My brother and I spent countless nights cross legged on the carpet in our mom-made Star Trek uniforms, exploring space with the crew of the Star Ship Enterprise. We were at an age when fact and fantasy still blurred in a way they never really do as an adult.
I was in 3rd grade when I first heard Captain Picard explain that humans would eventually outgrow money. Like the concept of money. During the episode “The Neutral Zone” the crew of the Starship Enterprise (now living in the 24th Century) thaw three cryogenically frozen people from the 20th Century. I remember watching the recently thawed business man ask to make a telephone call.
“I have provided for myself a substantial portfolio and it’s critical that I check on it. I need to let the bank know I’m alive.” His request seemed understandable to me. Growing up in a suburb with more country clubs than gas stations, my brother and I heard A LOT about adults’ portfolios. Up or down, steady, risky or safe. To us portfolios were mysterious sources of money that occasionally turned into a backyard pool, like Santa Claus for parents.
But this business man doesn’t get his phone call. Instead he gets a lecture from Captain Picard about his 20th Century priorities. “A lot has changed in three hundred years.” Picard says to the angry business man. “People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of ‘things’” Picard said things with a derision people reserve for slavery and the Holocaust. “We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We’ve out grown our infancy…money doesn’t exist in the 24th Century.”
Picard said infancy with such absolute certainly, as if humanity eliminating money, hunger, and possessions was as obvious as potty training a toddler. Sharing was just the next logic step in humans growing up.
And that idea took root deep inside of my mind. So deep that by High School I was reading the dystopian worlds of 1984 and A Brave New World as growing pains on the way to the 24th Century.
Although, it was hard to imagine a world without money. Money was like an invisible member of our family, a third parent that influenced all of my Mom and Dad’s decisions. Money determined what clothes I wore and whether or not kids were gonna make fun of me. Whether or not my Dad had to go into work on Saturday instead of watching my baseball games. If my family lived in an apartment or house or a mansion. How many kids I could invite to my birthday party.
But I slowly warmed up to the idea of a Money-less world. My parents fought a lot about money. From the sound of it my Dad spent too much on our birthday presents and vacation hotels. While my Mom spent too much on hair-cuts and clothes.
But the crew of the Enterprise never fought about money. They all wore the same clothes, ate pretty much the same food, and everything on the Enterprise was free.
If Gordi LaForge went to the Holodeck to climb a holographic mountain it was completely free.
It cost me a week’s allowance just to go to the Movie Theater.
Any crew member could go to Sick Bay for a free check-up any time they liked.
My Mom once made me live with a broken arm for three weeks because of our co-pay. “I’m not taking you in unless it’s really broken.” She told me. “I’m not paying $15 for them to tell you its sprained.”
I was in college when I read Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. My Philosophy Professor explain that America was a mix of Capitalism and Socialism, “You know Free Public School was a socialist idea” he said pointing at us with chalk covered fingers. I thought about the picture of our Sponsor Child hanging on my family refrigerator. My family gave him $30 a month because he couldn’t afford to pay for elementary school.
It’s no secret that people have a complicated relationship with Socialism.
Every country seems to go back and forth about how to manage their resources. My wife grew up in Ireland, with universal healthcare. I sat next to her as she worked her way through the American insurance application last year. As she read the fine print about pregnancy coverage starting 1 year after acceptance. She shouted at the computer, “This is ridiculous! Why can’t this country just get universal healthcare!” It was the same feeling I had when my parents explained to me that our Sponsor Child didn’t have a free public school in his neighborhood.
Mahatma Gandhi said “The earth provides enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” And it’s literally true. Give yourself a moment to let that sink in.
We don’t need money. Humans already make enough food for everyone on planet earth to eat. And I would venture a guess that if we set our minds to it we could at the very least build a house with running water for every family.
But we don’t. We don’t share, we haven’t eliminated money or hunger or need for possessions. We haven’t grown out of our infancy as Picard put it. We are still like the children my church’s nursery. Kids in diapers fighting over the newest toy in room full of toys.
Blame who you will. Nationalism, Corporate Profit, Individual Greed… But we are still growing up.
But I do believe we are growing up.
We don’t stone people in the streets for adultery anymore (well not very often).
We have abolished legalized slavery (although we still have a long ways to go towards living wages for all).
We put together the United Nations (although it has its warts as well).
Some countries even provide free universal healthcare.
And I believe these are all signs on our way to a moneyless world.
Maybe this is just because I watched too much Star Trek as a kid. Maybe if I would have spent my childhood in a top-hat and monocle playing Monopoly I’d think differently.
But I believe someday we will look back and wonder “Why did we ever think money was a good idea?” Ashamed that humans used to allow children to starve in rural Kenya while business men manage million-dollar portfolios on Wall Street.
Even if it takes us 300 years to get there.