Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Loopholes and Star Trek’s Moneyless Society

A recent paper in the "Futuring and Innovation" class asked us to write about a sociotechnical plan in a real or fictional organization. As I was reading the definition of "sociotechnical" ( the first thing that came to mind was how ST:TNG mentioned a few times that they don't use money. As a matter of fact, I remember an episode ( where The Enterprise picked up some people that had been in suspended animation for a few hundred years, one of which was a "Type-A" businessman that couldn't accept the way society and business had changed in the intervening years.
To quickly summarize, my question to myself was, "If money no longer existed, meaning basic needs of housing, food, clothing, etc. are provided, then what is the motivation to get up and go to work in the morning?" Ideally, people would be free to pursue whatever interests them rather than whatever has the biggest paycheck (although admittedly sometimes those two intersect). I then went on to analyze human motivational systems: pain avoidance vs. reward seeking, but that's not the point of this blog entry.
The purpose of this blog is to discuss organizations had good plans but for reasons out of their control, it all went wrong. In "Best Laid Plans," William Sherden (2011) devotes Chapter 7 to "Perverse Adaptations," stories of how plans with good intentions were somehow subverted, often causing more harm than the original situation the plan was supposed to improve.

For example, In 1975 the Energy Policy Conservation Act was passed in response to the 1973 oil embargoes. This legislation mandated that automobiles would have to get a minimum 27.5 mpg while trucks would have to get 21 mpg. Sherden explains that prior to the act a variety of cars with lower mileage were produced, including the station wagon but with the passing of the act, those cars went off the market. To fill the gap for a family cargo-hauling car, manufacturers invented the SUV which, incidentally, was built on a truck chassis allowing it to use the 21 mpg standard. As SUVs became more popular, consumers switched from more fuel-efficient cars to SUVs, thus actually using more fuel than before.

What loopholes might exist in Star Trek's moneyless society? In a world where a replicator can make food, clothing, furnishings, gadgets, etc., the only things that would have value would be handmade goods but what is my motivation for making pottery coffee mugs or over-the-sofa paintings if I don't get paid for it? It seems like some sort of barter system would have to exist - handmade or rare goods for handmade or rare goods.
But what if I don't produce anything handmade? Would I be destined to always have "cheap" replicated goods? Or would there exist some form of black market currency to fill the gap? Perhaps that is the purpose served by the "gold-pressed latinum" the ferengis lusted after.

Given humans' competitive nature coupled with their desire for status (humorous proof here: it seems a black market barter system would be a loophole that is certainly exploited.


Sherden, W. A. (2011). Best laid plans: The tyranny of unintended consequences and how to avoid them. ABC-CLIO.

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