It seems pretty plausible to me. Star Trek takes place in a post-scarcity society. What do you even really need money for if 99% of all your material wants and desires can be materialized out of a replicator for free?
Well, you would need money if you wanted to engage in the trade of that 1% of goods— illicit goods—that can’t be obtained via replication. This is why the Ferengi are presented the way they are. The message is not that all capitalists are ugly and vile. The message is that, if you live in a post-scarcity society where money is almost useless, the pursuit of money within that context is ugly and vile. And it’s a message I find it difficult to disagree with.
Let’s talk about something that’s fairly relevant to the conversation: Universal Basic Income.
Market research firm Forrester predicts that 10% of U.S. jobs will be lost to automation in 2019 alone.
A report from the management consulting firm McKinsey Global states that half of all global jobs can be replaced by automation, and predicts that between 39 and 73 million U.S. jobs will be lost to it by 2030.
Perhaps these doomsayers are getting us all in a tizzy over nothing.
But perhaps not.
Suppose, hypothetically, that we are looking at a future where huge chunks of the population are willing to work, but there are no jobs available for them? What are these people to do? How should society at large respond to that situation?
Many people have touted Universal Basic Income as the solution. The government provides each citizen with a small stipend to cover basic needs regardless of whether you’re working or not. I hope it’s clear why I bring this up — a society which guarantees its citizens money for basic needs is not all that different from a society with replicators.
The primary objection I hear to UBI (behind “How would you even pay for it?!”) is the same objection raised in this article about service jobs in Starfleet:
What is the incentive to get up and go to work everyday if you don’t have to?
And I have a two-part answer to that, one of which applies to Star Trek and one which doesn’t.
First, the answer which doesn’t apply to Star Trek’s post-scarcity society, but which very much applies to us: Americans are still consumers. We love to consume. It’s that keeping up with the Joneses mentality that would keep people working. Because very few of us are satisfied with what we already have. We always want more.
And second, the answer that applies to Star Trek: Self-fulfillment. We all have a need to feel useful, to feel like we’re contributing something to society, and when that need is unfulfilled, we languish. I spent a lot of time in my 20s unemployed, playing video games all day. It gets old. Fast.
And maybe that’s not a good enough reason for a person to spend 40–60 hours a week at a job, but what about 15–20 hours? That seems much more manageable, and with automation replacing so many jobs — a factor that would be taken to the extreme in a society with replicators — there would be more than enough people so that you could staff an entire bar with part-time employees.