January 26, 2022 

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THIRD-PARTY PAYMENT: Payments made on behalf of one person (party) to a second person (party) by a third person (party) for benefits received by the first person (party). Eliminating the person (party) language, these sorts of payments are a standard method of buying health care. Insurance companies and the government pay doctors for the medical care received by patients. Problems arise because the party with the check book (insurance companies and government) aren't getting any of the benefits, while the party getting the benefits (patients) don't have to be concerned about payment. As such, third-party payments give patients an incentive to buy too much health care.

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A science-fiction phenomenon that emerged in the second half of the 20th century, which not only entertained millions of fans worldwide for decades, but also can be used to illustrate important economic concepts such as scarcity.
The Star Trek science-fiction phenomenon began as a low-rated television series in the 1960s, but prompted by syndication popularity, spawned other series and numerous major motion pictures. A superficial analysis of the Star Trek world created by visionary producer, Gene Roddenberry, suggests that future humanity has solved the scarcity problem. But has it?

No More Scarcity

The Star Trek world of the future is one of widespread harmony and unbounded prosperity. The pervasive problem of scarcity, which has plagued humanity since the dawn of time, apparently has found solution. Energy seems unlimited. Omnipresent devices (replicators) provide necessary food, clothing, and material goods. Greed has been eliminated. Money is no longer needed. In all likelihood, the economics profession has ceased to exist.

There is no indication that the genetic structure of future Star Trek humanity has been drastically altered in such a way that limits are placed on wants and needs. As such, the elimination of scarcity must have resulted due to unlimited resources, likely brought about through technological advances.

Consider key land and material resources. The Star Trek future appears to have unconstrained access to productive materials. This most likely results from access to an infinite number of planets and solar systems through faster-than-light travel. The energy needed to power spaceships and other productive mechanisms also appears unconstrained. One of the key productive tools is the replicator, which evidently can produce almost any type of food or consumer product desired.

With such abundance and unrestrained satisfaction of wants needs, the trappings of real world economics is largely absent. Not only has the economics profession been suspiciously absent from all Star Trek manifestations, so too have markets and money. No one in the Star Trek universe engages it buying or selling, and hence have no need for money.

Apparently, scarcity has been solved and the wide assortment of scarcity-generated economic problems no longer exist.

Constraints, Nonetheless

Closer inspection, however, suggests that scarcity is alive and well in the Star Trek future.

Consider replicators. While material wants and needs seem to be relatively satiated through replicator technology, these devices still require energy--energy that cannot be used for other activities. While seemingly abundant, this energy does have alternative uses. Chief engineers (Scotty, or LaForge, O'Brien, et. al.) are frequently forced to divert energy from "life support systems" to the "shields" to ward off phaser blasts from alien ships. This clearly implies that the use of energy incurs an opportunity cost and further indicates that scarcity persists in the Star Trek universe.

What about the apparent lack of money? While the use of money does not surface in many aspects of the Star Trek universe, especially on the assorted starships, it does play a part in other segments of interstellar life. For example, Deep Space Nine, chronologically-speaking the third Star Trek series, contains a vibrant, money-filled economy. Most characters on this space station find the need to buy, sell, and trade commodities. The primary currency, especially for the Ferengi, is gold-pressed latnum.

The economic coup de grace, however, is the introductory premise of Star Trek itself. As James T. Kirk (William Shatner) originally noted, which was subsequently paraphrased by Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), the Star Trek mission was to "explore strange new worlds" to "boldly go where no man (one) has gone before." This wanderlust, this need for exploration is perhaps one the most fundamental indications of the scarcity problem. Even the treksters of the future have yet to satisfy their "need" for exploring, discovering, and learning.


Recommended Citation:

STAR TREK SCARCITY, AmosWEB Encyclonomic WEB*pedia,, AmosWEB LLC, 2000-2022. [Accessed: January 26, 2022].

Check Out These Related Terms...

     | dismal science | technology | factors of production | scarce resource | scarce |

Or For A Little Background...

     | scarcity | economics | unlimited wants and needs | limited resources |

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     | economic thinking | land | natural resources | production | economy | free enterprise |

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