My understanding of post-scarcity in the Star Trek world is that humans need not worry about their next meal. There will always be enough for the basic necessities. However, I do not think this extends to everything. My understanding of humans is that there will always be some of them who long to drive Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and live in huge mansions with servants to attend to them. A post-scarcity world can meet humans' basic needs but cannot change basic human nature, which is the desire to want more and more.

What if some humans want their own starship to play with? What if some humans want the most advanced holodeck at home for play? I doubt a post-scarcity economy can satisfy all of these "greedy" humans. Without money, how can these "greedy" humans be satisfied? Has the Star Trek economy declined into some kind of communist economy where no humans can aspire for luxury goods even if they are willing to work hard for it?

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    The throwbacks whose thirst for riches and conquest can't be slaked by holodeck adventures can be dropped off on one of the barbarous planets Kirk encountered, places that still revel in such things. The Federation isn't the only game in town.
    – Kyle Jones
    Apr 2, 2017 at 21:48
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    Actually, a true post-scarcity society can satisfy any need, including the extremely self-indulgent ones. Not posting an answer since I don't know enough of the Star Trek universe's take on post-scarcity but consider, for example, the Culture from Ian M. Bank's novels where humans can have essentially whatever their little hearts desire. And they still manage to be unhappy.
    – terdon
    Apr 3, 2017 at 9:19
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    When you take the whole of Star Trek together, I think what you have to conclude is that TNG is a period of time where the attitudes towards material things are much like Victorian attitudes towards sex. Human nature has not changed a lick, but people like Picard enforce a degree of shame about it. This is a projection of the flaws of Roddenberry, which actually makes Picard MORE interesting to me. Apr 3, 2017 at 16:17
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    I don't think the Star Trek universe has been consistent about whether they still have and use money. Kirk tells Checkov he's earned his pay for the week (TOS Who Mourns for Adonais), but he also tells Gillian that they don't have money in the future (ST IV: The Voyage Home). In context, either or both of those may have been a joke. Quark, who was always after gold pressed latinum, may not have been part of the Federation, but Harry Mudd was, and he was a "trader," which suggests an exchange economy, even if it's not based on money. Apr 3, 2017 at 21:39
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    NOTHING about the Star Trek economy makes any sense. They clearly and directly contradict themselves on the issue continually. Just don't think too much about it.
    – Shane
    Apr 4, 2017 at 19:13

12 Answers 12


If we take Picard at his word, the desire to accumulate "luxury" items is simply a thing of the past.

PICARD: That's what this is all about. A lot has changed in the past three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We've eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We have grown out of our infancy.

TNG: The Neutral Zone

Now admittedly, there will presumably be (mentally unwell) people who want things that can't be provided through replication or through public lottery. It's fair to assume that they would simply be told "Sorry, you can't have your own island" and given the contact details of a counsellor who can help them deal with their issues.

That being said, it would appear that humans do occasionally want things that have uniqueness value, in this case Jake wants to buy a present for his father at auction.

JAKE: Hey, watch it. There's nothing wrong with our philosophy. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.

NOG: What does that mean exactly?

JAKE: It means. It means we don't need money.

NOG: Well if you don't need money, then you certainly don't need mine.

DS9: In The Cards

It seems unlikely that Jake would slump into a deep depression if he didn't get it though.

  • 41
    Several decades of communism in Russia and China did not take away the desire for possessions from humans. Ferraris and personal jet-planes are still highly desired luxury items for the rich Russians and Chinese today after these countries emerge from communism. I don't see how advancement of technology can change human nature. Picard is wrong. Nevertheless, I upvoted your answer. I guess this is one instance where a Vulcan would find Star Trek illogical.
    – user486818
    Apr 2, 2017 at 10:30
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    I feel like this answer (while good) only touches the tip of the ice berg, and in particular, focuses on model/typical Starfleet personnel and their families. But I am quite certain that entire communities of humans with questionable morals (or at least reasonable greed) exist, in TOS/TNG at least (especially TOS) (and you've got e.g. the Maquis in DS9 too to some extent), especially in remote colonies, and I really wish I had enough time to do some research and post an answer today because I'm certain there's a lot of interesting stuff that can be found here and it's a great question.
    – Jason C
    Apr 2, 2017 at 15:33
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    @user486818 - Your comparison is nonsense. Comparing a post scarcity society to our flawed world, comparing decades to centuries, and missing the influence of aliens on human society. Picard is not (necessarily) wrong; you just can't accept it or don't want him to be right. Apr 2, 2017 at 18:43
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    @user486818 It doesn't matter wether you believe its possible. Its the correct, in-universe answer. Star Trek is somewhat idealistic in that regard, it shows a better society on purpose. A society thats imho worth of aspiration.
    – Polygnome
    Apr 3, 2017 at 8:54
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    @user486818, "Post-scarcity" is not the same thing as "communism". Communism is an economic theory about how to allocate scarce resources. Post-scarcity is about those resources not being scarce in the first place.
    – Mark
    Apr 3, 2017 at 22:49

There is definitely something behind your curiosity. In Nemesis, we have direct canon evidence that thrill-seeking behavior (a significant part of the Ferrari/Lamborghini driving you mention) has not been eliminated.


The Argo lands on the planet.... The rear cargo doors slide open and Picard, Data and Worf roar out on a 24th Century equivalent of a military jeep!

Picard drives, Data beside him. Worf stands in the back at a mounted phaser canon. It is a muscular, exciting vehicle; a Starfleet version of the jeep from old television series "The Rat Patrol."

Picard screeches to a stop. Data and Worf lurch. A cloud of dust momentarily obscures them. Data quickly monitors the positronic signatures with a tricorder:

The closest signature is two kilometers to the west... that direction, sir.

Thank you, Data. (he smiles) Let's see what she can do.

He roars off in a cloud of dust!

Picard Sir Patrick Stewart clearly enjoys driving. He roars over the desert terrain at breakneck speed, having a hell of a good time. His comrades don't exactly appreciate his free-spirited driving panache.

Worf clings on to the mounted phaser canon for dear life. Data steadies himself by grasping onto the rollbar

 I will always be baffled by the human predilection for piloting vehicles 
 at unsafe velocities.

Picard smiles and drives a little faster.

Source: Star Trek: Nemesis script, trimmed for relevance, superlatives emphasized.

So Picard is at least a little bit of a hypocrite – "We have grown out of our infancy." I wouldn't call his behavior infantile, but if an android is calling your piloting unsafe to your face, you aren't exactly following the safety regulations to the letter.

Picard also rode horses, another hobby that's only largely a luxury of the very wealthy today.

Also, Data's line reveals that this is not the first time he's observed thrill-seeking behavior. I don't recall anything Riker actually did during the series, but he seems the type. I do remember Jean-Luc doing some undercover archeology that could hardly be called dutiful.

As for what a poor human is to do without access to a StarFleet equivalent of a military "Rat Patrol" jeep we have to go a little deeper. The longest glimpses of human civilian life in the Federation come in Deep Space Nine, when Captain Sisko and Jake are visiting their patriarch Joseph Sisko on Earth. Grandpappy Sisko's life is depicted as a simple one: raising a family, running a cajun restaurant (he's the chef but also really the "owner", which is a hard concept to fully understand in a Federation without currency or barter), tending a garden, receiving artificial organs and occasionally being possessed by a wormhole alien/prophet. Joseph is portrayed as being perfectly happy with his life without want, secure in his home, safe from war and left free to enjoy his pursuit of cooking and cuisine. He doesn't pursue luxury goods or any possessions not needed for his restaurant. His only complaint is the distance and time spent away from his son and grandson.

These episodes (4x11-12, Homefront and Paradise Lost) are significant for showing the military power structure of the Federation. When threatened, many humans seem to revert to their baser instincts of control, power and abuse. Admiral Leyton uses the threat of the Dominion War, exaggerated by his own black flag operation using Red Squad to sabotage Earth's power grid, to try to establish martial law and essentially stage a coup de'tat.

The point of Star Trek isn't to depict humans as perfect or capable of being perfect. The role of humanity as a species in the series is to be the protagonist – the quintessential trait that the series focuses on is self improvement and striving to be better than we were, to do better than we have done.

Many of the races featured in the series serve as an allegorical antagonist, embodying a familiar human vice to stand in the way of human progress: for example, Ferengi greed, Klingon honor or bloodlust, Cardassian cruelty, Romulan secrecy and blackmail. But that doesn't stop the writers from including many tales about human failings as well:

As for satiating the baser desires of Federation citizens, there are holodecks, holobrothels (Quark and Lt. Barclay), holo-weapons-ranges (Quark again). If you seek adventure, you can live on a space station or join Starfleet. If it's a life of relaxation you want, live on Risa (admittedly, they make some fuss about Risa being a highly prized vacation spot that not everyone can make it to, but 1) that was the perspective of Federation officers who hardly have enforced leave policies and 2) they terraformed the place from a jungle earthquake zone; there have to be more naturally occurring paradises in the Milky Way, especially considering booming tropical tourism industry on present day earth). If you still desire worldly goods, get a small fusion reactor, a replicator and you're good to go! If you want to be more rustic, the same supplies let you homestead even on a deserted planet.

The point is, Star Trek repeats the point that the Federation is a post-scarcity utopia. The cannon makes a convincing display that Federation is capable of providing for the basic needs of most of its citizens, plus many things that today are luxury goods for the majority of its citizens. But just as the pursuit of worldly goods doesn't make people happy today, not everyone in the Federation is completely happy. You say "I doubt a post-scarcity economy can satisfy all of these "greedy" humans," but part of the disbelief the series asks us to suspend is that the Federation economy does exactly that for almost all of the "greedy" humans. But the shows and movies are rife with examples of how life is not perfect for everyone, and some humans do still remain unsatisfied. If that doesn't convince you that the show's basic premise is possible, well, it is fiction, and you're free to believe or disbelieve anything you like.

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    Thrill-seeking behaviours are interesting in they often train aspects of the individual that are useful in all sorts of situations (e.g. emergencies) and as such may be of use to Starfleet. Look at how outdoor pursuits are encouraged by modern miltaries even if not directly relevant to the miltary role, and there are better ways of getting fit. I'm not convinced a simulation, even one as sophisticated and immersive as a holodeck, could replicate all the pschycological aspects even if it could replicate the physical. But holodeck downhill mountain-biking would be neat
    – Chris H
    Apr 3, 2017 at 8:13
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    "So Picard is at least a little bit of a hypocrite – "We have grown out of our infancy." " Well, there are quite a few stages in between infancy and adulthood. He could have been implying that we're toddlers now.
    – Dan C
    Apr 3, 2017 at 14:23
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    In fact, the choice of infancy rather than childhood suggests that it was intentional that Picard was imagining the current state of humanity as still being a rather immature one, as @DanC suggests.
    – KRyan
    Apr 3, 2017 at 17:32
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    Ugh, Nemesis. Particularly the Argo scene. Yes, it's canon, but... ugh. A very bad representation of the characters. Out of universe, they put in the Argo scenes to entice in Patrick Stewart who loves off-roading and to have an excuse for an early action scene with a backwards facing phaser cannon only useful if you're running away which they conveniently do. Except for a few stunts, Patrick Stewart did all the driving. When "Picard" is smiling and having fun driving the Argo, that's not Picard, that's Patrick Stewart. TV Picard and Movie Picard are two different characters.
    – Schwern
    Apr 4, 2017 at 0:16
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    They did plenty of thrillseeking on the holodeck, and space exploration itself is just that. Apr 4, 2017 at 9:25

My understanding of humans is that there will always be some of them who long to drive Ferraris, Lamborghinis.

The key here is your choice of examples. You could have chosen cars that provide same (Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Evo) or even better (Ariel Atom) driving experience at lower price. But you did not. You've chosen cars that are expensive for the sake of being expensive, items which main purpose is to show off your wealth. The biggest point of a Ferrari is that most people can't have one. There is no inherent value in Ferrari other than being a living proof of your fitness (being economically successful enough to be able to afford one). You've basically applied scarcity-driven thinking to post-scarcity economy, the paradox was inevitable.

Humans don't want more and more just because we do. We want more, because we use those things to impress other humans, to position ourselves above others. Huge mansion and servants are merely a way to establish social hierarchy. It's not something that only humans do, it's something that all animals do, whenever it's alpha wolf who gets to eat first or the dominating monkey who gets all the grooming without giving any back. Money and wealth are merely yet another way of establishing such hierarchy. We've "invented" wealth once and there is no reason to believe that we would never invent something else to replace it. In fact, we already have many other ways of establishing hierarchy, like being the most popular kid in high school or chain of command. Nobody really cares if private drives a better car than general.

The world of Star Trek has ranks visible nearly everywhere, so that's the thing characters strive for. Not only in military, eg scientific and academia have pretty much same thing, they just don't wear pips.

What if some humans want their own starship to play with?

The have to earn it, just like we earn our Ferraris : )

What if some humans want the most advanced holodeck at home for play?

Ah, but things you keep at home can't be bragged about! Don't you see? Today you can have a pimped out computer with Oculus Rift which costs close to a used car. If you go for a car, you're the cool kid, but if you go for a computer, you're sad loser living in your mom's basement. Why? It's the society teaching you that things you can't ostensibly show off have no social value and you should not desire them.

  • You could show off that computer online and to visitors. And the Federation trades knowledge. Apr 4, 2017 at 9:33
  • Implying the human characters don't operate according to human psychology. Picard shows off stuff in his quarters. Apr 4, 2017 at 12:25
  • No. Your comment appears to imply that human psychology is completely separate from the fictional world of Star Trek. Apr 4, 2017 at 12:35
  • @CeesTimmerman What I meant is that part of my answer (about computer at home) applies to our world and human psychology in general, not just Star Trek world. In Star Trek everybody has "a" computer at home, much like today everybody has one in his phone.
    – Agent_L
    Apr 4, 2017 at 12:59
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    In a post scarcity society, joining Starfleet and 'making the grade' before 'becoming an officer' could well be one of the ultimate forms of 'status'. You've got something privileged and respected.
    – Sobrique
    Apr 4, 2017 at 16:55

They buy fanciful and luxurious stuff from other cultures (both alien and human) who still use money.

The Federation is a post-scarcity society where people work to better themselves, but the Federation isn't the whole universe. Money isn't generally used within the Federation, but it definitely still exists elsewhere.

People who want things the Federation can't provide (due to illegality, exclusivity, or just ridiculous opulence) look outside the Federation. Numerous other species and non-Federation human colonies trade in gold-pressed latinum and other currencies.

For example, the Ferengi Alliance is well known for their acquisition-driven economy. And the Orion Syndicate is a criminal organization at least partly run by humans which is involved in "gambling, racketeering, smuggling, piracy, slave-trading, extortion, and assassination" for profit. Free-traders such as Kivas Fajo have no problem doing business with Federation citizens (and the Federation itself) as long as they can pay.

The Federation doesn't have any laws preventing its citizens from acquiring profit or using it to buy luxury items; it merely obviates the need to do so by making life work without it.

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    +1 Orion Syndicate; there were low level human operatives as well e.g. Bilby.
    – Jason C
    Apr 3, 2017 at 1:56
  • While I love your answer, OP did refer to humans, the majority of which we can assume are part of The Federation.
    – Nate D
    Apr 4, 2017 at 0:10

I think it's worth converting my comment (which went unnoticed in other discussions) to answer to make you understand how technology, progress and trends can change thinking of entire civilization.

@user486818 No, Picard isn't wrong. We want Ferrari and private islands because we have grown up seeing how rich people live their lives. Why don't we want to have a cow (once upon a time, its possession was indication of powerful and rich people)? That's because it is easily available now and our celebrities aren't owning them. In 24th century, if what you call luxury is easily available and our celebrities' biggest possession on which people drool is achievement, why would you want what you call luxury now?

I also want to include @mtraceur's reply to me:

@ILoveYou I think this is a rather cogent and important point that seems to have gotten swept aside in the Soviet Communism-implementation-realities discussion: The "West Colony" Greenland Norse drove their entire colony into oblivion because cows specifically were so much of a status symbol vs other food sources orders of magnitude more sustainable in that environment, and yet I don't think I've ever once wanted to own a cow. So much of what we want is shaped by the world around us.

Now, I'd go even further: Your desireness of luxurious mansions, luxury cars, private jets, private islands etc is a part of your Pursuit of Happiness. You are in pursuit of happiness because you aren't 100% happy and easiest way of happiness is daydreaming and shopping. Research indicates that money indeed makes you happy but only until $75000 a year income. After that, you find happiness only with love, success, experience, curiosity satisfaction, spirituality etc. Rich people don't have a desireness for the luxurious lifestyle. They live it because it is presented to them and/or social show-off/superiority. You need to understand it deeply. Yes, rich people love speedy cars, but it's not the possession of car which makes them happy, it is the feeling of speed.

Now, jump to 24th century: In 24th century, everyone is rich in a sense because they can have everything a $75000 a year guy can purchase, thanks to replicator. Social show-off/superiority based on material/luxury possession should be gone because of a different cultural trend. Talking about mansions and private islands, they look great in the beginning, but after some time all mundane. Ordinary people can enjoy better with 2 week of vacation on a Caribbean island and even not that if you have an open possibility of Vulcan tourism (don't forget Holodeck). Touring different locations entire year is way better than living in a mansion or private island.

In the end, let's be honest: Greed can't be removed. But, I am saying nature of greed itself is influenced by technology, progress etc. For example, today a teenager is greedy to get best smartphone. Can you say the same for a teenager from 90s. In 24th century, one can be greedy to take place of Picard. Okay. Work hard and you can achieve that. Remember, everything isn't given to you.

What if I want to own a starship? You can't. So live with it. Your reasoning that in money world, rich people don't need to compromise is wrong. You are Bill Gates and you want to rule US as monarch or you want to have private military. You can't. Live with it.

The point is: No system can guarantee 100% satisfaction to all. But, non-money Star Trek system is far better on satisfaction scale of majority than that of today's money system.

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    This is interesting commentary on the nature of greed that does not seem to attempt to address how humans in Star Trek satisfy their desires. It may make an excellent blog entry, however. Not to mention that you're responding to comments that were moved to chat for a reason.
    – Jason C
    Apr 3, 2017 at 1:58
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    The mention of the replicator is an interesting asset to the Star Trek universe. The device essentially levels the greed playing field and therefore only the psychotic would get into ridiculous one-upmanship battles with anyone else where "you replicated that so I will too." Captain Janeway's staunch stance on not sharing the technology with the Kazon, which led to the near destruction of her crew multiple times, was rather counterproductive. It would have been far better to let the Kazon have the tech to pacify that race. But a peaceful 70+ year journey wouldn't have made for good TV. Apr 3, 2017 at 2:35
  • @CubicleSoft, if a Starfleet Captain wasn't willing to burn ship and crew to preserve a principle then they wouldn't be a true Starfleet Captain.
    – Separatrix
    Apr 3, 2017 at 8:16
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    Excellent answer! Apr 3, 2017 at 16:44
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    +1 This does answer the question, by saying that those desires take on a different form, and how they are then satisfied. Think it's the best one I've read so far, actually.
    – DCShannon
    Apr 3, 2017 at 21:49

I've always found the myth of a post-scarcity society in Star Trek to be one of Trek's great shortcomings. Roddenberry invented a nearly perfect society where the core problems have all been solved. How bad was it? Wil Wheaton hates his most naive line from TNG

I'm with Starfleet. We don't lie.

Post-scarcity AND post-character-flaws!

Ronald Moore even had it out with Roddenberry over the non-money issue

By the time I joined TNG, Gene had decreed that money most emphatically did NOT exist in the Federation, nor did 'credits' and that was that. Personally, I've always felt this was a bunch of hooey, but it was one of the rules and that's that.

Scarcity DOES exist in the Trek universe. There's two reasons for scarcity

  1. It's been deemed illegal
  2. You can't make more of it on demand (either it's just naturally rare or hard to manufacture)

In both cases, you'll have some sort of currency arise to fuel a market (black or otherwise). The Ferengi settled on gold pressed latinum, but bartering and/or stealing (in the absence of valued currency) also happens.

  1. Romulan Ale - It's illegal (probably due to the ongoing conflict with the Romulans) and is not replicatable for that reason. It's never stated how it comes to be procured, but the stuff seems readily available despite its scarcity.
  2. Data - Being only one of three Soong-type androids in existance, his scarcity lead Kevas Fajo to kidnap Data in a highly elaborate (and expensive) scheme. Attempts at replicating Data, even by Data himself, all fail.
  3. Thomas Harewood sells out Starfleet to save his daughter in Star Trek: Into Darkness. He destroys an archive in London at the behest of Khan, whose blood can apparently do god-like things (not an exaggeration, sadly). Mind you, the girl was getting the best medical treatment at the time (and presumably free), but it wasn't enough.
  4. The Barzans discover what appears to be a stable wormhole and proceed to auction exclusive rights off. The Federation was prepared to pay 1.5 million Federation Credits for it.

In short, scarcity is not something you can escape, especially in fiction. Scarcity is a common source of conflict in any story (see the MacGuffin). As such, you'll have people who want it just because it's rare and there will always be a need to value to that.

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    Trek's society was meant to be aspirational. It wasn't meant to look realistic. They had a black woman working alongside a bunch of white guys like it was no thing back when most people thought women belonged at home and a year before the "Segregation Forever" presidential candidate won 5 states. Much of it only looks reasonable now because we changed to match it.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 3, 2017 at 14:40
  • @T.E.D. Stories in the 60s tended to be much simpler anyways. The predominant genre of the time was the Western ("Space, the final frontier...") and stories tended to be much more about morality. Removing money was a simple story mechanism. But Roddenberry doubled down on it for TNG, where it was harder to justify. Slowly it eroded away for the sake of stories because if there's no way to set a price of something (i.e. bidding on wormhole rights) then the story suffers "Let us use the wormhole for the good of everyone!" "Uh, no thanks. We'd rather be rich"
    – Machavity
    Apr 3, 2017 at 14:50
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    Of course, you could have had a bid for the wormhole by letting the others offer other scarce resources, but it would not only raise comparison problems, it simple neglects what big advantage money was for trade. Oh well, and the importance of trade for mankind in general. So much that trade barriers are used as sanctions against countries…
    – Holger
    Apr 3, 2017 at 16:26
  • This is a nice criticism of the system, but it doesn't seem to actually answer the question that was asked.
    – DCShannon
    Apr 3, 2017 at 21:46
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    @J Doe: it’s great that we live in countries where water is given for free in restaurants, but that surely doesn’t apply to all countries of our world. And having free water in our countries work, because we have strict laws forbidding, e.g. to throw poisonous substances into the rivers, not a matter of course in all countries. Guess, which in countries you have to pay if you want clean water… And well, since the topic is Star Trek, on spaceships, water and air are scarce and unbelievably expensive resources. Post-scarcity? Where? Not on Earth, not in space.
    – Holger
    Apr 5, 2017 at 12:37

There is no point in accumulating things, as they can be replicated on-demand.

Today already, if I had the desire to drive a luxury car, I would go to the next rental place and drive that car until I get bored of it, then bring it back. It makes no sense for me to own that car, because then I have to find a place to store it, make sure it is regularly moved so the motor doesn't seize up, etc.

That it's nonsensical for me to own that car is dependent on the rental business however. If that didn't exist, the only way for me to drive this car would be to buy and maintain it.

At the same time, the value of owning such a car has also decreased, as it no longer serves as a status symbol, because I can get one for a day at a fraction of the cost of owning it, and no one would really be able to tell the difference.

Basically, if you'd run around the Star Trek universe wearing gold chains, people would wonder why you'd carry around stuff you don't need.

  • What cost? There's no money in the Federation.
    – T.J.L.
    Apr 3, 2017 at 6:32
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    Time. There is no way for me to pay someone else to take care of my belongings, so I need to do so myself. Other people have ample free time, I need to make sure my car doesn't rust. Apr 3, 2017 at 7:13
  • I think what ST lacks to make the "no money" thing really stick is more androids/robots. Automation combined with unlimited energy means no more need for human service. Add in holodecks for pleasurable activity and relaxation, and replication for material goods and food/water, and no human time for "work" is required at all.
    – TVann
    Apr 5, 2017 at 20:58

I think you are underestimating the capabilities of a society that can call itself post-scarcity. You want the latest holodeck model? Done. Want a space yacht? Done. Raw materials are abundant in asteroids and easily mined once you have space ships. Power is abundant from all their hyper advanced technobabble reactors. Replicators make more replicators to increase industrial capacity to infinity. Colonization and space habitats increase living space to infinity. Everyone who wants a space mansion with a space Ferrari can have one. You can even have the servants if you're willing to take the risk of your holoprograms having a glitch and trying to kill you.

There would remain things which are scarce, like hand crafted art or real estate on Earth or other important planets. Since they don't have money, they would need secondary systems to distribute these goods, whether that is barter, heritage, or prestige. Anyone can go set up a vineyard on some under-populated world in the Federation, but only Picard's family has the connections, history, or accomplishments to get the rights to enough land to run one on Earth itself. But these are exceptions rather than something that comes up on a daily basis.

Really, the typical setting we see in actual Star Trek shows is atypical for the Federation. They are a ship or station often on the frontier with limited supply, which creates an inherent scarcity of space and resources not shared by people living within Federation space.


Consider Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Physical stuff is all at the bottom. A society which has accumulated so much wealth that no one has to think about food and shelter, may have a less physical view of luxury. If you think of luxury merely as conspicuous consumption, it becomes difficult. But if you think of it as "things we don't require for daily living, but enjoy having" then luxury simply becomes more internal. Maybe Roddenberry was right to suppose that a sufficiently rich society will tend toward self-improvement, because that's the only thing you'll never find on a store shelf.


I'd argue that in addition to living in a post-scarcity world, humanity discovering the existence of multiple alien civilizations in the Galaxy, all accessible by FTL starships, would minimize humanity's desire to acquire "fanciful and luxurious stuff".

Rather, most people would prefer to travel, experience alien cultures & visit alien worlds. And being wealthy & owning lots of stuff is no longer an impressive trait when attracting a mate in a Utopian society like the Federation. Instead, having rank in Star Fleet, or unique talents, or acquiring renown as a scientist, for example, would be considered more attractive qualities. For example, Dr. Manheim's wife, Jenice, in "We'll Always Have Paris" was deeply attracted to her husband, enough to live on a remote planetoid in the Vandor system.

Having said that, examining the possessions and furnishings in the quarters of Star Fleet officers and citizens depicted in the movies and TV series, we do see some valuables, which tend to fall into three categories:

1) Antiques from pre-Contact Earth history (Captain Sisko's baseball, Captain Picard's books, Picard's brother's vineyards & winepress), or

2) A rare object obtained from an alien species or distant world (Romulan ale, Riker's horga'hn, Picard's Third Dynasty Kurlan naiskos, Worf's bat'leth).

3) Finally, just as in the modern era, works of art, even if produced on Earth during the 23rd or 24th century (see examples on Memory Alpha of numerous paintings and statues).


It's important to note that Star Trek almost always displays life on a starship, with conforms to regulations, and shows an almost naive viewpoint on the Federation.

However, there are some notable exceptions:

Kirk and his human command crew were fond of Romulan Ale, which at the time was illegal in the Federation, and continued to be into Picard's time. Yet this didn't stop them obtaining it on several occasions. One could surmise from this, that there were other banned substances/items which could be acquired through less than legal channels.

It should also be noted, that the current human psyche is shaped by a world in which trade and money are a core part of society. In short, we cannot completely imagine a world in which money is no longer needed, as some trade between entities will always be required.


The "utopian" society of the Star Trek university, is, at it's core, a socialist community, where the needs of citizens are met to an incredibly high standard by the government (particularly on Earth), and indeed, at least on paper, Marxist communism would have worked in Russia, but only if the vast majority believe in it, much like Communist China today. But even there, this is a movement of money amongst the populace. In such a society, as Arthur C Clarke wrote, "there are always those who will be more equal than others", i.e. Those in power will, to aggrandise themselves, obtain items which cannot be procured by the general population, in order to increase perceived status within society. These people have such strong control over the law and other elements of government, that they can essentially do whatever they want, within some form of limits.

Picard, however, posits that Mankind has outgrown these impulses, and for the vast majority, this may well be true, but as has been observed, there are plenty of people in the universe who are unscrupulous, and by the standards of the time, social deviants. They tend to live on the fringes, in self imposed exile.


It is also a misconception when they say there is no money in the 23rd century. It is true that there is no money, but it false to say that there is no currency. The federation runs on a resource based economy, with that resource being energy (due to being able to replicate most things easily, via an advanced energy based 3D printer, essentially). Energy is not free, and must be generated by releasing what is stored in matter, as a raw fuel. that matter is usually deuterium (easy enough to obtain), and anti-matter (ridiculously difficult to produce in large quantities). There will also be more complex goods that cannot be replicated easily, such as produce from other cultures, and it is these products that must be traded for, with some form of cross culture currency.

That currency seems to be gold-pressed latinum (probably some kind of gold/platinum alloy), though there would certainly be other hard to get materials that different cultures would prize.


All this aside, when one considers that in this post scarcity society, money is no longer required to by goods (at least, between Federation citizens), and with much manufacturing performed by robotics, and given that everyone's material needs, as mentioned before, provided to a very high standard, there would be no need for jobs, in the traditional sense, so there would be a great deal of freedom for people to do pretty much whatever they want.

In such an environment, many people would turn to hobbies, and turn them into lifelong passions. For example, Ben Sisko's father runs a restaurant. Not because he has to, but because he wants to. Many would become artists, musicians, philosophers, inventors. Many others, seeking a life of duty and meaning would join Starfleet, or the Federation government, and others seeking a challenge might go to the colonies, where life is harder, or become a trader, or leave the Federation altogether. Such a society is not just post-scarcity, but post-consumerism.

The point being that in such a society, what is classed as "luxury" is very likely to be vastly different from what we think of today. Luxury items of today, are items which are rare, exotic, expensive, or unique. In the 23rd century, expensive is a non issue for the most part, unless you want your own galaxy class starship, which most people would simply laugh at. That leaves, rare/exotic, and unique. Rare and exotic items can still be obtained, but by less than usual, or possibly illegal channels, and unique could simply be a handmade item, or a work of art in a museum. So, I would surmise that either they obtain it legally, through the use of contacts, and "favours", or illegally, via theft.

  • Just a minor point: the Federation do power their starships via matter/anti-matter energy releases, but that's not the only way things are powered. Another common power generator are fusion reactors, which are found on in all sorts of places, including starships like the Enterprise-D and Voyager. This makes anti-matter less of a bottleneck from a currency perspective since there are other avenues to generating energy. It just so happens that high-performance warp drives have energy requirements that anti-matter reactions can fulfill.
    – Ellesedil
    Apr 4, 2017 at 19:42
  • A fair point, but as you said, a minor one. Even fusion reactors require matter as fuel, though that is likely to be hydrogen, which, given that we have several large planets in our system with hydrogen atmospheres is not likely to be a massive problem.
    – Ian Young
    Apr 4, 2017 at 20:35

I suggest reading The Economics of Star Trek: The Proto-Post Scarcity Economy by Rick Webb. In the article, Webb covers the concept of The Federation not quite being entirely post-scarcity.

There is absolutely, obviously, still private property in the Federation: most obviously Joseph Sisko’s restaurant in New Orleans and Chateau Picard, evidencing that not just small possessions are allowed but that the land itself is still privately owned.

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