Thursday, March 22, 2018

How Money In Star Trek Works

Last week there was a rather lively discussion in the comments section, so I thought that I'd try and work out just how the monetary system in the Federation works. For this I'm going to use the model in Star Trek Online, which involves Energy Credits (EC's). I'm also going to base everything on the idea that those in the Federation that don't want to work, don't have to.

So, as a baseline, we need to have sufficient housing available for everyone. This could look like Kirk's apartment in The Wrath of Kahn and The Search for Spock. It's big, but not overly so, and has fairly simple furnishings. This could be good for a single person or a couple, maybe even a small family. It's part of a skyscraper, so that maximizes the amount of units in a given footprint.

Next, we have the necessities of life, food and clothing. Everyone has a replicator, so getting them is not a problem. However, at the most basic level, you'd have the basics and nothing more. Food like in TOS, which may be completely nutritious, but is easy to replicate and may not look like much. As far as clothing, there's a reason that the majority of civilians in TOS wore jumpsuits. Again, they do the job and are easy to replicate.

You get as much of those as you want, but, frankly, do you want all that much of it? Personally, I'd like to strive for something better, and that's where the energy credits come in. If you get a job, open a business, or just do some form of labor, you get EC's. These would offset the additional complexity of food and clothing, and possibly allow for more advanced living accommodations. Like most things in the Federation, these would probably have a contractual obligation. Say you want to go on a trip, but you'll need some specialized clothing and probably want a better meals. Well, then you can polish the floors at Starfleet Academy for three months and earn your EC's.

That brings up the idea of restaurants, like Sisko's father ran. Well, you pay for meals there with EC's and then the owner would use those to pay for his needs in maintaining the business. He'd need to make repairs to the building, trade for ingredients (because if he replicated the meal, you could do that at home), and pay staff. There would probably also be recipes there (or clothing at various stores) that aren't available on the replicator network, so you'd have to go out to get those things.

What about trade with other cultures, you ask? Well, that's also handled in the same way. The Federation gives EC's for goods and services, and those can be turned in at any Starfleet base or Federation outpost for items that can only be replicated there. It would be fairly annoying for those other cultures, which is why the Ferengi don't like dealing with the Federation. More trouble than it's worth.

Not everyone would enjoy this kind of economy, which is probably why there are so many colonies out on the fringe of Federation space. They're essentially autonomous, which means they can live as they wish. The replicator technology, though, would follow them but they could regulate it as they see fit, so they might have actual money, EC's, or just a barter system.

Starfleet would have a pay system involving EC's, which could be used at the Replimat for non-basic items. They would also be used for booking additional hours on the Holodeck (since everyone on the ship/station would have a certain allotment as part of R&R), buy unusual food & drinks at the bar/lounge, or just save up to buy that retirement home on Earth. If you stay on the ship and just do your duty, you get a small amount, but if you take on more responsibility and go on away missions, you get more.

I should point out that most of this would be done in the background. There would most likely be biological readers, or something tied to a communicator, that would automatically debit or credit your account for your activity. Picture it like Amazon's new convenience stores. You can walk in and out with no problem, and they'll tally everything up for you. So physical money would not be in use, but there would still be an economy, just one pretty much impenetrable for other cultures.

So, what do you think? Does this work with everything we've seen in Trek or am I way off base?

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  1. Interesting, though I got the impression they had essentially unlimited energy to make all those replicators work in the first place. Perhaps credits are simply paid out for labor and exchanged for items that can't be replicated.

    1. While they might have essentially unlimited energy, they would also have priorities as to where that energy goes. Starfleet requiring a new ship would probably override a private citizen wanting a new hat, for example. With EC's, though, that could temporarily shift the priority to the hat.

      We also know that there are some things that can't, for whatever reason, be replicated in a personal replicator. Hence the replimat on DS9 (used for food and drink) and the replicating center on TNG (used for other material items). Those would most likely require EC's to use, as that's where one could get out of the norm items.