Monday, April 25, 2005

Star Trek economics

Please check part two for more on Star Trek economics.

I have always enjoyed "Star Trek" immensely, with the exception of "Enterprise", which I greatly dislike even down to the theme music. I still must smile, though, at the inconsistencies of the Federation's economics. Without money, without prices, Mises would question how the Federation could make any rational economic decisions -- from what textile to use for uniforms to how many starships and of what class.

In the Eastern Time Zone, Spike TV has been broadcasting two episodes of DS9 at midday, then two TNG afterward. The second one today, "Shakaar", is one of my favorites. It really elicits hate for Kai Winn (admirably played by Louise Fletcher), but it also has underlying themes of economics and personal liberty. DS9 is my favorite of the Trek series, in part because its portrayal of life is more realistic. The episodes are character-driven like the original series, but there are none of the silly utopian elements of TNG. There are Bajoran farmers trying to make a living, Ferengi capitalists interested in profit, and real warfare with real political intrigue.

"Shakaar" begins with Major Kira and Odo worrying about Kai Winn, a dangerous plotting woman (who reminds me of Hillary Clinton) looking to become First Minister in the upcoming elections. Kai Winn made a surprise visit to the station, asking Major Kira to go to a particular farming community on behalf of the Bajoran provisional government. The Bajoran government had lent a couple of its soil reclamators to some farmers, among whom is Shakaar (the former leader of Kira's resistance cell during the Cardassian occupation, and her future love interest). The government wanted the reclamators back, because it could put them to better use in a farming project elsewhere.

Shakaar refused to give them up, because the Bajoran government had (apparently) agreed to let them have the reclamators for a certain amount of time. Kira tried to explain that the other province could grow more crops with the reclamators, and that Bajor could start exporting crops. This is very true. The same resources elsewhere could produce far more crops, and Bajor could export those. Trade them for things that Bajor could not make as easily. Shakaar refused, wondering how Kira could talk about exports when the Bajorans still needed to worry about feeding themselves. But he missed the point of trade. As Ed Leamer once testified before the U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission, American companies like Microsoft and Boeing provide cheap textiles and plastic toys for Americans. How? Well, they create other things that we trade to other nations, who can produce cheap textiles and plastics, but not computer software and aircraft.

This brings up something sticky, that the farmers are relying on the government to provide him with the means to make a living. But Bajor was recovering from years of Cardassian occupation, and it's possible that the Federation and others had given reclamators and other equipment to the Bajorans to help with reconstruction. The equipment would have been given to the provisional government, whose bureaucrats would decide which provinces would get what equipment.

Shakaar was wrong about trade, but he was right about the only thing that really matters: freedom. The government had made a deal and had no right to repossess the reclamator, even if it was for the "greater good." Kai Winn said to Sisko that Shakaar was "defying the law," then exploded, "This isn't about soil reclamators. This is about the future of our society!" Like so many central planners, like rulers with a "vision," Winn felt that she knew best for her people, that she alone knew how to guide them to prosperity. This necessarily means that anyone opposing her idea of "progress" is a criminal. In fact, all Shakaar wanted was that the Bajoran government stick to the terms under which it lent the equipment to the farmers -- the rule of law, not of men. Shakaar did "resist arrest," it is true, but he was merely resisting unlawful arrest when he had committed no crime.

Recall the Patrick Henry quote that I put on the right side: "You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your government." Without liberty, without the freedom to live your own life so long as you do no harm to others, prosperity and national prominence are meaningless.


Blogger Quincy said...

TNG and beyond (Enterprise excepted) present a pretty interesting question, namely what happens to economics when almost all resources are essentially limitless?

Few resources are scare in the Trek universe, such as dilithium and latinum. Of course, labor would also be scarce, which brings up the question of how to compensate people for their labor when most resources are ubiquitous and consequently of little value.

Something to think about...

Tuesday, April 26, 2005 2:44:00 AM  
Blogger outbackqueen said...

It sometimes frustrates me how people in todays times can still have such a negative outlook on humanity... if everyone thought "gee? if we all tried a little harder and smiled a bit more we wouldn't have as many problems"

Now I know this might seem a utopian idea and I know there are many injustices in the world but all of us need to start having better outlook on OUR race as humans.

Its just a matter of changing current ways of thinking from ME ME ME to....

OUR, WE and US

Sunday, May 24, 2009 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Perry Eidelbus said...

OBQ, did you actually have a point? What "negative outlook" are you referring to?

In the story, smiling wouldn't have gotten Shakaar very far, now would it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009 11:26:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home