terça-feira, 17 de maio de 2016

[EXCLUSIVE] Interview with Manu Saadia, author of "Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek"

Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek
by Manu Saadia 
Manu Saadia was born in Paris, where with 8 years old met Star Trek, becoming really passionate for the franchise since then. In adulthood, he studied science history and economic history in Paris and Chicago. His work "Trekonomics" has been the subject of attention of major media outlets such as the newspapers The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, among others. Last year at New York Comic Con, Saadia participated in the panel "The Amazing Economics of Star Trek", next to the 2008's winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics, Paul Krugman. Currently, Saadia lives in the US with his wife and son, and regularly contributes with his writings to the website http://fusion.net.

"Trekonomics" is a work which basically analyses the economic(s) system(s) present(s) in the Star Trek universe. You don't have to be an economist to realize that in the stories told by Star Trek the relationship with work and consumption are very different from what we know, not only today, in the 21st century, but throughout the history of humankind. Seeking to better understand "Trekonomics", the blog conducted an interview with the author, which can be checked below.

The book is on pre-order at Amazon (click here), it will be released on May 31st, and can be ordered here as well: https://www.inkshares.com/books/trekonomics/

Manu Saadia
It's a great satisfaction for the blog that you accepted to give this interview. So, for starters, how about you tell Brazilian trekkers a bit of your personal history with Star Trek and where does the economy fit in?

I'm from France, where Star Trek was not really on TV until the late 80s. So I encountered Trek through the movies at first. This led me to read as much scifi as I could (because books were the next best thing). As for the economics part, it's that particular aspect of Star Trek that I found singular and remarkable. Turns out I studied economic history. So there you have it.

And the book, from which basic problem identified by you in the Star Trek economy did it occur?

The book comes out of my interest in economics. There aren't many scifi universes that deal specifically with the disappearance of human work (Asimov is really the only major one I can think of).

Being science fiction the extrapolation of theories accepted by the science community, is Star Trek's economy also the extrapolation of existing economic theories? How would you describe the economic system we see in Star Trek?

Regarding extrapolation of economics: Star Trek is (surprisingly) in the mainstream of economics. In essence, it is Keynesian. It assumes that once productivity rises beyond a (very high) certain point and that society becomes very wealthy, then incentives to accumulate personal wealth will melt away. It's very close to what Keynes wrote in 1930 - "The Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren."

You say that Star Trek IV marks a turning point in the canon, for it's from this film that money ceases to exist in the narrative universe of Star Trek, turning the franchise into a real utopia. What are the differences between the 23rd century and the 24th century economy?

The difference between the 23rd and 24th century seems to be the invention and wide deployment of replicators. Kirk's Enterprise doesn't have them, it has galley kitchens (remember that scene with Kim Catrall in STVI: The Undiscovered Country?). Picard has his own replicator in his ready room. So we go from ship's cooks to personal replicator units. Suddenly it's no longer necessary to make stuff. People in the 24th century still make a lot of stuff, but it's definitely not out of necessity, or a "job" as we understand it today.

Captain Picard says in First Contact: "The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity". In a book you know - cited in your work - the philosophers Jason Murphy and Todd Porter claim that the "recognition" (as understood by Hegel) is the only currency in the Federation, as the basic material needs are not of concern ("Material needs no longer exists", Picard in TNG 1X26). On the matter of "recognition" I see an approximation with the "symbolic capital" of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. What are the forms of capital really worth in the Star Trek universe?

Bourdieu is a big point of reference for me - although, of course it's not something you say or write in a book primarily meant to entertain. There is capital in the Federation, if only because there are tools and machines and knowledge that's used to make stuff. What you accumulate and use to make stuff and be in the world, as an individual, just doesn't take the form of financial assets. But they're still productive assets: knowledge, experience, fame, reputation. It is, in that respect, unequal and uneven - some people, by dint of their drive and excellence, end up with considerably more reputation than others. They even become captains of the Federation's flagship. The game, or the "field" to use Bourdieu's terminology, is purely symbolic. Recognition has become the currency, so to speak.

Is it possible the existence of a complex society, like the one we see in Star Trek, without the use of money?

Money is extremely useful as a unit of account. It is also a very useful technology for transactions. So the jury is still out on that question. If, as in Star Trek, the price of things goes to zero thanks to universal automation and plentiful energy, it seems logical that money as a store of wealth would lose its value. But it'd still be of some utility to keep track of where things go. In addition, even in Trek, the Federation has to deal with foreign entities, alien civilizations, that still use money. so the Federation, wealthy beyond money, still has to maintain some kind of foreign currency account (in latinum, of course).

Thank you for the interview and for the opportunity of reading your unpublished book. Finally, what would you say to trekker economists (or researchers from other fields of knowledge) who wish to unite their passion for the series to academic research?

Ah! Just do it! And do it for the reputation, like in Star Trek. It's a lot of fun. There's still a lot to be written about Star Trek in particular and science fiction in general.


I'd like to thank J. Tonelotto for the translation to portuguese.

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