Star Trek’s Pseudo-Economics

A fan convention dedicated to comics, graphic novels, anime, manga, video games, toys, movies, and television is not the place you’d expect to find a panel on economic theory. But economists and geeks joined forces at the recent New York Comic Con to discuss “Trekonomics,” the economics of Star Trek.

One of the major issues was whether the Trek universe is one of “post-scarcity,” and the implications the popular science fiction franchise poses for traditional economic theory.

The participants seemed confused about the role scarcity plays in economic theory.

A Scarcity of Sense

At one point in the panel, the moderator Felix Salmon asked economist Brad DeLong, “What is post-scarcity?”

DeLong answered:

Gene Roddenberry tried to paint our future by saying: “Wait a minute! What’s going to happen in three centuries? In three centuries we are going to have replicators. Anything material, gastronomic that we want… we are going to have. What kinds of people will we be then and how will we live?”

We are quite far on that transition already.…

Right now … here in the United States what used to be the principal occupation of the human race — farming — is at satiation.… We have about three times as many people in our medical and health-support professions working to try and offset the effects of excessive calories as we do growing calories and nutrients. Thus we are now rapidly approaching a post-scarcity economy.

And it is not just for food. If you go and look at containers coming in from China, we are approaching it with respect to things physically made via manufacturing processes as well. And that’s one of the things Star Trek is about.

It is…