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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Live long and prosper?

A few weeks ago it occurred to me why this country is presently so screwed-up financially:

From top to bottom, we have been trying to hack it on a Star Trek economy... without the requisite Star Trek technology needed to make it work.

Gene Roddenberry had funny ideas about money in his Star Trek universe. Namely, that the United Federation of Planets, including Earth, didn't use it. It was an ideal socialist state that based its economy on the pursuit of excellence, for the betterment of self and society. Remember how Kirk and Spock had to sell the spectacles in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home 'cuz they were cash-strapped in San Francisco circa 1986? And then later in the same movie, Kirk admitted to Gillian that they didn't have money in his own time.

The concept got fleshed-out a bit more (interestingly after Roddenberry's passing in 1991): the Federation did possess currency... but it was mostly confined to fiscal dealings with other governments (like the Ferengi) and within the Federation's own borders, it was completely worthless.

But think about it: if the Federation has the means to provide food, clothing and shelter for everyone - and it does - then the idea of money quickly becomes a very boring thing. I like to think that Roddenberry was plenty enough realist to understand that money by itself isn't an evil thing, and the pursuit of it isn't necessarily bad either (something that Ayn Rand beautifully expressed in Francisco's "money speech" from Atlas Shrugged). As best we can understand our world, money is a necessary thing to earn for the procurement of basic needs. That's the most fundamental thing regarding money's existence. But take away that rationale for it, and the seeking of money loses its allure. Suddenly people become free to chase after real meaning in their lives, instead of the mere acquisition of "things". And all that "money" that the Federation is still producing? Heck, the average citizen can have a truckload of gold replicated before the day's out... so why waste time chasing after it?

Now consider what the United States of America is doing lately in 2008. This year alone we have had one "stimulus" package courtesy of President Bush and Congress, which accomplished absolutely no good. There is going to be a $700 billion bailout and many authorities on the subject have seriously contended that the final bill for the bailouts - to assist all those corporations "too big to fail" - is going to come in at seven trillion dollars. We have seen numerous banks collapse, the "big three" domestic automakers are begging for money on Capitol Hill, and now the politicians in Washington are considering another "stimulus".

And it's not crossing the minds of these people at all that the money, is not really there! But Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke keeps printing out more "money", with no value backing it at all, in a desperate bid to prop everything up. And lately he's not even printing it: it's become just numbers entered into a computer, dont'cha know?

Hell, they could decide to digitally forward $1 million to the bank account of every person in America, and there would be nothing stopping them.

We have, at last, achieved Gene Roddenberry's next biggest dream after faster-than-light warp drive: a lifestyle void of money with value.

Except that we still need money that's worth something to survive, considering the means available to us. Matter replicators and transporters won't be coming online for a way long time, and it's nothing short of madness to believe that the technology to make socialism a viable reality is going to magically appear in time to save our skins.

In short: the President of the United States, the vast majority of the members of Congress, the Federal Reserve, and too many banks and major corporations in America, have been living in a fantasy world.

And unfortunately, the rest of us are going to have to deal with the reality they have made.


Anonymous said...

You should be writing for The New Yorker or The Wall Street Journal. This is great thinking and writing Chris!

Anonymous said...

I thought during the September bailout hearings that we've become ruled by the Gamesters of Triskelion. What's the exchange rate for quatloos?

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Danny de Gracia II said...

Funny how prophetically accurate this article turned out to be, three years later ...