Economics, Star Trek Style

Jean Luc Picard, spiritually drained from another battle won, still 3 minutes, 15 seconds of show time before the credits, and time for the denouement. The Captain of the Starship Enterprise arises from the seat of command, makes halting steps waving off the advance of Doctor Crusher always hoping help, chagrined by his refusal she turns away wringing her wrists. The door to his ready room opens, and he approaches the Replicator. “Earl Grey and a slab of Bolognium.” The Replicator dutifully responds, creating chains of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates which, when correctly proportioned with water and other inorganic chemicals bring the food we eat, to fruition. But there is a problem. The replicator cannot find Bolognium in its directory of foods, body parts, living things, anything. It shudders emitting clouds of acrid smoke and dies.

What happened? Why the Bolognium problem? Was there a Bolognium agenda of some sort? No. The answer is simple. Bolognium does not exist.

In fact, science fiction sprinkled as it is with Bolognium often appears more like fantasy than science. Some stories have none. The real hard Sci-Fi. The Martian. All real, available science. An exciting story nonetheless results and the audience is drawn in without a hint of boredom.

Some have a little. Ursula LeGuin created the Ansible, a device that allowed instant communication. With travel bound by Special Relativity[i], Kingdoms could handle multiple star governance quickly (as long as the governors stayed loyal.) This was one helping of Bolognium, OK. Her stories were still fantasies (or were they?) but, OK. Sci-Fi still borrowed the device and called it other things and justified it many ways including quantum entanglement. BTW, there is a proposal out for serious study to develop such a system. Maybe de-Bologniumizing instant distant communication.

Then come Star Trek, The Next Generation, and science gets shot to hell.

Every week from Encounter at Farpoint, Part 1 (Season 1, Episode 1) to All Good Things, Part 2 (how original, Season 7, Episode 26) many of us willing to or wanting to believe enjoyed the excitement and, in my case, the unbelievable idiocy of a crew of numbskulls continuously making the same mistakes week after week! Don’t get me started. I forget the periods.

Even folks like I, waiting for the Love of the Creator to free besotted Man of its desperation. Despite the screenwriter’s constant reliance on the old DTG, the Double-talk Generator. With the use of this breathtaking tool Geordi La Forge and Commander Data would speak unintelligible words defining concepts unscientific, now and in all possible universes. Honestly, that is is a stretch. In the still debated multiverse, one scenario has a collection of all possible universes with all possible combinations of fundamental constants.

Of course, another bit of the impossible, warp drive, has taught the casual audience of science that brings fantasy to a world starved for relief.

I will return to the science in a moment.

Another series, this time on the big screen, Star Wars suffers from the same plus many more defects.

Star Wars depicts an unusually distributed elitist statist and (happily) anti-democratic politics. It claims a mythos of incredible significance yet fails to display a religious, moral, ethical system deserving of our admiration. Obi-Wan bends people to his will, and we consider that honorable! Finally, Star Trek and Star Wars only pay lip service to women. They are not top-drawer sexist, but they provide, even in the last iteration, our protagonist, Rey, the One, not The Ring, but The One Woman! But that is all. Just one woman. Yeah, Carrie Fisher [RIP] enters and takes third billing more for sentimentality and thank goodness they got her in in time! (Honestly, it would have been tragic otherwise.)  Where are the other women?[ii]

Jean Luc, repulsed and confused by the disaster in his ready room rushes with reckless abandon headed for Ten Forward. He calls Guinan on his communicator. She answers, “It will be ready, Captain.”

Stunned, Jean Luc replies, “Yes, but how——.“

“See you in a few, Captain.”

Jean Luc rushes into the lounge, Guinan pushing a Champaign flute his way. It is filled with a sparkling purple fluid trying to climb the walls of the glass. He speaks in stunned amazement. “My God. What is it?”

“It’s Mortavian Hound’s Residue. Very rare. Very costly. Just breathe its fumes,” she said with the seriousness of a mortician.

“Costly? Don’t be silly. We want for nothing in the Federation. All is free to they who need. Thank you!” He reached for the glass, and she withdrew it.

“This is not free to all, Jean Luc. This not the Federations. This is MINE!”

In her eyes, he saw the fire of the ages. Sadness, rage, loss, pain, and anger. A dark unbidden spiritual hatred. Part of her life, her family and possessions had been taken by a force of will beyond her ability to resist. She stared into the pits she once saw as warm and loving eyes. “Look at these,” she said, turning her head exposing her nape. “Those are boot marks!”

“My God Guinan, I had no idea. It is a great and lonely sadness that you bear. It is also my sadness, for I must confiscate the Residue. Guinan, there is no private property in the Federation.” He grabbed the glass and began to put it to his lips.

“No!”

“Guards! Grab her!” Guinan looked around wildly, head on a swivel, a mouse trapped by a ring of hungry cats.

“Jean Luc, don’t drink it. It will——” The guards covered her mouth. The captain tipped the flute to his lips bringing the precious fluid near his nose. As he inhaled the lovely canine bouquet, he never noticed that the Residue was bridging the gap, inching toward his nose. As Guinan struggled to get out a last-second warning, the Hound jumped the gap and headed straight for its ultimate target.

Oh no! What will Jean Luc do? Will Guinan survive? Will the Hound bask at will? Until next we meet, pray for the Captain and the return of the Federation to sanity.

-$-

There you have it. That, in a nutshell, is the problem with Star Trek economics. There is none! Why? With one exception (other than Mortavian Hounds Residue) there are no scarcities! No resources. Resources are limited, by definition. Replicators are limited only by the amount of matter immediately available and that by the amount of energy at hand. Nothing for which to compete. No bidding. No shopping around for a deal. No real value scales of any meaningfulness. (I suppose girls and guys still play hard to get.) People will still have them. They always will. They can just go out and get all their wants met. Helluva deal!

Now, that one exception. Dilithium Crystals. Can’t do impossible things without something that doesn’t exist. Right? A Level 2 Bolognium deficiency. Level 2 is not all that bad usually.

The Federation must do something it must hate to do to get these damn crystals. Work! Dig in the dust. Do dangerous work with mining lasers, explosives, periodic flights of body parts during accidents to the “oohs” and “ahhs” of grizzled mining crews.

Not only that, no one ever talks about money other than to explain to a few who have awoken ala Rip Van Winkle to a life for the stars in the future they will likely never fathom. “We don’t need money. We don’t need no stinking money.” Of course not, the replicator provides it all. Got skid marks? Presto. A fresh pair of your favorite boxers.

What a boring world. Hundreds of Thousands of Trekkies and Star Wars freaks go to San Diego and New York for ComiCon plus all of the National, Regional, and Local Sci-Fi and Fantasy conventions (including me, I am an aspiring Sci-Fi author!) to talk about their favorite sport and think about the world that might be.

I try to get out among ‘em and, without being cruel, talk about the future, the real future of the types depicted in The Martian, James Corey’s Expanse novel series beginning with Leviathan Wakes. The revered Larry Niven, a member of my Sci-Fi Godhead, has written many books (novels and short stories) with various levels of Bolognium utilization. I believe, in fact, the terms invention came with his first big splash, Ringworld. David Gerrold, another famous author of the same genre, credits Ringworld with five levels[iii] of Bolognium. The deus ex machina of natural philosophy. But, instead of classifying it as Fantasy like Star Trek, it remains Science Fiction. Why? There is no skill in Star Trek. The Bolognium in Ringworld, conversely, is barely noticeable. In Star Trek, the Bn[iv] is slapping you faster than a “revenuer” hauling ass chased out of the Arkansas back country by a shotgun wielding still operator. In Ringworld, a bed of soft feathers holds the reader entranced like little waves on the side of a rowboat

Believers, unfortunately, will continue to believe. In the face of facts, reasoned arguments, and promises of American light lagers, so many seem unable to accept the idea of a World with limits. Even in a society of high technology, some processes will be costly for the same reason that gold is expensive today. It is rare. I asked a Trekkie once, “In the Star Trek World of Tomorrow, what will you want the most of?”

His reply? Why gold of course. When I asked, “Why?” He answered, “Why wouldn’t I want a lot of something so valuable?”

When I asked him if he hoarded water now, he laughed. When I asked why, he answered, you guessed it, “Why would I want something that everyone can have as much of as they want?”

True. True.

The moral of my tale is a simple one dear friends. When amongst the unwashed (all respect intended) consider the worlds in which they live. Give examples from the Multiverse of their dreams. Avoid mention of Mises, Hayek, Rothbard and Rand.

Speak of Spock, Kirk, Solo and Leia (RIP) (did she even have a surname name? Or was Princess her first name?) [170301. I have been upbraided by a neer do well from the Actual Anarchy system insisting that Leia’s surname is ‘Organa.’ I will not vouch for their veracity.] Ask them about the reality of limitless resources and then drop this one on them, “What are you going to do when Scottie runs out of dilithium crystals?” If he says, “Alchemy,” shoot yourself.

Written by Mark E. Deardorff, © 2016, 2017 by ScienceViaMarkets and Mark E Deardorff, All Rights Reserved.


[i] The Warp Drive is no longer fiction, at least not theoretically. In 1994, Dr. Milguel Alcubierre of Mexico published a paper entitled The Warp Drive: Hyper-fast travel within general relativity. Unfortunately, his design antimatter equal in weight to the planet Jupiter. Why anti-matter? The FTL Drive requires negative mass-energy to create the field. And it’s not FTL. A warp field that moves space-time appears. The piece of 4-space in which the vessel is embedded moves. The ship goes along for the ride, never moving at all. Don’t believe me? Go to college and do the math.

Jupiter too big? Not enough yard cleanup bags? No worries. NASA’s Dr. Harold White tweaked the design requiring only 500 kg of antimatter. One day, SpaceX (which has the only deep space exploration vehicle in development) may make it to the Oort Cloud. That is a trip, in part, that may test such a hyperdrive. Take care when handling that much antimatter. 500 kg (1100 lbs) of antimatter would be sufficient to destroy the Earth! Possibly a fit parting gift.

In fact, it may be possible to reduce the amount of anti-matter to even smaller amounts. Maybe down to drawing from minute quantities. But, don’t buy your tickets. Anti-matter is a very scarce resource. At this point, more valuable than just about any other thing known to Humanity, Animality?.

[ii] It’s still a man’s world. Feminism failed. Even in a galaxy far, far away. Hopefully soon down a toilet. This is the level of sexism that male and female writers go to believing they are doing the right thing. The problem is that the milieu is incomplete. The circle of men, both equals, those giving orders (Han Solo), mentors to be (Luke Skywalker), and inept sidekicks. The mix should be a little more evenly split. Obviously, Solo (the spot is open now) and Skywalker couldn’t be had. Maybe things will change next time.

By the way, if you are an aspiring writer or an experienced one, this would be Level Four on a sexism scale in literature and script based entertainment. Female authors do this, as well as male writers. They want to do what’s right. They sweat to get the One in there and forget the milieu. The author is so involved they forget the environment, the forest of people around her or him. The Other equally qualified partner and the staff of associates. Men and women of equal competence and numbers equal to the realistic level of sexism of the day, the era, in question. The good guys are the ones with staffs of female/male ratios equal to those graduating with the competencies required.

All of this assumes that citizens are free to decide their career paths, that women or men are not pressured into sciences or non-sciences parading as science – economics (sorry, economics is not science, it is philosophy), sociology, psychology, history, you know the kind, wannabe science. Only if choices are free, can a storyline be trusted.

[iii] By my (in)accurate count, I discovered about eight uses of Bolognium in Ringworld.

[iv] Bn on the Sci-Fi Periodic Table. It does not occur in nature. Bolognium is engaged by authors only to solve otherwise intractable difficulties. Has long shelf life and requires no refrigeration. Bn also has a pleasant deli aroma.

Source: Science Via Markets

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