Is the Star Trek economy a welfare state?
Yes and no. Like everything else about the Star Trek franchise, it’s complicated. And if we are being honest about the nature of the question, it is likely the term “welfare state” is meant as a pejorative meant to elicit disgust.
Quora is rife with people who want to attack any idea which doesn’t promote capitalism as the “perfect bastion” of economic development. Like anything else with this franchise, judging Star Trek’s social format by today’s standards is less than ideal and certainly not going to make sense because the psychology of the people living in the Federation and Humans alive today are impossibly different in perspective.
In the Federation, as a “post-scarcity” society whose primary need is energy, there isn’t a reason to force people into work the way our modern society does, because people are required to pay for everything they need today. In that society, as long as energy exists, most people can live at a level modern Humans simply are unable to imagine, hence the fact it is “science fiction.”
However the underlying principle of post-scarcity could be done and the term welfare state doesn’t have to be a pejorative (as it is surely being presented here – with the idea that “welfare” – the social program used to support people in our modern society – is bad). Our society is capable of providing for everyone if we were willing to reorder our capitalistic urges toward more humanitarian goals. There is sufficient food and economic resources if we didn’t allow money to pool into the economic gravity wells called millionaires and billionaires on Earth, held away from normal citizens by the predatory compensation drives dictated by capitalism.
By the average meaning of the term “welfare state” the government of the Federation IS concerned with the welfare of its citizens providing them with a quality of life superior to anything on our current Earth.
“The welfare state is a form of government in which the state (or a well-established network of social institutions) protects and promotes the economic and social well-being of its citizens, based upon the principles of equal opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for citizens unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life. Sociologist T. H. Marshall described the modern welfare state as a distinctive combination of democracy, welfare, and capitalism.” — (Welfare state – Wikipedia)
In the Federation, citizens want for nothing, can choose to or not choose to work, they will still have all that they need. Their education is assured, their healthcare maintained and their livelihood is a creation of their CHOICES, not the circumstances of governments and corporations more concerned with the creation of WEALTH than the betterment of the entire species.
Your choices are determined by your INTERESTS, your APTITUDES, and your DESIRES. People in the Federation are fully-realized and able to choose the kind of work which truly helps them be the best kind of person they can be, without the mindless avarice which drives our current society.
Can you create new technologies? Sure you can, but you are probably going to be doing it in conjunction with other teams, who will share the glory and the development with the Federation as a whole? Can you get wealthier because of your creativity? Probably not nearly as much, but in a world where intellectual, creative, socially-aware and humanitarian efforts are rewarded with renown, your opportunities to do more, with reasonable hours, with fantastically talented people working on the biggest ideas of the Federation are all but assured.
Nothing breeds success like success. If this is the “welfare state” where no one wants for anything, is able to work toward whatever their aptitudes lead them, to be able to get the training you need to learn anything that interests you without having you grinding your life away in mindless work for unappreciative bastards who will turn your efforts into cash for them…
Living in the Federation includes a more realized social justice system, quality public housing and healthcare, educational and skilled training, as well as the capacity for every individual to reach the peak of their physical, mental and emotional development, up to and including joining Starfleet, living off-world and exploring the galaxy in a number of capacities as scientists, engineers and other technical specialists or artists.
GIVE ME ONE OF THOSE WELFARE STATES, where my welfare matters to the government and their goal is to enhance the opportunities for EVERYONE in their community.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.