I've always wondered this ... I recall fleeting references to the lack of a money system in TNG (something about abandoning the quest for material wealth), but was it ever explained why and how and when that came about? Is there a canonical explanation? And, what motivates them in that case -- why go to work if you're not getting paid and obviously, don't need to be paid because there's no money to buy anything? Were all the main races moneyless?
The best explanation comes from Picard in Star Trek: First Contact. He explains that in the future, humans have moved beyond the need to acquire goods and seek to better themselves.
Trip in ST:ENT also gives a good summary of how this came to be. After having made first contact with the Vulcans, humans realized that there was much more to the universe than themselves. Within 100 years, war and famine were resolved on Earth.
Also, Gene Roddenberry was most likely a communist. ;)
While Gene Roddenberry had a general idea of where he wanted to go with the Star Trek universe, most likely he did not feature commerce because he was interested in putting pure sci-fi stories on screen (think of some old episodes and how close they are to old pulp sci-fi). So in essence, (and to reconcile with Zypher's excellent answer), we could say that the Star Trek Universe is as much cashless/commerce-less as it is toilet-less (you never see the bathrooms). In other words, it's not.
However, (most) humans are not driven by the acquisition of goods. A look at some key moments of the timeline gives us a clue as to how this change comes about:
- 2026-2053: World War III - 600 million dead, many governments destroyed. By that point, we can assume most people were more concerned with day-to-day survival in a somewhat nuclear wasteland.
- 2063: Zefram Cochrane converts a nuclear missile into the first human-made warp-capable vessel, the Phoenix. Him going to warp speed attracts the attention of a nearby Vulcan ship, who come down and introduce themselves.
- 2151: The experimental ship Enterprise begins exploring space beyond the Solar system, after a century of rebuilding humanity, during which famine and war are eradicated. All under the watchful eye of Vulcans.
There was definitely a money system in the Star Trek Universe. It was a credit based system (heck even the monetary unit was called a Federation Credit).
You especially saw this in the DS-9 series where it played a more prominent role (as well as the Ferengi) in the store. Even today we are moving to this type of system with debit and credit cards, although cash is still a valid form of currency. Also, you should keep in mind that most of these series where set on Military vessels where there is much less need to have money at all.
Even though they were in a time of post scarcity there was still uses for money - which are outlined in the above mentioned wikipedia article.
These uses boil down to:
- A bartering tool between the United Federation of Planets and other governments
- A means of internal budget allocation in the United Federation of Planets
- A way for Federation citizens to barter for objects that cannot be replicated
"Star Trek's replicator technology nullifies....scarcity"
Not so. This conversation is a rite of passage for any Econ major. While many things would cease to be scarce, when you get down to brass tacks, a replicator is not nearly as disruptive as you might think.
First of all, the replicator needs power to operate, so everything associated with traditional energy generation has to still happen. Even if that is super-duper anti-matter power, someone is still having to design, create and manage that to some extent.
Second of all, someone has to be designing the intellectual property represented by the replicator patterns, ala Thingiverse. People might do small things for free, but something complicated like a phaser, for example, would require a significant outlay of time and effort, which are scarce.
Third of all, there are certain goods whose scarcity is utterly unaffected by all this, most of all real estate.
Fourth, all of human services which are non-manufacturing are still subject. Even if you can get a holographic doctor, what about artistic performances and works? Maybe robots come into play here, but as long as human beings are the customers, to a certain degree human beings are going to be providing the services. Historians? Teachers? Research scientists?
Fifth, clearly there are items which are beyond the scale of replication. DS9 was stuffed to the gills with cargo ships...presumably what the cargo ships are transporting is not replicatable, or at least not economically so.
Consider if you had a replicator right now, and could replicate any object. Irrespective of the market value of the object (replicating diamonds, for example), is there an object you could manufacture that could pay your rent / mortgage? Probably not.
The replicator would be a great boon and represent a tremendous increase in wealth for all society, but people would still have jobs, money and commerce.
It always seemed to me that it wasn't that the Federation had evolved beyond commerce, but that it was immensely, unimaginably wealthy. When you're immensely wealthy, you can pretend that you're beyond material concerns - when you're poor, it's clear to you that you're not.
I find the nonexistence (or nearly so) of money in stark contrast to the principle characters favorite pastime - poker. Its hard to imagine poker being the same game if the chips are just meaningless markers.
The psychology of pocker requires that one have significant "skin in the game". If it's just some meaningless chips that will be lost, rather than a months pay if your bluff is called, it is a lot easier to feign confidence. Sure, they have a theoretical understanding of money, but that isn't the same thing as the understanding of money of someone who struggles to pay the rent.
It is interesting to also note that in one of the movies (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home; aka the one with whales), Kirk states they have no use for money in the future.
I think what Gene meant was a "cashless society", in that all currency is virtual, rather than physical. Save for antiques still collected by collectors. Uhura had to buy her Tribble from Cyrano Jones with Federation Credits. Cyrano Jones was a merchant. Harcourt Fenton Mudd, was also into money. Ditto those miners that he delivered those mail-order brides to. Kirk also mentioned wealth in the Horta episode. Wealth was brought up again in that episode about the immortal that owned his own planet. Moving there though, cost him is immortality. There are lots of references to wealth, et cetera. Just no cash is ever shown until the Ferengi are brought into the equation. Oh let us not forget, that a Federation representative would need to visit that one planet to collect the Feds' piece of the action! The Ferengi's form of currency that they invented couldn't be replicated and thus counterfeited, namely that Gold-Pressed Latinum. EDIT: Remember when Captain Kirk talked to Scotty about "being fired" and "earning his pay" in that one episode? In one aspect, people that have a higher education, I suppose, would know about cash money anyway, as a part of their education. But if they aren't used to spending it, or seeing it, or having it, on a daily basis, why would they talk as if they still did? Also a point of interest, while the survivors of the Sleeper Ship Botany Bay didn't seem to have monetary concerns, the people from the Sleeper Ship Birdseye certainly did! Captain Picard had to inform the former rich man, than his bank accounts weren't accumulating any interest, the poor guy! I know that the episodes are in different centuries. My point here is, that after reading some more, I can see now that there are episodes that contradict each other on the point of whether or not money still exists in the 23rd Century and beyond.
I recall the concept of "transporter credits" (e.g. energy rationing) being brought up in one episode of DS9. Also, given that replicator technology essentially allows them to be a post-scarcity civilization, there is no need to purchase the basic necessities of human society - but that doesn't mean that the desire to do so is gone.
In our current society, money is a store of value which is independent from other material goods of value. From a highly macro perspective, its purpose is first and foremost to regulate access by individuals and other societal entities (like governments and corporations) to finite, valuable goods or services via a trade system. It is recognized by nearly all moral systems that you cannot simply take all you want; if everyone did that, the human race would have depleted Earth's resources a long time ago. The secondary purpose of currency is to store value in a portable form; a piece of paper with "100" written on it is far more portable and durable than most things $100 would buy.
However, money's not the only possible or even plausible system of regulating goods and services, or of storing value. Roddenberry proposed a system primarily based on goodwill; human thought had trancended beyond the petty need to garner wealth and instead had focused on bettering their species in the form of increased knowledge. That goodwill, in turn, leads to a "post-scarcity" economy; when the 7 billion people in this world no longer have to spend money on weapons to kill each other, a lot of time, money and talent becomes available to focus on improving life in general (medicine, food production, housing, climate, etc). In such a society, its members wouldn't have such primitive drives as greed.
Other systems have been implied in other series, especially in those where resources are scarcer than usual (Voyager) or where commerce with other races was more common than usual (DS9). Latinum (a material store of value similar to gold) and credits (some electronic store of value similar to the number representing your bank balance) are widely seen as a medium for trade while planetside or between races. Credits can also be seen at times as a synonym for "rations", as in "replicator credits" or "holodeck credits", regulating access to things that, while abundant, are still finite.
Obviously, other races in the Star Trek series are based on elements of human thought taken to their purest form, with commercial systems to match. The Vulcans value logic and reason so highly they repress all emotion to avoid polluting analysis and decision-making. In-canon, they were the main inspiration for humans to "evolve", and likely have similar abhorrence of greed and encouragement of "ideal communism" as we might call it.
The Klingons go almost completely the other way; barbarians appealing to their baser instincts, kept from pure totalitarian nihilism only by a strong sense of honor and family. It's generally implied that goods and services are generally produced, subsumed and disseminated from the top down in a Stalinist style, but with the strict honor code reining in the most egregious abuses of Stalin's Russia. Real-world, the Klingons were modeled on an amalgam of Asian cultures, primarily the Shogun Japanese and Communist Chinese.
The Romulans are modeled on the Roman Empire; a highly political system of government that can only survive as long as it can conquer and exploit new worlds and peoples. The Ferengi, obviously, are the uber-capitalists; the free market is a deity in itself, and coinage is EVERYWHERE in their society. The Cardassians in TNG and DS9 became the "new Romulans" after the Romulans themselves were backed away from pure conquest to give them more complexity of character.
The Dominion and their child races also have some Roman influence, but the Founders themselves borrow on the archetype of the super-being, so powerful that they have "outgrown" empathy for the sufferings of lesser creatures. Much like the Klingons, the system is top-down; everything proceeds from the Founders. Sometimes, these opposing races bring out the darker nature of humans; for instance, the Federation resorts to germ warfare (a disease custom-designed to disable and kill Founders) in an effort to end the Dominion War.
Ease of energy access, and near-infinite resource creation.
Monetary economies are traditionally driven by rarity of resources and the energy required to acquire and use them. With money being an indirect means of converting one resource into another.
Through advanced technology energy is so cheap it cannot be metered, and it can be used to create resources through replication and other advanced manufacturing and mining technologies. With neither energy or resources being rare and having value, there is no need for money, no need for barter, no need for trade.
Anyone can have almost anything.
The initial answer by Chris B. Behrens is spot on. Replicators would reduce much of what we would call economic scarcity, but it still takes energy to produce it, and skilled labor to maintain/fix it. And land obviously is and always will be finite, hence scarce.
I believe the Star Trek economy allows for a high standard of living for all citizens, because food, clothing, and replicated industrial material for shelter would be cheap to produce, if not free. However, you still will have those who earn less for various reasons, and those who earn more due to some highly prized unique talent or ability. You would still have poverty, but not the dire kind that too often plagues the world today. There would be real estate booms and busts, created by the scarcity of living space coupled with the high demand for it. I imaging 70-80% of income would go to land and energy use, as everything else would be essentially free/insanely cheap.
What would not change, and will never change, is human nature.
For those who might not be aware of it... Gene Roddenberry attended several seminars made by Jacque Fresco on Cybernation (as it was called back then). Today, it's been renamed into 'The Venus Project'... and the core of this project is called Resource Based Economy.
Essentially, it describes a transition into a moneyless society where currency, trade and any form of servitude do not exist. And before you dismiss it as a fantasy, bear in mind that RBE is based on technological automation - namely robots, machines and algorithms do all the dirty work, while Humans are liberated to pursue higher things.
All Humans would also be exposed to relevant general education, critical thinking and problem solving. The notions of property, governments, etc. no longer exist. Why? Well, when you live in a society that produces things on demand or has things ACCESSIBLE on demand, you have no need of ownership.
Our technology (in real world) surpassed this level around 40 years ago. It would take too long to go into all the intricate details, but suffice to say that Roddenberry based his idea of a moneyless Federation on Resource Based Economy.
Namely, you do not require infinite resources to have a post scarcity society. Look at it like this, Humanity today is producing enough crops to feed over 10 billion annually, and yet, a lot of this produce (over 40%) is discarded based solely on the fact that it's aesthetically unpleasing (otherwise there's nothing wrong with the food itself - its still nutritious/edible). Then, a lot of it goes to feed the animals (which is unnecessary because Human biology doesn't require animal protein to live or thrive - there's sufficient peer-review studies confirming this btw) and its effects on climate thanks to animal agriculture at large (producing enormous quantities of Methane that's even worse than CO2, and Methane emissions encompass a good chunk of climate change numbers).
At any rate, what you need to achieve post scarcity is abundance (or more than enough). And that we had the ability to do for decades. There is an enormous quantity of geothermal energy that can be harvested via 2 ways... volcanoes, and drilling deep in to the Earth (could have been done since the 1950-ies because we've been producing synthetic diamonds since then).
We also don't have issue with housing... there's more than enough to go around. In the USA alone, there's enough empty homes to house each homeless person about 6 times over. In the EU, there's enough housing to house each homeless individual 3 times over.
China built hundreds of new and empty cities in a span of mere 15 years.
We also have 3d printers that can build houses in about 24 hours, or half as much time.
Why did the Humans in Trek universe decide to go this route? Probably several factors: 1. WW3 - just look at what wars are doing to us in real life. 2. First Contact with the Vulcans.
I would surmise that Humanity decided it was time to clean up its act... and actually, it took them 50 years to eradicate war, poverty and diseases (per 2 statements coming from Deanna troi - once during TNG series and second time during First Contact movie - it was in the movie she actually stated the time frame).
Now, bear in mind that while the Federation does bear resemblence somewhat to RBE, it's not a fully realized RBE because it still has people in positions of power, leaders, prisons/'police', etc.
I would imagine that various vestiges of what exists in the current socio-economic system were retained for TNG because Roddenberry either didn't grasp the full concept of RBE and how it might work, or the writers simply wanted to keep things somewhat relateable - plus, Trek was a show made for American TV... showcased in a very much so Capitalist culture.
Plus, Trek had a lot of writers, many of which projected their ideas onto the Federation from current day (even though such things would simply not happen in such a society once you take into account epigenetics and neuroscience in play - but then again, many writers also didn't know about those things, and by rewatching a lot of TNG, I can see their ignorance showing - the information existed back then, though admittedly, it was probably harder to access due to lack of Internet at the time).
At any rate, the Federation in TNG represented a possible future where science and technology are used for the well-being of EVERYONE as well as protecting/preserving the planet, and where EVERYONE are exposed to relevant general education (becoming generalists), critical thinking (ability to question the information given to them, themselves, their own culture, background, etc.) and problem solving - such individuals would technically have 0 need for leaders or politics, and indeed as is dreadfully apparent from real life, politicians are NOT problem solvers (they are mainly trained in politics, not in the things Humanity and the planet need for survival, prosperity or sustainability).
Many people would argue that we do not have necessary knowledge or resources to solve our problems... but neither were a problem for a good portion of 100 years now - I can elaborate further and provide evidence for those who might be interested (from credible sources).
But bear in mind I'm using real life examples to showcase how the Federation could have accomplished what it did.
In actuality, what we saw in the 24th century Federation should have happened at least in the 23rd... by the 24th, it should have been far more hyper advanced, because scientific and technical progress occur at faster than exponential rates the more automation is being integrated and society becomes more technological and scientific as a result. Most people think in a linear fashion, and this is one of the reasons why it is a problem for them to think that we could easily transition into a moneyless society ourselves - they are stuck in the current mindset because it is the culture in which they grew up in and currently live in.
It seems to have been with the introduction of replicators, at least in Kirk's time they still seemed to have a credit system. In one episode, he asks Spock how much Starfleet has invested in their training & of course Spock gives him an exact number. And they have commerce-shops, traders like Cyrano Jones, also a black market for things like banned Romulan Ale, and an underground latinum-based economy. We've also seen in DS9 especially that despite Picard's words in First Contact, greed hasn't disappeared from human nature.
Also with replicators there's no material scarcity, but as someone mentioned there may be a scarcity of originality, of creativity in coming up with new products.