One of the most controversial aspects of Star Trek is the idea touted in many episodes that there is no money in the 24th century. Somewhat surprisingly, fans who have no problem accepting the idea of faster than light travel, time travel, phaser weapons and subspace anomalies find that the idea of a society operating without money is 'unbelievable'!
As with many aspects of Star Trek, the creators of the show have been less than consistent in their approach to the use of money. Some episodes have statements that there is no money, whilst others have characters talking about how they have bought a particular item or service. This purpose of this article is to list the canon statements made regarding money and its use within the various incarnations of Star Trek and suggest possible interpretations which would paint a consistent picture of this aspect of the show. It is not my intention to explain how a future society could function without any form of currency; I do believe that this would be possible, but it's not what this is about.
In the original Star Trek series there are few comments concerning money, but there are occasional mentions. The first comes in the episode 'Mudd's Women'. At the beginning of this episode Harry Mudd is beamed aboard the Enterprise with three beautiful women. Whilst riding in a turbolift with Spock, asks if the First Officer is 'part Vulcanian' and when Spock replies in the affirmative the following conversation ensues :
|Mudd : ||"Ah well then a pretty face doesn't affect you at all does it! That is not unless you want it to. You can save it girls, this type can turn himself off from any emotion."|
|Evie : ||"I apologise for what he said sir, he's so used to buying and selling people-"|
It later transpires that Mudd is shipping the three women to Ophiuchus III in order to become wives for the settlers. It is not completely certain that Mudd is a Human being, but he certainly does appear to be. It's also not completely certain that Eve is being literal - it's hard to believe that Mudd buys people as such, rather he seems to charge some kind of commission for getting the miners together with wives. The ship heads for Rigel XII to get some lithium crystals. On hearing about this, Mudd reacts ecstatically :
|Mudd : ||"Oh, you beautiful galaxy! Oh that heavenly universe! Well girls, lithium miners! Don't you understand? Lonely, isolated overworked, rich lithium miners! Do you still want husbands? Hmm? Evie, you were going to be satisfied with a ship's captain? I'll get you a man who can buy you a whole planet!"|
So the miners on Rigel XII posses great individual wealth, and this wealth is rare enough that Mudd is delighted with the prospect of getting his hands on some of it. Again, the miners appear to be Humans although we cannot be certain of this.
In 'Arena', Kirk is stranded on an asteroid by an advanced species calling themselves the Metrones. He finds various gemstones on the surface, and picking a large one up he declares :
|Kirk : ||"A large deposit of diamonds on the surface; perhaps the hardest substance known in the universe. Beautifully crystallised and pointed, but they are too small to be useful as a weapon. An incredible fortune in stones, yet I would trade them all for a hand phaser, or a good solid club!"|
Kirk will later state in 'Catspaw' that the Federation has the technology to manufacture diamonds at will. It seems that this ability will be developed between 'Arena' and 'Catspaw'; nevertheless, the fact that he believes the stones to be valuable during the former episode does indicate that the Federation continues to use some form of capitalistic system involving money.
In 'The Devil In The Dark' the Enterprise visits Janus VI. This is an important mining planet which could supply the mineral needs of a thousand worlds, if only mining conditions were not so severe. The head of the miners there describes it thus :
|Vanderburg : ||"About three months ago we opened up a new level. Sensors gave us an unusually rich pergium reading. Not only pergium, anything you want. Uranium, cerium, platinum. The whole planet's like that - it's a treasure house!"|
The use of the word 'treasure house' implies the existence on money. It is possible that Vanderburg is just using a figure of speech, that he means the planet is very important in a resources sense, but later in the episode Kirk gives a more definitive statement :
|Vanderburg : ||"Just wanted to tell you the eggs have started to hatch, Captain. First thing the little devils do is start to tunnel! We've already hit huge new pergium deposit. I'm afraid to tell you how much gold and platinum and rare earths we've uncovered."|
|Kirk : ||"I'm delighted to hear that chief. Once mother Horta tells her children what to look for, you people are going to be embarrassingly rich!"|
As with the lithium miners in 'Mudd's Women' the inhabitants of Janus VI are expected to amass considerable personal fortunes from their work on the planet. Interestingly, this episode also establishes that gold is a metal in short supply at this time. As we will see later, this will not always be so.
In 'Errand of Mercy', a war breaks out between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Kirk and Spock are stranded on an apparently primitive planet which is occupied by Klingon forces. When Kirk decides to launch an attack on the Klingons he turns to Spock and says :
|Kirk : ||"The Federation has invested a great deal of money in our training, they're about due for a small return. We have two hours in which to do it."|
This is an important quote because it is the clearest possible statement that the Federation itself does indeed use money.
In the episode 'The Trouble With Tribbles', there is a scene in a bar on deep space station K-7 in which trader Cyrano Jones attempts to sell some small furry animals to the bartender as Uhura and Chekov look on. The following dialogue takes place :
|Uhura : ||"Are you selling them?"|
|Bartender : ||"That's what we're trying to decide right now."|
|Jones : ||"My friend, ten credits a piece is a very reasonable price, now you can see for yourself how much the lovely little lady appreciates the finer things."|
|Bartender : ||"One credit a piece."|
|Chekov : ||"He won't bite will he?"|
|Jones : ||"Sir, transporting harmful animals from one planet to another is against regulations, or weren't you aware of that? Besides, Tribbles have no teeth!"|
|Bartender : ||"All right, I'll double my offer; two credits."|
|Jones : ||"Twice nothing is still nothing."|
|Uhura : ||"Well if you're not going to take him I'm going to take him, I think he's cute."|
|Bartender : ||"Four credits."|
|Jones : ||"Is that an offer or a joke?"|
|Bartender : ||"That's my offer."|
|Jones : ||"That's a joke."|
|Bartender : ||"Five?"|
|Jones : ||"I can see you're an honest man, I can tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to lessen my price to eight and a half credits."|
|Bartender : ||"You're talking yourself out of a deal friend. Six credits, not a credit more."|
|Jones : ||"Seven and a half! Seven? All right you robber, six credits."|
|Bartender : ||"Done, when can I have them?"|
|Jones : ||"Right away."|
|Uhura : ||"All right, what are you selling them for?"|
|Bartender : ||"Well let me see little lady, six credits. I figure a reasonable mark-up for a reasonable profit, say ten percent mark-up, ten credits."|
|Jones : ||"Thief!"|
Surely naked capitalism at it's very finest! Station K-7 certainly appears to be run under the auspices of the Federation; Uhura is certainly Human, and although we cannot be completely certain, both the bartender and Jones appear to be also. Certainly all those present are dealing with some form of money called 'credits', and certainly both Jones and the Bartender are motivated by profit. More, Spock later describes Jones as having scratched out a 'marginal living' buying and selling merchandise, so this sale is not an isolated incident, and and the implication is that Jones is not doing this for fun, but rather because he has to.
In 'The Gamsters of Triskelion' the disembodied alien brains known as 'Providers' are clearly highly into money, betting 'quatloos' on the outcome of combat matches. I will not go into detail as it isn't very relevant, since the Providers are clearly neither Human nor Federation members.
Later on during the evolution of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry apparently decided that in the post-TOS era the Federation had progressed to a point at which most of the everyday problems of life had been solved. He projected a time in which people only worked to improve themselves and the rest of humanity. The first sign of this in terms of the Star Trek timeline came in Star Trek IV. During this movie, Kirk and his crew go back in time to late 1980s Earth in order to retrieve a pair of humpback whales. Shortly after his arrival, Kirk notes :
|Kirk : ||"They're still using money, we gotta find some."|
Later on, in a restaurant with Dr. Taylor, Kirk reveals that he is from the future. She is naturally sceptical, and when the bill arrives the following exchange occurs :
|Taylor : ||"Don't tell me, they don't use money in the twenty third century."|
|Kirk : ||"Well we don't."|
Strictly speaking this only proves that money is not in use. It does not preclude some form of wireless economy in which all payments are made through computer transfers.
At the beginning of the conference scene, Scotty declares that he has 'just bought a boat'. No details are given regarding whom he purchased it from or what mode of payment were employed.
Unfortunately, it is here that the contradictions started. The such came in the first season's final episode 'The Neutral Zone'. The Enterprise-D rescues three Humans who have been frozen in time for several hundred years. One of them is a stockbroker who is eager to check out how his accounts have been doing whilst he has been gone. Picard has some bad news for him :
|Picard : ||"A lot has changed in the last three hundred years. People are no longer obsessed by the accumulation of things. We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We've grown out of our infancy."|
This philosophy is later contradicted in 'Captain's Holiday'. In this episode Picard goes on holiday to Risa (hence the title), where he becomes encounters a Human woman named Vash. Vash was the personal assistant to an archaeologist who died whilst looking for the mysterious Tox Utat. A Ferengi named Sovak is seeking to purchase a disk from Vash which contains the research notes which will reveal the device's position. Sovak attempts to buy the disk from Vash at one point :
|Sovak : ||"I have a proposal I believe you'll find most interesting."|
|Vash : ||"Save your breath!"|
|Sovak : ||"I'm willing to pay you your weight in gold in exchange for the disk. Is that not a generous offer?"|
To this Vash simply snorts and walks away. Later, Sovak confronts Vash and Picard :
|Sovak : ||"Do you know how she acquired the disk in the first place?"|
|Vash : ||"Sovak!"|
|Sovak : ||"I paid her to steal it! But instead she betrayed me and used my money to make her way here."|
|Vash : ||"It didn't happen that way."|
|Sovak : ||"She's a greedy and unscrupulous woman. A perfect mate for a Ferengi!"|
On it's own this is not entirely convincing, because Vash denies that Sovak's version of events is true. But later she confesses to Picard :
|Vash : ||"Jean Luc, I'm afraid I haven't been entirely honest with you."|
|Picard : ||"Forgive me if I don't act surprised."|
|Vash : ||"Sovak did pay me to hand over the disk."|
|Picard : ||"So you did steal it."|
|Vash : ||"It wasn't stealing. The Professor had died; I had spent five years of my life tracking down the Utat!"|
|Picard : ||"But you took Sovak's money?"|
|Vash : ||"It was the only way I could afford to get to Risa! As for Sovak, he got exactly what he deserved."|
So this confirms Sovak's version of events. Vash did indeed accept payment from him because she had no other way to pay for passage to Risa.
Another, more minor, reference to money comes from the episode 'Brothers'. Here Data meets with Dr. Soong, his creator. Soong asks Data why people are fascinated with old things and Data replies that it is an attempt to tie themselves to the past. In reply Soong says :
|Soong : ||"Well what's so important about the past? People got sick, they needed money. Why tie yourself to that?"|
So we're back to the idea that people no longer need money.
Another thing to note is that throughout the whole run of TNG, the senior officers play a regular game of poker in which they bet chips. This doesn't necessarily mean anything, though; it's difficult to play poker properly without using chips, and many people play friendly games where the chips are just a way of keeping score. We have never seen or heard any reference to buying chips at the beginning of a game or cashing them in at the end.
Another statement is made regarding future Economics in this movie. Picard is wandering the Borg-infested Enterprise-E accompanied by Lilly, a Human from the year 2063. Lily is mightily impressed by the size of the ship, and the following dialogue takes place :
|Lilly : ||"It took me six months to scrounge up enough titanium just to build a four metre cockpit! How much did this thing cost?"|
|Picard : ||"The economics of the future are somewhat different. You see, money doesn't exist in the 24th century."|
|Lilly : ||"No money? You mean you don't get paid?"|
|Picard : ||"The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of Humanity."|
When Picard makes this statement it's technically 2063 but the statement refers to the time he travelled back from, i.e. 2373. Unlike most TNG quotes this one is a solid statement that no money exists in the 24th century.
Deep Space Nine makes an interesting set of contributions to the issue. There is frequent mention throughout the series of 'gold pressed latinum' as a valuable resource. So frequent, in fact, that I will not even attempt to list all mentions of it here - see 'Who Mourns For Morn?' for an episode which involves extensive use of latinum.
Latinum comes in at least five denominations - isiks, slips, strips, bars and bricks. In "Body Parts" we find out the exchange rate :
|Quark : ||"Five hundred bars of latinum, for the entire set. Come on Nog!"|
|Rom : ||"That's ten thousand strips!"|
|Quark : ||"Or one million slips."|
So from this we know that 1 bar equals 20 slips, and one slip equals one hundred strips. Now if only we knew how many bars to the brick...
Latinum appears to be the standard Ferengi unit of exchange, although many other species also appear to use it - in that respect, latinum seems to be the 'US dollar' of the alpha quadrant. The above mentioned 'Who Mourns For Morn?' establishes that the latinum part of gold pressed latinum is a valuable liquid which is contained within the actual physical strips and bars themselves. The gold part of the currency is described as valueless. Oddly enough we see Quark break one of the bars and it is full of dust, implying that the gold part of the currency is gold dust contained within some sort of brittle shell, an alloy of gold perhaps. It seems strange that the currency would be so fragile - you'd expect bricks to be breaking all over the place. Or perhaps removing the latinum weakens the casing somehow?
On present day Earth, they type of money used by most nations is called 'fiat money'. Fiat money is, in and of itself, almost wholly valueless. Modern notes are actually not payment in themselves, but rather a promise to pay - this is why notes in the UK all have the words 'I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of...' printed on them. The note is essentially a cheque which can be easily transferred from one person to another.
Latinum seems to hark back to 'commodity money', where the value of the money lies in the cost of the material which makes it up. This makes a kind of sense - fiat money's only value lies in the backing of the government which issued it, and so it is only useful within that government's sphere of influence - an area which often, though not always, ends at the border. Commodity money, on the other hand, is valuable wherever the substance it is made of it rare. Given that the alpha quadrant seems to contain large numbers of governments who have little trust with one another, or even knowledge of one another, commodity money may well prove much more useful as an interstellar exchange medium.
Almost every single example of people using gold pressed latinum on DS9 involves Quark. As a Ferengi, Quark is largely obsessed with the gathering of money which he then keeps in a personal safe rather than a bank. Strangely, while people do gamble gold pressed latinum at Quark's dabo table, it is extremely rare to see anybody actually paying for food or drink in the bar. Indeed, I cannot find any specific example of anybody paying for anything in Quark's. Quark is not a part of the Federation and so most of the examples of money being used on DS9 have little relevance to this article.
There are, however, some occasions when Quark deals with humans using money. In 'Defiant', Riker comments that he won all of Quark's Latinum the last time he passed through DS9. And in 'Q-Less', Vash reappears and sells various Gamma Quadrant artefacts she has brought back using Quark as an agent.
However, the episode in which the issue of money is addressed most emphatically is 'In The Cards'. In this episode the station's crew is feeling somewhat miserable because of the worsening political situation. Jake Sisko decides to cheer up his father by obtaining a rare baseball card for him, and must go through a convoluted series of deals in order to do this. The overall effect is that he cheers up virtually the entire senior staff, but the telling point is that he has to go through all this because, as a Human, he is unable to simply buy the card. This is stated explicitly in a scene between Jake and Nog :
|Jake : ||"Come on Nog!"|
|Nog : ||"No!"|
|Jake : ||"Why not?"|
|Nog : ||"It's my money Jake. If you want to bid at the auction, use your own money."|
|Jake : ||"I'm Human, I don't have any money."|
|Nog : ||"It's not my fault your species decided to abandon currency based economics in favour of some philosophy of self enhancement."|
|Jake : ||"Hey, watch it! There's nothing wrong with our philosophy. We work to better ourselves and the rest of Humanity."|
|Nog : ||"What does that mean, exactly?"|
|Jake : ||"It means... it means we don't need money."|
|Nog : ||"Well if you don't need money then you certainly don't need mine."|
Voyager has made a couple of interesting contributions to this issue. The first comes in 'The Gift', where the Janeway says the following to Kes :
|Janeway : ||"Ah! Tuvok's meditation lamp! I was with him when he got it, six years ago, from a Vulcan master - who doubled the price when he saw our Starfleet insignias."|
This is an important quote, because it establishes that money is indeed in use on Federation planets during the TNG era. It could also be taken to indicate that Starfleet officers are considered to be highly paid, or gullible enough to pay over the normal price.
The next quote comes in 'Dark Frontier'. Janeway compares raiding a Borg sphere to attacking Fort Knox, and Tom Paris provides this description :
|Paris : ||"Fort Knox--the largest repository of gold bullion in Earth's history. Over 50 metric tons, worth over $9 trillion U.S. dollars... When the New World Economy took shape in the late 22nd-century and money went the way of the dinosaur, Fort Knox was turned into a museum."|
This would seem to contradict the idea of a Federation without money; more on that later. The most interesting thing about it is that it gives a time frame for the move away from money - the late 22nd century. There are various examples throughout Voyager of the ship buying supplies of one kind or another from local civilisations. These rarely involve any form of currency - more usually the crew engage in some form of barter, swapping isolinear chips for weapons as in 'Retrospect', or Zeolitic ore for deuterium injectors as in 'Nightingale'. This makes sense given that Voyager is travelling through unknown space, and so would not have currency even if such exists in these places. In any case, these examples are not terribly relevant for the purposes of this article since they involve non-Federation members.
To summarise some of our data points :
By 2200 :
|Money goes 'the way of the dinosaur'. |
2265 - 2267 :
|Credits in use within the Federation. |
By 2286 :
|Kirk states that 'we' do not use money in his time. |
|Scotty buys a boat. |
By 2364 :
|Picard states that greed has been eliminated. |
|The Ferengi offer bribes to Enterprise-D personnel, state that gold is precious. |
|Vash takes payment from a Ferengi, is later offered a further payment in gold. |
2369 - 2375 :
|Humans on DS9 use money when dealing with Ferengi or other aliens. |
|Jake states that it is Humans who do not have money. |
Picard states that money does not exist in the 24th century.
|Quark states that gold is worthless. |
One of the first conclusions here is that, contrary to popular belief, it was not actually during TNG that the fact that there was no money in the future was established. Picard says in 'The Neutral Zone' that people are no longer obsessed by the need to accumulate possessions, and that want has been eliminated, but he does not claim that there is no such thing as money. 'Captain's Holiday' shows that money does indeed still exist and is in use within the Federation else Vash would not have needed some to travel to Risa, a Federation planet.
During the series Soong comes closest to stating that there is no money by stating that it was something people needed in the past, but even he stops short. It's quite possible to interpret his words as meaning that all basic needs are supplied for free so you don't need money, but that it still exists for buying luxuries.
So the first definitive statement that 'we don't have money', in both the real and Trek timeline, actually comes from Kirk in Star Trek IV. This movie was produced in 1986, about a year before TNG debuted, so it seems that the move towards showing the future as a less capitalistic society came around this time. Roddenberry had relatively little creative input to the movies after 'Star Trek : The Motion Picture', but he did have a big influence on early TNG and so it seems at the very least that he was happy to endorse the idea that money played a much reduced part in the future.
The no money philosophy takes its first knocks during 'Captain's Holiday'. Vash is not positively stated to be Human in this episode, but Worf identifies her as such in 'Qpid'. Yet she is clearly motivated at least partially by greed. Further, the fact that she was unable to travel within the Federation without funds to buy passage destroys the idea that there is a Federation-wide no money policy.
Deep Space Nine has many examples of money being used, but as mentioned most of these are not a problem because they take place with Quark, who is not a Federation citizen. There are one or two examples of Humans wanting to acquire money, principally Tom Riker in 'Defiant' and Vash in 'Q Less', but Deep Space Nine contains no example of Humans buying or selling items between one another.
Deep Space Nine does have what is certainly the most pivotal episode in this whole debate, i.e. 'In The Cards'. Up to this episode the idea that the future has no money rests almost solely on Kirk's ST IV quote. It would be more than a little tempting to remove the whole problem by a creative 'reinterpretation' of this single quote. However, 'In The Cards' makes the most positive statement ever on the matter. It is not possible to interpret Jake as meaning that physical currency has been eliminated in favour of wireless transfers or some such, for Jake would still be able to bid on the baseball card no matter what form his money was in.
Voyager then makes another strong statement on the subject, not only confirming that money has become extinct but giving us an approximate date for this. Yet in 'The Gift', Voyager confirms that money is indeed still in use within the Federation.
First Contact complicates matters somewhat. It gives a strong "no money" statement, but it is a very general one; Picard doesn't limit his claim in any way, so he could be interpreted to mean that there is no money anywhere
in the 24th century. Yet he can't mean this, because it's been shown many times that there are many non-Federation powers that still use money.
This apparently tangled web becomes a whole lot simpler to unravel when we consider Jake's 'In The Cards' statement more carefully. He does not state Federation citizenship as the reason he does not have money; rather it is specifically that he is a Human being. We can therefore make the assumption that Humans do not use money with one another, but only when dealing with aliens. This requires some creative interpretation of Picard's "First Contact" statement, but as mentioned we already have to assume that Picard was being somewhat over-general in claiming that there is no money in the 24th century. It's not so great a leap to say that his statement applied only to Humans rather than the Federation as a whole. In this light many of the apparent contradictions vanish. For instance, we can assume that Scotty bought his boat from an alien. Vash's dealings with the Ferengi, Riker winning money from Quark, the Vulcan merchant mentioned in 'The Gift', all cease to be a problem.
Indeed, after several years of talking about this issue I have yet to find a single example of one Human being using money in dealings with another Human being in any post-TOS episode of Star Trek.
Ironically, then, the biggest fly in the ointment then becomes TOS - the series that was the most consistent in its use of money! Paris's 'Dark Frontier' date of 'the late 22nd century' puts the abandonment of money at no later than 2199, which is still at least sixty years prior to TOS. So we have to find some way to reconcile this.
The simplest and neatest way is to say that Paris got his dates slightly mixed up, and actually the transition happened some time between 2267 and 2286. All the TOS references to money being used between Humans fall before this range and all the no money statements fall after it. However, this is not an ideal solution because it involves disregarding a canon statement.
Secondly, we could say that the move to no money happened in stages. Perhaps Paris was referring to the abandonment of physical cash in favour of payment via computer. This would still allow payments via computer 'credits' to exist during TOS. Then in the post-TOS era currency was abandoned altogether. One problem with this is explaining why the move to a computer-money society made the gold in Fort Knox worthless. So long as money of any form exists and gold remains rare, then the metal should retain its value. It's possible that the move to a computerised currency society happened concurrently with some advance which made gold valueless - cheap transmutation, for example. Perhaps the advent of replicators or some other method of manufacturing gold artificially could account for this. But this seems like a clumsy explanation; Paris certainly implied that it was the New World Economy's abandonment of money which made gold valueless, so it seems that this scenario is flawed.
Another way around the problem is to assume that Paris was talking only about Earth. We have already established that the no money thing only applies to Humans. Possibly it was a gradual conversion, with Earth changing over to a no-money economy prior to 2200. Paris does, after all, call it the 'New World
Economy' rather than the 'New Human
Economy'. If we go with this assumption then during TOS most Human planets may still have used money, including whichever ones Harry Mudd and Vanderburg came from. The difference between Earth Humans and others then mirrors the later difference between all Humans and other Federation citizens; Earth Humans would not use money when dealing with one another, but would do so when dealing with their non-Terran cousins. The rest of Humanity would eventually see the wisdom of the no money system and convert to it sometime between TOS and TNG.
Our final option is to assume that Paris was completely correct. Under this assumption Humanity as a whole would have abandoned money circa 2200. But since this does only apply to Humans, there would still be some motivation for a Humans to enrich his or her self in order to function on non-Human worlds. It's possible that Humans who work for Starfleet would be paid; Lilly asks Picard if he is paid in "First Contact" and although the implication of the scene is that he is not, he actually makes no direct answer to the question.
Since Starfleet is a Federation rather than a Human organisation it is possible that everybody in it is paid, or that only the Humans are not. Either way, in a Federation in which Humans do not use money with one another, they may still engage in commerce so as to better their lot within a Federation-wide context.
As an analogy, imagine if Texas came up with a way to function internally entirely without money while the rest of the US remained capitalist. A Texan might choose to stay within the state for the rest of their life and never trouble themselves with money at all, but those who wanted to visit other states would still need some way to pay for things whilst there. Texans who wanted a better time while out of Texas may still choose to engage in commerce with one another to improve their lot.