“The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”
-Captain Jean-Luc Picard
Welcome to a Star Trek 101 article. A growing blog series detailing the world of Star Trek for use in playing the Star Trek Adventures roleplaying game.
By the mid-22nd Century, Earth had a single world government and had eliminated poverty, hunger, along with most forms of inequality. The default era of Star Trek Adventures is 24th-Century, which is over two-hundred years farther into the future. Two-and-a-half centuries without people being motivated by greed or a desire for material goods. It’s hard to imagine Earth in such a future.
This blog attempts to describe what life is like in the futuristic world of Star Trek, especially for common people who are not members of Starfleet and/or serving on a starship.
Disclaimer: As we see life through the eyes of Starfleet—military officers serving on a starship—there’s a little more extrapolation in some parts of this article. Specifically in terms of housing.
To someone from the 20th Century, the economics of the 22nd Century and beyond might seem akin to communism or a welfare state, in that everyone is provided with their basic needs. However, this is not exactly true because communism, like capitalism, is an economic policies that assumes scarcity. The price of goods is driven by supply and demand. The is economics at its most basic. Low supply and high demand create scarcity, which leads to higher prices. The reverse is true: with high supply and low demand, prices are reduced. In the 22nd Century and beyond, some things are so common—there is an unlimited supply—meaning there is no associated cost.
The matter/antimatter reactors that powered a starship’s warp engines can also be used as terrestrial power plants, producing energy several orders of magnitude greater than nuclear or hydroelectric generators. These large amounts of energy made other forms of power plant obsolete, and electricity so abundant it was freely given. Paired with advancements in shipping technology, this allowed food and mineral resources to be easily produced or mined then transported across the world, which further reduced their cost. In the late 22nd Century and early 23rd Century, transporter technology only increased the availability of goods, enabling materials to be beamed from one side of the world to the other in a matter of minutes.
Being able to mine asteroids and then planets in other solar systems dramatically increased mineral production. Meanwhile, improvements in automation and manufacturing made creating even complex machinery increasingly easy. The invention of replicator effectively made the manufacturing industry obsolete.
With more than enough food, water, and material goods for everyone, the price of said goods rapidly decreased until they became free. With the creation of this New World Economy in the 22nd Century, money declined in use and popularity, and by the 23rd Century, it all but vanished.
Things changed further with the invention of the replicator. A modification of transporter technology, replicators turned energy and generic matter into physical goods. The crude replicators in the 23rd Century were only able to create simple inorganic patterns—such as clothing or furnishings—and had difficulty with moving parts and complex molecules. By the early 24th Century, patterns with multiple highly complex molecules could be replicated allowing food, simple machinery, and electronics to be instantly generated at no cost beyond the required energy that, as mentioned, was free and abundant. Suddenly, anything you could want, could be created at the push of a button.
For people in the 23rd Century and beyond, how and where they live is largely up to personal choice. Someone might choose to live in a rural cottage in North America but work in an urban center in Australia, commuting to work via transporter each day, or they might live in an apartment in the middle of an urban center that doubles as their office.
With the basic needs of most citizens freely provided, employment is largely optional. In place of traditional jobs, most people work toward self improvement with the thought that bettering themselves will better humanity. Individuals spend their days learning new skills and philosophies, perfecting a trade or challenging themselves to best a personal accomplishment.
Without the need of money, individuals are free to engage in whatever activities interest them without seeking financial compensation for their time. The chef would operate a restaurant because they enjoyed cooking and watching others enjoy their meals rather than to pay rent. Similarly a carpenter would build furniture because they enjoyed working with their hands and creating, while a vinter might create wine to carry on a family tradition.
In the early days of the New World Economy there were concerns people would become lazy or unwilling to work without the constant reward of money, and that an idle majority would live off the hard work of a small few. These concerns were unnecessary as the resources consumed by non-contributing members of society were infinitesimal.
Transporter technology allows people to travel freely across the globe. Public transporter booths are found every few blocks in cities, allowing instant travel across the globe. After their first hundred years, transporters became ubiquitous, replacing cars and other motorized vehicles. Most modern cities have removed the highway systems in favour of pedestrian paths. Most private residences do not have personal transporters, but the planetary transporter network can target individuals who call into the network and relay them to their destination. This also ensures the safety and health of the populace, as an emergency transport is a quick call away.
Despite the increase in population across the globe, there’s no shortage of isolated rural locations for people choosing to live outside of the major cities. The land required for farming and pastures had been significantly reduced allowing much of the Earth (and similar planets) to return to a wild state akin to a nature preserve while also freeing space for more homes.
The global data network allows instant visual communication, which as allowed people to work anywhere. An engineer could comfortably work from home as easily as an office, seamlessly collaborating in real time with people across the globe or even in nearby star systems.
Not everyone is happy with “paradise”. For those seeking more of a challenge there is always space. Even outside of Starfleet there is the sense of accomplishment that comes from starting a new colony and taming a new world. Or the freedom and independence of being on a freighter crew transporting necessary supplies between systems.
When new species encounter the Federation, a frequently asked question is “who performs unpleasant jobs?” They wonder why someone choose to become a miner or a plummer or mail carrier? Or who is the technician operating the planetary transporter grid or monitoring shuttle traffic in orbit?
Technology eliminated many such jobs. Many tasks are performed by simple robots, such as those maintaining greenhouses, or delivering packages, or building replicators. By the late 24th Century some jobs could even be performed by holograms—such as mining dilithium. With replicators providing food and water while eliminating waste, plumbing pipes no longer exists and thus there is no need for plumbers.
Some menial jobs did disappear because no one would want to do them: few people choose to be a maid or servant. As such, people simply have to clean and maintain their own homes and lawns. (However, tasks like vacuuming, dusting, and mowing the lawn can be managed by robots.)
Many less interesting tasks are performed by inexperienced workers hoping to earn positions with engineering firms or scientific facilities. Students earn work experience in such simple jobs. Tasks of more importance are handled by Starfleet, being performed by junior officers, cadets, or enlisted personnel who need to gain initial experience in order to earn a promotion.
There are also some things that cannot be replicated, such as replicators themselves or luxury items. Working shifts in unpleasant jobs might earn a worker a larger personal replicator or preferential access to apartments or land, or even a starter spacecraft.
There would also still be criminals, although with poverty eliminated and better medicines & counselling this would be reduced. But some criminal acts, such as crimes of passion, would still occur. Manual labour would be one way for serious criminals to pay off a debt to society, being akin to community service. Even then, this would be the choice of the convict, choosing a shorter sentence of hard labour over a longer time in jail.
Technology has dramatically impacted where people can live. Engineering allows high rise buildings in cities to dramatically increase in height, permitting far more people to comfortable fit in a single urban area. The ability to create self-sufficient environmentally sealed housing permits homes to be built underwater or otherwise inhospitable terrain, such as deserts or the antarctic. Meanwhile, the weather control network reduces the severity of storms, allowing more homes in areas previously subject to inclement weather.
In theory, with free housing, certain historic or beautiful cities would be more desirable and subject to overpopulation. In practice, with free and ready access to transporters, there’s little need to live in those cities. Someone can have a home in Des Moines, Iowa and have a croissant breakfast in Paris, lunch in Rio De Janeiro, and dinner in New Berlin on the surface of Luna.
Housing is managed on a first-come basis, with waitlists for desirable apartments and housing lots. Performing certain jobs (necessary but high risk occupations like firefighters or police) can earn priority access. Similarly, certain cities might favour certain occupations. For example, as Paris is the capital of the Federation, diplomats and ambassadors receive preferential accommodation, (if only so they can attend council meetings during times of emergency when the transporter network might be restricted).
Large houses have become uncommon. Replicators have rendered opulent displays of wealth irrelevant, so people only need space for objects they regularly use and possessions of sentimental value. With individuals rarely choosing to work as a cleaning staff, few people have homes larger than they can personally maintain.
Colonies have also eased overpopulation on Earth. The first Human colony, Terra Nova, was founded in 2078. In the centuries since, numerous other colonies have been founded. With terraforming and weather manipulation, there is no shortage of “paradise worlds”. After a century or two, the oldest colonies are independant with large cities of their own.
In the 22nd Century, fruit and vegetables were still grown in farms and hydroponic gardens. In place of livestock, a protein resequencer was able to simulate most meat products as well as a few other simple foodstuffs, such as simple grains. The protein resequencer effectively 3D printed meals from a supply of generic proteins. The source material for the protein resequencer was grown in specialized farms, reducing the need for expansive plots of land for cattle. On starships and in large urban areas, generic protein supplies could also be generated from reclaimed biomatter (aka solid waste), which had been sterilized and processed by a bio-matter resequencer, reducing garbage production. While edible, food created by a protein resequencer was comparable to 20th Century “fast food” in terms of quality. The devices were commonly used for quick meals, as well as on starships to supplement food stores.
Protein resequencers were replaced in the 23rd Century by the food synthesizer. Effectively a more advanced version of the protein resequencer, food synthesizer used supplies of biomatter to produce entire meals. Meals created by the synthesiser were all made from same biomatter, and it simulated the taste and texture of foods, creating salads, pasta dishes, steak, or even ice cream in a variety of flavours. Large algae farms were established to generate the raw biomatter for the synthesizers, drasticlaly reducing the need for traditional farms. While food synthesized meals were able to provide all necessary minerals and vitamins, their quality was described as “adequate”, and the devices were commonly supplemented by a chef or home cooked meals. Because of memory storage limitations, food synthesizers only had a limited number of pre-programmed meals, which were supplemented by patterns stored on data cards. Synthesized food cubes were also common variant: quick meals of flavoured cubes that had the nutrient value of a full meal, but able to be consumed without creating a mess and were often eaten while working.
As everything created by a food synthesizer was made from supplies of generic nutrients, some compounds could not be created. Water and similar drinks were the major limitation and drinking water still needed to be supplied.
With the invention of replicator, entire meals that were virtually identical to a home cooked meal could be created in seconds, and even basic civilian replicators could store the patterns for thousands of recipes from hundreds of cultures, albeit stored in a highly compressed state. While discerning palates could tell the difference between replicated food and a meal prepared by hand, the difference was minor. (Often, one could only tell a meal was replicated rather than personally cooked was because a particular replicated meal always tasted exactly the same while a home cooked meal would experience a variance.)
Replicators only partially created matter. The devices effectively “beamed” generic matter and reshaped it into a stored pattern. Ships had stores of “raw stock”: generic matter that was designed to be easily converted to food, but could be turned into other physical goods as needed (albeit at a higher usage of the stock depending on the relative density). Replicators also eliminated the garbage and most waste. Leftovers, food waste, and even plates are returned to the replicator to be broken down and stored, allowing the matter to be reused.
In addition to food, replicators could create all manner of drinks, eliminating any need for water to be supplied to homes. Most replicators were unable to produce alcoholic beverages, especially on Starfleet vessels, substituting “synthehol” in its place, which has the same taste and smell but does not induce intoxication.
Goods and Valuables
The value of physical objects began to be tested as early as the 21st Century, when digital file sharing paired with 3D printing reduced manufacturing costs while allowing items made valuable due to artificial scarcity to be easily duplicated. Initially, items that could not be copied became valuable; this method of attributing value suffered from diminishing returns as items, and materials that could not be duplicated steadily decreased in number. Instead, objects of historical or cultural importance became valuable, as did items with sentimental or personal value.
By the 24th Century, the value of items was judged by the skill and time taken to create them as much as the material they were made of: a replicated chair of solid gold would be worth less than a wooden chair built by hand. Similarly, items were judged by the thought and care that went into choosing their design.
Non-replicated or artisanal goods are either given away or traded for other goods. As the primary purpose of crafting something is the learning experience and joy of creation, many artisans freely give away their goods. Others exchange their products for other goods or services: without money, there is effectively a barter system in place. A farmer growing non-replicated crops might exchange them with a chef for a monthly meal at their best table and the joy of knowing their produce will be used in exceptional meals. Or they might trade a basket of fresh produce for a couple bottles of craft beer, a sculpture they enjoy, a block of traditionally made cheese, or even as “payment” for a musical recital.
Many individuals have a few objects of value in the eventuality they need to exchange them for something else. This is especially true with those who deal with non-Federations aliens who may still use money.
Additionally, even in the 24th Century, certain goods could not be replicated, and still had inherent value. Most often this is because replicators only work at the atomic level and not the quantum level. Liquid latinum cannot be replicated, and thus is used as a currency in the Alpha Quadrant. Because of energy inherent in mined Dilithium, it also could not be replicated.
With employment being optional, most humans enjoy ample leisure time and engage in innumerable activities for fun.
Some traditional forms of entertainment remain well into the 24th Century, such as reading, horseback riding, jogging, and mountain climbing. With more free time to practice and learn new skills, artistic endeavors are common, specifically musical performances or theatrical plays.
There are numerous sports that continue to be played including hockey, basketball, water polo, parisses squares, football, and hoverball. Board games also remain popular, including 3D Chess, Kal-toh, Strategema, and Dom-Jot. To say nothing of the innumerable card games that continue to exist.
Many people practice martial arts as a form of exercise. In addition to classical martial arts like Judo, Karate, and Akideo there is Anbo-jyutsu, the Klingon meditative martial art of Mok’bara, and the deadly Vulcan techniques of Tal-shaya.
One of the primary forms of leisure activity are Holographic Environment Simulators. These could replicate the image of almost any imaginal environment, populated by virtually intelligent simulacrum. Holo-chambers serve as game courts or playing fields for games such as tennis or springball (against real or simulated opponents) and allowed users to participate in historical reenactments, relax in an exotic (or fantastic locale), or for play through holonovels: interactive stories designed where the player takes the place of a protagonist. Engaging in personal fantasies also occurs; while there are no laws against copying the likeness of an individual, it was not considered the most healthy activity.
The two most common varieties are holosuites and holodecks. The smaller holosuites come in a range of sizes but are primarily designed for a couple individuals at a time, while the larger holodecks can accommodate a dozen people at once. Holosuites were rare in private residences due to the expense involved. Most cities have several large holosuite complexes that could each accommodate several dozen people each day.
Early holo-chambers were limited in their tactile response: they looked real but were not solid. Later models had limited tactile feedback but were unable to fool other senses. In the 23rd Century, holo technology was used for communication and viewing recorded events, with recreational use limited to simple scenarios or scenic locations. By the 24th Century, advanced holodecks were virtually indistinguishable from reality, pairing solid holograms with replicated matter.
Um. This is simply epic. I am mostly without words. My personal belief system assures me that this is much how the future will work very soon. It inspired me. You created a great world for me to visualize!!!! Excellent!!!!
Been looking forward to this. It was excellent, thank you!
I confess, I love thinking about Star Trek’s post post-scarcity economics, as it is the only SF endeavor that really puts this forward and in a positive way. From a gaming standpoint, you always want to set limits, but Star Trek discourages this and encourages new ways of thinking. Make it so!
What would humans be like in a future where everything we imagine that limits and defines us today is made irrelevant and transparent? My hunch is, many many people would be artists in ways we cannot even imagine art today.
One thing ST seems pretty clear on is there is no “total conversion” economy at work. In other words, if you want to replicate gold into another form you have to have gold molecules to start. That creates a few economic limits; and it keeps mining and extraction alive as concepts. It also suggests that ships carry a certain amount of trace rare elements aboard—and if they run out, they’re in trouble. So woe to crewman who wish to panel their quarters in platinum
On Earth, the deserts would be reclaimed, the poles restored. But always, I think, there’d be an effort toward equilibrium, to make Earth a sustainable paradise without energy or engineering. That would be the pinnacle of intellectual achievement. New cities would sprout on the edges of deserts, water no longer a concern.
I’ve imagined that one of the great pursuits in the 24th Century is that of authenticity, and the authentic has value and is hoarded, not subject to scan and replication. So to live in a 400 year old house has a prestige element that an exact replica of a 400 year old house does not have. So there’d still be an aristocracy of old blood, though irrelevant in daily matters. Anything can be replicated, but there is a market in hoarding certain things so they are not replicated. Hence, the Picard estates.
I’ve also imagined that replicators might produce raw ingredients for the epicureans, meals for the indifferent. In much the same way skillets and stovetops serve “foodies” and microwaves serve those who could care less. Replicated meals would be like McDonalds or Coca-Cola; epicurean meals like fine wines of a particular vintage.
Regarding “synthehol,” I’ve generally understood it results as a voluntary intoxication—in other words, it lasts as long as you wish to play in that theatre. When duty calls, its effects are swiftly eliminated.
From how I understand replicators, they take matter and reshape it with energy into an object based on a predetermined pattern. They don’t need gold molecules, just to have scanned gold molecules and know the pattern for them. As an element rather than a complex molecule, gold would be much easier to replicate than water, which has two elements and is thus twice as complex. Let alone something like a uniform or food. Hot tea would be several orders of magnitude more complex than gold.
Which means you have an unlimited amount of gold. But also means gold ceases to have any value apart from being a nice corrosion resistant metal.
But since they’d be “beaming” matter of the appropriate mass into the replicator, gold would use up a lot more of the ships stores…
I neglected to say earlier (although I hope it was obvious) how much I appreciated this point. Thought provoking and stimulating.
If you’ll permit me, I want to push back on this a little bit. I appreciate your explanation, and it certainly fits with what we see in Star Trek. But to my knowledge, we’ve never actually seen the transmutation of matter as an actual capability of Federation science. We have seen advanced societies that can transmute matter—ladder hydrogen up the scale to uranium, say—but it seems to be slightly beyond the ability of 24th Century tech. And they don’t appear to be able to simply create permanent, durable matter from pure energy. Holo matter seems to be as close as it gets.
Lots of talk about scattering molecules across space in transporter beams from curmudgeonly medical personnel. Some talk by science officers about being impressed by total conversion drives.
If you recall when the Enterprise-D was trapped in a Tyken’s Rift, they had insufficient power to create complex materials in sufficient quantities to trigger an explosion, and this certainly comports with your explanation of how replicators work. But I am going to posit there is something like a Conservation of Matter principle at work, where replicators can disassemble and reassemble matter in multiple forms and compounds, transporters can move it from place to place, but the atomic nuclei must be the same at the end of the process as at the beginning. If you don’t have the proton nucleus, you can’t replicate the thing.
This would explain things why gold-pressed latinum appears to be a thing with greed value—it is something rare that can’t be easily replicated. Clothes and food are easy because carbon in cheap and abundant, and can be replicated into many forms. This would also keep activities like mining and extraction sensible in terms of game play because you need the proton count in the nucleus of whatever you’re creating. If you don’t have the matter aboard, you need an away mission to obtain it. It also would tend to keep certain things from being replicated ex nihilo, like the Doctor’s mobile transmitter.
Anyway, I just put this out there respectfully as an alternate way of explaining what we see. Seems to be consistent with what we see. And sets some limits on some things we don’t see.
We do see them make plates and glasses in the replicator. And stuff like a guitar is replicated on the show. And in Voyager they mention how the matter used to make a watch might be a meal or two, suggesting matter is convertible.
Presumably, that’s the difference between an “industrial replicator” and a “food replicator”. Both are mentioned but we never see the latter.
That is the theory why latinum is valuable: it cannot be replicated. But the gold is worthless and is just used as a storage vessel for the latinum.