The Socialism of Star Trek - It's Not What You Think It Is
I grew up on the syndicated re-runs of the original Star Trek, and as a kid of single digits, I found myself enraptured by the swashbucking, Horatio Hornblower-esque Captain James T. Kirk and his band of stalwart friends as they explored the galaxy. Like most science fiction, the backdrop of space in the 23rd century didn't really matter; the best stories were the stories that explored what it meant to be human. In the late 1980s, Star Trek: The Next Generation launched, and at the age of 10, I was already a staunch Original Series purist. I very nearly decided to not like this new show, no matter what they did, but somewhere in the second season, the writers realized what made the original series so great. Once they started devoting their plots to the characters, the show took off. There's a lesson in there for any writer.
At some point watching Star Trek, the viewer becomes aware that there is an economic system at work here completely different from anything we're used to. We never see any monetary exchange at all in the original series, just some vague mentions:
"You want credits? I'll give them to you." - Mirror Kirk to Spock, Mirror, Mirror
"Their still using money, we gotta find some." - James T. Kirk, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Even Next Generation doesn't help matters much. When Dr. Crusher in the pilot episode, Encounter at Farpoint, finds fabric she likes, she merely says, "I'll take the entire bolt. Charge to Dr. Crusher."
In fact, we see no economic exchange at all through the entire run of the show, and it's only until Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that we run into the first form of monetary exchange, in the form of "Gold Pressed Latinum", and even Quark makes the comment about the genius that decided to use worthless gold to contain valuable Latinum (which is apparently liquid at room temperature).
It is plainly obvious, that money and resources are not a concern for anyone in the Federation, at least anywhere in the core worlds, and no one seems to want for anything. There is no disease, no hunger, no want and no crime (which is generally just a substitute for want). Nothing required to survive is held back from anyone, which immediately begins to sound the alarms that the economic system of Star Trek is socialism.
Lily Sloane, asking about Enterprise-E: "How much did it cost?"
Picard: "The economics of the future are somewhat different... The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity."
Without outright saying it, these lines make it plainly obvious. Now, I don't want to get into political economic discourse here, but those who know me personally know that I am vehemently against socialism. I have both a pragmatic view of the flaws in socialism, but more importantly, I have a genuine moral problem with socialism and the economic slavery of one person to a whole.
And that is where things become fascinating with Star Trek, because there are many, many story lines, especially in Next Generation, where the personal freedoms and self-determination of one individual are fought for time and time again against an oppressive force (usually elements in Star Fleet or some other government organization). So how can a science fiction show that espouses socialism as the Great Utopian Way be opposed to the government control of individual lives at the same time? History has shown time and time again, that one cannot exist without the other by the very nature of socialism.
The answer is because, the socialism of Star Trek is NOT socialism. It is NOT the division of all economic wealth equally based on the need of the individual. It is actually based on the lack of any economic need whatsoever!
And here's how you get there...
A few months ago, I read an article about an asteroid named Psyche 16. NASA is sending a probe there, launching in 2022 to arrive in 2026. Psyche 16, based on all tests and estimates, contains $10,000 quadrillion in gold! It has enough gold, based on current troy ounce prices, to make every man, woman and child on Earth a multi-billionaire literally overnight.
Except that it doesn't. Economics has one basic rule. In fact, it is the simplest rule, and it cannot be ignored by any economic system of any kind. The value of any commodity or good is based directly on the quantity of supply versus the quantity of demand. This can be offset to some extent by government control (think of governments paying subsidies to farmers to NOT farm in order to keep down the supply to increase the price for those who do farm), but in the end, there is no denying this economic law of nature. it applies to services as well, and it is all based on the simple competition for scarce resources.
If you introduce enough gold, more gold than human civilization has mined in the total of its existence, the value of gold suddenly plummets to a low never before seen. There is so much of it available, that it has NO value at all. And Psyche 16 seems to also contain huge amounts of platinum, iron and copper.
It is safe to assume, by this one tiny example, that the asteroids in our solar system alone contain more minerals and rare earths than a thousand of our worlds, and then what is available in the planets themselves? We can generally assume that every planetary system in the galaxy contains more of the same, because the periodic table proves that everything in the universe is, essentially, made of the same stuff.
What happens when there is no more competition for scarce resources because resources are no longer scarce? Is there any need for resource hungry nations to compete by force of arms? Do basic ideological differences or competing concepts of God matter to anyone anymore (because no matter what anyone says, even those are still driven by this basic force)?
All of a sudden, it seems that humankind can move on to other things, move on to bettering ourselves, our civilization and the human experience.