The Economic Breakdown of The United Federation of Planets
The Star Trek universe has long been utilized as our “this is what could be” model in regards to economics, and it’s not really surprising that we do. In a post-scarcity world there would be no need to work for food, housing or any of the bare necessities of life; work is done more out of fulfillment of life than it is for money or goods in this model. In fact, this is a world where people would be offended if you offered them money for their services. But how in the hell would we go about it? How did they manage to put this together in the Star Trek version of Earth?
Many Trek fans are already aware that the United Federation of Planets operates under a more socialist or even communist-type economic policy where money (in this case, credits) are used more for interplanetary trade between cultures still operating with it. In this society automation has completely taken over and energy is abundant, a concept we currently have a difficult time grasping but one that we are quickly heading towards. Work is completed solely for the merit earned rather than attempting to feed or clothe oneself, with thousands of people vying to earn a reputation of their own in each field.
Due the the fact that the galaxy is so expansive and there are too many other races to name, the Federation does end up dealing with scarcity from time to time. The Ferengi are an excellent example of this. The Ferengi believe in commerce above all else, forcing the Federation to use credits as bargaining chips for supplies, goods and logistics – though this seems to end somewhere around the 24th century. People still do own private property (Chateau Picard, Joseph Sisko’s restaurant), though it’s difficult to tell if the land is privately owned or simply government sponsored.
In order for money to become obsolete so would the scarcity of food, and there’s no other item that could solve that better than the replicators. Before the third episode of Next Generation replicators weren’t even in existence, but Tom Paris from Voyager: “Dark Frontier” stated that money “went the way of the dinosaur” around the time of the 22nd century, though this statement does go against a few choice statements from Picard. From this we get hints that scarcity in this society is caused more by energy restrictions than anything else, which can be seen most prevalent when the replicator meals become rationed during Voyager’s trip home.
Coming from our own standpoint it can be difficult to understand the economy of the Federation, as working to survive is genuinely all we currently know. We’re too unfamiliar with expending effort for prestige alone that the whole topic seems so foreign and unattainable, but as technology continues to improve this type of reality is quickly transforming into a viable option. It could be a hundred years away still though, Star Trek is science fiction after all!