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Star Trek Economy

I recently sat down with my kids for movie night. Deciding to change things up from the usual Pixar fair, we watched one of the Star Trek movies.

There was one scene where Captain Picard earnestly proclaims that “[t]he acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity”.

“The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity

Being an economics geek at heart, that got me thinking about the Star Trek economy.

By the time the movie was set, humanity had obtained a marvellous technology that allowed anybody to acquire whatever their heart desired. Instantaneously. For free.

Star Trek Replicator

The Star Trek replicator provides instant gratification of material wants. Image credit: legojalex

The wisdom of youth

I asked my kids what they would do with such a device.

The 5-year-old wanted to save time spent rummaging in the Lego bag for the pieces he needed. Instead the machine could give him the required piece.

I suggested the machine could just make him the finished product. He gave me an eye roll. Then demanded to know how the machine could know what the finished product looked when he himself didn’t know until it was finished?

Arguing with 5-year-old logic is a futile endeavour at the best of times, but the boy made a great point: machines don’t have imagination. Replicators could only reproduce things already discovered.  That means there will always be work for problem solvers, creatives, and inventors.

Arguing with 5-year-old logic is a futile endeavour at the best of times

Next I asked my 11-year-old. Without hesitation, he said: “money”.

Think about that for a minute.

Replacing scarcity with abundance

This magical device replaced scarcity with abundance.

Everyone had enough to eat, clothes to wear, and a warm dry place to sleep.

Money became redundant, no longer required as a medium of exchange nor a store of wealth.

There was no further need for people to trade their time for money, selling their lives by the hour.

I was struck by the parallels to people who have achieved financial freedom.

Financial Independence describes the point where a person’s living costs are met by passive (or “unearned”) income streams. Awake, asleep, on holiday, they get paid regardless.

That buys the freedom to choose how they invest their time, just as the people on Star Trek enjoy.

The question is with that luxury of choice, how did people spend their time? You don’t see any parking inspectors, tax auditors, vice presidents of paper clip procurement, compliance officers, or life coaches in Star Trek.

Star Trek Minifigures

If it wasn’t for the money, would you still do your job? Will your role exist in the future? Image credit: Minifigures.me

The replication technology provided the instant gratification of material wants.

That would have eliminated the demand for the functions performed by more than half stock market sectors. Interestingly employees in many of those same sectors find themselves vulnerable to automation and outsourcing.

Remove the financial imperative… then what?

Three commonly articulated goals of financially free people are to do good deeds, travel, and be remembered. That is not too different from the Star Trek mission statement: “… to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilisations; to boldly go where no one has gone before.

… to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilisations; to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Perhaps there is a reason that once the financial imperative was removed, people banded together to “better ourselves and the rest of humanity” while having adventures exploring the unknown.

Next Steps

  • Make contingency plans if your job does not have a long term future.
  • Check out the cool Star Trek Lego produced by the clever folks at Minifigures.me.
  • If you liked this post then please share it with your friends.
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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Steveark 20 January 2018, 23:02

    Very interesting and in my personal situation appropriate. I don’t have a replicator but I have more money than I will ever spend and left the 9 to 5 world years ago. Yet I still work at side gigs that are making a lot of money because I find that provides me a level of significance that my volunteer work doesn’t. When I tell people that I’m only working for fun they look at me like I am either lying or insane but it is the truth, I like to work a couple of days a week and the money is meaningless as far as making any difference in my lifestyle. I think a lot of the FIRE community is going to find that they need to work at some profitable endeavor after they retire early or they will not be happy.

    • Slow Dad 21 January 2018, 07:43

      Thanks Steveark, I share your assessment.

      I’m in a similar situation. A couple of years ago I “retired, but after a few months chilling out I reached the point where I was starting to get restless and sought more intellectual stimulation.

      I started studying again, just for fun.

      I explored part time working, but in my game those roles don’t really exist.

      After a bit of experimenting I settled into a semi-retired working pattern, hibernating in an office during the colder wetter months, and then retiring” once again when the sun comes out. The money is good, yet incidental. I set my own working hours. A few months of the year I help clients solve tricky puzzles that I find personally interesting.