Manu Saadia – Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek

Manu Saadia – Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek

Saadia wrestles with some interesting questions, such as how people would behave in a world without scarcity, how an economy could work without currency, and more. But he comes up a little short, both in terms of economic analysis and some ideological narrowmindedness.

Even in a superabundant world like Star Trek with replicators, teleporters, and the like, scarcity still exists. Even if people enjoy a place high atop the pyramid of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they will still find things to want and aspire to. One of the first things economics students are taught is the non-satiation principle. This opens the door to a fruitful discussion of relative versus absolute abundance, and all the implications that has for social stability, the reason technological progress continues, and more. Saadia instead focuses more on making ideological arguments in favor of flat income distributions—focusing on ratios, rather than people (see Iain Murray’s and my 2016 paper, “People, Not Ratios,” for a more constructive view on the subject).

As for currency, it tends to spontaneously emerge. It cannot be successfully abolished. The transaction cost savings of using currency are too great for people to pass it up—especially since even in Star Trek’s mostly moneyless universe, people are well aware of the concept. Whether gold, paper, cowrie shells, cigarettes, credit, or digital data, currency’s superiority over barter holds, even in Star Trek’s world of superabundance.

This opens the door to a discussion of spontaneous order and how that works, but Saadia again declines the invitation. That said, he offers some interesting discussions of the money that does eventually appear in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series in the form of gold-pressed latinum, as well as the Ferengi merchant race that is the rare example of greed and commerce in the series. Regrettably, they are sometimes also a thinly-veiled Jewish stereotype, though some episodes give the characters some depth and empathy.

There is still a lot to like in here. Just don’t expect it to have the depth that the best of science fiction and of economic thought have to offer.

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