I am not as big of a fan of Star Trek as Walt Jameson. That guy loves the stuff. But I am both familiar with and fond enough of the property to get a good chuckle from the above meme. It is cute. It is funny. It is amusing. It is also unable to stand up to the mildest of scrutiny. There is a particular reason for this. That reason is scarcity. And I would like to take a few moments to expound upon that.
The most impressive technology out of the Star Trek Universe is not the Warp Drive. It is not the transporter beam -at least not when the technology is used solely for transportation. It is not the phaser, the universal translator, the tricorder or even that weird blue tooth thing Lt. Uhura wore in her ear. The most impressive bit of gadgetry in that universe of boldly going where no person had gone before is the replicator. And yes I realize there are a lot of overlapping patents between replicator and transporter technologies. And yes I realize that the UFP doesn’t seem to have patent laws for anything other than cloaking devices. And yes I realize we could go on from there, but we won’t.
Marx promised that the higher form of communism, the one that followed the tyranny of the proletariat, would mark the end of history. Not in the regard that the human race would have nothing more to record but in the sense that we would have nothing more to race to. We would have reached the final phase of our political/economic progression. There would be no point in improving further because all matters had already been perfected. This, of course, was wrong. Neither communism nor socialism, even if the variety Marx was suggesting has never truly been tried, can perfect anything. They can not alleviate want. Far from it those systems contribute mightily to poverty because they are so remarkably bad at production. If there is to be an end to history, in the Marxist sense, it will be because of the replicator. If the replicator can truly deliver wealth upon demand then there is no more need for economics and many of our social and political systems will completely change in form as well as function. In fact it would even be possible to construct a society based completely upon voluntary interaction or we could all just live out our days as hermits. And from a purely material perspective why not? There would no longer be a need for cooperation or the division of labor. Of course that is assuming the technology is not monopolized by governments or their corporatist proxies, and for the purposes of this we will assume just that. It also assumes that enough of the human race will survive their instinct to replicate things that are mostly for pleasure and we will not all devolve into a planet full of Eloi (those guys were from Star Trek right?). So let’s assume that too.
Now if we follow this meme to its creator’s view of the logical conclusion we are granting that it is Sanders’ goal to end poverty, deprivation, classism and bring about a less authoritarian and all around fairer system. And that is likely true. Those probably are Sanders’ goals. Having established that we must now wonder if, as the creators imply, that Sanders methods can lead us to this goal.
The short answer is no.
Without the replicator Sanders cannot end poverty and deprivation. No matter how many brands of sneakers and deodorants he bans it will not lead to greater wealth.
Likewise Sanders cannot end authoritarianism or classism as his system requires the police power of the state be used to exploit the many (from the lower middle class on up) for the brief benefit of a handful of the poor.
Sanders might be able to make things fairer. But only in the sense of the majority of us will have an equal share of desperation as we vainly strive to attain a quality of life half as good as the poorest in our society currently enjoy.
This will not stop Sanders from trying. And by trying I mean he will compensate for his inability to create wealth by the redistribution if it.
Ultimately Sanders will not be able to redistribute real wealth. The logistics make it impossible and even if he could -redistribute actual wealth- without the creation of new wealth to support it the old wealth would quickly atrophy into poverty. Giving a poor family a rich man’s Bugatti roadster would not serve their needs as it only has two seats and would cease all utility when they could not afford its upkeep. Likewise moving a hundred poor families into a rich mans mansion would be of minor benefit (and given a long enough time line would lead to great detriment) once conditions devolved into those Reminiscent of Cabrini-Green in the 1970’s.
Sanders, however, does not propose the redistribution of actual wealth. He proposes the redistribution of money. He assumes there is no difference between the two. This is not his only mistake. But it is a particularly fatal one.
Unfortunately, from the perspective of Sanders’ plan, there is not enough money in the one percent to fund his programs. Sanders will have to expand his circle of exploitation further and further until he has exhausted all markets (he will likely be stopped from doing this by a middle class livid at a sharp increase in their tax burden) or by inflating the money supply.
Because Sanders assumes that money and wealth are the same things he will likewise assume that printing presses and replicators are the same thing. But they are not. A printing press is incapable of producing a house, or a loaf of bread or a college education. A printing press produces money. And more money does not equate to more wealth. More money often equates to less wealth. This is because in the early days of the more money those to get their hands on it will overconsume products. This competition of increased dollars for a static supply of goods and services will cause prices to rise. Those prices will rise even further to protect the remaining goods and services from further over consumption. The benefit to those getting the new money will be over nearly as soon as it started. The misery of those paying higher prices for things -even though they received no benefit from the creation of the new money- will be just as swift in arrival. Even those industries seeming to benefit from the spending of the new money will ultimately feel the burn as the inevitable bursting if the Bernie bubble will leave them in dire straits. In many ways the printing press achieves the exact opposite of what a replicator would. It creates no wealth but greater scarcity, inflation, malinvestment and, eventually, economic collapse.
So, back to the meme.
Bernie Sanders may very well be trying to bring about the United Federation of Planets. But Bernie Sanders cannot bring about the United Federation of Planets. This is because the United Federation of Planets can only be created by a technological marvel that can create unlimited -and on demand- wealth and prosperity. Sanders system creates neither. His system creates Tribbles. And we all know what the trouble with Tribbles can be.