The law and economics of Star Trek

Several “Star Trek scholars”–including Matthew Yglesias, Rick Webb, and Joshua Gans–have recently speculated about the economics of Star Trek. How does the economy (and legal system, we would add) work in the world of Star Trek? Does the United Federation of Planets have a socialist system, a market economy, or some other hybrid model? Also, what law applies to interplanetary disputes within the federation? Does each planet have its own legal system, or is there a uniform legal code for the entire federation?

Double hat tip: Tyler Cowen, Joshua Gans

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3 Responses to The law and economics of Star Trek

  1. Jonathan Morris says:

    This is something that absolutely dumbfounded me over the years of watching The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and Voyager. I’ve heard numerous times during the course of all the series that the Federation has no currency, but then how the hell are the Starfleet officers buying drinks at Quarks bar on Deep Space 9? I’ve done some research (yes, believe it), apparently when the Federation deals with non member planets they pay them in “Federation credits.” I can only imagine that these credits would be backed up by ‘Unobtanium’ like how our dollars were once backed by gold.

    The second question I think is pretty easy. Think of it like the United States. Each member planet is a different state having to comply with the Federation code (the Constitution) but they are able to have their own legal system and government that complies with that code like each state has to comply with the constitution.

    In fact I heard there was a big case headed up to the Federation High Court about whether or not Captain Janeway can dismiss on a forum non conveniens motion because the only other acceptable forum is the Klingon home world. The only way they decide things over there is trial by combat, she thinks it’s unfair but hey who are we to judge their legal system.

  2. Jordan Bernstein says:

    The economic themes in Star Trek are pretty interesting when you actually think about how they were written into the plots of all the series, but especially the original series. At face value the show appears as merely imaginative entertainment, but if you consider the time frame of its creation and ts creator (Gene Roddenberry) I think there’s a bit more than meets the eye. Later in his life Gene Roddenberry commented on how the show was not only meant to entertain, but to express taboo social and political ideologies through parallelisms. Roddenberry was a humanist as well as an agnostic, the latter not necessarily widely socially acceptable at the time, but both common elements of socialism. However, considering how in the early 1960’s the mere mention of anything socialist was considered blasphemous beyond belief, it also labeled you a communist and in turn an enemy of America. I think Roddenberry used the outrageousness of the show combined with glamour of Hollywood to subtlety express progressive and taboo ideas that would otherwise be out of the question in the 1960’s. One episode that comes to mind from the original series is the episode of a half black faced half white faced alien being pursued by a half white faced half blacked faced alien for some trumped up charge. Through the episode it comes out that it is based on a prejudicial belief the the one being chased (half black half white face) alien is of a race of the aliens that are inherently bad from the statements by the pursuer (half white half black face) alien. The episode ends with the pursuer coming to the realization that it does not matter if the left side of you is black or white and visa versa, but that they’re all equal b/c they’re of the same world. Its basically a message of not only civil rights, but also socialist theme of no separation and no class system. Lastly, to conclude on this point, if you fast forward 40 years ad look at the Star Trek: First Contact movie, Captain Picard says flat out that there is no such thing as money in his time, but rather everyone one just does things for the greater good. For these reasons I would have to lean towards the idea that the Federation operates under a socialist system.

    To answer the next question, I think the way the Federation would handle interplanetary disputes would be similar to how interstate disputes are handled in the US, as long as both planets were members of the federation. The Federation obviously has some standard set of rules and guidelines of operation so it would only be reasonable to assume that member planets operate similarly in their customs and application of law as the Federation. So if a dispute arose among parties of different planets, I think the Federation would act like the Federal courts by examining the subject matter and deciding if the Federation high council has the jurisdiction to hear the case or if it should be heard by one of the planets involved courts. Another example may be where neither the planets involved nor the federation have specific rules or statutes for some offensive, parties may attempt a kind of negligence per se approach and attempt to prove fault that way.

  3. Pingback: Starfleet mafia? | prior probability

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