Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek, by Manu Saadia

This book dares to go where no book has gone before: Delving into the the questions that may or may not have occurred to you when watching any of the various versions of Star Trek, especially those under the direct supervision of Gene Roddenberry.

Saadia was born in France to a pair of Jewish psychotherapists and says that in the culture of Paris his name made him something of an outsider to his classmates. He offers that this might be one of the reasons he was instantly drawn to science fiction, and particularly to Star Trek, when at age eight a friend of his parents took him to Star Trek: The Movie. Here was a world where people seemed to be evaluated by skill rather than by race.

Now an economist Saadia looks into the economic world of Star Trek, inspired to a great degree by the post-war science fiction writings of the “golden age” of the 50s and 60s. In the Star Trek world Roddenberry created an optimistic future in which money is a thing of the past. And how do you operate a world without capital? Who needs money when anyone can have a replicator that fulfills all your needs? Instant food, instant housewares, even weapons (though the USS Enterprise has a software lock to prevent making them onboard).

Saadia discusses the utilitarian philosophy that threads through the series (greatest good for the greatest number). He also analyses a world without the need for work, and that onboard the Star Fleet ships is one of the few areas where rank matters, and that’s purely a reflection of skill and expertise. Work, in this new world, is a function partly of need (someone has to mine for dilithium) and for self-fulfillment.

He notes that a moneyless world is an evolution within the later versions of the series. There were “credits” exchanged in the original series, but by the era of The Next Generation money is a thing of the past, as are poverty and want.

It isn’t until Deep Space 9 that the Ferengis become a key part of the stories, a particularly rapacious race of free marketeers for whom accumulation is almost a religion. But even they begin to change under the influence of the Federation.

Some ideas may shock or unsettled long-time fans, such as the idea that there are more similarities between the Borg and the Federation than viewers might want to admit. But the book does cover a wide number of economic and philosophical ideas. It deals with free riding, rent seeking, the destruction of the commons (an episode in which the use of warp speed is tearing the fabric of space-time), and the establishment of androids as sentient beings.

Along the way Saadia offers snips of information about the production of Star Trek, including the fights against network thinking. I did not know that NBC wanted Lassie to be on the Enterprise.

To wrap things up he looks at whether it would actually be possible to overlay a Star Trek society on our current world and adds quite a few endnotes on cited episodes and suggested science fiction reading. It’s a very interesting book that offers some different perspectives on a series that has drawn in fans from all generations.