If you’ve never seen much Star Trek besides maybe the new movies, then let me tell you, there are lots of strange things in there. Most notably I would say is the prosperity and happiness of the society involved. Manu Saadia investigates the economics of the 24th century depicted in the various iterations of Star Trek in his book “Trekonomics.”
The book takes the reader through some of the peculiarities of Star Trek’s utopian future, starting with the explicit lack of money and examining the impact that has on the psychology and politics of the Federation’s citizens. He goes on to discuss the possibility of free products promised by Star Trek’s replicator, as well as the different ways that such a totally free system still has limits, what other science fiction writers had to say, and how Ronald Reagan was actually the first to start us down the path to free public goods (with the definitive example being his GPS system being made public for free to the rest of the world).
There are some great things in Star Trek’s hypothetical future, but the key difference boils down to the idea of entering into a healthy post scarcity society. Saadia guides us through the many hypotheticals that Star Trek throws out and shows us how the utopian economic dream of having unlimited resources and free everything are really more a matter of public policy than of competition and developed market economics. In a time where politicians are making big decisions regarding the tragedy of the commons (like climate change or even publicly available healthcare) it is nice to hear an optimistic voice saying that everything actually can turn out alright in the end.
I don’t really want to go into too much detail on the kinds of things Saadia goes through, as that would take the impact out of what he says in his book and would require explaining too much Trek sci-fi, but suffice it to say that the primary fantasy involved in Star Trek is not really the hypothetical replicators or faster-than-light travel, but rather the immense sociological and economic changes that take place beforehand to build humanity into something that can properly use such technologies in the first place.
Unfortunately, given our current method of distributing wealth, if we were to no longer need to put people to work in order to feed them (i.e. there is an abundance of free robotic labor replacing all jobs on Earth), then we really would find such post scarcity to be a problem as all of the wealth would pool up in the hands of those who owned the means of such production. We are already seeing such a redistribution of wealth away from the people who don’t really need to work to feed themselves into the hands of those who own the systems that are so over-productive. It will take a serious change of how we do things to prevent this system from collapsing on itself, and hopefully we can take Saadia’s lead and look to the fantastical future of Star Trek (and the other Astounding or Amazing Science Fiction authors of the last century) for inspiration as we leap past yet another industrial revolution that carries so much promise along with so much potential danger if not handled correctly.
Kurzgesagt has just put out a great introductory video detailing the inevitability of post scarcity that does a good job describing a lot of the stuff talked about in this book.