On more than one occasion, Captain Benjamin Sisko called life on Earth a “paradise.” He was not wrong. Earth in the 24th Century had no war, no pollution, no climate change, and most importantly, no disease or hunger. Sisko even objected to using Starfleet personnel to patrol for Odo-like shapeshifters (in the DS9 episode “Paradise Lost”) because it would ruin the beautiful planet-wide achievement.
According to the book “Trekonomics,” this era in human history is known as “post-scarcity society.” Author Manu Saadia wrote that thanks to the replicator and other futuristic enhancements, humans don’t need to worry about any basic needs as their ancestors did.
The most exciting difference between our time and Sisko is that there is no need for money unless you want to buy a drink at Quark’s bar. Because of the replicator, nearly every item a person could ever need (outside of complex machines or radioactive material) can be created instantly.
This way of life may seem like something that humans could attain in the future — though some politicians like Andrew Yang are pushing the “no job to get paid” scenario today.
Since all of this works well on “The Next Generation” and “Deep Space Nine,” some fans have taken it upon themselves to wonder why anyone would work in the first place?
Why Work When Everything Is Free?
In his book, Saadia said that people, in the “Star Trek” future, work for the pleasure of working. And even though scientists, researchers, and starship captains are not paid, they earn something else. He calls it a “reputation economy,” where people compete to have the best design or breakthrough or research.
Much like people compete on Twitter and TikTok for a viral post, Saadia wrote that professionals will be motivated by “vying fiercely and constantly for prestige and fame.”
How Starfleet Recruits Outside of the Academy
That certainly makes sense. But what about the rest of us who are not engineers, pilots, or doctors? Sites like Reddit are full of questions for the “Average Joe or Jane.” If you can do anything, why would someone volunteer to vacuum the carpets on a starship or any of the hundreds of other tasks? Jobs like waiter at Ten Forward or the people who are in charge or “waste extraction.”
Starfleet has positions available for the average person on the ships because one of the most complex parts of long-term space travel is loneliness.
In his “Star Trek: The Next Generation” Writer/Director’s Guide, Gene Roddenberry wrote that “people need people for mental and physical health.”
“Starfleet encourages its people to participate in family and community life and bonding,” Roddenberry wrote.
The enormous Galaxy-class ships were full of families because one family member was a Starfleet crew member. But how would Starfleet recruit waiters and other food service workers to spend years aboard their ships?
We can look at the real-life example of the U.S. Navy for inspiration. Today, the Navy recruits new crew for their ships to work on the ocean because they can “see things you do see here,” as the narrator of the “Navy Culinary Specialist” video explains.
The people who vacuum the floors on the Enterprise and work in Ten Forward probably want to visit Vulcan, Risa, and other alien worlds. This is just like how people who serve in the Navy want to visit South Korea or Iceland today.
Saadia does acknowledge that life for many on Earth in the 24th Century is “carefree and creative” and resembles the lives of retirees in Norway or Japan. But for the folks who “the enterprising and the restless,” their outlet would be joining Starfleet. In this “institution, they can test themselves.”