Economics of the Future

December 15, 2011

Political Theory


I have always enjoyed science-fiction, so when I was introduced to Star Trek, I fell in love with it instantly. The clip above is from my favorite Star Trek film, Star Trek: First Contact. In this film, the crew of the USS Enterprise, led by Jean-Luc Picard, travel back in time to the 21st Century to prevent the Borg from taking over the plant. In the clip, Picard explains to a 21st Century character on how society has changed in the future.

For those of you who can’t see the clip, he explains how “the economics of the future are different.” He further explained that “the acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity”.

I felt that conceptually, Earth in the 24th Century seems very similar to what Karl Marx had envisioned when he wrote The Communist Manifesto. Wealth is in essence abolished, and people are for the most part, created as equal citizens. A form of communism is established in the Star Trek universe, however, it seemed to look at it from a slightly different perspective.

Instead of blaming the bourgeois for the woes of the working class, and using centralization to solve the problem, the government of Star Trek use the idea of self-betterment as a framework to solve the problem. As material wealth in the 24th Century no longer seemed to be a driving force, they have somehow framed it as a betterment of themselves and humanity.

This perspective would solve some of the problems mentioned by a previous post. The blogger argued that three things. First, it argued that communism would stop people from working hard for the benefit of strangers. Second, it argued that communism dismissed inequality as a whole. Finally, it argued that communism prevents innovation in technology and innovation. As the Star Trek perspective of communism is a far more self centered one, it would not have the same problems. At the same time, it would continue to protect civil rights and individual liberties. Perhaps this is what Karl Marx envisioned communism to really be, where there was no class struggle because everyone concentrated on the betterment of themselves.

However, political theorist would argue that Star Trek’s version of communism will not work in reality because the view of society assumes a benevolent humanity. It assumes that people care about other people beyond themselves. Hobbes, for one, argues that it is human nature to be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” At the same time, Marshall Sahlins, a noted anthropologist argues in The Western Illusion of Human Nature that human nature is based more on kinship than selfishness. Many of us have had opportunities where we put family before ourselves.

It is difficult to say whether Star Trek’s version of communism is ever possible. Perhaps we’ll have to wait until the 24th Century before we will find out.

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One Comment on “Economics of the Future”

  1. Brian Hall Says:

    While the world of Star Trek is indeed an entertaining vision of what might be possible in the future, I personally have a cynical outlook on the future. It would be ideal if everyone had the same life philosophy; that is, not doing harm to others, and using all of their natural abilities and time to better the lives of themselves and others. I personally don’t see this happening. There are too many people who truly do not care about the future. You have many people of different religious persuasions who do not care about what happens to the world because they believe it is doomed anyway, many existentialists and nihilists who don’t believe anything really matters and would rather get high than work on problems of mankind, and then the occasional science nerd in between who likes to tinker on things and build rockets/ explore the universe (NASA or the future Star trek explorers). I doubt this will really change in the future.

    Maybe Picard is simply looking at his civilization with an extremely detached sense of optimism; he spends all his time on a spaceship anyway. What does he really know about what Earth is like?

    A further consideration is in the details of the ideal “personal communism”. What would “personal betterment” look like? Would it be spending all of one’s time on purely productive purposes, like reading books, exercising, and doing work (freetime having been determined to be a complete waste of time many centuries ago)? If human kind adopts some kind of Eugenics or else to some degree adopts the use of genetic engineering, combined with the intellectual and physical pursuits above, we might have a race of Nietzsche’s Übermenschen on our hands.

    How does one determine what is in the best interest of humankind? Hitler’s ideal of eliminating the Jews and Slavs seemed to him and the Nazis to be a positive step for mankind, and they thought they were rendering themselves and everyone else a service. I don’t think it is safe to trust people with the responsibility for determining other people’s lives. In other words, only each individual knows what is best for himself (obviously there is always some need for government intervention on a pragmatic scale, but clearly not in the form of forcing a life philosophy on someone or enacting genocide).

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