04 Nov 2015

Star Trek and Economics

Economics, Shameless Self-Promotion 33 Comments

My latest at FEE. C’mon click it, they put up a cool photo of Kirk & Co.

33 Responses to “Star Trek and Economics”

  1. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Bob, your examples are due to the fact that Star Trek places limitations on its replication technology, and it has some alien races that do not possess replicators. If the planet could replicate their own medical supplies, and if Data could instantly replicate as many copies of the Enterpise as he wanted, there would be no issues.

    But I think if replication technology didn’t have such limitations, a communist society would work quite well. (At least work well from a consequentialist point of view. Whether it would be just and good for people spiritually is another matter.)

    • Major.Freedom says:

      Communism’s failure to work is not for lack of goods.

      • E. Harding says:

        When blue jeans cost half a years’ income in the 1980s, you know you’ve got a problem.

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        Major Freedom, don’t Austro-libertarians believe that property rights arise because there are scarce means of action over which there is the possibility of conflict? So if all means of action were superabundant, wouldn’t property rights and thus capitalism be rendered irrelevant in your view.

        • Dan says:

          How would we eliminate time and space?

          • Keshav Srinivasan says:

            Why would time and space need to be eliminated?

            • Dan says:

              Because they are both scarce. If we both want to occupy the same place at the same time then we need property rights to determine who has the better claim to be there. We can’t all build a house in Malibu beach. I can’t go to Six Flags and ski in Colorado at the same time. Scarcity can’t be eliminated by simply having the ability to replicate stuff.

              • Grane Peer says:

                Parallel dimension replicator or hyper-dimensional time-share?

        • guest says:

          “… don’t Austro-libertarians believe that property rights arise because there are scarce means of action over which there is the possibility of conflict?”

          I disagree that this is the Austrian view. Stephan Kinsella also holds this view, unfortunately.

          Property rights arise, not due to scarcity, but due to individuals mixing their labor with a resource.

          The idea is that someone would, in effect, have to have been forced into labor for someone else, if another person used what you made without your permission.

          And, now that I think about it, property rights also can’t be due to scarcity because scarcity is a function of consumer demand.

          “Solving” problems of scarcity with property rights just pushes the problem back one step: If someone still wants what you’re using, you’re in the same exact boat you were in before property rights were “assigned” – as if they were never assigned in the first place.

          On what basis would they be assigned, if by way of central planning? It would have to be political in nature. I.e., cronyism.

          I like my position better.

          • guest says:

            Correction: “Austro-libertarian view”, not “Austrian view”.

          • Dan says:

            “And, now that I think about it, property rights also can’t be due to scarcity because scarcity is a function of consumer demand.”

            That statement has nothing to do with what Kinsella is talking about. Regardless, you’re butchering how Kinsella, Hoppe, Block, etc. determines where property rights come from.

            • guest says:

              He believes that property rights are only necessary for conflict avoidance, and are set by “society”.

              So, he’s actually a collectivist on that particular issue.

              Here he is in his own words:

              Libertarianism and Intellectual Property: Stephan Kinsella on the Tom Woods Show

              And here’s something to think about, as well: If you’re a lone guy on an island and you built up your little part of it, does the mere introduction of more people to the island justify the imposition of centrally-planned property rights over what you’ve transformed?

              Either property rights are logically prior to society, or might makes right.

              • Anonymous says:

                Yeah, I’m well aware of what Kinsella believes about property rights. I just don’t think you understand his position based on how you describe his views.

              • Dan says:

                Your paraphrasing of his views doesn’t resemble his actual views. https://mises.org/library/what-libertarianism

              • guest says:

                [Time stamped]
                PMR Stephan Kinsella | IP and Double Counting

                [Stephan Kinsella:]

                “Property rights are the rights to control – the legally recognized, socially recognized, right to control, or to use – a given scarce resource that is a thing that’s of the type that people could have a conflict over it.

                “If there was no possibility of conflict over these things, you wouldn’t need property rules in the first place. We’d all be living in a Garden of Eden. That’s the whole reason for property rights.”

              • Dan says:

                Yes, I’m aware of Kinsella’s views and agree with him. My contention is that you don’t understand what he is saying based off how you are paraphrasing him. We don’t need snippets of his views. He’s spelled them out in much greater detail many times. For example, the article I linked to, or this one where he explains his disagreement Locke. http://c4sif.org/2013/04/lockes-big-mistake-how-the-labor-theory-of-property-ruined-political-theory-transcript/

              • Dan says:

                See, when you say that Kinsella believes property rights are set by society and then you defend that position by showing a quote where he says property rights are legally and socially recognized, it is clear as day to anyone that understands Kinsella’s views that you don’t get it.

              • guest says:

                “… it is clear as day to anyone that understands Kinsella’s views that you don’t get it.”

                OK, I read the C4SIF transcript, and he’s saying just what I’ve claimed he’s been saying.

                At any rate, I think you’re more objecting to my use of the phrase “mixing of labor”.

                I agree with Kinsella that labor isn’t a substance that can physically be mixed with a resource.

                If you prefer, what I mean by that phrase is that the idea that someone can have a legitimate claim to a resource I transformed is functionally equivalent to slavery.

                Because whether I am ordered against my will to make something or I make something that is later used without my permission, makes no difference – it’s the same thing.

                So, in other words, the source of property rights is the transformation of a resource because to say otherwise is to lay a claim on the use of another’s body.

                And I disagree with Kinsella’s “conflict avoidance” source of property rights because conflicts could be avoided simply by the owner giving it to the next claimant.

                He says that no one would have a right to use anything if the right wasn’t granted to *someone*, and we’d all be fighting each other.

                But maybe I’m really good at using weapons, therefore it *is* in my interest to reject a first-user basis for property rights. Now what? That approach doesn’t really solve anything.

                It’s a utilitarian, rather than principled, approach.

              • Anonymous says:

                I’m objecting to the fact that you think you understand the position of Kinsella, Hoppe, Block, etc. but then you describe it incorrectly. That’s fine, I don’t really care if everyone gets it and I’ve already wasted too much time talking about this, but my complaint has nothing to do with your use of one phrase or another. I just don’t think you know what you are talking about.

              • Harold says:

                I am reading the transcript of Kinsella. A couple of things spring to mind.
                1) Ownership starts with finding something in a state of nature. How are we supposed to determine who first found stuff? Land in particular. Clearly the Native Americans were using it before Europeans arrived, so must it all pass back to them? Who found Greece? How can we possibly know who owns all that stuff?

                2) he says the three ways of ownership are a) find stuff, b) transfer by contract and then some people say c) acquire by violence. He then rejects c because: “but that is a way of transferring title that exists already, so let’s say finding something or by contract from a previous owner.”

                By contract from a previous owner is also transfering title that exists already. if you get rid of c on that basis, you must get rid of b too.

                He gets rid of the pesky “mixing labor” stuff. The owner of a created thing is the person who owned the raw materials. If a painter steals the paints to paint a masterpiece, the owner of the paint owns the final product.

                Given there are only two ways – finding and voluntary transfer-that means anyone who aquired land by violence from someone who was using it has never been the owner, so everything must revert to the original owner. Since we have no way at all of identifying this person, where do we go from here?

              • Harold says:

                Guest: “And here’s something to think about, as well: If you’re a lone guy on an island and you built up your little part of it…”
                What if you built up *all* of it? You could reasonably claim to have “found” the whole island in a state of nature. You would own the entire island, and any new arrivals would have no right to anything on the island in perpetuity.

        • Major.Freedom says:

          Keshav, if real goods were infinite, then you can’t say communism is possible. There wouldn’t be any sharing or part ownership of any goods, since any individual could acquire for him or herself an unlimited supply of any good. No point in sharing goods when everyone already has infinite of them.

          But that is really neither here nor there. For there would still be your own body. Most economists overlook this, but your body is literally the most scarce thing or entity there is for you. No matter what, you would only be able to go along a single path, however wide it is, and you would be forced by your nature to forgo a practically unlimited set of all other possible paths of action.

          Time and space are also factors in economizing. Time preference may not apply in the productive sense, since you already have infinite of all temporal order goods.

    • Grane Peer says:

      Keshav, I think the elimination of scarcity instead of leading to Marxian Supermen would lead to mass suicide and or hyper-depravity. You set this aside as another matter but I am more inclined to wonder what you mean by “work”

  2. Major.Freedom says:

    Great article Murphy.

    The fundamental reason why DeLong conflates a transcending of minimum subsistence with a transcending of scarcity, is the irrationalism in his view of humanity. DeLong’s view is typical of most who are enamored with Keynesianism and its fixation on capitalism choking on its own exuberance.

    This view is that man is essentially nothing more than a “trousered ape”. That we produce more than we ” need.”

    There is little to no respect for the Rationalist aspect of mankind. Rational animals are not content with merely biologically surviving. There is an urge to explore, to think, to learn more and more about the world around us. The economic concept of scarcity has nothing to do with how many hamburgers or bowls of rice we can produce. It has to do with our nature as a rational animal. The rational aspect of ourselves has us enjoying new technology, new gadgets, new things.

  3. Max says:

    Primitive people living in small groups don’t work very hard. Maybe our wealth is just a waste byproduct of social striving.

    • guest says:

      Larger numbers of people allow for more specialization so as to maximize individual profit from comparative advantages.

      It’s not how hard we work, per se, that makes us wealthy. It’s how efficiently we can make voluntary trades.

      Because voluntary trades are more likely to result in repeat business, effectively turning your customers into more steady supplies of goods and services.

      (It’s OK, when doing business, to think of people as resources.)

      • guest says:

        Heck, even friendship comes with a price: reciprocity.

        Imagine being someone’s friend, and they never acted like a friend back? You’d say that person wasn’t being a friend.

        It’s not true that there are no strings attached to friendship.

  4. Yancey Ward says:

    It all comes down to this for people like DeLong- what you don’t need to literally survive, you don’t have a right to want.

  5. Grane Peer says:

    Lest we forget the Federation Credits

  6. Major.Freedom says:

    Hey Murphy, I stumbled across this paper on morality and mathematics:


    Some interesting tidbits.

    • Harold says:

      “Does the proposition that that there are ordinals as great as or greater than omega + omega possess a privileged status that, say, the proposition that murder is bad lacks?”

      We have a problem here. All the terms in the mathematical phrase are well defined, but murder is not. If they had said “killing”, then would be well defined, but they did not. Murder is defined as “unauthorised killing”, and the definition implies it is bad before we start. It is like saying “bad killing is bad”. If they meant to say all killing is bad, then there are a lot of people who do not agree that killing is necesarily bad, even if restricted to humans.

  7. Andrew_FL says:

    We are not post scarcely while men are still mortal.

    I don’t understand how anyone can look at a world in which people die involuntarily and think “they have enough stuff.”

  8. Harold says:

    On the sci-fi theme, the books of Iain M Banks on the Culture deal with this sort of issue. The time and body constraints are also done away with by simulations that are indistinguishable from reality. There still seems to be a preference for “reality” in these stories. This leads some societies to create “hells” in which simulations of people can be endlesly tortured for their sins.

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