The Economy of Moving and Stationary Space in Star Trek

Back by popular demand is a chapter from my thesis on the difference between economic spaces in Star Trek. Before I let you dive right in, however, I want to clarify that IPE stands for International Political Economy, which is really the only sort of economy one would study in Star Trek.

So let’s get to it:

The Economy of Star trek

Initially, the economy of Star Trek seems to merit some study, but it is predicated on such an infeasibility in our current circumstance that it is often disregarded. The impossibility of this moneyless society is that they have replicators that produce anything they need. Scarcity, therefore, is eliminated, and trying to use their ideals a measuring stick to go by becomes a daydream that will never be reality. However, the conceptions of economy in the different spaces does provide some insight in the present state of affairs, even if the nature of their systems seems an impracticality.

The Federation has no money. It has been stated time and time again, though more in TNG than DS9. So then, how does one account for Chief O’Brien’s purchase of Jumjum Sticks on the promenade of the station, or the very existence of Quark’s bar on station full of Federation Officers who regularly visit? Or Lieutenant Dax’s penchant for gambling? And yet, on the Enterprise, the bartender Guinan takes no pay for her services in Ten Forward, and transactions seem to largely take place in the realm of trade sans money. One starts to realise that economy on DS9 is eerily similar to the current forms of competition, scarcity, and profit that current economic systems seem ridden with, while economy on the Enterprise does not seem to exist at all.

Truly, the best example of the differences of moving and stationary space in regards to economy is in a conversation between Jake Sisko, a human, and his Ferengi roommate and best friend, Nog. In the episode ‘In the Cards’, Jake finds a baseball card that his father would love at one of Quark’s auctions, and begs Nog to give him the money he needs in order to buy it.

NOG: It’s my money, Jake. If you want to bid at this auction, use your own money.
JAKE: I’m Human, I don’t have any money.
NOG: It’s not my fault that your species decided to abandon currency-based economics in favor of some philosophy of self-enhancement.
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… [reaching]…it means we don’t need money.
NOG: Well, if you don’t need money, then you certainly don’t need mine.[1]

What this evidences is that within its own enclosed space, Federation economics appears to work perfectly fine, which means that in a moving space the same occurs. However, in reacting with other IPE spaces, rules are changed in context to what is required.

In the preface of Strange’s States and Markets, she tells a story of a ship that sinks, with three lifeboats that make it out, land on island completely unbeknownst the others. The tale is a complete fiction, not to unlike Star Trek, but it nonetheless is just as important of an allegory to political and economic space. The three lifeboats land on the same island and create their own political economy, one being a commune (idealist), one being a market society (economic), and the last being a fortress society (realist)[2]. Interestingly, the same thing can be said about the spaces that interact on DS Nine, where one has the idealists being the Federation, the Market Society represented by the Ferengi, and the fortress society clearly being the Cardassians. DS Nine, and indeed the planet it orbits, becomes the symbolic island.. Strange’s interpretations of what will happen when these spaces meet, for the most part, are marked with violence, which may seem contrary if one takes how these spaces in DS9 meet. For Strange, should the lifeboat representing the fortress society be the first to make contact— as it is constantly moving and patrolling due to paranoia, this is most likely- the situation becomes one of ‘join us or die’. Essentially, it is the first scenario in the Inayatullah and Blaney’s space of colonia, where difference is not absorbed, but eliminated[3]. Strange posits that if the commune makes first contact, fearing its loss of freedom if the fortress society should discover them, would attack in order to defend the liberty they hold dear. Should the Market Society make contact first, a similar scenario happens, as they fear for their lifestyle, they up their security tax and send volunteers to attack and liberate the market and therefore opening a new market and allowing for them to get wealthier.

Strange then asks the rhetorical question: ‘is [this] realistic, or pessimistic?’[4]. The non-rhetorical answer is yes on both counts. Imagination is just as capable of realism as reality is, and of pessimism. However, Star Trek imagines these three zones as well, and comes to a far different conclusion.

In TNG, the Enterprise is the lifeboat. It is its own society, and if it does not require and economic model, then that is simply that. As it is a moving, and as an enclosed space, there is no problem with this. However, the reality of DS9, the island, is altogether different.

For the first thirty years of Star Trek, creating a currency had been ‘strenuously avoided’ because Roddenberry wanted to make sure the Federation was not ‘profit-driven’. However, as the Ferengi are not the Federation, it seemed only natural to the writers to create money[5]. Thus, when imagining a moving space versus a stationary space, it must be deemed that a multitude of IPE spaces are possible in the later, although there is more than one natural conclusion. Strange assumes violence, and eradication of difference. Star Trek imagines violence, of course, but also moments of cooperation which are far less visible but more constant.

The episode quoted above, is a perfect example of this. In that episode, Jake recognises that – if one were to use the Strangian concept of IPE which is constructed by power, knowledge, finance, security and production[6]- that the structure his IPE space has different motives and places importance on different things. What this means that when, in contact in with another society, which places importance on other things, concessions must be made if a common ground can be found. Nog’s cultural heritage is against anything that will not profit him individually. Jake, in order to try and wheedle Nog into helping him, has no leverage but instead uses a guilt trip, reminding Nog that without Jake’s father’s help, he would not have been able to enter Star Fleet. They meet on the mutual ground of respect for Sisko, and manage an arrangement.

Economy, in terms of TNG, is rarely discussed except as something beyond money. This is displayed best through Picard’s description of the future to Lily, one of the innovators of warp drive (something her partner, Zephram Cochraine, invents largely to make money), which was echoed by Jake in DS9.

PICARD: The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the twenty-fourth century. The acquisition of wealth is no longer a driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.[7]

While this has been overtly stated, and hinted at in episodes such as ‘The Neutral Zone’[8] (where humans with somewhat unsavory characteristics from the past are unfrozen and are forced to conform to the society of the 24th century), there are an alarming amount of exceptions. This could be because the writers are unable to completely think outside the space in which they live, but it can also be due to differences of moving and stationary space. In TNG, there are undoubtedly modes of transaction. In ‘Encounters at Farpoint’[9], Doctor Beverley Crusher buys fabric for credits, and in the episode ‘The Price’[10], the Federation makes a bid using credits in order to secure ownership of the Barzan wormhole. These transactions, that seem to speak to a concept of a market society, however, only exist when there is an outside space, which reinforces the self/other relationship highlighted above.

Thus, what can be surmised is that an IPE space can only be accounted for in the contact zone between moving and stationary spaces. The Enterprise itself can function without the trappings of wealth and profit because it is consistently moving, and transactions are something that must be done with other cultures. However, the Federation in a stationary space like the station, does not have this option. In the episode ‘Bar Association’, Sisko threatens to collect on Quark’s back rent (something he never had to pay before because he leases from the Federation, which does not operate in currency and therefore he has no overhead such as rent and repairs) if he does not settle with his striking workers, who are, true to Ferengi tradition, horrifically exploited. The episode itself sheds another light unto the relations of stationary space and IPE in that there is such a confluence of IPE spaces that solution becomes a complicated one.

Rom, against Ferengi laws, institutes a union in order to fight his brother’s exploitation despite admitting this:

ROM: You don’t understand. Ferengi workers don’t want to stop the exploitation. We want to find a way to become the exploiters.
BASHIR: Suit yourself, but I don’t see you exploiting anyone.[11]

Here Bashir highlights his own opinion on the matter while using terms he feels Rom would understand. When Rom creates his union, it becomes a clash of IPE spaces, where the Federation supports workman’s rights, whereas the Ferengi workers are worried about the Ferengi Commerce Authority, which, if other episodes are anything to go by, can take away the right of a Ferengi to participate in the Alliance, making them a market exile and unable to make profit. Though in this episode, they are more fearful of being executed. Although a union is a Federation ideal, Rom twists it into a Ferengi one by making it something that he can profit by (such as getting paid sick leave, and vacation), which is how he convinces the other Ferengi to join in, and when the workers goes on strike, he convinces people to not patronise the bar by bribing them, which is an unusual tactic to be sure. During this, Odo, the representatives for the Bajorans, does not care about exploitation so much as security, but he does not intercede for fear of pushing the striking workers into becoming an angry mob. Essentially, the three lifeboats meet on the island that is DS Nine. In the end, dialogue in the contact zone achieves a solution that is acceptable to all three (Quark gets to seem like he won, the employees get what they want, and Odo has peace), and the space of DS9 changes once again.

Movement and space, then, are applicable to IPE as Star Trek shows, if not only to imagine the different possible realities of contact between the two.

[1] ‘In the Cards’, DS9 5.25.

[2] Susan Strange, States and Markets (London: Pinter Publishers, 1988): 1-3.

[3] Inayatullah and Blaney, International Relations and the Problem of Difference, 125.

[4] Strange, States and Markets, 4.

[5] Erdmann, Star Trek Deep Space Nine Companion, 52.

[6] Strange, States and Markets, 23-42.

[7] Star Trek: First Contact

[8] ‘The Neutral Zone’, TNG 1.26.

[9] ‘Encounter at Farpoint’, TNG 1.01.

[10] ‘The Price’, TNG 3.08.

[11] ‘Bar Association’, DS9 4.16.

One thought on “The Economy of Moving and Stationary Space in Star Trek

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