With another round of successful Star Trek series of movies, it asks an interesting question. If our future is one of abundance instead of scarcity, what would happen to our economy if a computer can just produce whatever we need? Would the laws of supply and demand be broken? Would having a comparative advantage no longer apply?
Such a day may not be so far off. 3D printers are already making all kinds of products. And with new technology, there are creative means of covering our basic needs from food, fuel and water to clothing, and a dramatic drop in prices is likely when this day becomes a reality?
Economics Professor Antony Davies from Duquesne University wondered just that. His conference paper “Economics in the Age of Star Trek: What Happens When Everything Is Free?” deals with a day when we have whatever we need provided for free. He contends that there will still be scarcity, even in this utopia.
“Several things will remain scare if we have the computer replicator making everything,” Davies contends. “Ideas will be scarce. Human interaction will be scarce. Land will still remain scarce. And time will be scarce, because consumption requires time; there are still only so many hours in a day to do things.”
For example, beer could be produced through a Star Trek replicator, but you don’t have unlimited time to drink it all. Scotch takes longer to drink, of course, even if it takes the same time to produce.
Davies claimed those four factors (ideas, human services, land and finance) will still have markets that deal with the same laws that impact our resource markets today.
“Intellectual property will be far more important,” Davies told his audience. “Someone still needs to think of products for the computer to produce.”
The poor would get public domain products, “Wikiproductia.” Meanwhile, the rich would get staff, land, and special, handmade products. “It’s similar to what we saw in the Middle Ages,” Davies notes.
What about government? “There’s no point in the government regulating a lot product designs, unless the government can observe your consumption. You’ll probably see property taxes, and poll taxes.”
What about trade? “Trade becomes almost obsolete…the distance of purchase doesn’t become important,” Davies observes.
What about inequality? “Income inequality would increase, but consumption inequality decreases” according to Davies. “In the world of Star Trek, economics still applies.”