Essay:Communism: the Star Trek economy

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This essay is an original work by TerryH. Please comment only on the talk page.

Communism: the Star Trek economy

Symbol of communism
Fifty years ago next month, Star Trek had its premiere. That people still talk about it today, testifies to its phenomenal success. But many, perhaps most, who follow the show never thought about the economic system that supported “Star Fleet.” Key lines of dialog give evidence of one system only: communism.

The economy of Star Trek

The economy of United Earth (actually Earth under an all-governing United Nations) shows all the marks of pure communism. Humanity shares this communism with the other member societies of the United Federation of Planets. Neither the Federation nor any member world issues currency, whether coin or scrip. Imagine a society with neither central bank nor any other kind of bank. Only one kind of society can get along without currency or even a unit of exchange: communism.

The UN (and the Federation) do not have a Ministry/Department of Global/Interstellar Security. Or at least, not like the old KGB.[1] If the UN had such an agency, it would most strongly resemble the former Soviet Union.

Planning boards

Both the UN and the UFP likely have Planning Boards, similar to the old Soviet Gosplan. Surely these Planning Boards draw up input-output matrices for their respective societies. True, no character ever referred to a Five Year Plan. But as any economist knows, input-output analysis replaces pricing for setting production levels under communism.

Did the producers and writers think all this through? Not at first. Gene Roddenberry and his team never had USS Enterprise NCC-1701 return to Earth on any errand. But their successors did.

Earth is too perfect

In The Next Generation, Captain Jean-Luc Picard returns to the vineyard his family have owned for generations.[2] Voyager had an officer returning to ultra-modern Marseilles—an immaculately, and impossibly, clean city.[3] In Deep Space Nine, Captain Benjamin L. Sisko’s father runs a creole restaurant in New Orleans.[4]

The only crime that takes place in any of these three scenarios, is the attempted assassination of Captain Sisko.[5] Aside from that, human society sees no violent crime. The closest Star Trek comes to a regular human criminal is Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd.[6] And he commits, not murder or robbery or even burglary, but fraud. He commits it on the margins of Federal space or against non-human governments. Aside from such tricksters (or the Orion Syndicate), complacent humanity need fear only an external attack.

Rise of communism

The shows Deep Space Nine and Enterprise described the rise of communism on Earth in detail. Of course they do not call it communism. They call it “The New Economy.” In this economy—with rare exception—the government educates you, employs you, feeds you, and assigns you shelter. They build all apartment, “commercial,” and office buildings, and factories. The exceptional private employers include nostalgic restaurateurs, generational vintners, and the like. The government will let anyone produce specialty goods or services as a creative outlet. But for all other goods and services, the government provides.

Generous allowances

Why do people put up with this? Communism allows no rights. Communism allows goods and services, as government planners see fit. And in the Star Trek civilian world, the government makes incredibly generous allowances. Single-payer medical care? How about free medical care. And all sorts of free stuff, from cradle to grave.

Especially in the latter days of these chronicles (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager), no one shops! Every apartment has its consumer-grade “replicator.” A tenant says to this machine, “I want a ham sandwich,” and gets it—within seconds.

Replacing heavy industry

This “replicator technology” also works on an industrial scale. Even Captain Kirk hints at this abundance. In one episode,[7] two alien campers on a deserted planet try to tempt Kirk and his officers with precious stones and metals. “We run these things off by the ton!” Kirk says, half in amusement. In a later film,[8] Captain Picard drops a clearer hint. He says, “Our society has evolved far beyond considerations like cost and price.” Of course. Communism does not know these things.

Exceptions exist—at the margins of Federation space. In Deep Space Nine, a character complains that industrial replicators are difficult to build. Thus the Federation faces an ethical riddle when allocating them. A world starting to recover from a half century of hostile occupation, seemingly must wait its turn. But the Federation proper does not have such a problem.

The government shall provide

Who provides this bounty? To quote Ayn Rand:[9] “An industrialist – blank-out – there is no such person.” The government provides everything. All this accords with the basic theory of communism. Communism vests in the government the full responsibility, and sole authority, not only for managing physical force, but also for providing for “needs.” If a private business exists to furnish any service other than a diversion, the communist complains. Says he: The government has outsourced its core function and is thus derelict in duty.

Limited trade

Does any trade take place at all? Yes—between unified societies. The government runs all agriculture (except for specialties like vine-dressing), mining, and manufacturing. The few characters who have run businesses in private-public partnership with the UN, are either traitors,[10] or “in thick” with an interstellar criminal syndicate.[11] Long-haul freight carrying does remain a private venture—for a while. In those days, a freighter captain and his family live aboard and function as a crew. As the history of the Federation progresses, Star Fleet takes over more and more long-haul freight routes.[12] Only at the margins of Federation space do long-haul freighters do any private business at all. (Captain Benjamin L. Sisko’s love interest, Kasidy Yates, has just such a career.)

Canonical details

The Star Trek canon gives more than a description of a New Economy. In one episode of the last show (Enterprise), Captain Jonathan Archer and his crew return to 1944 Earth. Except this time, Nazi Germany have conquered Europe, Africa, and part of the American Eastern Seaboard.[13] How could they have done it? One character gives this answer: in 1916, some time-traveling intervenor assassinated Vladimir I. Lenin. The Bolsheviks never took power. If Tsar Nicholas II fell from power, Aleksandr Kerenskiy kept it. Russia never embraced communism. So Adolf Hitler never regarded Russia as a threat. And he could drive westward, with no Josef Stalin to threaten his rear.

Rules of Acquisition

If that evidence does not suffice, perhaps this will. Star Trek always thrived on adversarial relations, war risk, and in some cases actual warfare. So the Federation needs enemies. As the worst enemies (other than the Changeling Dominion), the producers created the Ferengi Alliance. These Ferengi sported snaggle teeth, oversized ears, short stature, and high-pitched, tinny voices. Their world suffered near-constant rainfall. And their society advertised itself as capitalistic.

A typical Ferengi would parody every defense of free enterprise anyone might have heard. And when they did not behave like thieves and pirates, they behaved like the worst businessmen imaginable. The “bias suffix” -men appears here on purpose. Ferengi law did not let a woman go into business for herself. Ferengi custom did not even let women put clothes on in public!

Roger Ailes recently resigned as President of Fox News. Gretchen Carlson, Megyn Kelly, Andrea Tantaros, et altae accuse him of offenses that should disgust anyone. If he has committed half those offenses, then he would be the perfect Ferengi businessman. Grace Lee Whitney’s executive assailant would also fit well into Ferengi society.

A travesty of capitalism

Ferengi live by a set of “Rules of Acquisition,” 285 cynical precepts that teach grasping for anything in the here-and-now.[14] Let the buyer beware. Those Rules flatly encourage their followers to lie, cheat and steal. They also are a travesty of capitalist business precepts.

Obviously Ferengi society does not portray capitalism accurately. That society cannot even work for five years, much less five hundred. Lie to, cheat, or steal from enough people, and other people won’t do business with you anymore. But you will not find that among the Rules of Acquisition.

“Reform”: art anticipates life

The show Deep Space Nine developed the Ferengi thread more than any other. Here the writers spun a plot thread involving a thoroughgoing reform of Ferengi society. How that reform came about, speaks volumes. The Grand Nagus of the Alliance—the Tycoon-in-chief—prepares to retire. He appoints a no-account person, who has never succeeded in business, to succeed him. (At least Barack Obama is better looking. He has the lobes but not the snaggle teeth.)

He entrusts that person with his reform program. Among its hallmarks: the first progressive income-tax code. We can now see the income tax as an intermediate step. First, systematically remove private wealth. Next, move to The New Economy: communism. The brother of the new chief executive vows to fight the reforms to the end. And viewers laugh at him.

Hard reality

In real life, the Soviet Union collapsed for a reason. The Republic of Venezuela will collapse today for that same reason. Already people crash the border to get their daily bread! Will Durant observed that communism, while it helped men cope with poverty, “did not lift men out of that poverty.”[15] In both countries, the government promised to provide everything. And failed miserably, and tragically.

The only reason United Earth does not succumb to famine, is that the United Earth Space Probe Agency, the precursor to the Star Fleet Armed Services, “scores” the technologies of replicators and holographic simulations from other societies. This of course begs the question. How did those societies develop those technologies in a collectivistic economy?

New Communist Man

Perhaps Star Trek assumes more than the inherent workability of communism, or its equivalency to capitalism for producing goods and services. Perhaps the producers also assumed (and did not explain) that humans created New Communist Man. (Likewise, one can assume the creation of New Communist Vulcan, Andorian, and Tellarite, also.) New Communist Man simply assumes the government will take care of him. And he assumes he will have his reward, merely in enhanced economic security, if he “does his part.” New Communist Man does not kill, rape, rob, or assail anyone. He therefore need not fear anyone doing this to him.

Viktor I. Belenko, of the Soviet Army Strategic Rocket Forces, defected with his aircraft on 6 September 1976. In his memoir, MiG Pilot, he described in blistering detail the running joke of New Communist Man. Neither Gene Roddenberry, Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, nor Manuel Coto ever had a countervailing argument to this. Certainly none of their protagonists ever gave it. For they are all New Communist Men (and women). Communism matters as much to Star Trek as does warp drive and transporters.

References

  1. The one reference to “Federation Security” in The Search for Spock denotes an agency for keeping State secrets. It does not denote persecution of dissidents.
  2. “Family” in The Next Generation
  3. See “Non Sequitur” in Voyager. This show has another non sequitur: ultra-clean Marseilles has within it a sleazy dive. A fellow officer listed this as one of his favorite hangouts.
  4. “Homefront,” “Paradise Lost,” “Image in the Sand” and “Shadows and Symbols” in Deep Space Nine
  5. “Image in the Sand” in Deep Space Nine
  6. “Mudd’s Women” and “I, Mudd” in the original series, and “Mudd’s Passion” in the animated series
  7. “Catspaw” in the original series
  8. First Contact
  9. Atlas Shrugged, and specifically John Galt’s three-hour pirate-radio/TV speech
  10. See, for example, “Demons” and “Terra Prime” in Enterprise.
  11. The Orion Syndicate. See “The Cage” in the original series, “Bound” in Enterprise, and “Honor Among Thieves” and “Prodigal Daughter” in Deep Space Nine.
  12. The Star Fleet Technical Manual clearly showed rough blueprints of a class of “warp tugs.” These could pull a passenger-liner module or any of four freight module types. Beyond that, at least two aspiring cadets receive transport orders—on naval vessels.
  13. “Storm Front” in Enterprise
  14. Canonical references to these Rules abound. For a complete list of the Rules and their show references, see “Rules of Acquisition,” Memory Alpha Wikia.
  15. Durant W. The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1934, p. 18.

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