“Star Trek” has always been about more than just aliens and starships.
Over more than 600 hours of television footage and 12 feature films, the iconic sci-fi franchise (which turned 50 in 2015) has explored everything from sociology, to politics, to religion.
Add economics to that list.
From the beginning, the “Star Trek” universe has been one without money — at series creator Gene Roddenberry’s insistence. Yes, the show was occasionally contradictory on this plotline. None of the major characters used currency, although one race from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the Ferengi, was characterized as borderline obsessed with profit and trade, even using their replicators to create money. In some cases, Federation Credits were used in diplomatic exchanges, and Latinum was used by some species as currency because it cannot be replicated.
In general, however, the storyline was of a society with little to no ties to economics as we know it today. Roddenberry imagined something of a utopia, declaring, “In the 24th century, there will be no hunger, there will be no greed, and all the children will know how to read.”
“When you watch it, it’s not clear that there’s money at all [in ‘Star Trek’],” says venture capitalist Rick Webb, who has written extensively on the fictional economics of the series. “It doesn’t play an active part in the Federation, you don’t see it, and they don’t talk about it. It’s become an interesting mystery, how this society functions with no obvious connection to money.”
It’s simple, Webb explains: The show doesn’t depict people as being obsessed with money because it’s no longer relevant for them; it’s become culturally taboo by their time. This was clearest in the few instances when the writers slipped back into reality and used money as a way to advance certain storylines, he says. These episodes proved that, yes, there is money in the 24th century, but it isn’t treated at all like it is today.
“Money as an extension of energy, as a stand-in for labor,” Webb says. “It still exists in the future, but we aren’t in love with the accumulation of it because there’s an abundance of it. We don’t need to think about it anymore.”
What do you think? Can a society without (noticeable) money actually work in the real world? Is our economic system on track to eventually become like the one enjoyed by the residents of the United Federation of Planets?