2018-01-13 20:20:29 UTC
Star Trek Economics Is Just True Communism Arriving
Tim Worstall , CONTRIBUTOR
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
There's an interest in the economics of Star Trek. Not just on the grounds
that the economics of such a world are interesting but because there's a
book just about to come out on the subject. And there's really two things
that we can say about that Trekonomics, that economics of Star Trek. The
first being that you can't, on logical grounds, actually have an economics
in such a world. And the second being that you can, but it will be the
sort that Karl Marx was talking about. For the basic premise of the Star
Trek universe is that we've conquered scarcity. And as Marx was most
insistent about pointing out, communism couldn't arrive until the absence
Brad Delong has had a chat with the writer of the Trekonomics book which
you can see here. And Noah Smith wanders through the subject here:
There is also the problem of the dignity of work -- people enjoy feeling
needed. But human values change over time, and there seems no obvious
reason why people couldnt get their self-worth from artistic self-
expression, or from hobbies.
This is the basic Star Trek future. But actually, I think that the future
has a far more radical transformation in store for us. I predict that
technological advances will actually end economics as we know it, and
destroy scarcity, by changing the nature of human desire.
So, there's that one sense that we can't have an economics of such an
environment. For economics is the study of the allocation of scarce
resources. But if resources aren't scarce then how can we study the
allocation of something that doesn't exist? Of course, you might think
that most economists are only discussing angels on pinheads anyway. And if
we're honest about it all economists would insist that at least one
current major theory is nothing more than that. But in the entire absence
of scarce resources, economics would be even more like that. Akin to
asking whether those angels could waltz or jitterbug upon their pinhead.
However, we do have another guide to what would be happening at this
point, in the absence of scarcity. And that's the Bearded One himself,
Karl Marx. And the answer is True Communism. Or at least, the way would
then be open for True Communism to finally arrive.
For it's worth remembering how Marx thought it would all work out. At
present we've got capitalism and that makes things much more efficient,
produces stuff vastly better than all that feudal stuff did. And the next
stage after that is socialism, which will be more efficient again. Well,
we saw that that didn't work out. It might even be true that the
competition of markets and capitalism is wasteful; but that's as nothing
to how wasteful a system is without them.
But the end point of this productive apparatus getting ever more efficient
was that the problem of scarcity will indeed be solved. And at that point
we've not got to worry about the division and specialisation of labour,
the efficiency of its use, the productivity of labour even. At which point
For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a
particular exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from
which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a
critical critic and must remain so if he does not wish to lose his means
of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive
sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he
wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it
possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the
morning, to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening,criticize
after dinner, just as I have in mind, without ever becoming hunter,
fisherman, shepherd or critic.
Which sounds very much like this from Noah Smith, doesn't it?
In other words, the rise of new technology means that all the economic
questions will change. Instead of a world defined by scarcity, we will
live in a world defined by self-expression. We will be able to decide the
kind of people that we want to be, and the kind of lives we want to live,
instead of having the world decide for us. The Star Trek utopia will free
us from the fetters of the dismal science.
The economics of Star Trek is thus True Communism. Fortunately, without
the intervening bit of socialism that anyone has to suffer through.
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