40

I don't believe post-scarcity in Star Trek world means EVERYTHING imaginable on earth is in abundance. I believe post-scarcity means that humans need not worry about their livelihoods even if they choose to become lazy parasites. It does not mean that ALL lazy parasites can live like kings and queens.

In this sense, what are some things which are scarce in Star Trek?

  • 22
    Human connection, for one. Not many people will be great friends with a lazy parasite who gets hot pockets from a replicator all the time. Land is probably scarce, I expect most people would have trouble getting a few acres to themselves. – Charles_F Apr 13 '17 at 5:17
  • 66
    Seatbelts. Even military can't afford them. – PTwr Apr 13 '17 at 11:23
  • 8
    There's a misconception in your question. In a post-scarcity world, no one is parasitic. Are we parasitic when we don't pay for the air we breathe? Furthermore, because there's no money, even the idea of payment doesn't really exist any more. – J Doe Apr 13 '17 at 17:01
  • 10
    Dilithium crystals seem to always be in short supply. – Dunk Apr 13 '17 at 18:19
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    @Charles_F, Land is probably scarce, I expect most people would have trouble getting a few acres to themselves. — are we talking about same universe where one-per-planet federation colonies with population like a dozen are common thing? – user28434 Apr 14 '17 at 12:11

15 Answers 15

66

Rare items

Anything that can't be replicated. Vintage items for example are a status symbol as seen with Kivas Fajo.

"Kivas Fajo... a noted collector of rare and valuable objects, including the Rejac Crystal, The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh, the Lawmim Galactopedia, the Moliam Andi tapestries..."

"Computer, that is sufficient."

"Rare and valuable object..."

"What if...Data wasn't on that shuttle?"

Space, ironically

While space itself is huge it is also almost completely empty. Worlds to live in are rare enough so that the federation runs terraforming projects on some worlds to access more living space. The desire to do so is there through all series and even a major plot point in The Wrath of Khan and to a lesser degree in the Search for Spock. Even in the 24th century, terraforming was still an issue as seen in Home Soil. They were still putting in decades of their time to create livable planets.

Infrastructure

Regarding that infrastructure is needed to run all those fancy things like replicators, transporters, starships etc. It is very much a scarce resource because it needs to be maintained to function properly. During a staged terrorist attack / attempted coup, it became clear how reliant people within the United Federation of Planets are on a working infrastructure.

Time

More metaphorically speaking, time might be the most scarce commodity in the federation.

While almost anything can be produced, engineered and replicated, people still struggle with time available to them like Soran. Picard on the other hand then pointed out in the epiloge

"Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives, but I'd rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment... because they'll never come again."

  • 28
    I'd note that Gold-pressed Latinum can't be replicated, so there may be other materials that can't be. – PointlessSpike Apr 13 '17 at 9:26
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    Even for items that CAN be replicated, I seem to recall a few episodes where someone was seen cherishing a particular item simply because this one was not replicated, but was an "original." (ie: bottles of wine and what-not) – Steve-O Apr 13 '17 at 13:46
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    Yes, there are two key substances that are at least implied to not be replicable: latinum, and dilithium. Gold, per se, can be replicated (or it wouldn't be so commonly used in, say, combadges), but latinum, it's implied, cannot. – Michael Scott Shappe Apr 13 '17 at 22:07
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    Given that Kivas wasn't a Federation citizen, I think a better example of "rare items" would be James Kirk and his fascination with antiques - books, wall decorations, the reading glasses he got for his birthday, etc. – Omegacron Apr 14 '17 at 17:15
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    @MichaelScottShappe - Quark specifically says that gold is useless in the 24th Century. They only coat Latinum with it for protection - that way the gold gets scratched up and you're not losing precious milligrams of Latinum with each scratch or dent. I can only assume they don't use a harder metal because the gold is also easy to remove. – Omegacron Apr 14 '17 at 17:16
35

Careers

There are only so many Federation Starships, so there are only so many people who get to be Starship Captains. It's clear from several episodes that career advancement is of great concern to many Starfleet Officers, and there is competition for the top jobs (for example, Shelby explicitly tells Riker in "Best of Both Worlds" that he is "in her way" and she is after his job).

  • 5
    One could expand that to social status in general. – Jay Kominek Apr 14 '17 at 19:12
17

Illegal Items

Romulan Ale, for instance, is scarce because of the ongoing embargo with the Romulan Empire, thus making the item illegal. Even in TNG, with replication technology abundant, it's not a replicatable item for that reason.

  • 3
    Actually that's not the reason you couldn't replicate it. The replicator won't replicate real alcohol, only synthehol. But you're right that if that weren't the case you still couldn't because it's potentially dangerous to drink. – PointlessSpike Apr 13 '17 at 14:27
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    @PointlessSpike Data says of Romulan Ale in an episode I am afraid they would require the molecular structure of the beverage in question. And, as you are no doubt aware, our knowledge of your planet is quite limited.. We know Romulan Ale was available in some fashion in the Federation (Star Trek VI) so they clearly could get the molecular structure. It's unclear if Data is just dodging the question or toeing the official line. – Machavity Apr 13 '17 at 14:36
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    @PointlessSpike: The replicator can optionally be configured to generate real alcohol, according to season 2's Up the Long Ladder. I think Voyager had an episode where someone used the replicator for the real thing, too. – indiv Apr 13 '17 at 20:55
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    There's cannot, and "not legal to", which are entirely different things. You cannot replicate latinum. We're not told why, but it just doesn't work. It is against regulations to replicate real alcohol aboard a starship and serve it to on-duty personnel. – Michael Scott Shappe Apr 14 '17 at 17:21
  • 1
    @RobertColumbia- It is. – PointlessSpike Apr 18 '17 at 6:23
13

Latinum

According to Memory Alpha, the online Star Trek Encyclopedia:

Latinum is a rare silver-colored liquid that was used as currency by the Ferengi Alliance and many other worlds. It could not be replicated. For ease of transaction, liquid latinum was usually suspended within "worthless" gold as a binding medium to produce gold-pressed latinum.


Denominations of gold-pressed latinum, in order of increasing value, included the slip, the strip, the bar, and the brick/

Latinum is mentioned frequently as a currency or desirable item in many of the episodes of DS9 and TNG featuring Quark or the Ferengi. For specific episodes, see the footnotes on the Memory Alpha page.

Bricks of Latnium mixed with gold

9

Your present day perception is that in a post-scarcity society, people have unlimited opportunity to "live like kings and queens" while being lazy parasites. So what is this "living like kings and queens," and why would it amuse 24th century humans? Would they find the same sort of novelty in a golden throne, a golden scepter, a velvet robe, etc. that you do? Only ironic novelty, because those items are worthless and impractical. Would they have a courtroom full of servants? They are past the point of humans serving other humans in exchange for money. Would it matter whether their diet was primarily the inexpensive ramen or lavish caviar? Though you place great importance on the difference in these items' value, to them it makes no difference. In other words, living like kings and queens is not a thing to them. They don't get the pleasure that you would expect them to from replicating a bunch of gold and diamonds and champagne.

As Captain Picard explained, with their need for material things eliminated, a 24th century human's motivation in life is to learn, create, explore, make art, make scientific advancement, and contribute to the common good. If a person is doing none of these things and they have no material needs, you assume that they will be utterly fulfilled, but in actuality, they would be quite empty, and most would eventually circle back to pursuing these things.

7

Experiences

Think about the sorts of things that people do on vacation—tourism, camping, going to performances, etc. We do these things because they are new to us and different from our "daily grind". In a world where there is no "daily grind", people will spend lots more time doing these things. There's probably an unlimited supply of them in aggregate, but any one of them is unique, and you can only get to a finite number of them in your life. You can only see the view from the top of a mountain from the top of that mountain, you can only hear the Thrashing Gnoberts live at a Thrashing Gnoberts concert. Holodeck technology makes it possible for more people to have any given unique experience—you don't have to travel in person to each planet to see its landscapes or wildlife or whatever—but there's still going to be demand for new such experiences, and there will probably also be people who insist that it's not as good as being there in person.

For instance, one of the movies opens with Kirk free-climbing El Capitan while on vacation, and in DS9 we see Bashir and O'Brien spend much of their free time in the holosuites re-enacting various historical battles.

Artworks

Art can be replicated exactly, can't it? We already have art that can be replicated exactly: books, musical recordings, that sort of thing. There is still tremendous demand for new artworks. Only C. J. Cherryh can write C. J. Cherryh novels (picking an author at random); once you have read everything she has already published, you have to wait for her to write another novel. That won't ever change. Post-scarcity just means that artists don't have to worry about getting paid for their works; the present situation, where sharing electronic copies of something is ethically questionable, evaporates.

For instance, in DS9, Jake Sisko pursues a career as a writer.

6

One that I'll briefly chime in to add to the already good answers:

Interstellar Space Travel Itself

It's pretty clear from every depiction of civilian life on Earth (or anywhere in the Federation that I can recollect, really)that not every individual person or family has a shuttlecraft just sitting on a pad outside their domicile that they can just grab and take to the ends of the Federation. Beaming from one place to another on the same planet might be super-easy (lets assume it is, for everyone), with little or no conflicting demands for use of transporters, but warp-capable shuttles and other vessels clearly still require enough resources and facilities to build and maintain that they aren't ubiquitous, even for the absurdly fortunate citizens of the "paradise" that Earth has become by the era that TNG & DS9 occur. And we know from numerous mentions that scheduled, collective interstellar transports are standard ways of getting to or from different points in the Federation. That alone, if it applies to transit to or from Earth, necessitates the existence of some kind of mechanisms to constrain how and when individuals can use interstellar-capable craft and where they can go. Even if they are pretty loosely limiting mechanisms--Credits that you get some periodic allotment of, and can earn more of by doing some things?-- compared to the money-based systems that we know.

5

Competence.

People who can do their jobs correctly, under less-than-ideal conditions, can't be replicated.

Leadership

People who can lead competently are even rarer still.

Other Human Virtues

Humility being the chief of these. It seems like every time I tune in to an episode, some highly-placed official of the Federation lets his/her/its position go to his/her/its head, and either issues a directive or sets out on a course of action that is blockheadedly stupid, and who is deaf to all argument that this is the case.

3

I don't know if this counts but I remember the episode of ST:TNG called Firstborn.

Riker offered Anjoran bio mimetic gel for some ore from a Yridian. It sounded like it was valuable to the Yridian.

  • 1
    biomimetic gel is a controlled substance, per the DS9 episode where Bashir is assaulted by the telepathic alien. – fectin Apr 14 '17 at 19:50
3

Every form of Star Trek is space opera laced with utopian fantasy. There have been some concessions to reality in the form of gold-foil unobtanium but even that tends to appear in contexts that make it clear that the enlightened post-scarcity military are superior to the grubbers who soil themselves chasing filthy lucre.

If the point of the question is to wonder about how society would actually develop under these conditions, the rare things that actual beings would chase would be

Control

of other sentient lifeforms, whether through coercion, influence over information channels, or influential commentary and speculation. The people who openly pursue this end are generally the Star Trek villains, although the hierarchical structure and power of Star Fleet cause some to question whether Kirk and Picard's lectures are self-serving or -deluded justification of an astrostratocracy.

Attention

ranging from selfie-obsessed philanthropists to Jackassesque tomfoolery to self-mutilating shock artists to MIT technopranking to mansluts checking off every sentient lifeform in the galaxy to gangbangs with the entire male population of some species to that-guy-who-killed-John-Lennon-style infamy seeking. When this appears in episodes, it's usually as a comic relief subplot lampooning present-day culture... but in a true post-scarcity economy the cultural landscape would be wall-to-wall with people clamoring for attention... and generally getting it with far more lowbrow, violent, and societally destructive forms than Star Trek deigns to contemplate.

Affection

from one or many or all of society is going to be the driving force for most people. Star Trek supposes this would be accomplished by learning, creation, exploration, and scientific advancement but in reality very few people would learn much outside their career and hobbies with easy access to Ultragoogle; there are only so many ashtrays any family needs and an unutterably small community who controls which art attains cachet and respect; exploration is the prerogative of the military; and cutting-edge (and therefore dangerous) science likewise. Most people would just compete for status within their social circles and demonstrate desirability through having achieved attention and through devotion, either personal or to cults designed by people seeking the first goal I mentioned.

But it's the nature of Star Trek that the inherent dynamics of these drives aren't worked out on their own terms but just act as foils to show the superiority of the writers' philosopher kings.

2

Services - work that requires human knowledge and physical effort. Including the design and construction of new things.

Also: Things that can't be replicated. And things that could be replicated, but are known to have never been.

George O. Smith (no, not "Doc" Smith. This is another golden-age sf writer named Smith) explored some of this question in the later stories of the "Venus Equilateral" series. The gang had invented a replicator, pretty much as good as Trek's. And without a non-copyable form of currency, the economy suddenly collapsed. Suddenly everyone could have all the material things they could want, for pennies on the dollar prices. Including dollars. And twenty-dollar gold pieces. And high-value rare watches. And...

But all of those things had to be copies of things already existing. As one of his characters pointed out, suppose a new type of tech was developed, and you wanted a new gadget that exploited it? Well, someone has to design and test a prototype. Any of the engineers in the VE stories could build a prototype - and it would work very well - but it wouldn't necessarily be something you'd be proud to show to your friends. So someone else has to design an attractive and functional and durable enclosure. Someone else has to build the prototype of that. Etc., etc., etc.

Now how will that effort be paid for, when the value of so many material things has fallen through the floor?

Conversely, who's going to remove your gall bladder, should that become necessary? And how will you pay them... when anything you have, they could replicate for themselves? Or buy from a "repli-factory" for pennies? Presuming anyone wanted pennies.

Answer: You'll have to trade some service you can do, for the service they can do. A gall bladder removal's worth of washed cars and polished floors...

Or something far more mundane: If you want someone to clean your house or wash your car, how will you pay them? I suppose you could just replicate a new (clean) car or a new house, but we have to assume the tech doesn't scale forever; you can't just plop a new house where your current one is and you can't replicate spaces for houses to be. And there should be an energy cost, at least.

As the writers of the "Ferengi" did, the gang of heroes in VE came up with the spiritual ancestor of gold-pressed latinum, which could not be replicated (it exploded violently when under the "scanning beam"). So at least now they could make currency with it, a medium of exchange.

But there's still the problem of what work you can do to earn some of it so you have it to spend. It has to be work that can't be replaced by cheap replication. That rules out most work that involves manufacturing things. Yes, there is the work of creating new things... but there's not that much of that to be done. (Sorry, but George O. Smith never addressed this problem fully.)

One other nice idea in the stories was the concept of "certified uniques" - things that are known to never have been replicated. There might be more than one of something, as today there are, for example, more than one of some rare comic book or baseball card in existence. In the post-scarcity society, since things that have been replicated are damn everywhere, there is no longer any status in owning, say, a Tag Heuer Monte Carlo, or an Apollo-era Omega Speedmaster, or an original Babe Ruth baseball card.

But in contrast, "certified uniques" became even more valued than they were post-replicator. And since replicating them would destroy their value (both monetary and sentimental), the owners were motivated to not let that happen.

0

Scarcity

A lot of people are happy because there are people who have less than they do. (I don't mean poverty; more like "I have a better TV than they do".) Post-scarcity might eliminate that, which would make those people unhappy.

  • 1
    Not exactly. There are titles and ranks. Not everyone can be promoted to Captains or Admirals. However, I see most humans would rather play games in the Holodeck than work hard and take risks in dangerous Starfleet missions. – user486818 Apr 17 '17 at 8:34
-1

Location, Location, Location...

One thing no one has mentioned yet - Desirable locations for housing etc. Even if you can easily replicate the required materials for building any sort of house (or office, or manufacturing plant), there are only a limited number of good locations. With transporter technology, that may not be a big deal for manufacturing, but if you want a house in a nice location with a scenic view and/or decent sized surrounding grounds, then there's a finite supply of available real estate.

  • Given the ease of communing, the ready availability of land, lowered population and the existence of transporters, it strikes me that there should be no shortage of desirable locations. If you work in San Francisco but can commute from Uzbekistan, des-res takes on a whole different meaning. – Valorum Apr 16 '17 at 20:11
-1

As far as we know, nothing is limitless and that includes space. That alone creates the urge for some to have more of the 'pie'. It doesn't really matter how big the pie is as long as there is the sense that others might have more. Aside from that, there are also intangible needs for love, knowledge, nostalgia, status, power, etc.

  • There is a difference between "not limitless" and "scarce". The question asks what things are scarce. – Blackwood Apr 17 '17 at 12:43
-2

Spiritual Development

Here in the current century quantum physics is proving many "new-age" beliefs as true, and the list grows each day. Yet outside of the Vulcans and Bajorans, few have any spiritual practices, and those that exist are fairly primitive (basic meditation, etc.) How can the exploration of Outer Space have advanced so far, yet the exploration of INNER space has barely moved the needle? Not to say any of this would make for good TV, but since the question was asked.

EDIT OK, for those of you down-voting this answer, I think you are thinking too much like an engineer and over looking a few things.

First, there is a big difference between "Religion" and "Spirituality", Religion = man made rules, Spirituality = Personal growth towards Universal concepts.

Second, history is littered with examples of times where societies have discarded faith in spiritual laws in favor of faith in science/technology. Descartes (the "father of western medicine") asked the Pope permission to could dissect dead bodies so he didnt end up like his buddy Galileo. The Pope told him "You can, but stick with the physical aspects, we'll take care of the Spiritual". That is why there is such a divide between holistic practices and "traditional" western medicine, despite many studies proving a similar success rate across all modalities, including faith healing. No such divide exist in most Eastern Cultures, where practitioners treat the whole patient, body and soul, together. This is just one example.

It's also a tendency of humankind to NOT turn towards their "God(s)" until they are in times of extreme stress or need. Not having to work for a living and having replicators take care of most of your physical needs kinda takes care of at least the bottom 2 levels (the biggest) of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Lets not even talk about the advances in medical science that contribute to extended life expectancy.

History gives us plenty of examples, the Star Trek Universe takes these concepts to extremes. Why else, with so much extra time available, would so few choose to develop their inner selves?

So whether it's by societal standards that teach "Science will solve all your problems", a lack of Mentors and Guides or personal choice not to consider "Why am I here?", Spiritual Development is my answer and I'm sticking with it.

  • 1
    How can Spiritual Development be scarce, tho? It's not a commodity with limiting factors like a good or a service is. It's like saying that belief in Santa Claus is scarce. I don't see how this answers the question. – Machavity Apr 13 '17 at 17:41
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    @Machavity - Maybe I should've said Spiritual Leadership or Resources? – Darkloki Apr 13 '17 at 17:54
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    Beliefs are not commodities or scarce. Perhaps the availability of land for various places of worship might be scarce, or competing religions might lay claim to the same plot of land. Also, quantum physics is abused by many peddlers of 'new-age' beliefs to claim that they are true, but quantum physics often is unrelated to said belief. – Dranon Apr 13 '17 at 18:16
  • 1
    And I would argue that story arc of Deep Space Nine was deeply spiritual... – user11521 Apr 13 '17 at 20:17
  • 1
    Michael, the topic is about scarcity on Earth specifically. Religion is virtually nonexistent on Earth in Star Trek. Yes, it is ubiquitous on certain other planets, but that is not entirely on-topic. Having said that, I agree with Machavity that religious beliefs are not a scarce resource or even a resource of any kind. They are a choice from within, and your opportunity to make that choice is completely without limits. – John Apr 13 '17 at 21:10

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