Owning stuff is soooo hard — Trekonomics 5 – by Amanda S. Green.
That sound you just heard was the sound of a book being planted against the far wall. I’ve managed to get through Shrillary’s rewriting of the 2016 election, Lenin’s pile of written excrement and more without doing so. Who knew something talking about Star Trek would be the first book I’ve thrown across the room in a very long time? I knew it was coming. From the first page of Manu Saadia’s Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek, it was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. I knew I should look away, but I couldn’t.
After spending time explaining that the Trek universe has capital but not money, Saadia reminds us that those wonderful replicators aren’t really owned by those who use them. You remember the replicators. They can make you anything you want, as long as it isn’t something unique like a piece of art or that last bottle of wine from the Picard winery. But they can make you clothing, food, pretty much anything else you want. But you don’t own it. Very subtly, we’ve learned the truth – the state owns it.
Guess what, that pretty much means the state owns whatever you create using the replicator. Not that Saadia is going to come right out and say it. After all, that’s not the point of indoctrination. You don’t tell the sheeple the unvarnished truth. You tell them the wonderfully enticing parts and let them discover the darker side of life on their own, when it’s too late for them to do anything about it.
[C]apital, whether in the form of tools or machines or in the form of education or talent, does not yield any exchangeable value.
What? Isn’t this the opposite of the example Saadia gave earlier about that last bottle of Picard wine? Wait. Here comes the handwavium where the goal posts get moved again. You know, if this keeps up, those posts will be better traveled than most of us.
Now Saadia clarifies – or maybe simply muddies the water some more. You see, we’re talking about replicators. People don’t use replicators to create things that can be used to drive their personal capital. Remember, these are the enlightened folks of the Federation. They don’t sully their hands with currency (mainly because they threw out canon and uplifted the Federation in the whale movie). But then, Saadia seems to contradict himself:
You do not derive any excess wealth from the ownership of your home replicator.
Take this statement out of the Trek universe, place it into something written by Bernie Sanders or Vladimir Lenin. Now ask yourself this: what is “excess wealth”? Further, now Saadia says you own the very same replicator he said mere paragraphs earlier that you didn’t own. Which is it?
Confusion and obscuring of facts are wonderful tools to pull the wool over the eyes of the unwitting.
But the writing in circles and moving of goal posts continues. You see, according to Saadia, if you lived on a faraway outpost and had the only industrial sized replicator (and again, after saying no one owned their replicators, he says you own and operate it – Gawd, I had inconsistency), you’d have no reason to charge anyone else on your faraway planet money for the use of your replicator. Why? Because there is no money.
So, what about charging “in kind” for its use?
Well, according to Saadia, you wouldn’t do that. It’s not the way things are done in the Federation. After all, they’re really nice people who are willing to do whatever it takes to improve the lot of everyone in the Federation. Remember, they’d even be volunteering for their turn in the dilithium mines because that spirit of community is soooo strong.
But here’s the kicker – and the proof that, despite his previous comments to the contrary, the state owns the replicators. According to Saadia if you did do something so crass as to demand payment in kind for the use of your replicator, you’d probably find the courts acting to take it away from you.
Your replicator, located on your property and that is under your control and used for you enjoyment and survival. But, if you dare tell your neighbor he can use it if he does something in return, you will see the court swooping in and taking it away from you. But what if your neighbor abuses the privilege – sorry, the right – to use your replicator? Are you still obligated to let him do so? My guess would be yes. After all, you are an uplifted member of the Federation. You aren’t worried about such silly things like ownership, control, personal freedom.
In fact, “private ownership of capital (the replicator) implies service more than anything else.” Your cost, according to Saadia, is only time. Of course, this is a simplistic version of the same sort of argument you get when unions go on strike for higher wages or activists start demanding a “living wage” of $15/hour. They say it will only cost the business owner. They don’t think about the fact those costs will be passed on to the customer and on down the line. The end result is that cost increase will increase the amount of money needed to make that so-called living wage. But that reality doesn’t fit the narrative. Reality rarely does.
But it gets better. Going back a paragraph in the book and you get Saadia’s argument for why you wouldn’t want to own the replicator anyway. After all, ownership would mean you would be responsible for its operation and maintenance. “You must use your knowledge, your capital, to maintain the contraption.” It is a “burden” to you and a “service” to the community.
What. The. Fuck?
Using that same argument, why does anyone want to own their own home? Hmm, maybe they don’t in the Trek universe. Maybe all housing is owned by the Federation. That means no one would have to worry about finding a plumber when the toilets back up, etc.
Remember when Saadia said a program about women going about their daily lives would be boring? Maybe now we have our answer about why we never really saw what happened on a daily basis inside the Federation. Talk about boring. No one is inspired to do anything creative. Why would they? No one is encouraged to use their replicators to form something new and distinctive.
I am reminded of being behind the Iron Curtain before the fall of the old Soviet Union. Block after block of boring, bland buildings. Men and women walking along the streets who were more automatons than humans. They were beaten down. There was little joy seen in public. They didn’t dare. It wasn’t what was expected or encouraged. They had money, but it had little value. Value came on the black market, something it seems the Federation doesn’t have. Creativity behind the Iron Curtain had to be approved of by the State. If not, you faced everything from being denounced to being imprisoned to worse. But, on the black market, you could buy and sell just about anything. It was how many found a way to survive. Smuggling was how works of art, of literature found their way out of the country and into areas where they could be made public.
At least those living behind the Iron Curtain had options. Those in the Federation, I’m not so sure. At least not as long as they remained in Stepfordland.
You see, in the Federation, your first requirement is that you act to better humanity. Then, you can figure out how to better yourself but only so long as that doesn’t run contrary to bettering humanity. Or, as Saadia puts it, “the biggest challenge for every Federation citizen resides in how to allocate his or her talents, time, and capacity for empathy, and how to best contribute to the common wealth.”
Which answers the unasked question of “if the state (Federation) owns your replicator, who owns what is made from it?” Common wealth. Service. Burden of ownership.
I don’t know about you, but I’m on Team Ferengi all the way. Hell, I might even ask for the occasional trade to the Klingons or even the Romulans. Life might be hard but it would never be boring and it pains me to say it but life in the Federation sounds like a lifelong snoozefest. Maybe being on a starship would help. After all, you do run across the occasional alien planet whose development you can influence despite the Prime Directive. But I have a feeling I’d be tempted to hijack the starship to get as far away from the Federation as possible.
I’ve had a blast reading and snarking this book. Well, I usually have had a blast. I’m not so sure looking at the mark on the wall where the book hit it this morning. But, other than a few variations on the same theme, there’s not a lot of new material. So, I’m going to finish this up over the next week or two. The new material is enough to keep me going and snarking. Since I’ve told Sarah I will not, never or ever, read anything written by Michelle Obama, I’m looking for the next book to snark. I will, however, return to Sowell first. I love me some Thomas Sowell writing.
Now to find coffee. It’s too early for booze – unfortunately.