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The Economics of Star Trek (2013) (medium.com)
119 points by Schwolop on June 30, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 100 comments



The problem I have with Star Trek is that AIs don't seem to feature nearly as extensively as I would expect them to if they actually existed, and I don't see us getting anywhere near a "post scarcity" society unless we do have that level of technology.

I hope our future looks more like the Culture than the Federation.

Edit: Of course, one valid criticism of the Culture is that humans are effectively the pets of the god-like AIs (the Minds) that actually run everything. However, as the Culture doesn't seem to act like most contemporary cultures in that it is quite happy to see people leave or parts of it secede if a group disagrees with a decision then I think I could probably live with being a very indulged pet.


An article about federation economics I referenced in another post where it defined fed credits as megawatt hours of electricity handed this problem by explaining that the very low hanging fruit of house thermostats and ballistics table calculation is highly automatable compared to hiring a person and paying them credits, BUT drawing the megawatt hours to run "the doctor" even in trek land, is so expensive energetically that its cheaper generally to just hire a flesh and blood doctor.

Also diverged the discussion a bit into there is no reason to assume the ideal form of all intelligence is the same, so silicon based "AI" computers might be very good at helping control a warp drive, yet useless as human conversation partners. Surely the replicator has some advanced computation abilities, but theres no reason to think its any good at composing poetry, at all. And given that assumption it piled on more assumption that "turing tar pit like" (my short analogy, not the essay) at attempt to simulate a human on top of a real non-human AI would be tremendously expensive, stacking high tech emulation on top of high tech emulation, such that Voyagers EMH was probably a terribly high cost (yet, sometimes useful...) appliance, so ships never used the Dr unless there was no choice.

How this fits in with the mobile emitter makes no sense. Maybe the mobile emitter is the odd man out and should be de-cannonized. If running the Dr costs as much as running the warp drive at a modest speed, the mobile emitter makes no sense as a concept.

TLDR is there is no obvious inherent scientific reason why a humanoid-like AI should scale technologically to be cheaper than flesh and blood. "cheap AI" may very well be one of those classic math / logic / CS problems people bang their heads against walls for centuries, knowing it should be possible in theory or at least no known theory blocks the way, yet it never actually can be proven or implemented.


The mobile emitter came from 500 years in the future. Its allowed to be "magic" even by Star Trek standards.

Energy is cheap in an interstellar economy. It kind of has to be, otherwise you are not going to space today. The most restricted and scarce resource in the Star Trek universe appears to be bandwidth.

Why can the Doctor (and information in general) not be effectively backed up? Why are comm pads ferried around the ship by hand instead of using email, remote login, or even teleportation? (Though that could be handwaved as basic military paranoia.) Why can the ship not automatically produce a "man overboard" alert when the number of life-signs unexpectedly drops?

I would expect AI to be cheap in Voyager's time. TNG would make conversational sentient AIs by accident in the holodeck with alarming ease. The Doctor was supposed to be an expert machine, and yet became basically sentient within a year.

Overall it seems that AI is cheap in Star Trek, but the "spark" of sentience is something that could only arise accidentally. However, because the mobile emitter exists, one could presume that holographic workers are pretty common by the 29th century.


Or a much more likely: strong AI isn't possible.


Well, my personal view is that I can see absolutely no reason why a proper general artificial intelligence is not possible (and yes, I know about a lot of the philosophical objections) - after all, we have an example of at least one kind of entity that displays general intelligence (i.e. us) and I can see no reason why whatever mechanisms the brain uses to create general intelligence couldn't be replicated by an "artificial" system.

Mind you, I think we are a long way off from actually having the theoretical or practical ability to build a true general intelligence - but I'm pretty confident we will get there eventually. Whether this development will actually turn out to be a good idea (Culture) or bad idea (Skynet) is another thing entirely.


>Well, my personal view is that I can see absolutely no reason why a proper general artificial intelligence is not possible [...] - after all, we have an example of at least one kind of entity that displays general intelligence (i.e. us)

Very correct. We even have the source code. (About 700 MB worth of it.) Of course, we have no way of running it or an approximation of it, it is for a ridiculously complicated and massive parallel physical and biochemical computer following rules that we can’t begin to comprehend at any level. But we have sequenced the entropy that goes into it – so the existence proof is trivial. (As you indicate.)


It's pretty easy to make substantially similar copies of the source code and run them in biological containers. The hard part is the maintenance.


Data and Lore would seem to contradict that.


There is a scene in "The State of the Art" where the Culture folks visiting Earth are having a party and someone (while wearing a Star Trek uniform and waving a lightsaber around) announces that he wants to be Captain of the GCU Arbitrary.

Someone else comments that a person trying to take charge of a Culture ship is like a intestinal bacteria trying to take command of a person.

Edit: Of course, the Culture also appeals because of the much higher ambient humour level in the Culture than in the po-faced Federation.


maybe, but what about "The Doctor"?


Star Trek economics are just plain bull shit, any society who has the ability to create food or other items by the expenditure of only energy has no need of much else. I remember a quote, if a race could materialize star ships they would not need too and this is where Star Trek's future always struck me wrong, where is the limit to replicators?

As to the point of are were on a post scarcity economy, well we might be in some Western cultures but it does indicate quite clearly that given nothing to do far too many people will excel at it, worse when they do do something it will be to eat. Society will need to adjust those who just take to find something to do with their time. It might not earn them money or much but they need an activity to avoid end up looking like an extra from Wall-e.


"where is the limit to replicators?" Well, replicators require energy to run. And that energy is created by using up a mined resource (Trilithium/Dilithium/or something).

They unfortunately gloss over a lot of these issues in the show, for simplicity and entertainment. Unless it's part of a "plot device", then they make things scarce.


Replicators can't replicate everything.

Many episodes have had characters complaining about replicated food not tasting as good as the real thing. And many episodes have star ship crews trying to obtain Dilithium.

So obviously some things aren't replicable, and many things that are replicable are only replicable at a lower quality.


> if a race could materialize star ships they would not need too

Sorry can you rephrase this please? I really can't get the sense of it.


If a society was sufficiently advanced that they could just press a button and make a star ship at will, then they would probably be equally advanced in other areas and would not have any need for star ships.


That's a non sequitur. A society advances on numerous axis, but doesn't necessarily advance at the same time. Society can be immoral and enough scientifically advanced to have such machines. I'm pretty sure Romulans in that universe had replicators and they were known for their black ops division.


Good point. Though I think that the suggestion was that the technology required to materialise a massive, warp capable star ship may be more advanced than a different technology that accomplishes the same tasks as a star ship. For example being able to teleport both people and nuclear weapons across the whole universe would pretty much render star ships obsolete.


Maybe people are just too romantic and nostalgic to realize their wildest dreams with holo decks, telepresence, brain implants and let AIs decide on their well being. Maybe instead of spawning self-replicating robots for space exploration they want to do it physically themselves like their ancestors explored the continents a long time ago.


A human level AI could kidnap you, put you into a simulation like that and you wouldn't know.

Depending on what morality we put into the AIs it may choose to do so.


I take it when they say "Star Trek", they're actually talking about the United Federation of Planets, and Starfleet... with their supposedly "unlimited" resources.

Of course, they don't go into details otherwise they'd quickly realize that it's not really a post-scarcity economy. It might be a "post-scarcity" on a lot of resources that we currently find scarce, but not in the true definition. E.g. labor is scarce, property is scarce, and energy is scarce. Also, Remember they need a mined resource to power those giant warp-cores that make it seem like they have unlimited energy to "create" any resource.

Much like the laws of physics constrain us from creating a perpetual motion machine, they also constrain us from having a post-scarcity economy.


The laws of physics don't really prevent us from having a post-scarcity economy. The sun puts out vast amounts of energy. If we had technology like replicators that turns energy into basically anything we like, most things are already taken care of. I don't really see how labour can be a problem either. If most production jobs are done via replicator, many people have nothing to do. And in the Star Trek universe there are holograms that are capable of performing complex tasks, certainly anything the "service industry" would require.


"most things are already taken care of." Note how you used the word "most" instead of all.

I see what you're saying, but it relies on a lot of details being glossed over. We'd essentially have to live in some sort of utopian society where the universe magically auto-aligns and adjusts everything so that everything and everyone is equal, and has the exact same things.

Because, as soon as something is unequal, it's scarce in one place and abundant in another. If that happens, then we've created a market for exchange, and we're back to scarcity economics again. Granted, we're getting into philosophical grounds now, but do you understand what I'm trying to say?


The article actually acknowledges that point, stating that the Star Trek universe (and the Federation within it) is not really a post-scarcity society. There are lots of examples on the show indicating that scarcity, resource-allocation problems, and supply/demand crises still exist.


As well as "human wants are unlimited, but the means to satisfy human wants are scarce".


(was posted six months ago, but fell off the radar.)


You might be getting downvotes from people who think this comment is a dupe complaint, not realizing you're the OP.


If so, they're getting outweighed by the upvotes on the post itself, so I'm not bothered... :-)


Whenever people discuss "Star Trek Economics," they seem to limit their discussion to the apparent economics of, and within, the Federation -- and specifically, within Starfleet. This is problematic for two reasons.

The first is that the Federation is but one of many interstellar powers within its galaxy, and that's putting aside any of the thousands of unaligned or independent worlds and smaller coalitions. Many of these societies, even some of the Federation constituent societies, appear to use their own currencies or means of exchange. Take the Ferengi as the most extreme example. They are basically an anarcho-capitalist society, bordering on kleptocracy. Money is important to the Ferengi, to put it mildly. So how does the Federation conduct trade with the Ferengi government? On a more microeconomic level, what happens when Bashir and O'Brien order a couple rounds at Quark's? Who picks up their tab? Clearly Quark pays for his own supplies, and charges hefty markups, and he's always seen fretting about the difference. I have a hard time believing that Federation officers can just consume his (clearly limited) resources without contributing to his profit margins. And if they pay him in Federation Credits, what good are they to a non-member of the Federation? If they are not currency -- if they are more like scrip, or rations, or promissory notes good for X units of energy, or what have you -- then this creates a serious problem for Quark. Presumably, the value of Federation credits is relatively fixed and/or tied to some other unit or commodity. It is not a fiat currency. So why in the world would Quark accept credits, when he'd strongly prefer latinum? And how does one go about exchanging one for the other? For that matter, what would the Federation make of someone who decided to exchange all of his credits, even if he could, for gold-pressed latinum? If credits are not money, then perhaps they are something along the lines of notes or bonds, floated by the Federation government. In which case, Bashir and O'Brien pay for their drinks in the equivalent of US treasury bills, or perhaps in fractional shares of a Federation sovereign wealth fund. Or perhaps they are energy rations of some sort, in which case, Quark needs energy as much as any other business, and so he's happy to accept it (and to charge as many energy-units as he sees fit for his food, drinks, and games of chance).

The second problem has more to do with using Starfleet as the lens through which we draw conclusions about Federation society. If I were to show some alien society a documentary about the United States, set primarily on a US aircraft carrier, with ~90% of the situations and characters taking place in a military context, my alien viewers would draw some very interesting inferences about the US (or, more broadly, all of human society). They'd think we were a rigidly hierarchical society. They'd think we have a handful of basic professions, and that nobody really cares too much about personal property. They'd wonder how everyone gets by, and how resources are allocated, and they'd probably assume it's through a quasi-socialist system of rationing and stipends.

The microcosm of the US military is different from the macrocosm of US society, and especially different from that of the entire world. It's sort of a mini society within a larger society, operating under its own rules and organizing principles. Similarly, we should suspect that life in Starfleet is probably different, in some meaningful ways, from ordinary life in the Federation. And life in the Federation is different from life in the Klingon Empire, or in the Cardassian Union, etc.

None of this is to discount the deep and insightful thinking on the part of this article's author. Nevertheless, I think we should consider the limitations of the framework through which the shows allow us to view the Star Trek universe. We get our fair share of glimpses into the outside-Starfleet world, but we should still be mindful of the observational lens through which we catch those glimpses.


Star trek's economics make no sense at all and never have, unfortunately. It's clear that money is used outside the federation which means the federation needs it to interoperate. There's also clearly private ownership (they buy Kirk antique spectacles).

It's not clear that the Federation president is elected. Has there ever been any discussion of federation politics ever? Even on an aircraft carrier someone would mention an election.

Trying to infer post-scarcity economics from an internally inconsistent bunch of TV shows and movies where it's pretty clear there was never much thought given to the matter seems like a waste of time. I lost interest in the article when it tried to do this, Iain Banks's Culture which is much more clear about its economics still doesn't answer basic issues such as "why can't anyone have x?" Or "what if two people want the same x?"


Actually, I think Banks does address some of those points - mostly by pointing out that if you do have a society where almost all reasonable requests can be satisfied by asking then the perceived value of "owning" something becomes negligible. You could make unreasonable requests, say to have planet built for you, but you'd have to ask a Mind for that and they might or might not do it - depending on how interesting the request was. (Given that the Culture regards planets as bit wasteful from an engineering perspective, I can't imagine any self respecting Mind would build one).

Of course, the real get out, as Banks has pointed out a number of times - Culture people are not humans - they are the results of 10,000+ years of direct (genofixing) and indirect (their language Marain) manipulation by machines to be a good deal smarter, rational and more capable of enjoyment than we are. You could argue that this is the machine gods making their pets more compliant, or not....

Also, Look to Windward does mention "re-inventing" money... :-)


Banks has the advantage of being flip when explaining anything, so none of his explanations really need to hold much water. If you "need to ask a Mind" it just elevates the question to the next level (and the whole idea of Culture percentage, or however it's put, indicating almost any Mind is really only partially conformant to the mainstream, is a huge loophole -- what stops the Culture from becoming the hegemonizing swarm from Hell? It comes down to an argument about what sentient beings will do with unlimited power).

Banks at least has put enough thought into it to give flip answers, though. Star Trek is a mindless mess.


There is a section in Surface Detail (I think), where Banks makes the point that the difference between a galactic civilization like the Culture an a hegemonizing swarm is just a degree of restraint. :) It kind of reminds me of Michael Eddington's comment about the Federation -- at it's core, there's not much separating it from the Borg. At least the Borg tell you they're assimilating you. Just look at what happened to the Ferengi Alliance by the end of DS9. They appointed a "liberal" Nagus who had never made any profit and allows his females to walk around clothed!

It is also hinted in the Culture novels that there is a very rigorous psychological test that goes into the creation of a new Mind. I wish he went in to the "birthing" process a bit more. It seems at least the more even-keeled Minds become Hubs or GSVs, and the more crazy ones become ROUs, but what about the Minds that are too psychotic to be entrusted to the safety of pan-humans? They can't make "perfect" Minds, because "Perfect AIs Always Sublime". Apparently you have to be slightly off-kilter to want to stick around this plane of existence, but not too off-kilter.


StarTrek economics does not have to make sense for post-scarcity society to make sense.

For that to happen a number of things will certainly have to be in place, but in truth none of us know how the world will look like when most production is automated.


Right, the problem is that Star Trek isn't even a useful jumping-off point.

This article is "link-bait gone wild". Calling the article "The Economics of Star Trek" is valid in that the Star Trek setting is supposed to be post-scarcity. But that's about where Star Trek's usefulness disappears.

They don't even take their ground assumptions into account in either their background setting or their stories. (Most of the intrigue in the episodes is conflict over resources (unless it's the "Prime Directive" which is even sillier). Why do the Klingons want this planet?)


I don't see any link-bait with the article.

What I see is someone trying to speculate out loud about how such a society could work using Star-Trek as reference point.

Keep in mind that Star-Trek has always been fairly scientific in its approach to story telling and so I think it's absolutely fair to use it as a jump of point since it provides an already existing narrative to talk about an otherwise abstract idea for many.

To me it's speculation and it's concise enough to take serious. What he basically claims might be a possibility even if you took away Star-Trek but it would be harder to communicate the ideas.

After all isn't that what creativity is al about exploring?


Sorry, I didn't mean to deride the title. I think the article was based on a good idea (Star Trek is post-scarcity and people will read articles on Star Trek), but went down the rabbit hole trying to justify its title (by dwelling on analysis of Star Trek, which is a hopeless task).

I think a better approach would be to look at markets that are already post-scarcity or approaching post-scarcity. E.g. entertainment, many kinds of information, and software. What happens when the price of things gets so low that the cost becomes finding the thing you want rather than getting access to it?

In the world of open source (which isn't post-scarcity, but is similar in that people do stuff for "free" and so they aren't incented by money) we see what I refer to as the "economy of interestingness" where things programmers are interested in get lots of attention (3d game engines, web browsers, programming languages, editors) while things programmers don't care about are horribly neglected (e.g. accounting software, email clients)


I hear you.

Sometimes though you need a bit of a fictional narrative to help push thinking past the constraints if nothing else as inspiration and motivation.

But I am sure there are more rational ways to approach this.


27 Million died in WW2 for the USSR - that's a lot of volunteering .. That said .. Star Trek is based on a system of exploration ( We gain in knowledge and Lose in WAR) The Federation hopes to bring enlightenment when your capitalist society is ready for it.. And will not go to WAR over it. .ie. (With a phaser a can rule the world) In a Zero-sum fashion. As for the (USS war-boat) view of the world. We in the Federation would see it for what it is a WAR making ship to exploit any and all how can't stand against it. The Federation is about knowledge as wealth and the Ferengi, Klingon Empire, or in the Cardassian Union – it is all about power. And WAR keeps it in power. When the federation encounters the Borg by way of Q. The Borg seeks knowledge and power and only a Q can stop them with a greater power. The Borg has perfection as a goal of their collective. .i.e. 7of9 .. the Federation has freedom to learn as its goal. And will kill anyone who tries to stop it.


>On a more microeconomic level, what happens when Bashir and O'Brien order a couple rounds at Quark's? Who picks up their tab?

The author actually explains this if you read further. Quark's operates basically like hotel. The cost of the drinks is basically written off as part of the cost of doing business. His real business is operating the gambling tables and selling holosuites, both of which are purchased in latinum.


As someone finally watching DS9 for the first time, how does it work when Quark thumb-scans/charges Odo for 8 slips of latinum (in exchange for the baby changeling) in 'The Begotten' episode?

A few questions arise: Who does Odo work for? Who pays him? Does he use money (he doesn't seem to in any other episode)? How does Quark get the latinum?


Odo works for the Bajorans, who are not Federation members (for most of the series at least), though they are under the military protection of the Federation.


> how does it work when Quark thumb-scans/charges Odo

I find it funny that a scheming Quark would bother thumb-printing a shape-shifter. It's only Odo's honor that prevents him from saying, "Oh, no, that's not my fingerprint. Let me show you my current set..."


Also a bit funny is the Founders all look like Odo, or rather his "father", the scientist who experimented on him when he was "young".


I don't know, except that he's wearing a Bajoran uniform. I don't know if you noticed, but it's the same as the one Major Kira wears except in colour, like different-coloured Starfleet uniforms. Rom wears a Bajoran uniform too when at work.


Odo is not a member of Starfleet, he's (now) employed by the Bajoran government - Deep Space Nine is (now) a Bajoran installation, with the Federation administrating it until the Bajoran government basically gets its shit together after the occupation.


Quark has to pay for the space he occupies - he rents it from Deep Space Nine, which presumably at this point means the Federation. Those Federation credits he gets paid in can be used to pay for his rent, and other Starfleet/Federation equipment.

His profit comes from the other customers who pay in other currencies, including but not limited to, latinum.


Why does he have to pay for the space? The Federation is post-scarcity. Surely space is free. If space on DS9 is scarce, then how is it allocated? Fiat, apparently.

Star Trek doesn't bear up to any economic analysis. It's not even worth trying.


> The Federation is post-scarcity.

No, its not. Its just phenomenally wealthy compared to any place in the real world today.

If the Federation was post-scarcity, then many of the plot lines in the various shows wouldn't happen, and the Federation, notably, wouldn't be getting into conflicts with neighbors for scarce resources like territory, etc. (And if it did because the other party started it, it would wave its hand to generate an arbitrarily-capable defensive force, win the conflict, and be done immediately -- which obviously isn't what actually happens in any of the series in that situation, which seems to recur fairly regularly.)


What you're pointing out is that Star Trek makes no sense. The original Star Trek technical manual stated that they had what Neal Stephenson would later call "matter compilers" and used them for everything (the same technology that allows transporters to work creates food and clothing and recycles waste).

And Star Trek only gets more contradictory baggage as it goes on (in one episode of TOS they essentially resurrect the bridge crew using transporters; so I guess they could replace all the dead security officers too). It's explicitly stated, many times, that there's no money. But none of the implications of this are followed through.

And this nonsense suffuses the entire show, not just the economics. The new J.J. Abrams movies manage to be even worse, but at least they're fast-paced and the actors are trim. (Why does the Federation need to make deals with Khan when Spock just gave them interstellar transporters that can penetrate shields and target starships moving at warp?)

About the only thing that makes sense in Star Trek is that their security teams are utterly incompetent. In a world with infinite wealth and resurrection machines, there's little incentive to stay in shape and learn difficult (and painful) combat skills.


Perhaps the Federation actually is the Culture; perhaps the Minds of the Federation are staying hidden, and purposely confusing all these issues so that people have the impression that they have something to do.


Dave Barry once commented that the holodeck would be mankind's last invention and that transporters would make everyone morbidly obese. ("Beam me some nachos with queso.")


> Why does he have to pay for the space? The Federation is post-scarcity.

Deep Space Nine is not Federation property, however - while it is only administrated by the Federation, it remains the property of the Bajorans. Presumably, payment for use of space is part of the arrangement with the Bajoran government.

> Star Trek doesn't bear up to any economic analysis. It's not even worth trying.

I can't beat Tetris, either.


Yes but you get higher and higher scores in Tetris.

Presumably the post scarcity Federation could simply build its own arbitrarily large and luxurious DS9 next door to it. In any event, space isn't likely to "cost" anything.


My HN and Reddit karma keep growing, too :P


Everything about DS9 is different because it is on the far frontier outskirts of the Federation (technically outside,) where there is regular interaction with non-Federation peoples. The station was owned by the planet Bajor, which was a candidate to the federation, not a member. Bajor is not a rich, self-sufficient planet, it was devastated by war and occupation prior to the start of the series.


"They are basically an anarcho-capitalist society, bordering on kleptocracy."

I completely and utterly disagree with that statement.

See here:

http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Ferengi

I pasted that link because I didn't think you knew that the Ferengi had a government and governing structure. But then I realized that it could be the opposite...that you don't know what anarcho-capitalism is. So here is a link, please read it, and don't confuse anarcho-capitalism with any form of immoral government.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarcho-capitalism


> On a more microeconomic level, what happens when Bashir and O'Brien order a couple rounds at Quark's? Who picks up their tab?

It is mentioned in the article that the Federation would likely hold reserves of foreign currency (like latnium) for trading with peripheral civilizations. It's likely that being stationed on an alien space station would give the DS9 officers some stipend of latinum for trading with the locals.

It could also be that Sisko worked out a deal with Quark that rent and maintenance is free, so Starfleet officers drink for free.

Or like he also said in the article, drinks are just a loss-leader for the Dabo table and holosuites.


> Take the Ferengi as the most extreme example. They are basically an anarcho-capitalist society, bordering on kleptocracy.

They are undoubtedly capitalist, but they are far from anarchists. They have leaders that have to power to establish property rights and revoke them. There are episodes of Deep Space 9 about the Ferengi politics in which Ferengi women fight for the right to conduct business and wear clothes (!).


When I read this the last time it came up, I suspected that the author was walking around the edges of the Basic Income hypothesis. Theory being you can be "poor" forever (income provided for basic shelter, food, and medical attention. And anything else you want you have to work for. The basic tenant being that everyone is funded into a reasonably safe life, even people who are working. Being paid a salary is 'bonus' on top of the basic allotment.

At which point you can eliminate minimum wage and labor unions. The question of course is whether or not anyone would do some of the jobs we cannot currently outsource to robots.


It's funny you ask whether someone will do the jobs we cannot outsource to robots. I saw an old man bend over and pick up a piece of trash the other day while walking to work. I have also calculated that about 90% of the software I use on a daily basis is OSS. Your question has actually already been answered. People do jobs they are not compensated for all the time. And for things that must get done, you can raise salaries until they get done.


That's why I felt it ought to be reposted; it's a neat intersection of HN interests, and skirting on the borders of the basic income discussion that's been growing here over the past few months/years.

(BTW - you mean "basic tenet" not "tenant"...)


This would probably depend on the offered payment, prestige and entertainment (in the sense of mental/interpersonal reward).


"The key here, to me, is to start thinking about how economics would work when we decouple labor from reward."

Economics has always had a weak association between labor and reward.... That's where I stopped reading.


I think he means something like "Economic value of a certain function largely decoupled from reward" -- otherwise you couldn't contemplate the possibility of not working at all and having a high baseline reward. You'd have gotten the spirit if you read the rest.


your comment makes even less sense. Economic value is coupled to reward, but value != labor. It's actually Marxist (and to a lesser degree classical Smithian) theories that conflate value with labor. There are plenty of economic theories that generally disregard the relationship between labor and value, except the causal relationship that labor sometimes (but not always) creates value.


Value has value. Labor is labor. Agreed. It's laughable to base assumptions on relating "labor" to "value." The forms of labor that generate value depend entirely on cultures, systems, laws/artificial constraints, and circumstances of an era. It's still worth noting that in a society with post-scarcity such as Star Trek:TNG, which, of course, is almost entirely a result of replicator proliferation, "labor" would have a far more visceral and noticeable correlation with "value." Which human actions would be highly valued in a fantasy where people have the means to bend matter/energy to their will, where no one is without most specialty foods and material objects of choice, where it's almost always a question of what people feel like doing on any particular day?

Many episodes touched on that. Naturally, the value of a person's time sharply rises where no one need give their time. Today there are still vast differences in personalities among people that generates incredible variance in culture and pursuits irrespective of reward. Conjecture that to the maximum. There are things that give incentive to pull away from what one might not ordinarily do. There's specialty teaching; personal performances; lively forms of artistry; types of manual labor for odds and ends not conducive to androids and automation; the never-ending pursuit of happiness and/or power? What might "dirty work" be? It's like thinking of an amalgamation of the present day considerations of elite society equalized through sheer unrestricted access of the masses. I forget how land settlement on Earth works in Star Trek.

No matter the economics...

One might expect that most societies comprised of Earthlings will still start with the world's oldest profession and end with the world's second-oldest profession.


I don't have any rigor behind this, but my theory is that credits are used external to the Federation. And that transactions between Federation citizens are essentially cashless.

This lets the Federation trade with societies that value money (the Ferengi) yet not get all caught up in internal accounting.

With replicator technology, a Star Fleet officer could produce all the gold pressed Latinum he wants. But that would obviously have bad effects on the Ferengi economy, so there's a moral rule in place (perhaps enforced with limits in the replicator code) not to do that.


> With replicator technology, a Star Fleet officer could produce all the gold pressed Latinum he wants.

The whole basis for latinum's value as a medium of exchange is the fact that it has some kind of technobabble immunity to replication so, no, they couldn't. (Latinum isn't the only thing which has this kind of problem -- IIRC, as also antimatter, dilithium, certain radioactives, and, well, basically anything that needed to be scarce in at least one episode where they didn't want to invoke the non-availability of the replicators has a similar issue; of course, given that replicators and transporters notionally work on the same principles, but most replicator-immune things have been transported in the series, there is a pretty deep technobabble consistency problem here, but that's a recurring problem in Trek.)


But then who gets to decide on that limit? Does the limit differ between people , i.e can senior officers print more currency because they might have more need for it?

Is there a person who is in charge of tracking the Ferengi economy and deciding how much Latinum is ethical to produce based on inflation? Is there a board of people who decide? Do any Ferengi get a place on that board?

What about people who do not have access to a replicator , can they access Latinum via somebody elses replicator without causing that person to go over the limit?


I hate to step out-of-universe, but replicators can't replicate any plot-overpowering materials.

Ferengi certainly have Federation replicators as well as their own. If one of them could generate gold-pressed Latinum, then they'd be doing it.

The in-universe explanations are something along the lines of "the pattern's too hard to replicate". Which even holds up for ciders and wines, where captains prefer "not the replicated stuff".


In Star Trek the replicators were never able to make Latinum, hence probably why its so valuable to Ferengi


I'm surprised nobody has linked Matthew Yglesias' excellent response: "The Star Trek Economy: (Mostly) Post-Scarcity (Mostly) Socialism".

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/11/18/star_trek_eco...

The most important concept in that article is that of a gift economy. The economy provides people with their basic needs and allows them to do (just about) whatever they wish with their time. Some people will chose to produce goods in old fashioned ways, like fine wine produced by tradtional methods, and these goods would be given to others as gifts.

Such goods will always be scarce by definition, but they are all luxuries. An interesting case for this is looking at the markets that developed in POW camps during World War II and how they collapsed once the liberating armies arived with an abundance of goods.

"On 12th April, withthe arrival of elements of the 30th US. Infantry Division, the ushering in of an age ofplenty demonstrated the hypothesis that with infinite means economic organizationand activity would be redundant, as every want could be satisfied without effort." (Pg. 14 of the linked PDF)

http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~hfoad/e111su08/Radford.pdf

Another thing to note is the shift in the means of production. If labor is basically unnecessary in the production of goods you get a shift in modes of production. I could see this happening in the near with the decentralized 3D printing of goods, combined with the massive energy of the sun and the shocking amounts of raw materials in the asteroids around the solar system.

This I think is a demonstration of Marx's biggest mistake. He thought the economic organization would shift without a change in the means of production. Unlike every other change in his economic theories.


"Take a mental journey for a moment with me: what if, one day, technology reaches the point that a small number of humans — say, 10 million — can produce all of the food, shelter and energy that the race needs. This doesn’t seem like insanely wishful thinking, given current trends. There’s no rational reason why the advances in robotics, factories, energy and agriculture couldn’t continue unabated for long periods of time. Of course I’m not saying they will, but rather, they could."

If those $10 million people are capitalists, the price of the goods they create will rise until the rest of us become their slaves.


> In reality,the market already basically dictates this, for who can claim that a Wall Street banker works more than a teacher?

Ummm, I daresay that just about any Wall Street banker works significantly more, has to comprehend significantly more data points, exerts significantly more mental effort and is (probably) significantly more stressed than a teacher.

I will cheerfully admit that one's mental image of a Wall Street banker works less than one's mental image of a teacher.

And he puts way too much effort into justifying the internal contradictions of a poorly-written, third-rate science fantasy show.


"I’ll listen to them again when our schools are decent and our life span starts increasing again magically."

Stopped reading right there. If you need straw men, you aren't worth reading.


There are other post-scarcity economies, some of which are discussed more in depth than Star Trek. The first one that comes to mind is Cory Doctorow's "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom"[1], which uses whuffie[2].

[1] http://craphound.com/down/download.php [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whuffie


I always assumed Federation members had their bills paid by the Federation. ie. Quark sells 100 bars of latinum worth of drinks in a week to Federation staff, the Federation's accounting/remittance department sends over 100 bars of latinum to Quark (digitally of course).


Star Trek: The Next Generation's episode "The Neutral Zone" covers this topic pretty well. I highly recommend it.

"The challenge, Mr. Offenhouse, is to improve yourself... to enrich yourself. Enjoy it."

- Picard, describing life on 24th century Earth


I read a more detailed explanation of the star trek economy. I can't find the link now [1] but it answered some of the questions raised in this post. Since I can't find it I'm not sure if it was canon or just fan theorizing, but it was interesting all the same. I understand that this is a highly nerdy topic, but it's an example of how a a Proto Post Scarcity economy could work.

As I understood it, every year in the star trek universe citizens would request what they wanted and say what they were going to contribute to the economy in exchange for thaose things. ie, Captain Picard might say "I want to make improvements to my farm in france, a new personal transportation device for a relative, X number of paid for vacations and the daily luxuries of being a starfleet officer. In exchange for that, I'm willing to be a starship captain for the next year". Then an elected committee would review the request and approve it or deny it. I remember that it was noted that the committee had to be from a different area or state than the applicant. ie, a committee in Florida would review requests from Texas. Essentially it was a "That sounds fair" economy, based on judgement instead of currency.

As I recall, daily needs like food, shelter, medicine were taken care of for everyone, at various levels of luxury based on what the person was expected to contribute. Starfleet officers frequently talked about credits, either when gambling or visiting a bar on a non-federation or non-participating planet. I imagine this was a sort of legal black market system that would allow people to exchange money between one another to settle debts and to spend in other cultures, not really for routine living expenses. Post scarcity does mean post money, but there still has to be a way to maintain personal ledgers (maybe the credits were a year 2364 version of bitcoins?)

I think that Gene Roddenberry and other science fiction writers envision post scarcity societies for two reasons: 1) Money causes problems and 2) Economies function more efficiently without money.

We all love money, but think of the harm it can cause. Crime, ruined relationships, greed and the general oppression if not outright murder and enslavement of millions of people throughout history. As we all know, whenever someone says "It's not about the money", it's about the money. A moneyless world would solve a lot of these social problems. It's not that wealth is a bad thing. It's great to be rich. But a lot of problems arise when people need money for their daily sustenance. Food, housing, clothing, entertainment. All of these things should be taken care of at a low level, with compensation from contribution providing nicer and more desirable lifestyles. And it's quite possible that getting rid of daily dependence on individual spending is the best way to supercharge an economy. We don't see the waste in modern capitalism because we're primarily concerned with our own wealth, but it's there. Think about how much is wasted on a national (or galactic) scale. The efficiency gained through improved economic function would be more than enough to pay for all the replicator time that everyone on multiple worlds would need to live well.

Like many great things, the idea of post scarcity / post capitalism started in science fiction. But it doesn't have to stay there. We can start building a world where everyone has comfort and the rich have luxury. There are things we can do today to move us closer to this ideal and move people away from a system that's designed to make us all slaves to small amounts of wealth. I'm looking at you, Basic Income.

[1] Why hasn't someone made a startup to solve this problem? I'm constantly thinking of things I read and potentially bookmarked years ago, but google is a black hole. I would pay for this.


I think your heart is in the right place, but your economics are off - by a lot.

It's hard to rectify that in a quick comment though, as it's a complicated, interesting and fascinating subject.

Just to pick one thing, you mention 'efficiency'. Capitalism is not very efficient in a lot of ways. However, it happens to be more efficient for large groups of people than all the other systems people have tried, if you don't mind me poaching Churchill's quote about democracy.

And another: money. Money is merely a means of trading scarce goods. Looking at it as a problem is a red herring. The actual problem is the availability and distribution of scarce resources like food and shelter and iphones and other things people want.

Here's a book I'm fond of - it's fairly mainstream economics.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Undercover-Economist-Tim-Harford/d...

He's written another one lately about macroeconomics which is pretty good as well:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Undercover-Economist-Strikes-Back/...


> Just to pick one thing, you mention 'efficiency'. Capitalism is not very efficient in a lot of ways. However, it happens to be more efficient for large groups of people than all the other systems people have tried, if you don't mind me poaching Churchill's quote about democracy.

It's worth pointing out that even a lot of ideologists putting forward alternative future societies does not see their future societies as likely to be more efficient than capitalism.

A key aspect for Marx, for example, is that the efficiency of capitalism and industrialisation acts as an enabler for socialism by bringing society to a post-scarcity level (at least in terms of basic needs), where it is possible for society to redistribute without leaving everyone in poverty, and where it is possible to as a result leave people free to make more choices surrounding how and how much they work.

Capitalism is more efficient than older systems because of the level of competition, and more efficient than most proposed future systems because most of these future systems are not expecting to be subject to the same constraints and requirements.

In Marx case, one of his arguments for why he believed a socialist revolution will eventually happen is in fact that he believed that capitalism will necessarily become so efficient that the revenue base starts shrinking as unemployment increases, while production capacity keeps increasing. That level of efficiency would necessitate drastic societal changes, and you could, if we reach that point, afford substantial extra inefficiencies and still most people would be better off.


The problem is the ingrained definition of efficiency. If people are happy and the society is moving forward culturally and scientifically, I'd say that's an efficient society; but american capitalism has a built-in definition that isn't necessarily tied to those values. It so happens that because of dynamics of the markets and people, it's had a pretty good alignment with the former values (when coupled with western democracy) -- cruically, better than the comunism alternatives -- but it's becoming clear we can do better with a more engineered approach specially in low scarcity scenarios.


Money is not merely a means of trading goods.

Capitalist culture is essentially a Darwinian zero-sum game. Winners win big, losers lose freedom, basic necessities, and ultimately their lives - directly through a life of quasi-slavery working for someone else's benefit, and also through drastically shortened lifespan.

Money is the game counter. Decisions about how much money is available, who has access to it under what circumstances, and how much freedom they get in return for that access, define the game. But they're not set democratically - they're declared by a fiat, by a priestly caste of economists and bankers who administer the game.

The big difference between a Star Trek economy and this one is that in Star Trek, the game doesn't exist. Nor does the priestly caste.

What happens instead is that individuals trust the culture to do everything it can to look after them, and in return the culture trusts individuals to contribute voluntarily without freeloading, or without having some kind of semi-psychotic 'use all the things' fit of pointless public consumption.

It's effectively a trust economy, instead of a top-down planned economy like the capitalist system.

Wait - capitalism is a planned economy? Uh huh. Didn't you notice? It's as planned as the Soviet economy was, but instead of the Politburo, the planning is coordinated by the priestly caste which sets the rules of commerce (e.g. 'corporations must maximise profits and growth at all costs, even at the expense of long-term social stability'.)

In Star Trek, the economists have been replaced by planners who treat individuals like adults. The individuals act like adults, because they understand that the social benefits of volunteering time and talent vastly outweigh the personal costs, even if it costs them their lives.

In capitalism individuals are forced to compete for essentials. This makes volunteering impossible for most of the population. It also turns the culture into a bear pit, and wastes a lot of energy on pointlessly damaging individual competition.


> Capitalist culture is essentially a Darwinian zero-sum game.

No, it isn't. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-sum_game#Economics

http://www.paulgraham.com/wealth.html


In fact, I'd suggest even beyond that... just think about that claim. Love it or hate it or anything in between, wealth of all kinds has absolutely exploded under capitalism since the Industrial Revolution. If individual transactions in the world of capitalism are intrinsically exploitative and there is always a winner and a loser and a net loss of societal wealth... how can you explain the modern world, in which the poorest residents of the industrialized countries consider their birthright many things that the Kings of old could literally not have gotten at any price? Don't just read the propaganda, think. This is self-evidently a ludicrous claim if you take it seriously. It is absurd that the net effect of multiple trillions (quadrillions?) of net-loss transactions could somehow sum to something so net positive. Bridge the gap between theory and reality... don't just let people babble on and on about economics without ever asking them to be correct, think about what it would actually produce in the real world if it were true.

Capitalism has its problems. There may be better economic organizations. Capitalism may yet have a long term flaw in it as technology progresses (a lot of chatter about that case on HN in the past couple of years, there's a lot of interesting questions there). There's all sorts of avenues of "attack", or, better yet, all sorts of ways to just think about where we've been, where we are, and where we're going. However, it's a sort of basic "you must be at least this tall to ride the ride" sort of thing that your theories must be able to explain how wealth has exploded under capitalism, and why it didn't explode under the older systems, and why it doesn't explode even more under any of the several attempts to use another system that have been really tried in the real world. (i.e., don't try to claim that many of the obvious "fixes" to capitalism have never been tried when in fact they've all been tried numerous times, and so far have not generated the best track records. Theories should include and explain real-world data, not ignore it when it is convenient to do so.)

And should you be tempted to explain away the wealth, or claim with varying degrees of obfuscation that its distribution negates the wealth explosion entirely because it isn't to your exact tastes (an obviously absurd claim when spelled out clearly but a popular dodge when slathered over with enough words to mask the logic), I strongly recommend spending some time with 18th century medical case notes, or reading about the opulence of 16th century royalty with an eye to what simple things we have today that they would (quite literally) kill for, or something else that will simply rub in your face how unbelievably wealthy we are today compared to the past. The past is poor. You can have theories about how it could be better, but if your theories become so powerful they explain why the wealth explosion didn't happen at all, it's time to throw the theory away and find a better one.

(Incidentally, I do have ways I'd improve things myself. If you're reading this as a paean to the status quo and anyone criticizing it should just shut up, you've probably got a bad case of the propagandas rendering you unable to understand different ideas. I've got my criticisms. However, my criticisms and yours still need to take the all of the above facts into account.)


Thanks for writing all that down. TheOtherHobbes' comments are another example of the bullshit asymmetry principle: refuting them takes a fair amount of time and energy, whereas it's easy to just write that kind of nonsense.


> how can you explain the modern world, in which the poorest residents of the industrialized countries consider their birthright many things that the Kings of old could literally not have gotten at any price?

Technology advances. I agree with the point you were trying to make (capitalism is not a zero sum game), but people expounding the benefits of capitalism tend to attribute to it the success of everything that it has touched. That's not necessarily correct. If an economic system controls 90% of the resources, we would expect it to have 90% of the success (even 90% of the growth!) under the null hypothesis that economic system doesn't matter.

> Don't just read the propaganda, think.

Oh no, the sheeple! Cut it out. Accusing your debate opponent of not thinking is beyond lazy.

> wealth has exploded under capitalism, and why it didn't explode under the older systems

Capitalism isn't an 18th century invention.

> why it doesn't explode even more under any of the several attempts to use another system that have been really tried in the real world

http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?p=1811208&sid=33f...

> if your theories become so powerful they explain why the wealth explosion didn't happen at all

That's trivial if you believe economic progress is not a pure function of economic system. And you'd be a fool to believe that.

> you've probably got a bad case of the propagandas

Why do I even bother?


>how can you explain the modern world, in which the poorest residents of the industrialized countries consider their birthright many things that the Kings of old could literally not have gotten at any price?

You mean the world in which regulation and enforced redistribution of profits created a thriving middle class and spurred a boom in tech innovation? The world which started dying around 1980, when regulation began to be eroded?

The world which is now over, leaving a working population crippled by debt, unable to afford basic housing even on a way-above-average salary?

Tech is an exception. Kind of. Some of the time. For now. The important word there being 'exception.'

What made kings kings wasn't a pile of stuff, it was the ability to set policy.

How much influence do you have over national and international policy?

Do you think the question is ridiculous? It's not. It's the fundamental question that defines democracy.

How big is your area of interest? You? Your family? Your friends? Your company? Your country? The world?

How wide and detailed is your predictive horizon?

>Don't just read the propaganda, think.

Don't just think and persuade yourself that you're right - research, fact-check, and challenge your own beliefs.

Talk to people outside your comfort zone and usual circles. Go find out what's happening on the streets, in other countries, in the areas of the planet that are becoming increasingly inhospitable and difficult to live in.

Then we can talk about the modern world means to the people who live in it. You may find not everyone is as comfortable as you are.

Capitalism is a naive, wasteful way to run an economy. It explodes regularly in boom/bubble/bust cycles, it wastes human and natural resources with insane abandon, and it enforces a tacit caste system which puts a huge brake on social mobility.

My iPhone is nice. So is medical care. The Internet is definitely a win. Last time I looked science and engineering invented most of these things. Capitalism tried to sell them to me, not always in a good way. Sometimes it kept me from trying to find better alternatives. (Richard Gabriel is good on this.)

So I'm not yet convinced everyone couldn't have equivalent things - perhaps much better things - without having to pay a wrenchingly high price in avoidable economic instability, and questionable, sometimes corrupt, policy.


I don't believe "zero-sum" is the term you want, there. A better one might be "winner-take-all"; for more information, see the work of Robert Frank: http://www.robert-h-frank.com/


> In Star Trek, the economists have been replaced by planners who treat individuals like adults. The individuals act like adults, because they understand that the social benefits of volunteering time and talent vastly outweigh the personal costs, even if it costs them their lives.

You almost had me going here. And then you remember how desperate ensigns are in Star Trek. The explanation : a sense of duty ... That's supposedly the explanation for 8 years of "scrubbing conduits". The explanation for in group walking through a dominion minefield. The explanation for putting up with getting sent to a listening post, 2 months away from human contact, your function is to repair any circuit shorts ...

I don't buy it. No way.

> In Star Trek, the economists have been replaced by planners who treat individuals like adults. The individuals act like adults, because they understand that the social benefits of volunteering time and talent vastly outweigh the personal costs, even if it costs them their lives.

In one sentence you've stated that the entire premise of economics is wrong. Rational actors ? Pfew ! What do we need that for ?

> In capitalism individuals are forced to compete for essentials. This makes volunteering impossible for most of the population. It also turns the culture into a bear pit, and wastes a lot of energy on pointlessly damaging individual competition.

That's must be why there was such an explosion of volunteering in the Soviet union then. Or why there is such a rich and diverse volunteering tradition among the unemployed.

I'd say there's a few holes in this thinking. But don't get me wrong : I sincerely hope you, or anyone, will convincingly fill them. But I've never seen decent arguments here.


There are things we can do today to move us closer to this ideal and move people away from a system that's designed to make us all slaves to small amounts of wealth. I'm looking at you, Basic Income.

I don't understand. On the one hand, you believe money is harmful, and all we need to do is properly distribute resources. On the other hand, you advocate distributing money.

It seems more in the spirit of the rest of your post to advocate a "basic survival" program. For anyone who needs it, dormitories, nutritious food, comfortable uniforms and entertainment can be directly provided. Then no one will need money for their daily sustenance.


> I don't understand. On the one hand, you believe money is harmful, and all we need to do is properly distribute resources. On the other hand, you advocate distributing money.

I think the OP is intending to make money less relevant. The fastest way to do that would be to give everyone a base amount of it to the point they don't really want or need anymore.

In all honesty, if you knew you had enough money to have quality food, shelter, education, health and some luxuries for the rest of your life and your children, how long would it be before you never again looked at your bank balance? Not long.


I'd look. I'd wonder whether I could afford still more luxuries. I wouldn't stress about it much, though I don't stress about it all that much presently.


Perhaps you are referring to Ilya Somin's How Federal is Star Trek's Federation? post at the Volokh Conspiracy blog?

http://www.volokh.com/posts/1190182117.shtml


There are probably several "more detailed explanation" not just one. Although OPs article was a nice one. I have miserably failed at finding my personal favorite article using Google, may have been pre-internet or dead tree only (anthology book essay topic?)

Anyway the one I'm looking for had an extremely detailed "shopping list" of everything ever mentioned in cannon trek series as of that time, and how much it cost in credits, and I don't remember the exact spec but one credit seemed quite reasonable around one megawatt-hour, plus or minus a lot of star trek technology scaling.

It also had a lot of commentary about ratios between products and capital goods and stuff like that.

The kind of "cash" flow Quark had in credits seemed somewhat reasonable to run his vegas style establishment, plus or minus replicator charges especially for food.

The essay did discuss how the economic system didn't seem to work numerically in general unless replicators squirted out free food on demand, or at least gave everyone a fixed caloric diet as a baseline and more credits for slightly fancier synthesis.

So federation people technically didn't have money, as in tokens minted by a central bank to maximize wealth of the elite and obtain a semi-stable inflation rate at a cost of greatly increased economic cycle volatility. But they did have money in that they bartered megawatt-hours of energy (presumably electricity) but called them credits.

If it helps anyone remember, the essay explained they called them credits instead of MWH or whatever because the exact amount of MWH was based on some tiny SI prefix of antimatter in a 100% efficient reactor (thermal, I guess) gives off about 1 MWH of total (heat) energy. However, again, there is no such thing even in star trek world as a 100% efficient reactor and not everyone needs raw heat (although its handy) so they bartered energy as in megawatt-hours delivered.

In practice, any way to generate electricity, a reactor or a solar array or whatever, was a private mint.

This also explained some economics of star ship life, the ship itself actually generated "pay" for the crew right out of the reactor.

There was also some discussion in the essay about cross species, based on very limited evidence the Ferengi were fairly poverty stricken when comparing the average federation officer vs the average Ferengi when you analyze the somewhat theoretical accouting.

The essay did gloss over the Klingons... other than fealty labor I have no idea how they handled their economy and the essay I'm thinking of had no idea either.


That bar up top that appears when you scroll up; I want to squash it like a fly, and I don't even squash flies. /meta


This article has an interesting starting in an 'Age of The Essay'^ way. Start with an interesting question and see where the meandering leads. I don't think this got anywhere interesting though.

"a long, complicated journey as somethings become more abundant in some places, while other things are still scarce"

That's an interesting thought. We have lots of examples of things suddenly becoming 'abundant,' especially in the last few decades. If I was doing a meandering essay on this topic I'd make a list and see if there's anything insightful to be learned from these. Maybe we can find a pattern.

Calories/grains are, for the wealthier half of the world are essentially abundant. Peasants were once the majority, producing and consuming grain as their primary economic activity. Today grains cost $200-$500 per ton. Median household income is in the $5k-$10k range. So half the world can have more grain than they can eat for <10% of their income.

Computers have various interesting examples of similar abundance.

The end result is interestingly similar in both cases. Our capacity to consume more quality is enormous. We feed grain to cattle to produce meat. It takes 5-10 grain calories to make a calorie of meat, depending on the animal. We spent processing power to create user interfaces put personal computers in every pocket. More consumption. Higher quality.

This seems to follow standard economics. When goods get cheaper we consumer more, at higher quality and spend less. That concept seems to stretch pretty well. Even though calories and computing power are incredible cheap and abundant compared to their historical prices, we haven't crossed our ability to consume more of them and 'scarcity economics' doesn't break.

If you go back to the industrial age or "space age" equivalents of this essay you will find fantastic parallels. "We can make so much stuff! So cheap! This will change everything!" There seems to be a common fallacy here. We look at a future of 10X efficiency and we underestimate our ability to consume more. Since we can't consume 10X more goods, we assume that we'll just work less. I think the tricky part is 'quality.' You certainly can't eat a ton of( $250) maize per day. But, you can easily spend $250 on food in a day. So, if you don't want to look stupid in 100 years, be careful about predicting free time.

Here's a question I would love to hear economists opines about: why don't high earners work less. Say a Belgian lawyer makes €100,000 euros per year and a paralegal make €35,000. Why doesn't the lawyer work fewer hours? Think of working hours as money and everything they buy as a good. It appears that demand for "goods" as a whole is infinitely elastic. Make the goods half the price and homo economicus buys twice as much. Most markets are a lot more elastic than this one. Why?

If we saw some clear negative correlation between earnings per hour and hours worked (either at economy or individual level) we might be able predict see the path to a start trek economy of optional employment.

It might be worth going back to the beginning with this question. "Why don't people work less when they make more per hour."

^http://www.paulgraham.com/essay.html


The problem with the market is its not so smoothly distributed. You can barely, almost, sometimes buy commodities at a worldwide price in most places, but certainly cannot earn the same everywhere. The median for Africa is about $2K not $10K so making the huge assumption that poverty stricken economies only involve food, thats still ten or so pounds of rice per day, which is pretty marginal as a sole long term food source for an entire household.

Thats the problem with "homo economicus" the market is very small and will not offer certain things, the Belgian lawyer in the example simply won't be offered a part time job by the market, no matter if the demand exists or not.

If you don't really have a market, market speak and market analysis don't lead to useful places.


> Here's a question I would love to hear economists opines about: why don't high earners work less. Say a Belgian lawyer makes €100,000 euros per year and a paralegal make €35,000. Why doesn't the lawyer work fewer hours? Think of working hours as money and everything they buy as a good. It appears that demand for "goods" as a whole is infinitely elastic. Make the goods half the price and homo economicus buys twice as much. Most markets are a lot more elastic than this one. Why?

I think this is the reason : high pay comes from actually caring, meaning part of the reason the paralegal is so underpaid (although no lawyer in Belgium makes €100k unless he owns a law firm or something) is that he works 8-5 and has little responsibility outside of that.

Real work doesn't work like that. The bigger pay comes from being able to give one responsability over a large(r) department/firm and know that whatever it is, it'll get handled. Including at 9pm. Given that people paid for this, it is used. That is partly why the degree matters too, since it proves you can work dedicated to a single task for years and actually have a useful result come out of that.

It's like a marriage ring. It's function is much more "proof of means/job" for the man than it is a token of love.

But why does the lawyer get paid ? Because those hours and the single point of contanct and the service at 9pm, that's the service he's selling. The flip side is, you get lots of long coffee breaks (maybe even on a golf course) and lots of "meetings" at the local steak restaurant.


I think we will get there, but on a much longer timeframe.




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