words, despite this blog’s authors best intentions, he missed a major point. Capitalism didn’t get humanity into space – it was in fact a socialist effort of a scientist and some ruffians after the Third World War that scrapped together the necessary bits to make the first warp flight – in fact it wasn’t just socialist it was a participatory economics model. Humanity’s movement from thereon was guided by the Vulcans, who hated the Ferengi and their capitalist ways, so the only way to get the help of the Vulcans was to forget capitalism.

    Then again I don’t think the blog’s author has watched or read much Star Trek – and all of this writing proves I’m one hell of a Trek nerd.

    • RTL

      You are so wrong about what got the Star Trek universe into space. Zefram Cochrane was totally capitalist. In First Contact he told Ryker he wanted make lots of money so he could go to some tropical Island and listen to Rock-n-Roll and hang with naked women. If you are a Star Trek nerd, you should be ashamed.

      • AD

        I just like the part where Data has sex with the head security officer. Was that part pro or anti-communism?

    • Dan

      There is a Star Trek episode in which Spock rattles off the statistics of the deaths in the three world wars while arguing with Dr. McCoy. I don’t remember the exact numbers for WW III but I recall that they seemed ridiculously low. So Roddenberry’s canon did not include “the vast majority” of humanity dying in a nuclear war.

      • Finch

        Wikipedia quotes Spock saying 37,000,000.

      • Careless

        Wikipedia says 37 million in the episode, retconned to 600 million in First Contact.

  • The Engineer

    So you have a replicator. So you have free energy. There is still work to be done. Starship captain, for example. Chief engineer. Ships counselor. How do you motivate the people to do that work if there is no money? What incentive is there to do a good job?

    What I want to know is, where on the Starship do they put the North Korean style posters imploring “the people” to beat back the Klingon horde? Because if you’re not going to motivate people with money, the alternative is totalitarianism of the North Korean variety.

    And even the North Koreans used monetary style rewards. Slackers starved. No rations for you!

    Isn’t Mr. Data the real key to a truly Communist society? If you could replicate yourself a Mr. Data, who could labor for you, you’d be set. But for some reason it is really hard to make Mr. Datum.

    • Aaron Armitage

      Because if you’re not going to motivate people with money, the alternative is totalitarianism of the North Korean variety.

      Empirically false.

      • Deoxy

        The choices for human motivation are A) resources B) religion (or other moral inducement) C) FORCE.

        C is authoritarian. A has several options, but it basically boils down to capitalistic types of things (voluntary services for money, with the money going up for jobs people don’t want to do) or authoritarian types of things (do what we tell you, or we withhold food).

        Sex is a great motivator for most men, but that still leaves you needing something for most women, so it boils down to the same three options.

        So yes, “Money or force” is not quite accurate, but the only other choice is, essentially, making up a “religion” that tells people to do what you want them to do, which I think most people would end up putting under “authoritarian”, since the only way to get everyone on board for this “religion” of yours would be authoritarian.

        (INDIVIDUALS may be motivated by their only moral choices, etc, but that will not drive society.)

      • SPQR

        Empirically true, as more than a hundred million dead under such systems attest.

      • Aaron Armitage

        People donate their idle computer time to science, top analyse SETI or protein folding. People write free software. People volunteer for soup kitchens and political campaigns.

        None of that needs religion.

        SPQR, please, do tell me, who are the hundred million dead from open source software?

      • Teal

        HI Deoxy, you’ve left out one important motivation of humanity. Prestige. This factor is something that helps in the acquiring of a partner, acquiring of resources (in today’s world at least – see product endorsements for an example).

        iirc, Starfleet has prestige, people who are in star fleet are somewhat respected. Surely enough that people will want to join.

        Besides, joining starfleet and serving under it has massive advantages, you get to go places , do things, kill some stuff… etc. Just like today’s military.

      • The Engineer

        Open source software, soup kitchens, and political campaigning fall under religion.

        Actually, lots of people get paid on campaigns. Having a well funded campaign is the key to winning, which allows you to pay a lot of people.

        Open source software can fall under monetary. Build your programming chops on open source and sell that skill in the “real” market.

        I agree that Starfleet, like the military, has other non-monetary motivators. But what about the larger society? If it really is “Communist”, how is it different than North Korea? And if it isn’t…

        Where do they put the North Korea style propaganda posters?

      • Aaron Armitage

        Open source software, soup kitchens, and political campaigning fall under religion.

        You’re abusing words in the traditional way, by subtle fallacies of equivocation. You bring in a novel definition of “religion”, which has nothing to do with the supernatural or ritual (even money you now redefine “ritual”), without announcing that your usage is not the standard one. That way, the connotations of the word (which for the audience of this blog would be negative) are inappropriately applied to the new meaning.

        Tell me, does liking to talk count as religion? Because a whole lot of content of precisely the sort that pundits are still paid to produce is created for free by, well, us. Even if the blog is monetized, the commenters don’t get a cut and keep on talking anyway.

        But aside from the above, you’ve essentially conceded. You said:

        Because if you’re not going to motivate people with money, the alternative is totalitarianism of the North Korean variety.

        Unless of course the “religion” of not being a sociopath is equivalent to Juche.

        Actually, lots of people get paid on campaigns.

        But not everyone. QED.

        I agree that Starfleet, like the military, has other non-monetary motivators. But what about the larger society? If it really is “Communist”, how is it different than North Korea?

        I notice that you think vague ideological tags are real things, at least as real as the way stuff actually gets built. You guys do that a lot; there’s a peculiar irreality to your thought, almost as if you had become convinced the physics and psychology of Looney Tunes were the real thing. I guess a long commitment to false ideas will do that to you.

    • The Engineer

      Yes, I am abusing the language. It’s not organized religion, per se, but it is a belief system, is it not? Communism itself is a belief system, bordering on religion for the hard core. Juche certainly is a belief system. From the many North Korean defector memoirs I have read, Juche seems to be an actual religion on some level, even with belief in the supernatural.

      Maybe that is the answer: folks in Star Trek seem to believe in their Communist system. But in real Communist systems, that belief is reinforced through propaganda. Why would the Starship Enterprise be any different?

      • Aaron Armitage

        If being motivated by kindness is a religionesque “belief system”, so is being motivated by money.

  • Michael Wengler

    I don’t think there is anything in the Frase post that doesn’t apply to the current world. Gigantic swaths of the western world are well past any kind of work-to-survive ethic. Robin and I and likely everybody reading these posts could survive on 1/5 their income. They could not do all the things they consider “necessary,” but necessary is a slippery sliding scale, with those who make more money than me thinking it is necessary to send their kids to private schools and to get at least 5 weeks a year of resort vacation to stay sane, while many who make much less than me drive speedboats and ATV’s, enjoy chain restaurants, and are generally pretty pleased and entertained by the lives they can afford.

    Star Trek technology is just a difference in degree from this not so much a difference in kind. Presumably in the 400 odd years between now and Picard the peanut butter of wealth and competent government has spread a lot more evenly over the planet, so the “poor countries” if they still exist have heatlhy, happy, and chubby children and adults, living their lives, socializing, entertaining and being entertained, in a fashion which we would recognize as OK.

    We certainly see evidence of plenty of private property in ST:TNG. Picard’s family’s vineyard and winery. The collections of art and mementos that individuals on the show own.

    Indeed, the communism suggested, is it really that different from the modern military? They go to the mess and eat, apparently for free but we don’t actually know the details of the arrangement. I think the enlisted get that now, and in the navy, officers pay to eat but it is effectively highly subsidized and seems almost a combination of anachronism and fun-and-games that it continues this way. There seems clearly to be status associated with paying to eat in the Navy.

    Meanwhile, we have numerous things that are essentially “too cheap to meter” in our current society. I haven’t been to a western country where potable water was NOT avaiable for free with at least a minimal effort to find it. In the US, a small effort is required to find food for no money. And clothing.

    Looking backwards, except for the Master and Commander series, most books of ancient adventure, books about explorers, do not spend very much mindspace talking about how the things were funded. The three musketeers, in context one imagines they are paid some salary by those for whom they sling muskets, but it is not the major part of the story. Even stories about bank robbers, it is the dames and the fights and the luxuries that are fascinating, any suggestion that these guys did these crimes because their diet had too few calories seems silly. The people who are/were hungry who did crimes to get food, it is very different from Bonnie and Clyde or Butch and Sundance.

    • Lurker

      The three musketeers, in context one imagines they are paid some salary by those for whom they sling muskets, but it is not the major part of the story.

      In the actual novel by Dumas, the money plays a rather large role. However, it has nothing to do with capitalist economy. Instead, as noblemen, the musketeers are socially obligated to use all their money lavishly, when they have it. When they don’t have money, they hang out with comrades who do, so they get to eat. Or they buy thngs on credit, knowing that no unnoble craftsman or merchant can sue them in real life. They would be assaulted or killed for it. Of course, the merchants know this, so getting credit is often tricky. Basically, the musketeer is saying: “Please give credit now. Later, when I get money, I’ll pay you back as generously as my nobility requires. If you don’t give credit, however, I just might to decide to whack you for being so uppity.”

      The monetary “pay” the Dumas’s musketeers get is essentially a series of one-time bouties from their superiors, each time a gesture of voluntary, paternalist benevolence by the superior in question. The musketeers are supposed to have independent income for their day-to-day survival, although they really don’t have it. However, from the glory of being in the king’s service, they get the de facto right of not paying their debts and mildly extorting business-owners for private gain.

  • Cynic

    because the labor required to create a pattern that can be infinitely replicated is orders of magnitude less than the labor required in a physical production process in which the same object is made over and over

    uh, so this Frase guy has never been involved in designing a new chip has he?

    • Deoxy

      Yes, there are already plenty of things in society where the cost of the “design” is far greater than the cost of EVERY COPY of the design EVER made. Most medications are this way. Computer chips are often this way, as well.

      Frase is an idiot.

  • Jeff

    loss of property rights leads to poverty … always will … If you can’t see that then you need to get out more and look beyond your tiny little world view …

  • The False God

    Actually, the true value in the Star Trek universe was in things that COULDN’T be replicated, either because they were too volatile, too complex, too time-consuming, or impossible to replicate.

    Usually, whatever unobtanium they needed to resolve the current episode’s plot would be classified as this in some way, because, hey, if you need Phelebotium 13 in massive quantities, why not just start all the ship’s replicators churning it out? Or have a massive replicator?

    Quark made a killing off of selling stuff like that for whatever funny currency name he used. The Ferengi were the Star Trek universe’s unabashed corporatists. Dilithium, used in star ships for warp generation, was also almost impossible to replicate. Giordi could only manage to synthesize really faulty crystals when they needed them. Lots of disputes were over dilithium troves on planets.

    Even in your communist wet dream super nirvana, reality slaps you across the face.

  • Big D

    If Star Trek (or at least TNG) represents a successful Communist Utopia, then why would anyone ever choose to be a redshirt?

  • FB

    Ah, yes, the good old Star Trek economy. Finally we have determined the one place communism is proven to work. In fiction.

  • DEK46656

    I would offer a different reason why IP based rewards would be useless: modeling software using genetic algorithms. If you had a device that could take “data” and consistently reproduce a product, then modeling software could sit there and churn out any type of device required, once its parameters were established and supplied to a genetic program designed for the purpose.

    The “utopian” scenario used in ST:TNG was strictly based on lazy writing. There would be no need to describe the different currencies, exchange rates, cartels, fair trade agreements, minimum wage, or similar complexities required to run such a place.

    I remember specifically a ST:DS9 episode where the two “young men” of the series (Jake Sisko and a Ferengi) had to work and trade stuff back and forth across the entire station to come up with the currency to buy something for Jakes father (an original base ball card if I remember correctly). I also recall that in that episode the Ferengi ended up with a parcel of land on the planet below and sold it to his uncle for a very nice profit.

  • John

    Since money is just a convinent storage device for labor and resources, if money does not exist, then something else will take it’s place. When ever star trek brought up economic topics, they almost alway brought up “credits”, so that output could be correlated against a standard measure, or were ding resource for resource trading, and in DSN, they appeared to have the idea of “credits”, as well as the “gold standard” of non replicatable material for trading with other aliens. The reason writers could never flesh out a alternate economic system, is because no other system works.

  • JTHC

    Replicators wouldn’t get IP protection because they would be fully under state control. You have to be a pie-in-the-sky whackjob to think any rational government would allow a Star Trek replicator to exist in private hands.

    Sure, create your utopia, give a replicator to everyone. I’m sure everyone will just make great art and tuna sandwiches right? No massive stockpiles of machine guns, atom bombs, Lamborghinis, or killer robots? Think of the incredible havoc that could be created by one evil person with a replicator, and then you realize why such technology would never be allowed in private hands. Same reason individual citizens can’t own atomic weapons.

    • Aaron Armitage

      Atomic bombs: require fissile material which will remain rather hard to come by without magitech.

      The other weapons: are a Constitutionally protected right.

      Lamborghinis: what’s the issue here? Lamborghinis are legal, last I heard.

      • Realist Writer

        “The other weapons: are a Constitutionally protected right.”

        Show me where in the Universal Declarations of Human Rights that you have the right to use firearms. Why the UDHR? Because the US Constitution is not going to be the operative law of the land come the time of the “World State” that is necessary to control the use of Replicators.

        Even if we assume as US World State, the US Supreme Court, in the majority opinion of “District of Columbia v. Heller”, reports that the right to bear arms is not a unlimited right.
        “It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”

        IMHO, Killer Robots count as being dangerous and unusual weapons.

      • Aaron Armitage

        A world state would be just as much required to control nuclear power and weapons. Yet we haven’t got one.

        You would have done better to cite drugs, but even here the easier thing is to give up the ghost on prohibition rather than voluntarily impoverish ourselves.

    • Eric

      Not star trek, but Neal Stephenson’s _The Diamond Age_ gives replicators to everyone, but strictly controls access to the recipes. One of the main themes of the novel is the distinction between the Feed versus the Seed.

  • The primary issue I have with discussions such as these is the total lack of discussion about what is “money”?
    Money is nothing more than a standardized form of IOU that exists to simplify a barter economy. Instead of trading a dozen eggs for a gallon of milk, we accept that a dozen eggs are worth the $2 that I get from the seamstress and the dairy farmer will sell me a gallon of milk for that same $2.
    Saying “money” doesn’t exist or that your society doesn’t use it is idiotic.

    The RSA video was interesting, but the situation described refutes the theory of socialism and communism quite clearly. The video states that autonomy is a primary motivator, more so than money. While socialism and communism can provide opportunities for mastery and purpose, neither has ever provided autonomy to its subjects.

    • Hedonic Treader

      Indeed. But communism in the sense of central planning isn’t the idea. The idea is to have material abundance in a basic social distribution that allows people to survive on an acceptable standard without existentially coerced employment.

      I think this would be realistic in an efficient replicator-driven economy, but only temporarily. Population growth, especially once digitally copyable minds become feasible, will continue to be exponential, even though it may be possible to temporarily regulate it. Since there is no such thing as free unlimited energy, and since exponential growth always wins against linear allocation of limited resources, that puts long-term utopia to the dustbin of failed ideals.

      However, in the temporary phase of abundance, the liberating power of free material security and the power of digital copying should not be underestimated. There would always be more people who volunteer for creative and other intellectual work, such as open-source replication design, once they are freed from the need to make money just to survive. In such a world, even if only a fraction of the population would have the skill and motivation to be innovative, there would be enough designers and artists to compete just for the attention of the potential global audience.

      The real destruction of general welfare will probably come from harmful replicators, resources wasted on conflicts, and the exponential growth of copyable minds draining at the finite resource base, no matter how large that base gets though innovation. The result of this process is likely going to turn the utopian world into a gigantic misery generator, like natural ecosystems always have been.

  • George Turner

    Well, like communism, Star Trek was mostly plot holes. Why were they always visiting mining planets? Who in their right mind thinks working in a mine in a hostile environment is a form of self-improvement, at least outside of North Korea?

    If they had no economic limits, how come a thousand people had to share space on a single starship? Why not just have a thousand starships?

    As for the idiotic notions about work instead of ownership as the basis for economics, why would shipbuilders build a ship? They can’t use a ship because they like being shipbuilders, not sailors. The ship they build is actually useless to them. That means they need to sell the ship to someone who wants to use it, so of course the buyer is not the builder (the worker), the buyer is going to be the owner (the parasite class in Marxist idiocy).

    So the show proposes that the buyer is the government, which operates the ship in a universe where, I suppose, people can’t actually own ships, or anything else of actual value, just meaningless, valueless trinkets spat out of a replicator. The problem with replicated items is that they aren’t capital. They have no economic value, just like all the illegal songs on an iPod.

    Of course the other hilarious observation about leftists watching Star Trek is that they believe Star Fleet is a band of peaceful explorers despite the sight of the Enterprise unleashing more nuclear firepower every other episode than the nuclear arsenal of a ballistic missile submarine, and usually doing it to some random species they only met five minutes earlier. It would be like a US submarine captain who never returned from a three-month patrol without nuking the ships or ports of at least five random third world countries. And that was just one starship. The Federation has hundreds and thousands of them, so in reality the Federation was probably starting a nuclear battle about every twenty minutes. But they said “We come in peace” every episode, and the little chihuahua on the dashboard bob’s his head bobs up and down. The show’s fandom makes an interesting study in how easily crowds are persuaded by silly propaganda that wildly conflicts with the reality in front of their own eyes.

    • Aaron Armitage

      If they had no economic limits, how come a thousand people had to share space on a single starship? Why not just have a thousand starships?

      You just seriously asked why you would want 999 other humans around when you could be utterly alone. Given that this is so, can there be a good reason to take anything you say about humans and their activities seriously?

    • The Engineer

      Star Trekking, across the universe, always going forward ’cause we can’t find reverse…

      We come in peace, shoot to kill, shoot to kill, shoot to kill…

  • hitnrun

    “Well, like communism, Star Trek was mostly plot holes.”

    +1 million

    My fervent hope is that the demise of Trek, futurism will recover from its absorption with neo-utopianism and the meeting of space elves.

  • Becky

    if Yglesias and Frase truely believe this, why don’t they join the military?

  • he prefers the inequality that comes from a government hierarchy, over inequality that comes from voluntary trade

    Only problem, the former can lead to you being marched off to the gas chambers in a way that the latter never can.

  • Dave Eaton

    What about the open source movement?

    It’s pretty neat. But a bad example of ‘communism’ because it is not centrally planned. It’s kind of anarcho-capitalist, but the currency is signalling ‘rights’ in a particular community. I like the results. Individualism not only abounds, but is encouraged. Don’t like something? Download some source code and fix it up the way you like. You may or may not attract a fanatical following. But you are free to do it. And also free to ignore any ‘5 year plans’ for ubuntu or whatever. Also not communist.

    Being free to do it also supposes you have a lot of resources, not the least of which is free time, which is probably purchased on someone’s nickel. Could open source have originated in a place where people were not pretty comfortable, and had the hardware (which is clearly a product of capitalism, practiced with gusto in Asia).

    • Why can’t there be open-source ship builders who compete with each other over who can build the best ships?

      Sort of like how there are scientists competing with each other over who can do the best science.

      Did the physics community decide to build the LHC because some rich person decided that the LHC should be built? No, the physics community decided that building the LHC was the next logical step in the progress of physics and decided to pool their resources to do it.

      The most important resource is human capital, the thinking and planning about how to acquire the means to achieve an end.

      If those physicists had to grow their own food, weave their own clothes, forge their own metals, they would have less time available to build superconducting magnets. I don’t see how having an artificial scarcity of something somehow provides a motivating force to physicists that would compel them to work on building the LHC. Those physicists will still want the best superconducting magnets and will use the magnets made by who ever makes the best ones, provided they have the resources to acquire them.

      Once necessities of life are provided for, then coercion doesn’t work any more. That situation really sucks for people who don’t have anything but coercion based on legacy property. The physicists building the LHC don’t need to be coerced into building the LHC. They want to build the LHC.

      All the holders of legacy property want is for their legacy property to maintain a monopoly stranglehold over the economy and society.

  • richard40

    The few episodes in TNG that talked about the replicator making trade and business obsolete were nonsense, and should never have been approved for the show. There were other TNG episodes where trade was still a factor. And in DS9 capitalism was definitely in evidence, just look at Quarks bar. And one of the main basis of the purpose for the DS9 station was to monitor and facilitate interstellar trade. The whole farangi culture was based on it. All the starchip crews were paid, why pay them if there is no private economy to spend it on. I also do not buy that energy would ever be unlimited. Perhaps for a military starship, that could always get more antimatter at the next starbase, but whole planets with no energy constraints, rediculous.

    • Lurker

      Here, the point is “interstellar trade”. Even if the Federation as a whole would be a fully developed replicator-utopia, there are a lot of place that are not. For example, Bajor was not part of the Federation. It was essentially a war-torn, semi-governed hellhole with completely outdated technological foundation. Similarly, Cardassia or Dominion are not part of the Federal utopia economy, whatever it is. In such trade relations, you have some kind of monetary economy by necessity. You can’t allow the foreigners an unlimited access to federal technology and resources, even if you would allow it to your own citizens. Thus, if you allow individual freedom in cross-civilization contacts, you are bound to have an area of monetary economy on the fringe of you utopia. DS9 takes place there.

      I find no reason to believe that the Federation, Cardassia, Romulans, Dominion and Ferengi share the same economical system. Anyhow, none of them is a classical economy “free, effective market”. Indeed, many of the plot points center on smuggling contraband: stuff that one government does not want transported to the area of another’s.

  • OT

    The simple fact is that between the time that the original series was cancelled and the Star Trek franchise was reborn, Roddenberry had 10 years to develop a festering soul destroying hatred of the greedy capitalists that cancelled TOS. The result was a Marxist utopia where such an injustice could never occur. After Roddenberry had died, Berman started slipping in vestiges of Capitalism.

    What the actors we see on TV and on the big screen represent, is the pure socialism of the mental ward. The “normal” 99.9% of the population live their lives inside holo-suites from which they never emerge. The citizens of the Federation have no need of an economy because their every wish can be provided in perfect computer generated realism. I doubt very many of them are even aware there is such a thing as Star Fleet.

    The desire to explore and study the universe is abnormal behavior in this or any society; collecting all such persons and putting them on spaceships out on the fringe of space is an ideal way to get rid of a nuisance.

  • superflat

    lets also not ignore the vile antisemitism in the depiction of the ferengi (seriously, even for those not sensitive to such things (or who think others are oversensitive to such things), the grubby trader stereotype was so close to shylock it was ludicrous).

  • George

    Neither Star Trek nor Anti-Star Trek is accurate. As you say, there will always be true scarcity in matter and energy, but at the same time, artificial scarcity will not be enforceable with totalitarianism and fascism. If that is the future you endorse, then I hate it with a passion.

  • f1b0nacc1

    By the way, any reason to assume that the characters in Star Trek (all variants) aren’t living in some sort of enormous holosuite of their own? I agree with several of the commenters that the overwhleming majorities of sane people have long since retreated to their individual nirvanas, but it would also be likely that those unwilling to do this voluntarily (religious issues, perhaps?) would probably have been confined (albeit pleasantly) in some sort of simulation to protect the rest of the Galaxy from the side effects of their galavanting around.

    To the original point, however… The notion that open-source development (the hobby of a tiny fragment of the population…and a somewhat socially dysfunctional portion of that population as well) might be a workable model for an economy is risible at best. Yes, some of us (myself included) might be delighted to tinker with problems and generate new concepts for little more than the admiration of our fellow nerds, but a great many more will want something a bit more tangible for our efforts. Barring the ‘lets all live in the holosuite’ (which really makes all of this debate pointless), a great actor for example, will expect to be paid for his performance, as would a great prostitute or a great chef.

    As many others here have stated, money is simply a way of standardizing a means of exchange, the value of that exchange to be determined at the moment of exchange. Some values are not amenable to monetization, but most are likely to be. Pretending that the former group will make the latter obsolete is more an act of wishful thinking (and to be honest, fairly silly), than reasoned analysis. There will always be people willing to undertake difficult or even unpleasant tasks for their own personal reasons, but these people (often referred to as ‘loons’) are likely to remain a very small minority for what I am sure are obvious reasons…

    A final point, at least one episode of the original Star Trek series (Mudds Women) explicitly shows a group of miners on an extremely inhospitable planet who (also explicitly) state that they are doing this dangerous and unpleasant work for the remuneration that they expect to obtain. Numerous other episodes in the first series include freighters moving large cargos, bars and shops where monetary exchanges take place, etc. Hence until TNG, the whole replicator technology must not be fully in place. Yet even after its introduction in TNG, we have traders, private property, cargo ships, etc….

  • Meg

    The iteration you describe can only happen in the absence of intellectual property laws. Otherwise there’s a delay between iterations of however many years the government-granted monopoly lasts for.

    There are plenty of non-monetary motivations that could be used instead, as well. Everything from prestige to badges can be at least as motivating, if not more, than pure survival. We are already observing the inefficiencies of capitalism in post-scarcity sectors of our economy (such as open-source systems administration tools, which have roundly trounced any produced under intellectual propert law.) I see no reason why we should assume money or trade as the future motivating force, when it already isn’t the exclusive force today.

    As for energy, in Star Trek the main visible power source is anti-matter reaction, which is clearly efficient enough (once Dilithium can be synthesized) that it is not a concern. And energy=matter, which is why the replicators are central. While it will certainly be a long way off before we reach that level of sufficiency, we are approaching the point where, as a world, the problem is becoming one of distribution rather than production. Capitalism, unfortunately, appears uniquely unsuited to this problem.

  • Wonks Anonymous

    Peter Frase responds here:
    One of his main points is that he’s merely using a thought-experiment rather than defending actual (fictional) existing Star Trek society.

  • Frase’s “Anti-Star-Trek” view is a straw man. The reason to be anti-Star-Trek is not because you don’t like free access to replicators and want to profit from them. Sheesh, who cares. Just use the replicators to make whatever you’d buy with that profit…

    The reason to be anti-Star-Trek is that you dislike the idea of an authoritarian, centralized society in which all resources are directed toward a giant, ever-active military and few other meaningful institutions or endeavors appear to exist. The society of Star Trek, to the (limited) extent that its portrayal of the future is coherent in the first place, is a fascist society.

    On the few occasions in episodes or films where there is mention of having ‘abolished money’, to the extent this even seems feasible (in fact, it doesn’t because at times, businesses on earth e.g. bars are mentioned), it’s only because Starfleet is virtually the only institution we see. All jobs and life roles are with Starfleet in one way or another. The only school we see (unless you could the Q training Wesley Crusher went to) is Starfleet Academy. You are assigned your role with Starfleet and then that is what you do. You are a foot soldier taking orders in a giant, all-encompassing army-state. PIcard gets to sit in the Captain’s chair, but you are to stand in the engine room all day watching a glowing monitor, until of course that day you put on a red shirt and are coincidentally called over to the transporter room. Don’t like it? Tough.

    Is this really what Frase sees as a ‘communist’ society? Even if so, what exactly about it appeals to him?

    Now yes, you have a replicator in your wall that can conjure up some mac ‘n cheese on request. Okay, so you’re an especially well-fed/-entertained foot soldier. This is still a fundamentally fascist vision.

    Of course, maybe this is all just because we happen to be shown the Starfleet side of society disproportionately. Someone mentioned the warped picture a show set on an aircraft carrier would create. So maybe this is all incorrect and there are the expected number of normal institutions and business and endeavors back on earth. But that just means that the ‘moneyless society’ lines occasionally tossed off in some of the episodes/movies are incoherent.

    Basically, if the Star Trek society is truly ‘moneyless’ as it sometimes claims, it’s fascist. If it’s not fascist, then there is normal business and trade back on earth and we just aren’t shown much of it due to the show’s setting, and Picard is lying about that ‘moneyless’ stuff. I don’t see a coherent option that involves Star Trek being moneyless and yet Starfleet not being all-encompassing in a fascist way. Does Frase?

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  • Roger Williams

    Given: Cost per unit of commodities; including but not limited to energy; the United States built its infrastructure at very low unit costs. At the same time, Indochina and the Mideast were beginning to value new things from leaders to Lexus’s; pretty much anything different than they had in way of freedom. A casual observer or innocent visitor from star trek land would be struck by the time and energy we devote to arguing over essentially, Who’s number 1. As if at a college football game while engaged in a serious debate; with wide ranging implications to the rest of the human race.

    Assume: Author acknowledged to has the rare combination of life experiences’ training and empathy to see the truth in peoples actions and derive without effort the fundamental factors driving said human(s) actions.

    Assume: That common sense tell you people , are born at a rate higher than they die, and is base case until Darwinism acts.
    Assume: Common sense says, people want only what they know about. The opposite of course, you can not miss what you do not have or know even exists.
    Assume: All scientific studies and simple data review leave no doubt that the relationship between a countries citizens access to the I-phone/net. is a game change. On a scale that is nearly asymptotic with its upward and constant pull from the date of seeing what is available and continuing well past the point of every human being enjoying access to same. And all it shows that is available.

    People, as a group, want stuff. Lots of it. Not less. More stuff, cool stuff, the more the better.Am bullish on America which in any competition involving “inventing” something neat, usefull, desireable or kewl in any way, will win in the near term again. For the same reasons they have over the last 250 years or so of.
    Being a melting pot, (non-Facist) it is the first and last refuge of the more confident risk takers striving for something more. Common traits shared include risk taking, entrepenurial spirit and actions.

    The combination of more people, and their predictable desires and actions are well know and shown on charts of price vs time from the time of salt as the most valuable commodity in the world through tulips, butter,oil and credit default swaps. Simply put, if you look at equity charts, you are looking to find how it got to the price and compare it relative to previous prices or similar.
    What you are looking at is a graph of predictable human behavior measured by their reacitions to fear and greed; primarily.

    India, China , and those Mideastern countries involved in the Arab Spring to those whom will follow soon, there will be a lot of people looking to buy more stuff.
    Lots of it, and the kewler the better.

    Anyone not thinking intellectual property will not be the most valuable asset to be protected might reconsider.
    Those that argue whether star trek tech is bad or good compared in a literal or relative sense, are very close to accidentally stumbling over the truth.

    Steve Jobs. Was unique.
    So was Edison.
    So will be others.
    It seems that whatever laws and actions that need to be taken to ensure that rewarding the risk takers who invest real and intellectual capital, their lives so it were.

    Nanotechnology, molecule size motors, technology of all types known and yet to be imagined or discovered, invented and voted on by people whom want more as to the success of the invention is not just a fundamental freedom that should be protected for individuals out of fairness or to encourage constructive risk taking .

    intellectual property has and will always be the driver of change. It has the ring of truth. Some look to religion for peace of mind and answers to unanswerable questions that face the earth and its inhabitants.
    i will put my money on the smart guys our of MIT being paid and rewarded to invent, discover and improve new technologies until anything is possible. Limited only by the ability of one human beings imagination.

    Important. Nah. Even the Supreme Ct. won’t be bothered with it unless it is sexy and has the right lasting imprint on their legacies. They leave it to lower courts as clearly, the right of human behavior within ones own bedroom is more important that the only real solution to well, anything of importance to not just quality of life, but actual life. Seems that would be a constitutional issue in their somewhere?
    Until the Supreme court decides, intellectual property is indeed worthy of protecting as a fundamental right protected by the Constitution , we will be handicapped by such shortsightedness, but succeed in spite of them.
    As we always have. And always will.

    They are just slow. It is built into the process to protect us from ourselves it appears to me, beauracracy exists because we vote it in to protect us from things changing too fast for us to feel comfortable.
    That process is about to hit supercharge boost .

    Enjoy the ride.

  • Modernjan

    @Robin Hanson

    For a professor of economics you haven’t really thought this matter through.

    For one the star trek economy (which isn’t communist, in many aspects, it does for example allow for private ownership and guilds/cooperations) does reward replicator engineers (creators): they get a social dividend at the very least and can be rewarded with luxuries such as additional energy credits and/or real estate.

    However the most important thing is to think about how profoundly the disappearance of money would be and that it would really be better than having a monetary system based on patents. You yourself admit society would require much less work to function because of advanced technology, distribution of wealth and products now being designed with the consumer, not profit, in mind, in a star trek economy. Say the average citizen would only have to work 10 hours a week (instead of 40-60 hours today), or half the population works 20 hours or one quarter works 40 hours or some volunteers work 30 hours a week while others have to work for a civil draft system a few years before given the choice to continue working or not, etc… Meanwhile everyone has the basics covered: no one goes hungry or without a roof over their head.

    Now let’s look at the anti star trek economy. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume the patent system will be like the European system, not the horrible, fucked up, patent-troll paradise, American system. Now let’s look at what will happen by observing known parallels in the modern world: the entertainment industry and the software/tech industries. In all of these industries it is apparent that the vast majority of creators make between 1-3 times the median wage of their country (the same level of wealth they would have in a star trek economy), so apparently the anti star trek economy doesn’t reward creators any better than the star trek economy. Meanwhile there would be some people going hungry or without a roof over their head. Who does reap the rewards? Well, of course, a handful of executives and shareholders (of the corporations the creators work for)! People who do a tiny fraction of the total work of society and are not even creators themselves.

    What would this mean essentially? As you know a patent is a legal monopoly , so the corporations owning the patents can set any price they like for their products and this they will do: ultimately forcing the average citizen to work 40-60 hours (citizens will pay for stuff with money but they’re actually paying with work deep down). This means the majority of the workforce will spend a majority of their time doing utterly useless work (society itself requires only 10 hours, remember) in the service of the executives and shareholders living in luxury. Because all material needs would be taken care of by replicators and a handful of workers, most of the 30-50 working hours per citizen that are left must be in the service of the rich elite (they could quite literally have a dozen citizens clean every inch of their villas with a toothbrush, every day, if they wanted to). The vast majority of the population would end up being near slaves of a tiny elite who reap huge rewards from the work of the actual creators. Of course an important side effect would be an increased consumption of natural resources since the elite will make sure all replicator designs will be designed with profit, not the consumer, in mind and the elite will occasionally want to endulge in material pleasures, these factors will mean the consumption of natural resources will increase and more damage will be done to the environment.

    So, in conclusion, even if the creators got a slightly greater reward in the anti star trek economy then that would be the only advantage of the system, the disadvantages would be a greater work pressure for the creators, near enslavement of the vast majority of the population by an undeserving elite as well as increased use of natural resources and more environmental damage. That’s a piss poor fuck of a deal, wouldn’t you say?

    From a professor of economics I would have expected a bit more skepticism of the kind of “fairness” that is championed by large corporations.

  • Modernjan

    To add to my previous post. Here are some more disadvantages of an anti star trek economy:

    – the existence of poverty and economic inequality, which would lead to crime and you know, poor people dying in the gutters…

    – a financial system and that means completely idiotic economic downturns from time to time, greatly hurting ordinary citizens

    – corruption in politics: the mere existence of money, coupled with income inequality makes it possible for a small elite to “buy” politicians and influence public opinion with propaganda

    – commercials, everywhere, all the time, god, I hate those, and so does everyone else, to the point where you have a hard time distinguishing news articles from commercials

    – the existence of trust fund babies, lottery winners, extremely rich crime lords and extremely rich immoral bankers and businessmen while honest, hardworking people struggle to get by

    – exclusion of talent: the person who has the potential to find the cure to aids will be prohibited from finding it if he can’t go to college because his parents are poor or because he was shot and killed in the bad neighborhood he grows up in

    – the mere existence of money make corruption, robberies, blackmailing, etc… possible at all

    If it were up to me the world would swith to a star trek economy today

  • Modernjan

    @the people who wander why anyone would do anything at all in star trek

    None of the scientists and science students I know (and I know quite a lot) are in it for the money, they’re more concerned with the funding of their projects than with their own salaries. Also, doing nothing all day gets boring soon enough. All in all, there will always be a portion of the population that volunteers to work, especially when there are hardly menial jobs left because of automatization. It’s also stated in star trek that higher ranks in starfleet come with greater privileges, the same would likely be true of critical civilian jobs (like mining). 20 hours of mining a week can be worth if you get to see the galaxy for free and get a nice house from the government after a few years. There may also be a draft system to make sure everyone works at least a few years in their lives. Finally, it’s not like our current capitalist model doesn’t have a growing question of employment of its own, after all, automatization is occurring already, causing rising global unemployment.

  • Poelmo


    Who came up with the idea that it’s fair to pay creators for work that wasn’t done? Why should the creator be paid per instance of use of his idea when, beyond the original development, there are no production costs? It’s only fair to compensate the creator for his investment and work (developing the idea and uploading it to a public server) and nothing more. In a star trek economy there would be almost no investment costs because education and taking “inspiration” from other people’s creations would be free, while a social dividend plus perhaps a small luxury compensation (as deemed fit by society) would allow the creator to live comfortably and thus be adequatly compensated for his work.

  • Both Star Trek and anti-Star Trek are military autocracies. Without a way of accumulating or even measuring wealth, and with all property and power under the control of a group of starship armed managers, the vast majority of the population is at their mercy. Thus when Starfleet decides to evacuate a planet, then simply go there and tell the people they will be moved – and that’s that.

    The difference is in how brutal Starfleet is in exercising this total power. Star Trek does so with a light touch, while anti-Star Trek is much more ready to use coercive power and ruthless tactics. Thus while Star Trek’s Starfleet might use diplomatic manipulation and steady pressure to get what they want, the Starfleet of anti-Star Trek would be more likely to mass their fleet and simply take it. But in either case, the empire maintains control by controlling how people are fed and supplied – albeit, by doing so with high technology and with a high general standard of living. So more Brave New World rather than 1984.

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