Brainy Quote of the Day

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Tea, Earl Grey...

The above actually (or, a version of it) occurred 1st on the show:

Picard tries to explain to Ralph Offenhouse from the 20th century that there would be no need for his law firm any longer: "A lot has changed in three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of 'things'. We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions." (TNG: "The Neutral Zone")
Then, reiterated on the big screen:

When Lily Sloane asked how much the USS Enterprise-E cost to build, Picard tells her "The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn't exist in the 24th century... The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of Humanity." (Star Trek: "First Contact"), see: Memory Alpha - Money

At these two lines - somewhat sappy sentiments, really - my conspiracy theorist fellow engineering coworker went into overdrive. It was Austin, Texas and he listened religiously to a certain overweight bloviating local talk show host was then [as he nauseatingly is now via the Internet mostly] on AM radio. I got a lot of rapid fire, staccato Communist-Socialist-New World Order ramblings that left me rather deer-in-the-headlights-dazed and amazed he bothered to memorize all the talking point non-techno-babble. I briefly thought about suggesting we go out to lunch, and maneuvering him towards a blood pressure machine. If you've seen his particular radio muse rant and rave, my friend was a pretty close clone, and closer to bursting a blood vessel on his forehead! I knew his systolic and diastolic readings had to be impressively BAD! It was really hard keeping a straight face.

First observation: Mr. Ralph Offenhouse was fashioned as a general prick in the spirit of a few contemporary billionaire bad examples that apparently instead of being content with swimming in their loot like Scrooge McDuck want to control everything about human choice and existence in the 21st century, especially over alternative energy options (they'd outlaw a Dyson Sphere if it were ever developed; in Star Trek: Federation, Warp Drive was initially opposed by the powerful - you can't rule those who choose to go off-world). Ralph went to great personal expense in the standard economy we all know intimately now to survive his own mortality, and like a good 1%-er, he wanted his lawyer's law firm (its descendant partners, really) to tell him what his returns would be 300 years hence! Can't say I'm sad he's disappointed.

Then I found this term: post-scarcity economy. It means "an alternative form of economics or social engineering in which goods, services and information are universally accessible." [Wikipedia] Essentially, a give economy of non-anal retentive hominids that aren't comparing their bank accounts like boy scouts compare penis lengths at jamborees (not much difference, really). On the Kardashev Scale, that would mean control of some impressive energies and violation of significant physics concepts: mass-to-energy conversion at a whim (E=mc2); making the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle "certain" to get (as I've joked many times): "tea, Earl!" It would also require cooperation politically and socially on a scale we've never seen before in our species, as everyone in their part of the planet thinks "their way" is the only way, and everyone else everywhere else are existentially Martians! There are profound changes in the economy due to technology - robotics, for example has eliminated many jobs that used to require human intervention on an assembly line. Now it requires at least humans with the technical skills to repair them when they inevitably break down. As we advance, we will have to give some consideration to what "work" means and how to pursue it.

In the 24th century, humanity would have some cultural memory of life before Warp, specifically their memories of WWIII and flirting with the apocalypse. Like most cultural groups that have gone through dreadful shared histories - the African Diaspora; the Holocaust - the group says collectively "never again." The group in this fictional case is the human species itself. With that near-miss on mass extinction, there would be motivation to do something radically different than previous economic formulations (sorry Ralph). Their life spans essentially doubling suggests universal healthcare (and low stress since the premise is people work because they want to, not because they have to - see replicator below); their comfort with technology points to an education system (like their health system) devoid of our current political machinations.

So, after reading several theses on the subject (some of them mentioning it outright, see "Related Links" below), I settled on the only thing that made sense from a physics standpoint as a "Federation Credit" in a 24th century economy: a Joule, unlike Bitcoin, actually based on the following physics definition.

Joule (pronounced like "jewel") is a measure of work, defined as force exerted over a defined distance, units: Newton-meter. Dividing by a unit of time (second) and you get a Joule/second = a Watt, or measure of power. For the electrical buffs out there: it's one ampere of current passed through a resistance of one ohm for one second.

It makes sense in this regard: infants and toddlers probably wouldn't get much credit (other than being cute) since they can't do too much in the way of work. Dependent on your occupation and contribution to society, you'd get more Fed Joule creds in your account. It would increase proportionately if you say, discovered a new invention, won the Nobel Prize or solved a crisis on a distant planet. Your creds would then increase and due to the Deus ex machina transporter-replicator-thingy. You could trade it on replicated clothing, Earl Grey Tea, food, furniture or on worlds that still had a banking system - like the Ferengi. As you age - 120 years for the average 24th century human is kind of getting up there - your credits would diminish proportionately. It coincides with Leonard McCoy's complaint in the Star Trek reboot in '09:

"Taking the whole planet in the divorce" suggests a one-way exchange of currency (sounds like it was not in Bones' favor).

So can we say the [now former] Mrs. McCoy "had him by the Joules"? Leonard was obviously "Fed-street-cred-deficient"; "broke" in a society supposedly without what we consider money.

I hope my former coworker reads this, stops listening to AM talk radio; learns to laugh at life a little and calms down hopefully quite a bit...

Related Links: Debt: The First 5,000 Years, David Graeber
Author site: Capital in the 21st Century, Thomas Piketty
Bernd Schneider's Star Trek Site: The Economy of the Federation
Rick Webb: The Economics of Star Trek - The Proto-Post Scarcity Society
Slate: Star Trek Economy - (Mostly) Post-Scarcity; (Mostly) Socialism
TED: Conversations - Implementing a Star Trek Economy
Wikipedia: United Federation of Planets - Economics

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