What the “Trekonomics” Fantasy Gets Wrong About the Economics of the Future

Manu Saadia takes on Peter Thiel, as a proxy for Donald Trump, for saying that he prefers Star Wars over Star Trek because the setting is more capitalist.

There’s a lot of over-reading going on here, particularly because this all takes off from a short throwaway comment in an interview with Thiel where he comes across, frankly, as a pretty casual science fiction fan. It’s hard for people in the technology media to grasp, but not everyone is as obsessive about overanalyzing science fiction as we are.

Yet the author of this piece is an expert at such overanalysis, because he has written a whole book on “Trekonomics,” the economics of the fictional society in the Star Trek franchise. This strikes me as odd, because Star Trek is very conspicuously not about economics. Most installments of the franchise take place on government-run ships devoted to non-commercial endeavors like space exploration, diplomacy, and—more often than its creators would probably like to admit—war. We know that the fictional future of the Federation is fabulously prosperous and full of technological luxuries, but with the exception of a few vague references here and there (usually reflecting Gene Rodenberry’s woozy utopian liberalism) virtually all of the production and trade in that future society happens off screen.

Writing about economics in Star Trek is like writing about politics in Star Trek. We know the Federation isn’t a dictatorship, but we never see political media or any mentions of political parties or elections. The crew of the Enterprise doesn’t obsess over some future equivalent of Twitter, though that might just be proof that we are dealing with a more advanced civilization. We assume they must be active and engaged in politics, just not when the cameras are running, so to speak. And that’s fine. Politics and economics are not what the show is supposed to be about.

But a lot of people find this persistent over-reading of Star Trek irresistible. It’s their way of projecting into a seemingly realistic, benevolent form—by means of a franchise that it is familiar and well-loved—some persistent errors, myths, and fantasies about the economics of the future.

Read the rest at RealClearFuture.

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