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Star Trek: How We Will Abolish Money

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My wife and I are avid fans of Star Trek (no surprise there right?). Having grown up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and continuing on to Deep Space Nine and even a little Voyager, but recently we’ve been watching the four seasons of Star Trek Enterprise. It’s the one with Scott Bakula as Captain Jonathan Archer of the NX-1 Enterprise (there it is to the right) and the only one set in the near future. I have no idea how the seasons were received when they aired but we’re really enjoying them because it’s not set hundreds of years into the future, only a hundred and fifty. In future Earth, we’ve developed warp drives, transporters (though we’re not comfortable using them), and have made contact with alien species (no universal translator, just a really good translator).

One of the interesting aspects about Star Trek is how it treats money. Even a mere 150 years into the future, there is no concept of money. People do their jobs because they take pride in their work, satisfaction in their accomplishments, and work hard because they don’t want to let down their peers or their society but receive no monetary compensation. While they get all of their needs satisfied (food, shelter, entertainment), no one is saving for retirement because there’s nothing to save.

It was always difficult for me to see the logical jump from society today to anytime in the future where money is obsolete. Entire industries exist solely because money exists (mortgages, finance, banking to name a few) and you can bet your last dollar they’ll do anything it takes to make sure money keeps on existing. So how are we supposed to get from our money driven world to one where money has no meaning?

By having social norms overtake market norms. It’s an idea I first read in Predictably Irrational. In one of the chapters of Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely talks about how in the workplace we’ve replaced a bit of the market norms with social norms. In the days of Ford and the assembly line, workers punched in and punched out. They worked for the paycheck, trading in their time, effort, and expertise for money. It was a clear trade, punctuated by the sound of time card machines. As we’ve moved away from a labor based economy to a service based economy, social norms have begun to replace market norms.

I have friends who work 40+ hours a week but are compensated for only forty, the extra being spent “to get the job done right.” I routinely worked a few hours over forty myself to get the job done because I didn’t want to let my team down (I was very fortunate to be on very strong teams that didn’t find ourselves under the gun or behind on deadlines). I didn’t work those extra hours out of the goodness of my heart but I also didn’t do it for direct compensation. I worked those hours because I knew I had an obligation to both the project’s clients and my teammates. It was the social norms, not the market norms that compelled me, and so many others, to work without direct monetary compensation.

It’s an interesting idea and while it clearly doesn’t explain everything, it’s the first time I’ve read of an idea that will even take us in that direction. Eventually social norms can overtake market norms, a social support infrastructure will be put into place, and we’ll have abolished money, developed warp drives, met alien species, and find ourselves cruising among the stars!

{ 52 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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52 Responses to “Star Trek: How We Will Abolish Money”

  1. It all boils down to energy. In that future, energy is easily changed into matter, so just plug in your replicator and voila! You can change electrical energy into dollars, or gold, or lobster tails, or whatever you want. Then the theory of diminishing returns starts to come into play…and FAST! If you had one machine that could change any form of energy into matter of any type, why would you need to retire, why would you need more gold, why would you go to a bank, or a restaurant, or any retail store?

    Once we can ever figure out a way to make the change from matter to energy to matter to energy to matter … all bets are off. Until then, we will continue to have money of some sort.

    • Anonymous says:

      Actually in Archer’s time, there were no replicators, hence having a chef. Energy was cleaner thanks to the discovery of controlled anti-matter reacion but the conversion of energy to matter was barely in it’s infancy.

      I am now going to take a suicide pill for knowing that…

  2. drake says:

    Doesn’t this have a shade of communism?

    Soviets/Russians have been successful with their space program. Perhaps the reward of money is not always necessary when there are clear higher rewards like going where no one has gone before.

    • ben says:

      yeah it does have a shade of communism but Russia isn’t communist anymore and there is no soviet union.

      In other news we cant abolish money, as if a man who is CEO of a huge company working 20 hour days gets the same benifits as a street cleaner what is the incentive to work hard and innovate?

      • Phill says:

        The USSR was never communist to begin with.
        True communism is far too advanced for Earths societies to live by.
        Despite what Trekkies may say, the Fderation is true communism. And it aint bad at all.
        Though I personally would prefer a Star Wars type universe than Trek.
        Love both though

        • ben says:

          Nah, i would not like a tyrannical empire of evil supervillans ruling over society with an iro fist, wait, i just described the Bush administration.

          • Aaron says:

            Communism, like capitalism, is a moneytary based society, so no it isnt communism. Its a resource based economy

      • Felix says:

        As said in the article, people should work hard with the benefit of the society in mind and not just themselves. We live in a selfish, materialistic society so people can’t grasp the concept of working without material reward. If people find something that they love to do, they’ll do it without complaint and if it makes other people happy, that’s even better. Money, contrary to what we believe today, hinders progress my friend.

  3. Frined says:

    Seems as if I’ve heard of this before. Oh, that’s right, Karl Marx and the Communist Manifesto. No thanks. Hardwork needs to be rewarded, else there is no need to strive to work hard. Just my two cents.

    • Don says:

      Do you know how long I’ve worked my butt of at my job? Do you think my employers care about anything except how much they can wring out of me?

      Hard work is never rewarded and is barely compensated for. Doing great things that you were never expected to, are what you and everyone else should be doing.

      Of course, if you’re a selfish bastard, our current economic system is perfect. That’s why we need to teach people the right way to do things, not the way that earns THEM the most.

  4. Ben says:

    . . . and unfortunately survive a 3rd world war.

  5. Jadin says:

    Ah! Utopian Society.
    When Jamestown was first settled it was to be “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. Didn’t work out too well, then; Not sure we’ve advanced enough now!
    I also just read of an Engineer in Japan who officially died of “overwork”. Guess social norms got the best of him.

  6. Al says:

    Since the beginning of civilization, people trade their labor for goods and services, whether it be cattle, wheat, tulips, gold or paper money. I cannot think of any time in history where people worked for the sheer joy of it and were taken care of according to their needs. Wait a minute….perhaps slavery in the Old South qualified….but who wants to do that! (Like “Animal Farm,” some animals are better than others….) Society of the future may not have “money” per se but will have to give something to reward the fruits of their labor. After all, man does not live by “atta boys” alone!

  7. Jon says:

    What did the crew do with the “money” they always seemed to be playing cards for?

  8. ebow says:

    I’m with Ron on this–it’s all about energy. With nearly unlimited energy, the market value if labor would drop significantly. If this happened in a somewhat gradual or controlled manner, the market value could be replaced by social value (to follow along with Jim’s theory).

  9. RT Wolf says:

    Interesting discussion here.

    If you follow Maslow, it always seems like the people on Star Trek have had almost all their lower needs fulfilled and are striving towards self-actualization, or becoming what they can be.

    In the way of money: I agree with the earlire commenters that energy will have to become ridiculously cheap, and the other costs of living will have to become ridiculously cheap.

    I partially disagree with the commenter about hard work having to be rewarded; it does not have to be rewarded with money. Academia, for example, pays comparatively lower but the people work for prestige and reputation, same thing on the interwebs. People put in a ridiculous amount of work to create things and put them online for free, and not always for the financial reward.

    The way I see it going down is such: Technology increases help cause costs of living go down, basic cost of living functions are absorbed into the government, which, though inefficient, there’s enough to leave things in its hands (extrapolating from the long-term trend over the last century of social insurance, medicare, universal health care in Canada, welfare, etc.) Perhaps there will be some sort of food stamp system where you can go pick what you’d like to have, within a certain amount of things. Money will still exist but will really be only used to buy luxury or exotic items, so if you wanted a big box of swiss chocolates, you could go for it, with your own cash. Eventually, once money becomes immaterial to actual existence of people, the other industries built upon money will just disappear, and money will eventually disappear, too.

    However, human beings seem built to be incentive/goal-driven, and as Star Trek suggests, I believe that human beings will start exploring various spaces (we’re also hardwired to explore), including our own psyches as well as outer space, and so forth, for the sake of their own actualization and for the respect and admiration of others.

    Of course, I don’t expect of this to happen for another few hundred years, and if the North American civilization goes down, as all do; the process may be delayed or changed. Also, if they invent a thingy that converts energy into any sort of matter as in Star Trek, that’ll also change the situation radically.

    Money is an evolved solution for a huge variety of problems, and it will have to evolve into the next stage where it no longer exists. Does this sound like socialism/communism? I was somewhat shocked to realize that it does, but then realized that trying to force this to happen wouldn’t work, but you have to let it evolve on its own.

  10. jim says:

    I think if we take the energy into matter bit plus maslow’s hierarchy, with social transactions replacing market/money transactions, we can see a path towards a world in which money isn’t necessary the medium of exchange.

    I do agree that hard work must be rewarded but I’m with RT, it’s not always necessarily with money and my example of my friends who worked 40+ hrs a week but only get paid 40 is in line with this. They are “paid” in reputation, camaraderie, and greater future salary raises.

    Also, just because money doesn’t “exist” doesn’t mean that a proxy for it doesn’t exist. We are increasingly living in a world in which money is abstracted and is merely a number on a screen.

  11. fred@opc says:

    Star Trek has never reflected well the reality of our self centered existence. We crave money for many reasons; but at the end, we’re selfish. Without money, we’d be left struggling for something else over our fellow men… We might crave control, or power, or status, or popularity.

    Star Trek reflects the ideal of communism – everyone is almost always content in their position, with their level of power, status, and popularity (and energy, per the earlier discussion). We know in practice, however, that “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” never works. In the remaining communist countries in the world that don’t allow the free hand of the market to move, other self-centered forces drive them just the same – its just not as clear as capitalism, that benefits from the best possible way to allocate scarce resources.

  12. anthony says:

    Everyone else caught it already – but I was going to say… have you been sharing notes with Karl Marx? haha

  13. Ed says:

    The Ferengi(sp?) were always after some sort of money or profit….

    I have just started getting into the ST:Enterprise with Scott Bacula and it is pretty good.

  14. XZQVenus2 says:

    (Ron@WisodmJournal is right on the money with his comment about energy.) The “logical leap” from where we are today to a trek-style money-less society has little to do with logic and more to do with sheer technological innovation.

    It’s all about the replicators. If they were a ubiquitous feature of our present realities, money as a concept would not survive.

    Obviously, with a replicator you can just make whatever you want and never need to buy anything ever. Under such conditions, money naturally becomes obsolete. There are also the problems that counterfeiting would pose to maintaining a post-replicator money system.

    Money is both abstract labor AND abstract scarcity. The replicator transcends both and all meanings of money. There is no need to complicate the accounting of symbolic exchange when all commodities invariably come from one common source, in this case, the energy that powers the replicator.

    Eliminate scarcity and money will become useless. Fighting scarcity with more money will create more scarcity.

  15. Well, one thing that you might want to buy is energy, but if the governing system supplies enough for all of the population (or you can recycle your scrap with a high efficiency), then I would see no need for money in everyday life.

  16. Christian says:

    It seems like you forgot (or don’t know) what happened in the Star Trek universe that lead the mankind to this sort of paradise when you just do your work just because you like it.
    Before all that, in 2024 (or so) there was overpopulation and famine, and the civil rights were suspended. The United States created the “Sanctuary Districts” (see episode “Past Tense” from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and there were riots and violence. And some decades later there was a 3rd world war, with nuclear exchange… Anyway, there was a time of suffering and hard working before mankind achieve this. Many efforts were dedicated to the starship construction (as an answer to the unemployment problem), and everyone had to put the best just for surviving.
    Then Cochrane discovered the warp drive, and because of this we were first contacted for the Vulcans, who shared technology with earth and helped mankind.
    And besides it’s true energy is cheap in the future, sometimes it isn’t. From wikipedia:
    “Also on Voyager, the ship’s energy constraints on the journey back to the Alpha Quadrant meant that replicator supplies had to be strictly controlled, leading to “replicator rations” becoming an unofficial ship currency. This is also the reason Neelix (aside from providing the crew with a morale boost through the preparation of fresh food) became employed as the ship’s chef. Ingredients came from the ship’s hydroponics laboratory.”
    So, as you can see, it was not that easy as saying “mmm… it sounds like communism”.

  17. John Oakley says:

    Money and debt have become invisible chains, turning a population of supposedly free people into indentured servants.

    Free energy exists and is being suppressed by the international banking bloodlines.

    Until people rise up as one, with open eyes and minds, technology and quality of life will continue to be suppressed.

    “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” -someone not me

  18. somchai sriprasert says:

    I agree with John, we should be living heavenly at the present state of technologies but being in hell because of supid money.We should have credit cards with giga or tera bytes of memories recording all our transactions so that every amount of credit can be verified and intelligent programs to watch out for the anomalies. Many things can be incorporated in to the master programs.Our selfish and stupid fallacy of survival of the fittest animals caused us unending miseries.Social sabotaging compettitive edges have to change in to cooperative edges for the survival of mankind.Limiting resources force us to rationing and control the populations growth.Standardization of education,healthcare,mass transportation and practically abolish private vehicles will reduce much of the need to get rich quick and thus helping us to get closer to idea of working for the benefit of mankind and myself.We need to get rid of money manipulators,profit oriented economy and move to the sustainable economy living for others and ourselves. Justice Love and Courage must be the main ingredients of economy rather than stupid money. To go on like present motives as to be ignorantly free w/o much responsibilities ,to win all or lose all through compettitive edges causes all of us a satanic way of life and that is a living hell.We are so monstrously powerful and capable of destroying ourselves we need to be intelligent enough not to let fallacies decieve us to become sons of satan. Those many elites and leaders of the world are taking advantages n decieving us and themselves thinking they will win all .Competition will make us all losers .With the destruction of our civilization ,we shall not have Star Trek generation.We need intelligent managements and preserve our civilization which is certainly not stupid money which facilitate satanic acts.

  19. Rob says:

    This will all come about naturally if/once there is free, infinitely abundant energy because energy means work, means money.

  20. Craig says:

    Those who are interested in the concept of abolishing money should watch the free internet movie called Zeitgeist: Addendum.

    It’s an eye-opener.

  21. There is a way for us to end money, and even if we don’t chose to end money as humanity it’s going to have to go.
    Because, as technology continues on it’s path of automation the need for a human labor force will be continually diminished and people wont be able to obtain money to support the economy.
    I suggest considering the Zeitgeist Movement, which is a social organisation with over 250,000 members and will (by our current growth rate) have over 1 million members by 2010. We advocate a Resource-based Economy.
    It probably all sounds confusing to you, but it’s well worth investigating this possibility of a better future for humanity. Go to

  22. Annonymous says:

    You people need to stop watching so damn much tv. Go on! Go outside and play…GIT!

  23. Rejean says:

    Hey what about Deep Space 9?
    Quarks Bar? There is money in Star Trek and those who are very interested in it.

  24. DJ says:

    While Star Trek talks about there being no money or pay in some episodes they clearly pay for things in other episodes. In Star Trek they have vacation worlds; in ST:NG they have vacation worlds, purchases, owned land, and negotiate with aliens; in ST:DS9 they have Quark’s bar, the commander’s father’s restaurant, and deal with traders from the other quadrant; in ST:E we don’t see pay, but we do see them buying things. Only in Voyager do we see a real lack of money, and that’s even hinted at in the opening show with references to ownership of land.
    So yes, ideology was grand, but even Roddenberry couldn’t figure out how to avoid showing buying and selling, not to mention ownership.

    And energy has never been the key to money. Land has always been the key. You can make more energy, you can make energy cheaper, you can not make more land, you can only find more habitable planets. Which in Star Trek probably have people on it. Even in ST:NG Picard was talking to his brother about plans to raise the seabed to make more land and how he would get some of it.

  25. ryan says:

    As both an economist and an avid Star Trek fan, my friends (also Trekkies) would ask how can we make the switch to not having money. The real problem here is not that you are working only for money, but that money and prices determine how valuable things are to society.

    Here is a good sci-fi example. You have a someone who wants to be a scientist. It is his life’s goal, but he is terrible at math and because of this handicap he works his whole life never producing anything of interest or value. Should he be able to have such a high standard of living? He doesn’t contribute anything to society.

    Also, even with transporter technology, there will still be scarcity (only so much of everything to go around) so does everyone who wants one get a galaxy class star ship. Who doesn’t get one? Does the scientist get one?

    Money solves this problem via prices, prices tell us how valuable things are. Without something to replace the price mechanism this system could not work.

    And to answer a few posts above, it is also the major hurdle to communism, even assuming perfect morals.

    • John says:

      As has been stated before, money is not the only commodity in the universe. Rank was basically the Star Trek way of determining who got what. You earned rank by proving yourself, just as you would at any job.

      I think that people fail to realize that, in the future, almost every person will be raised and educated properly. There will be few psychological issues and people will not covet or fear things nearly as much as they do now.

      The basic outline of Star Trek is that people’s curiosity and desire to become more than they are, is what truly causes us to evolve. If all mankind thinks about is survival and gratification, we’ll never live in a Utopian society. Ironic isn’t it?

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