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I realize that this is a very broad question, with the stories told in the Star Trek universe spanning hundreds of years.

I sometimes hear of economists talking about a theoretical "Star Trek economy" in the future. The central feature of this is that in the future, the fundamental things we need for survival are no longer scarce.

Therefore, I would like to know what every day economics and commerce are like for ordinary people, as opposed to Starfleet and political elites.

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    Those economists need a reality check. Scarcity might be reduced for certain things due to 3d printing and similar, but power (electricity) is notoriously difficult to store long-term in significant amounts, and raw material must still be obtained somehow. Both of these are still issues even in Star Trek when far from friendly space. – Izkata Sep 18 '14 at 4:01
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    @Izkata - well, theoretically, room-temperature superconductors might solve the power storage. Plus there's the "get the energy from sunlight in orbit and beam down" thing that might get feasible at some point. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 18 '14 at 11:04
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    Most likely, the answer will be "it varies depending on your source". Roddenberry party line was that it was utopian communism, without any economics thought behind that assertion (by comparison, Harry Potter economy detail looks like a candidate for Nobel Prize). Latter sources deviate from that to one degree or another. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 18 '14 at 11:06
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    basicly we have the creator of star trek saying their was no monetary system in the federation, yet no explanation, then we have writers of the show include different systems such as the credit, lattium( for the ferangies) and others. something ive been thinking of that would work for a utopian society is that every person gets X "credits" a day that does not carry over to the next day, in this way they can get food, clothes ect. everyone gets the same amount, this keeps everyone even, without some people abusing the "free" system. kind of like ww2 were you got coupons for food, oil, tires,ect – Himarm Sep 18 '14 at 13:08
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The Federation is a society with nearly free and nearly limitless available energy, and there is replicator technology that can turn rough feedstocks and energy into food, clothing, tools and other basic necessities. The technology is available to all, so the base standard of living of everyone is very high by our standards.

At the same time, there are things that a replicator cannot make, and there are things that are scarce by their very nature. There is only one Sword of Kahless. If I have it and you want it, then the usual rules of scarcity-based economies apply, up to and including theft and bloodshed if we can't agree on an exchange. Not everyone can have Starfleet training (not enough academies, not enough instructors). Not everyone can command a starship. Not everyone can marry Seven of Nine. For those things people compete, just as now.

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    And I'll speculate that the Star Trek economy coupled with the mind blowing discovery of multiple alien civilizations accessible by an FTL warp drive would completely change many people's outlook on work and life. The old 20th century goals of becoming a CEO, doctor, lawyer, etc., joining the rat race and getting filthy rich would seem trite compared to the glory & wonder of joining Starfleet. – RobertF Apr 22 '16 at 4:13
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This is not an area which has been explored extensively in any of the canon Star Trek sources. Non-governmental entities are scarce in the series, with almost all episodes focused on Starfleet (gov't. military) or the Federation (civilian government). There is not a clear picture of what ordinary (or any) civilian life is like, nor much of an underlying ideology beyond what seems like "it's the future and we've solved many of our problems".

Money itself is not really mentioned much until DS9, where gambling and circulation of gold-pressed latinum (sp?) implies at least some sort of system of supply and demand.

Usage of replicators seems to indicate that many items, especially food are available free or cheaply, but perhaps this is only the case in areas in which the show took place.

Picard's family had a very nice country chalet, and Riker owned a cabin in the woods of Alaska. Such possessions, if indeed they were privately owned, demonstrate that such properties have not been confiscated through a socialization program, and their relative exclusivity would also appear to indicate that different levels of wealth or income are present in the ST universe.

One possible thesis is that mass-automation of everything via replicators powered by renewable energy sources has created a world with possibly high unemployment (e.g. few private enterprises are seen), but where free time is more abundant, and basic needs are provided for.

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    I wrote an answer to a similar question here: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/1151/…. One thing I'd add since we're talking about real estate in particular is that cheap transporter technology would tend to smooth out the value of real estate, just like cars did. – Chris B. Behrens Sep 18 '14 at 15:02
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    If we exclude the possibility of Riker's Alaskan cabin being a hologram, Alaska, though large, is not infinite. In other words, Alaskan cabins are a limited resource that must have been allocated to him on some basis - through purchase, as a right of rank or whatever. – DaveP Sep 18 '14 at 15:59
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    @DaveP - but not everyone would want a cabin in Alaska specifically--depending on the population of the Earth, there might be enough space for all people who want one to have small cabins or other dwellings in rural areas. The surface area of all land on Earth is about 150 billion square kilometers according to the info here, and currently forests cover around 30 percent of all land area according to the Forest wiki page, but it might be significantly more in a future with less need for farmland. – Hypnosifl Sep 18 '14 at 18:07
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    @DaveP: It's also possible that Earth's population in the 23rd century is substantially reduced from its current size. There are mentions of various wars and catastrophes throughout the various series (the only way I could imagine a united Earth government even forming is through distaster so bleak that the only way for anyone to survive was for everyone to unite). – John Bode Sep 18 '14 at 18:58
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    @JohnBode United Earth took almost 90 years for all countries to join; the catalyst was first contact with the Vulcans – Izkata Sep 19 '14 at 0:30
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Ok so here's an answer. You kind of have to deal with the idea of currency. Just because food isn't scarce because of replicators doesn't mean that people don't have other desires. Can a person just sit around all day, do nothing, eat, not work, travel, stay where they want, etc? Clearly the Picard's OWN a vineyard as you'll see below, Kirk owns a home as you'll also see below, anyway read on and maybe it'll clear things up a bit.

Currency is still alive and well, sort of. Clearly Roddenberry wanted it gone. So let's start with there's no currency.

Ronald D. Moore commented: "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." (AOL chat, 1997)

As Moore commented, it's a bunch of hooey. How do people get the things they need? How is it decided who gets the biggest house, apartment, etc. Who gets the oceanside view? Can a person just travel around for free, stay where they want, eat what they want, never work, etc? It makes no sense.

Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, screenwriters of Star Trek, said in a question-and-answer session with fans that "there's money, or some kind of credit system" in the alternate reality. [http://trekmovie.com/2009/05/22/orci-and-kurtzman-reveal-star-trek-details-in-trekmovie-fan-qa/][1]

So you see more screenwriters above stating that there's something but don't want to contradict Roddenberry's ideal dream.

Below are examples to in various shows to show that there's some form of currency.

Kirk said to Picard: "This is my house, I sold it years ago." inside the Nexus, referring directly to the sale of his former home. (Star Trek Generations)

If Kirk sold his house there must have been some form of currency, credit, or something.

When preparing to fight the Klingons on Organia, Kirk said "Well, the Federation has spent a lot of money on our training..." (TOS: "Errand of Mercy")

Above could be just a manner of speech, but it also could be referring to resources, credits, something like money.

Cyrano Jones told Lieutenant Nyota Uhura that "a tribble is the only love that money can buy." (TOS: "The Trouble with Tribbles")

As I recall he sold Tribbles to Federation officers so they must have had some form of currency to pay him.

The Bank of Bolias was a major financial institution. Bolarus IX is a Federation member planet, that apparently has a market economy. (DS9: "Starship Down", "Who Mourns for Morn?")

Above is an actual Federation member that clearly has a financial institution and some sort of market economy.

DS9 "Explorers":

SISKO: I remember, Jake, I wasn't much older than you when I left for San Francisco to go to Starfleet Academy. For the first few days, I was so homesick that I'd go back to my house in New Orleans every night for dinner. I'd materialise in my living room at six thirty every night and take my seat at the table just like I had come down the stairs.

JAKE: You must have used up a month's worth of transporter credits.

I just watched this episode. It was clear from the episode that Sisko was speaking of actual credits of some sort.

In 2373, Quark indirectly caused damage to a cargo bay. Quark was informed that he would have to bear the cost burden for the repairs. (DS9: "Business as Usual")

So there's a cost involved. They also charged rent on the station, although I'm not sure if that went to the Federation or Bajor.

On numerous occasions, Starfleet officers have gambled to win latinum at Quark's Bar, including Julian Bashir, William Riker, Jadzia Dax.

DS9 "The Darkness and The Light":

DAX: I didn't lose that much.

WORF: Two bars of latinum. I hope you have it.

DAX: I have it. Most of it. Worf?

WORF: No.

DAX: Fine. I'll borrow it from Quark. He likes me.

WORF: Major Kira's friend is ready for transport. Quark may lend you the money, but remember Rule of Acquisition number one hundred and eleven. Treat people in your debt like family, exploit them.

DAX: You know the Rules of Acquisition?

WORF: I am a graduate of Starfleet Academy. I know many things.

So we see from the above dialogue several things. One the art of betting is alive and well in the Federation. Two is that Starfleet officers understand the concept of money. The third thing is that both Dax and Worf keep currency around and have a way of acquiring it. Fourth and final is that it can be inferred from Worfs last comment that Starfleet Academy actually teaches the Rules of Acquisition or at least some class is offered that explains that concept.

On Voyager they start using Replicator Rations as a form of currency.

And of course the Picard family vineyards and wine making business. Does his brother give away the wine for free? How does he get the land and the equipment to have vineyards and make wine?

To recap Roddenberry didn't want currency, credits, or any of that stuff around, he had this ideal universe he wanted. But...his writers believed that was impossible and unrealistic. They wouldn't go against him directly. There's clearly examples and allusions to various forms of currency and credits in the Star Trek Universe.

So my answer would be that there is still some form of credits and currency going on. People have desires, even if there's replicated food. If you want a bottle of Picard Wine you're going to probably have to trade something for it. If you want to travel someplace and stay at a hotel there's probably a cost involved. Somebody has to run the establishments, fix technological issues, etc. Very few people would work if everything was free and you could do whatever you want, so who would fix the replicators? Where would replacement parts come from? What about power sources? What about all of the industries involved to provide all of those things? Roddenberry wanted to do away with currency all together, but it wasn't realistic. So life is probably like it is today just a lot easier for everyone because of technological advances.

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I think within the context of Starfleet and the more developed parts of the Federation resources are managed more by "soft laws" than a system of commerce. You could produce endless doughnuts from a replicator until an authority figure came along and dragged you off to therapy where they would "cure" you of your neurosis. Accommodation and transport are assigned to people based upon their needs, if you start collecting vehicles or fortifying a position the authorities will come and drag you off to therapy. If you do anything to upset the Federation's utopian society they'll politely take you aside to be brainwashed, everybody knows this, nobody opposes it, that's just how the Federation works, there's no arguing with the results.

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    Are you just speculating or can you provide source(s) which indicate that this is what happens? – Null Apr 22 '16 at 3:23
  • Speculating, there's the abundance of general security personnel and we don't see much of the Federation being out of Starfleet's direct sphere of influence, although that could be because much of the show revolves around the lives of Starfleet officers. It also fits with the Federation being more "culturally advanced" than our present day society where rather than treating criminal behaviour as a neurosis to be cured we focus on law enforcement and punishing those who break the law. – Cognisant Apr 22 '16 at 3:40

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