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Trekonomics by Manu Saadia, published in 2016 is about the economic basis of that most optimistic of TV shows, Star Trek. Like its inspiration, the book is also optimistic, although in a more guarded manner. Its 9 chapters (excluding an introduction and conclusion, which were not numbered) posit that the utopia of Star Trek is not only possible, but also sensible and logical. Some of the arguments seem a bit flaky, but that is a side effect of how optimism looks to a cynic.

Chapters 1 to 6, & 9 explain how a society that has solved the problem of scarcity would arise and function. They show that utopia would arise once the necessity for accumulation is eliminated. It is a world in which money doesn't exist because whatever one needs is freely available. Impossible as this may seem, consider that for most of history, the effect of technology is to make things cheaper. Eventually, things would become so cheap that they might as well be free. The question then becomes, why would anybody work? According to Star Trek, because work becomes an end in itself. People work, not because they have to, but because they want to. And if they choose not to, no problem. People would work not for money but for self satisfaction and for the esteem of their colleagues. The optimism of the book and the show appear to be justified because already we are in a world where it has been argued that the means exist to guarantee the basics of life to everyone, that that doesn't happen is due to policy.

Chapter 7 discusses the psychology of the people of Star Trek. That they are uniformly high minded and altruistic is not a flaw of the show but an outcome of being in a society that has eliminated privation. There is much real world evidence that poverty leads to suboptimal decisions, especially if the decision is judged by one who doesn't feel that pinch. Conversely, rich people do a lot of things that seem stupid or wasteful or unnecessary or weird to less rich ones. So, the argument of this chapter is, general economic conditions determine what is normal. Most of us now would think nothing of buying a meal and throwing it away half eaten because we discovered we aren't so hungry or because it is not as delicious as we expected. Such a mindset can be extended to everything if everything that one wants is there for the taking.

Chapter 8 discusses the Ferengi, a species that is a representation of how humans are now. In a non obvious way, it is the most optimistic chapter of the book because it shows how even societies whose values diverge from the Federation's can be accommodated and hopefully, improved. In effect, it is telling us that there is hope for us.

The book's optimism doesn't seem forced I suppose because it rests on a suspension of disbelief that is a requirement for sci-fi more than any other genre. It points towards a future that assumes human life is inherently worthy. While it is not explicitly stated, the book seems to say that humanity will eventually get to a state where life for all is pleasant and meaningful. And thus, even if life for many of those on the route there is nasty, brutish and apparently meaningless, the route is ultimately worth following. It takes the altruism that powers the Federation (which made it provide everything freely) and extends it backwards (or maybe sideways) to the real world and makes one to think that - it doesn't matter if my actions cost me this much so long as benefits accrue from it, even if not to me.

The conclusion, which is not a numbered chapter, attempted to show that the process by which economics will become Trekonomics has already begun, using GPS and Wikipedia as examples. It also poured scorn on those staples of science fiction - FTL travel, planetary colonization and contact with aliens. That bit was quite of a downer.

So, the book is recommended. It is a deceptively light read, especially since sci-fi is not treated as a serious genre. But it makes one to think, probably even more than philosophy. Although since economics is a part of moral philosophy, and this book is about economics in sci-fi, then the distinction is moot. Anyway, the book is recommended.

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