The Economics of Star Trek
Last revised: 2000.07.10
The primary goal of this document is to show that the writers and producers of Star Trek are promoting the values and ideals of communism. I should note that this has not always been the case; the TOS Federation was clearly a free market, and I can only imagine that some sort of coup occurred during the intervening period between TOS and TNG. One could theorize that radical left-wing activists took control of the government agenda.
In order to answer the question of whether the Federation is communist, we must first define communism. As most people are vaguely aware, communism was first popularized by Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels, in the mid-19th century. In February of 1848, they published their "Communist Manifesto", which eventually became the inspiration for Communist revolutions in Russia, China, North Korea, North Vietnam, Cuba, and numerous other nations (I suppose I should note that neo-Marxists deny any connection to these communist states, claiming that they were "perversions" of the lofty, wonderful, perfect Marxist ideals that would have created a paradise on Earth if we had only given them a chance. Of course, they are reluctant to acknowledge that Marxist ideals defy implementation for numerous reasons of practicality and human nature, so a real-life communist state will always be a perversion of the "ideal").
In any case, although millions of people have strong opinions on "The Communist Manifesto", very few of them have ever had the misfortune of actually reading this irrational gibberish. I am one of the unfortunate few who has read it (click here for the gory details), and it is definitely the blueprint (albeit with some modifications) for the Federation's socio-economic structure. If we disregard some of Karl Marx's dated agricultural ideas, the abridged version of the basic tenets of marxism are as follows:
Abolition of property rights. Government intervention in the buying and selling of goods increases by an order of magnitude. Investments are verboten. The concept of private property is virtually destroyed. Neo-marxists are quick to point out that Marx only wanted to eliminate "exploitative" capitalist property, rather than the personal property of the "artisan and craftsman". However, Marx never explained how to preserve one while eliminating the other. For example, at what point do Grandma's savings become exploitative capitalist investments? How do you criminalize one without criminalizing the other?. The result of his half-baked idea is a proposal which is impossible to implement, so real communist states have historically abolished all forms of private property (thus creating a vacuum which black marketeers sprang up to fill).
State seizure of transportation services. Emigration is criminalized, and the state seizes control of all means of transport (note that this state monopoly should not be confused with modern public transit systems, which must compete with private companies and personal vehicles). This has the effect of eliminating freedom of movement, since citizens become dependent on government services in order to travel. Again, neo-Marxists claim that Karl Marx only had the loftiest of goals in mind (getting the vital transportation services out of the hands of greedy capitalists), but they forget that he failed to explain why a government would be a better service provider than a free market. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and the state seizure of transportations would represent a vast increase in government power. Do you remember the old adage about how power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely? Karl Marx didn't.
State seizure of communication services. Insurrectionist activities are criminalized, and the state seizes control of all means of communication. This has the effect of limiting or removing freedom of expression, since the state can easily muzzle anyone they wish. Again, neo-Marxists are quick to point out that Marx only intended to take vital services from greedy capitalists, but as before, his cure is worse than the disease.
Remember that true freedom of expression is not merely the right to express yourself at the government's forbearance; it is the right to express yourself even when the government is offended by your remarks. It is the right to express yourself even when many in the government fervently wish you would shut the hell up. How can this kind of freedom possibly exist when the government controls all the means of communication? How does Karl Marx solve this problem? He doesn't! He assumes the government will voluntarily restrain itself from abusing its newfound absolute power! "Naiveté" is a gross understatement.
Elimination of religion and traditional families. Karl Marx predicted that religion would fall by the wayside with the advent of the Age of Reason. To be fair, he was hardly alone in this belief, and he didn't explicitly advocate the forcible elimination of religion. However, since he described it as a mandatory aspect of a communist state, real communist states have inevitably attempted to meet his expectations through force. As a result, his recommendations tended to result in the elimination of freedom of religion. The situation is simpler with the elimination of the family, which he did explicitly call for (most specifically in the areas of marriage and inheritance). Again, he claimed to have only the noblest of motives, insisting that the family structure was conducive to capitalist exploitation and was therefore harmful to society. Of course, he provided no evidence to support this attack on the family and no explanation of why noncommital sex and state-raised children would be an improvement over the status quo, but that was typical of his modus operandi: make questionable attacks on capitalists and then recommend state ownership as the solution without bothering to show how the state would do a better job.
State seizure of industry. Naturally, if you're going to seize services such as communication and transportation, you might as well seize every other industry as well. In Karl Marx's collectivized utopia, monopolies are good, and competition is bad. All food and manufactured products come from only one supplier: the government. If they don't make a product the way you want it, then you're stuck because there are no competitors. If they don't make it at all, then you're SOL. If they don't make enough supply to meet demand, then you must line up for whatever they have made (remember the Soviet bread lines?). The effect of this proposal is greatly decreased consumer choice (why have thirty brands of breakfast cereal when there's only one supplier and no competition?), poor product quality (why improve the product when the "customer" has no choice but to take whatever you've made?), and chronic supply shortfalls (the inevitable result of production being managed by government bureaucrats rather than the self-corrective free-market supply and demand mechanism).
Citizens are forced to work. Since citizens no longer have an economic incentive to work, there is no way to keep all of the populace working without resorting to the threat of punishment. Karl Marx describes it as the "equal obligation of all to work" rather than explicitly naming the use of force, but as with many of his other proposals, it is a half-baked and half-formed idea, lacking the courage to explicitly name the unpleasant mechanisms required for implementation. How is this "obligation" supposed to be enforced? Marx never explained, and neo-Marxists are quick to gloss over the subject.
Communism in the Federation
How many of these ideas were apparently taken to heart by the TNG era Federation? Let us list them one at a time:
Abolition of property rights: 100% implemented in the TNG era Federation. While Ferengi traders and various others outside the Federation still retain property rights, the Federation seems to have eliminated them.
No wealth: Counsellor Troi and Captain Picard have both boasted about how the accumulation of wealth is no longer an incentive. What they don't explain is why. Humans have always been territorial (and so have our evolutionary ancestors), so our desire to accumulate more assets seems more like a basic facet of human nature than a temporary cultural phenomenon. It can be suppressed or modified through education and social conditioning, but such methods are hardly 100% effective. Some greedy people should remain, but not in Star Trek. So if humans in the future no longer desire wealth, then why not? Do they use extremely advanced brainwashing techniques, so sophisticated that no one can resist them? Or have they made the accumulation of wealth illegal, as Marx advocated? The latter seems more plausible.
No money: All external transactions are performed with a precious substance known as latinum. No more wire transfers or electronic asset tracking in the 24th century; vast interstellar trading organizations have reverted to something like the primitive "gold standard" that was abandoned long ago! It sounds like Troi wasn't kidding when she said the Federation no longer used money. They have "credits", but they don't seem to be as widely recognized as precious metals, which indicates that Federation credits are not easily converted into other assets (ie- not liquid). Poor or nonexistent liquidity is typical of communist currencies in real life. However, it is not typical of capitalist currencies, all of which can be easily transferred and exchanged between nations without the need for precious metals as an intermediate conversion.
Buy and Sell: What was the last time you heard about someone buying or selling something from another Federation citizen? People give one another objects, and they might even barter, but they never use their credits to buy things from one another (at least, nothing substantive such as a vehicle, a cottage, a boat, etc). Kirk talked about Scotty's "pay" and Scotty "bought a boat" in ST6, but of course, that was in the good old days of TOS. Ahhh, memories ... when men were men, women wore miniskirts, and nobody drank synthehol.
Spartan lifestyles: Even on the mixed civilian/military spaceport DS9, no one seems to have anything but a handful of room decorations and sentimental momentoes. Quarters are quite clean and barren even when children live there (and anyone with small children knows how silly that is). This could arguably be described as a lifestyle "choice" rather than the result of government edict, but it is also quite consistent with the growing list of evidence that the Federation is communist.
Goodbye, Wall Street: The concept of an investment portfolio is so alien to them that when a frozen 20th century tycoon was thawed out in "The Neutral Zone", Picard was completely dumbfounded at the man's desire to check on his portfolio. He couldn't even understand the concept, and complained that he couldn't understand what the man was talking about! Obviously, this is typical of a communist state, but hardly typical of a capitalist state. Even before modern stock markets and investment vehicles, the concept of investment still existed. Businesses started with the aid of financial backing, loans, etc. Banks and other financial institutions existed long before NASDAQ. But according to Star Trek, they didn't last into the 24th century.
State seizure of transportation (leading to reduction or elimination of freedom of movement): 100% implemented in the TNG era Federation. Vehicles in Star Trek are either government property, or they travel outside the Federation (eg. Ferengi vessels, ships from non-member systems, etc).
They're all company cars: What was the last time you saw a privately owned personal starship? Starships are either government warships, diplomatic vessels, or transports. The only one-person vehicles (apart from non-Federation vehicles such as Quark's ship or Bajor's spacecraft) are runabouts and shuttles, and they are always government property. Some might argue that starships must be very expensive or difficult to operate and therefore impractical for personal use, but Quark's ship disproved this idea.
Some claim that Kasidy Yates' ship was a private ship, but it was a transport rather than a personal vehicle, and it was probably part of the thriving black market that is endemic to communist states (how do you think everyone gets their illegal Romulan ale?). Remember that she paid the crew with latinum rather than Federation credits, and she was imprisoned in a "re-orientation centre" for using it to ferry supplies to the Maquis, even though the act in question occurred outside Federation territory and jurisdiction. Some might object that Sisko would have reported her if she was a black marketeer, but in real life, it was quite common for black marketeers to operate quite brazenly, often forming "wink, wink, nudge nudge" relationships with government officials. She wasn't prosecuted until she dared violate the Federation's policy of inhumane neglect toward the Maquis.
Empty skies: Where are all of the ships in the skies over Earth? Even over major metropolitan centres such as San Francisco, we see almost no air traffic whatsoever (certainly nothing like the thick swarms of traffic over Coruscant in Star Wars). In fact, in "Paradise Lost", the USS Lakota was the only starship in orbit around the entire planet! Even in that time of crisis, we didn't see anyone leaving Earth to hide out at a safer location until everything blew over, because none of them had any ships! The same is true of all crises through Star Trek history. No mass exodus of personal vehicles even when the populace had early warning and lots of time to prepare.
Big Brother is watching you: All movements are tracked in the Federation. Since no one has personal starships, everyone must book passage on state-owned transports in order to get where they want to go. You've heard it countless times: "I've booked passage to Mars," or "I'm going to try to book passage to the frontier". You never hear "I just bought a ship and I'm going to head off to the frontier" or "I'm renting a ship next month so I can go planet-jumping". The result of this monopoly is that Starfleet officers can easily track every movement of any citizen within the Federation. Any security officer can easily rattle off a list of all the places any citizen has gone, how long they were there, etc. Contrast this to real life, where the bus driver wants exact change but he couldn't care less about your ID. Unless you leave the country, nobody asks to see a passport or identification.
Little red corvette: We don't see a lot of red sports shuttles flying around, do we? This may not sound so bad, but think about it: what is one of the most cherished symbols of freedom, particularly in countries like Canada and America, with our wide-open spaces? Some think it's the Statue of Liberty, some say it's the Constitution, but as for me, I know what my favourite symbol of freedom is. Here's a hint: It's midnight blue, it has leather seats and a gas-guzzling V8 engine, and it sits in my driveway. Yup- my car. And it's not just me; for millions of people, the car is the ultimate symbol of personal freedom. Let me out on an open road, with a full tank of gas and Sammy Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55" on the radio, and I feel free. However, the effect only works if you actually like your car. An ugly or underperforming car just doesn't give you that same sense of enjoyment, and the lack of stylized or luxury-outfitted Federation spacecraft points to an absence of consumer choice.
Of course, some would claim that the desire for luxury and style is a cultural taste, and might have been eliminated in the "enlightened" Federation. That is a plausible argument on the surface, but in every society, there are those who stray from social norms. Furthermore, the Federation must experience "cultural contamination" from the activities of their Ferengi neighbours, so it can't be argued that the concept of style and luxury is completely unknown to them. It is therefore highly unlikely that we would never see people seeking style and luxury, unless they are prohibited from doing so by law.
Other would claim that style and luxury in transportation are a 20th century phenomenon, but that would be a historical fallacy. Stagecoaches were lavishly decorated before automobiles, and wealthy Romans decorated chariots and other forms of transportation. Even in primitive tribes, the elites of the village wear special decorations.
The open road: If you still don't agree that the car represents freedom, just close your eyes and think back to that very first day when you finally got to drive your parents' car on your own. Try to remember the exhilaration you felt as you pulled out of your parents' driveway for the very first time. Remember the exuberance when you were finally out on the open road? After all those years of waiting and anticipating, wasn't it great to finally be free? Just you and your car, with nobody to tell you where to go. Now that is freedom. That is an essential part of the fabled American Dream. Guess what- the Federation killed it. In the Federation, you don't have the futuristic equivalent of a car; you have a nice walk to the nearest loading stop, where you can take your assigned seat on the futuristic equivalent of a bus. Happy motoring.
State seizure of communications (leading to reduction or elimination of freedom of expression): 100% implemented in the TNG era Federation.
Ma Bell is back: The entire subspace relay system is owned by the Federation government, as described in the DS9 tech manual. There is no private competitor. Since all interstellar communications must use this relay network, this effectively gives the Federation government total control over long distance communications. Furthermore, it appears that local communications systems are government-operated as well, since the government was able to effortlessly impose a complete local news blackout during the attempted coup in "Paradise Lost." As another monopolistic Microsoftian measure, all communications start and end with the ubiquitous Federation logo, even on mixed civilian/military stations like DS9. Quark once ran afoul of this monopoly when he wanted to broadcast advertisements for his bar, and had no alternative but to break into DS9's communications system.
Phil Zimmerman would be pissed: High-ranking officers can use secure communications, but no one else seems to be able to encrypt their personal information or communications because any Tom, Dick or Ferengi seems to be able to break into personal files and communications at will. Furthermore, even "secure" communications use such weak encryption that they can be cracked in a matter of hours by a single starship's computer. It is important to remember that no matter how far computer technology increases, encryption strength can always be increased simply by adding bits, so this is not a case of technology overcoming encryption. In real life, the US government tried to force everyone to use weak encryption (or adopt Al Gore's infamous eavesdropper "clipper chip"), but they were foiled by the constitution. Apparently, there are no such restrictions on the Federation government's power.
This ... is not CNN: The Federation nearly became a military dictatorship once ("Paradise Lost"). In real life, such a near-coup would be accompanied by an enormous flood of negative news reports, both from television and radio stations and across the Internet. But in the Federation, there appear to be no independent news organizations or reporting mechanisms (or at least, none which can function when the government turns off the spigot). In other words, the meek citizens of Earth sat quietly in their homes and waited patiently for the benevolent Federation to tell them what had happened, because they had no other information source. This illustrates the danger of putting all communications facilities in the hands of the government; if they have control of all communications, then in the blink of an eye, they can eliminate public knowledge of their activities.
Elimination of religion and traditional families. 50% implemented in the TNG era Federation.
Nietszche Wins- God is Dead: While the TOS episode "Balance of Terror" began with a wedding in the ship's chapel, no TNG era ship seems to have a chapel at all. Christianity appears to have been purged from society. One of the most extreme examples of this deliberate suppression can be seen in a recent episode of Voyager, the holographic Doctor actually portrayed a Catholic priest and conducted a ceremony, but somehow avoided mentioning the names "God" or "Jesus" entirely! How someone can portray a priest and avoid mentioning God or Jesus is beyond me. Also, while "Bones" McCoy often mentioned Jesus and God, we never hear the name "Jesus" on TNG, DS9, or Voyager. This situation exists in stark contrast to every other civilization, such as the Bajorans, Klingons, Ferengi etc. which all have their own curious religions (always precisely one religion per species; I guess aliens aren't very imaginative in Star Trek).
New Age mysticism: Oddly enough, while Christianity has apparently been wiped out, popular New Age ideas such as transcendental meditation, seances, tribal superstitions, pseudoscientific quasi-religions and Eastern spirituality are all acceptable in the Federation. This would seem rather contradictory until you ask yourself what kinds of spirituality are popular today in Hollywood. Apparently they don't believe that God made Man in his own image, but they do believe that Hollywood should remake mankind in its image.
Wham, Bam, Thank you Ma'am: Karl Marx's "free love" idea seems to have taken root. Pleasure planets like Risa, whose economies are based entirely on the sex trade, are stark proof that the Federation has decriminalized prostitution and encouraged a casual attitude toward sexual promiscuity (an attitude displayed by numerous characters on TNG, DS9, and Voyager). However, to be fair, the institution of marriage still exists in the Federation. As with all real-life communist states, the Federation probably found Marx's call for the total abolishment of marriage to be unworkable.
They don't play Pink Floyd in the future: Karl Marx advocated state-run education. Enlightened free-market societies also provide state-funded education for their citizens (the principal reason for the growth of the middle class), but not to the exclusion of alternatives such as private schools, learning centres, and home schooling. It would seem self-evident that private schools and learning centres are not permitted in the corporation-phobic Federation, but to be fair, there is no evidence that home schooling has been criminalized. In fact, it has been suggested that Jake Sisko must have been home-schooled before Keiko arrived as DS9's lone teacher, but his father was a single-parent and the station commander, so he hardly had time to moonlight as a schoolteacher! Jake must have been educated by computer with standardized programs and tests, so it's hard to tell either way.
State seizure of industry. 50-100% implemented in the TNG era Federation. The situation with the agriculture industry is unknown, since people seem to prefer real food to replicated food but the Federation lacks the infrastructure to efficiently deliver real food to all its ships and starbases. We would presumably see real food (and agriculture) planetside, but the show rarely strays from starships and space stations so we can't be sure. However, the situation with regards to manufacturing and research is much clearer.
No logos: In hundreds of televised episodes and numerous feature films, we haven't seen a single Federation product which bore the trademark of an independent manufacturer, either in military or civilian situations.
No corporations: There are no known privately owned corporations in the Federation. We never hear a single corporate name, or a complaint about a corporate supplier, or any news of bidding for government contracts. It goes without saying that no one has investments in any of these corporations. And finally, in the DS9 episode "Prodigal Daughter", we found out that Ezri Dax's parents formed a mining company, operating out of New Sydney. Lo and behold, we also found out that New Sydney is a city on a non-Federation world. What a shock. And would you be surprised to hear that their financial dealings were handled with precious substances instead of Federation credits? Gee, I wonder why they left the Federation and moved to New Sydney to set up their company ...
You can have any colour you want, so long as it's beige: In the Federation, all starships look the same, and feel the same. They have the same colour scheme. The same interface. The same mind-numbing monotonous style. The same basic design features. According to Star Trek, the future really does look like Microsoft. Of course, some of Star Trek's defenders claim that the unbelievable uniformity of Federation technology is not necessarily proof of monopoly, but these people probably don't think Microsoft is monopolistic either.
No patent office: There is no patent office. We know that none of the scientists in Star Trek perform research for the purpose of obtaining lucrative patents, because everything they discover instantly enters the public domain. There are no royalties to be collected. No fees for the use of someone else's invention. No one ever has to seek permission to use or abuse any form of intellectual property. There are no trademarks or copyrights. In short, intellectual property rights must have been completely eliminated, since the state claims ownership of all research.
Citizens are forced to work. Probably 100% implemented in the TNG era Federation.
Even though everyone is guaranteed a comfortable standard of living by the state, everyone works hard. There are no beach bums. Therefore, since laziness is an innate human characteristic, we can infer that such penalties probably exist, even if we never explicitly see them in action. An alternate explanation for this conundrum would be the possibility that citizens are conditioned to work through brainwashing techniques, but brainwashing would be no better than the use of force. Some have argued that it's "close-minded" to assume that laziness is innate rather than cultural, but nothing could be further from the truth. In nature, no animal does any work unless it's necessary for survival or reproduction (what's the last time you saw a bird building a nest for anyone but its own offspring?). In society, we are bombarded by constant propaganda pushing us to work to help strangers, but most people still don't do it in spite of all the pressure. Laziness isn't unnatural; it's one of the few natural things left in our society.
In addition to Karl Marx's stated goals, we have seen the following side effects every time communism has been implemented:
Reorganization of Class structure. 100% true in the Federation.
It is a popular misconception that communism eliminates class distinctions. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Any group of individual human beings will eventually tend to arrange themselves into strata, simply because people are not all alike. Some are smarter, some are more ambitious, some are more hard-working, etc. One way or another, some people in any group will find a way to have more than others. It amazes me how many fans of communism have never even bothered to speak to a Soviet emigrant. Before the fall of communism in Russia, some people did have much higher standards of living than others.
In a capitalist state, upper classes are populated largely by industrialists, entrepreneurs, and certain types of professional (eg. doctors). Parasites like lawyers and politicians find their way in there by manipulating the system, but their numbers are dwarfed by the former group. In any case, they have money, and they use it to purchase lifestyles far more extravagant than those available to ordinary workers.
A communist state is different; its upper classes are populated largely by politicians, high-ranking military officers, and scientists. It is they who use their status and relative wealth to purchase upper-class lifestyles. Sound familiar? In Star Trek, no one has any prestige or perceived value to society unless he's either a soldier, a researcher, or a politician.
The military gains increased influence. 100% true in the Federation.
In real life, the aftermath of a communist revolution is invariably massive transfers of resources to the military. In Russia, Lenin and Stalin both subjected rural farmers to unspeakable famines by ordering the military to seize all of their winter foodstores for their own use. They died by the millions as a result; Stalin's winter famine holocaust actually killed more people than Hitler's death-camp Holocaust.
In the Federation, the concentration of government assets in military hands is almost total: there is very little distinction between "Starfleet" and "Federation". In fact, the terms seem to be used almost interchangeably on the show.
Military posts hold enormous prestige in the Federation. Think about this: how many names of real-life sea vessel captains do you know? Do you know the name of the captain of any military vessels? Unless you're in the military, I would doubt it. Admirals make press, but captains don't. But in Star Trek, Captain Picard is known far and wide, even among civilians.
In "Paradise Lost", a Starfleet admiral nearly assumed control of the entire Federation, and no one could stand in his way but another Starfleet officer (Captain Sisko).
When Doctor Bashir's parents were charged with violating the Federation's anti-genetic engineering laws, they wanted to fight the charge but they eventually decided to capitulate and offer themselves up for the sentencing decision ... of a judge wearing a Starfleet uniform! Only an exceptionally influential military would have the ability to try and sentence civilians!
Enforced social uniformity in outward behaviour and clothing patterns. Unknown.
In real life, it was dangerous to stand out in a communist society. The police would often come and take someone without warning, and neighbours would never know what happened, or why. Such an environment creates fear, and fear creates a reluctance to "rock the boat".
The cultural conformity in recent Star Trek is astounding. Among humans, all citizens share the same tastes in music, food, entertainment, and clothing. They all listen to erudite music (no rock, rap, dance, or alternative music in the future). They all enjoy Shakespearean plays (you never hear anyone say they hate Shakespeare, do you? One must wonder if dislike of Shakespeare is punishable by death in the Federation). Even outside the military, they all have similar clothing and hairstyles. They all use the same formal dialect.
However, to be fair, there's no evidence that this remarkably muted and conformist society exists because of government edict.
Thriving black market in international currencies. Most likely 100% true in the Federation.
Federation "credits" are often mentioned, but never used to buy anything of significant value. In real life, rubles were similar: they were used heavily throughout the Soviet Union, but they were not very useful for purchasing foreign-made goods or bribing public officials. As a result, a vast black market in foreign currency (especially American dollars) appeared, funded largely by money from tourism and illicit activities. This black market was so widespread that authorities were known to turn a blind eye, for the simple reason that they were often its beneficiaries.
The precious substance known as latinum is used for all major transactions with outsiders (and even some shady transactions inside the Federation). In fact, the more illicit a given activity is, the more likely it will be paid for in latinum. This indicates that Federation credits are not useful for such purposes, which would be consistent with typical communist currencies. Much as a large part of the Russian economic infrastructure was fueled by black-market foreign currencies, there is probably a heavy black-market trade in latinum, since it is so much more useful than the Federation's communist credit system.
Naturally, some object to these conclusions. The knee-jerk reflex is to say that the Federation cherishes individual freedoms, and I must be wrong about the reduction or elimination of freedom of expression, movement, and religion. But expectations don't necessarily translate to realities. The Federation claims to cherish individual freedoms, but until we see evidence of those freedoms being used (and abused), we have no reason to believe that the reality matches the rhetoric.
Many also claim that the Federation is actually a free-market society, in defiance of the Federation's own claims and all of the above evidence, by mentioning things such as "so and so character has a nice collection of wine glasses in his quarters," or "Picard's family has a farm," etc. However, real-life communist citizens also had personal possessions, and multiple generations could live in a single house. Therefore, this would hardly prove that the Federation is a free market! The distinction between property and possession is critical: you can possess a house or a car without owning it (the terms "rent", "lease", and "company car" come to mind), and you can command a ship or direct a company without owning it.
So how does one distinguish between property and possessions? Two ways:
You can legally sell property. You can't legally sell a rental car despite the fact that you possess it. The captain of an Exxon tanker can't legally sell it, despite the fact that he commands it and calls it "my ship." The CEO of a company can't sell it unless he's also the majority shareholder.
You can charge others for the use of your property, whether it be rent money or interest on loans. Communism strictly forbids this because it allows you to investments of all kinds, while capitalism is based on it. Investment is the sharpest dividing line between communism and capitalism, and as I pointed out earlier, investment is so foreign to the Federation that in "The Neutral Zone", Picard didn't even understand the meaning of the word.
The Federation is communist. Accept it. If you think communism is wonderful, I guess that means you'll love this aspect of Star Trek. If you think it's terrible, I guess this means you'll hate this aspect of Star Trek.
The Federation is a suffocatingly patriarchal society, where the endless rhetoric about rights and freedoms and individuality is never backed up by actual working examples. The military has such sway over the government that civilians can be sentenced by military judges, and the government has such sway over personal activity that individual wealth has been eradicated.
Ever since the first episode of Gene Roddenberry's emasculated TNG revision of the Star Trek mythos, Star Trek has been plagued by a persistent "have your cake and eat it too" mentality. Cause and consequence are never tied together, and though there are many examples of this mentality in action, the most blatant is the writers' attitude toward freedom and strong government.
You simply can't have unbridled freedom and strong government at the same time, because one acts directly against the other. The Federation claims to offer virtually unlimited personal freedom to every citizen, but no one ever tests this claim. Billions of people live quiet, spartan, communist lifestyles. They never covet wealth, they never go ripping through space in a personal vehicle, they never expect compensation for their achievements, they never challenge the government with rebellious propaganda, they never push the envelope by producing offensive art, they never accumulate private arsenals ... in short, they never do anything to test the limits of their freedom. Supposedly, they have all the benefits of a strong government, without any of the negatives.
In real life, you can't have your cake and eat it too. Give people freedom and they'll abuse it. Give the government more power and it will abuse it. I've been accused of cynicism for saying these things, but I have yet to see anyone produce a shred of evidence to prove that this isn't true. The balance between social stability and individual freedom is one that all societies must walk very carefully; you can't simply have both. In my opinion, the only way to produce the Federation's smiley-faced corps of perfectly well-behaved citizens is to push that balance to the left. All the way left.