Re: [OPE] Star Trek and Labour Theory of Value.

From: David Laibman <>
Date: Mon Nov 03 2008 - 11:52:53 EST

We talked about this on OPE many years ago.

The starship Enterprise has "synthesizers." Captain Picard, e.g., says
"Earl Grey Tea -- hot." The computer hums, and -- voila -- there is
his cup of tea, ready for drinking.

I remember one unimaginative writer having the characters speak of
"synthesizer rations," and even trading these rations. Shame! But the
technology clearly implies unlimited power to synthesize -- in short,
labor content of goods = 0. Surely, the energy required to accomplish
this, compared to what it must take to run a starship at warp speeds,
must be negligible.

Ernest Mandel, in his *Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory*, used
this fantasy (not Star Trek; just in general) as an argument for the
labor theory of value. Clearly, where goods can be synthesized
infinitely at zero labor cost, they would not command other goods in
exchange. No labor, no exchange value. QED. Unfortunately, and
interestingly, this thought experiment does not distinguish between
labor and the other (perhaps the only other) candidate for a substance
of value: marginal utility. Without scarcity, MU is also = 0. This
seems to confirm what many have said: substantiation of the principle of
an intrinsic relation between labor and value (one definition, surely,
of the "law of value") cannot be accomplished within the frame of
economic categories alone. It is about social relations, and the
"proof" of that fact takes us beyond the normal range of epistemological
validity criteria (trains of reasoning with "QED: at the end).

Anyway, greetings to all Trekkies on the list! And herewith I improve
Jerry's ratio of participating OPE members.


Alejandro Agafonow wrote:
> Anyone here is a fan of Star Trek?
> I am and I wonder what kind of economic model supports our society
> depicted there. I remember a chapter where they have a sort of
> microwave, but this one materializes every kind of good that you
> specify. I suppose it operates with nanotechnology and it is able to
> combine atoms in a specified way so that we can have the good we asked
> to the computer.
> Does this stage of our society could fit the situation imagined by
> Dickinson? That is, when human labour comes to be so scarce compared
> with other factors of production.
> A. Agafonow
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Received on Mon Nov 3 11:55:37 2008

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