Star Trek Economics

August 9, 2015 in Daily Bulletin

In the Star Trek universe “replicators” – machines that can make anything – have removed the problem of scarcity – the defining point of economic theory. Noah Smith wrote about what our society may look like if it was similar to the world presented in Star Trek:

  • In the Star Trek universe there is a large amount of automation. In our own universe more automation seems to have led to more income inequality.
  • Yet as people got richer governments would probably impose progressive tax rates that would redistribute money from the richest to the poorest.
  • Even if they didn’t, as people got richer it is possible that they would increasingly want to give their wealth away to those who don’t have enough.
  • Therefore, over time, our society should evolve into one that has a high absolute level of living – similar to the world of Star Trek.
  • The lack of scarcity probably means that the population isn’t growing.
  • This isn’t too hard to imagine in our own world: rich countries are seeing their populations shrink not grow, a trend that is expected to continue as poor countries grow richer.
  • People currently get a feeling of self-worth from their jobs. In a Star Trek like future where there doesn’t seem to be much commerce, they may increasingly be getting it from art and hobbies.
  • Economic theory usually assumes that we’re the slaves of our own desires and interests. But in the future we could hack our brains to change the kind of person that we are, to match what we want to be.
  • Some people will be able to choose to just always be happy – without the side effects of drugs. Others may choose to have a yearning for exploration, and to “go where no man has gone before”.

Read other musings on the topic here.

Source: Bloomberg