Ferengi First Contact

It's been bothering me for a long while that the Ferengi were such an unknown to Starfleet circa 2364.  Even before Enterprise showed a couple of Ferengi pirates encountering an Earth ship and Ferengi (maybe the same pirates) making contact with Valakians in the 2150's, it didn't make much sense to me.

The Ferengi are traders, first and foremost, and the economy of Ferenginar features markets but seems to be based on a somewhat mercantilist philosophy.   Prior to first contact, Data described them as Yankee Traders in the sense of "the worst quality of capitalists", referring to the principle that the buyer should beware.   In other words, he was associating Yankee Traders with hucksters and shysters.  Hucksters are capitalists only in the grossest possible sense.

At any rate, however, the Ferengi economic system . . . whatever the particulars . . . would seem to be one which favors policies opening up trade.  The Ferengi were, if anything, too interested in opening up trade with the Dominion, for instance.

So the question remains as to why the Ferengi would've been a mystery to the Federation in 2364, despite many years of contact with other nearby powers (like the Cardassians), and despite individuals of their species being well-travelled (as seen by the 2150's Enterprise example, not to mention a Ferengi being assimilated by the Borg circa 1925).   After all, if we're going to compare with Americans, we can't forget Commodore Matthew Perry's "Black Ships" excursion to 'force open' trade with Japan.  The Ferengi ought to have been chomping at the bit to get their sharpened teeth into the succulent Federation trade routes. 

But instead, so far as we know, they were in virtual hiding.  Individual Ferengi were on the very border of the Federation around that time (Quark's bar on Terek Nor in orbit of Bajor supposedly dates from 2363), but the Federation only caught up with them because a Ferengi Marauder was unlucky enough to steal from a Federation outpost that happened to have Picard's Enterprise nearby.  (It's possible that this theft was the form of first contact the Ferengi were going for, i.e. that they were intentionally caught, but that's neither here nor there right now.  Even by this time they'd had at least a couple of decades to make contact, if not more.)

The fact that the Ferengi were so insular in regards to the Federation is perplexing, until one adds in another factor.

The Federation is commonly said to be communist.  It isn't, since communism and capitalism are scarcity-based economic models where scarce raw materials get value added by processing or manufacturing into other useful objects.  The Federation seems based more on a post-scarcity model (though raw materials are still needed of course), and the presence of replicators defeats the concept of value addition by process or manufacture.  When an object's value is not based on its intricacy and the labor to
create it but instead merely on its raw materials or energy content . .
. when an iPod and a cigarette lighter cost the same . . . modern
economics (whether collectivist or capitalist) is turned on its ear.

I would submit that the Ferengi Alliance knew about the Federation and were scared to death of it.   The fact that they knew of the Federation is shown by the statements of the Ferengi landing party during first contact on Delphi Ardu, suggesting some knowledge of Federation policy and disgust with it.   Unlike the Cardassians or other powers they had likely encountered, the Ferengi knew that the Federation's open, egalitarian society and particular economic model presented an existential threat to not only the Ferengi economy, but -- given how tied in their society and economics were, even to the point of religion -- the Federation was an existential threat to the Ferengi way of life.

So, the Ferengi economy might've managed to weather the introduction of replicators and so on, persevering by sheer will despite the obvious implications, and managing to find niche markets.  For instance, whereas something like modern Coca-Cola could be easily replicated, Ferengi Slug-o-Cola features live algae, and thus could not be replicated.  Similarly, latinum cannot be replicated, and when 'pressed' in with gold makes a scarce item useful as a currency.  (Though it seems that latinum was their currency well before replication was discovered . . . might've simply been a nice happenstance.)    Quark's Marauder Mo action figures might've had some sort of anti-replication technique employed.  Those with replicators might've managed to perform some sort of licensing fee for replication of particular objects, though enforcement of this seems complicated. 

There are, in other words, ways for the Ferengi to adapt, but they become increasingly absurd.   And the the closed and militaristic Cardassian Union or other lesser nearby powers, might not've been as big a blow to Ferengi absurdity as the open and charitable Federation.  Hence the existential threat.

And frankly, given what happened to the Ferengi over the course of the TNG era, I'd say that those Ferengi who might've viewed the Federation as an existential threat were right.   Rights for women, Nog as Nagus . . . the fact is, first contact with Starfleet was the death knell of Ferengi society as it existed in 2363.


Alan said...

"Nog as Nagus"? Uh, not to nitpick or anything, but don't you mean Rom?

Another possible explanation for Ferengi 'shyness' in making contact may lie in the speed of Earth's technological development, which Quark implies was much, much slower for the Ferengi. To see a society with such 'heretical' economic/social philosophy expanding its technological (as well as its poltical) reach so quickly during the 22nd/23rd century may well have deterred the Ferengi from not making contact or even to avoiding it.

After all, Perry was able to 'open' Japan because his technological superiority (or firepower) was too great for Japan's rulers to ignore (though many still tried to). Lacking such an advantage, would Perry or the 'China traders' been so 'successful' or nearly as motivated to get into Asia in the 19th/20th century? I think not...

Author said...

"Nog as Nagus"? Uh, not to nitpick or anything, but don't you mean Rom?

Naturally. Sorry for the intracranial flatulence.

Odd that the Ferengi had slower development . . . as a rule of thumb capitalist-style economies lead to faster technological development.

Then again, the Ferengi Alliance was (a) smaller, (b) more intent on the financial side of things leading to wasted time and effort, (c) corrupt to the core, (d) full of idiots, (e) less likely to have wars (which are also good for tech development), and so on.

Regarding more advanced neighbors, I don't think it was just a question of military might. The Ferengi traded with the Cardassians, it seems, despite the latter being a militaristic and recently-poor society that could very well have moved to invade them. If anything, the Ferengi ought to have been very excited by having more advanced folks to try to obtain tech from, similar to the Pakleds.

Eosphoros said...

I really, really love your comment on misapplying scarcity-based economic models on a post-scarcity economy such as the Federation. I've been trying to explain that to some of my friends for quite some time, but they've (unfortunately) been infected with Wongian McCarthyist syndrome. It's sad enough when people who make plastic doohickeys proclaim themselves experts on life, the universe and everything, but when others cite their opinion as authoritative, that's a disaster for mankind.

Keep up the good work! ;)

Author said...

I've been meaning to make that a full webpage on the site for . . . (checks dates) . . . oh, at least seven years.

My earliest version that I have from circa 2002 (I think . . . file dates didn't always carry across drive changes) doesn't explicitly mention scarcity, but the point is the same inasmuch as future economics being unrecognizable. The first general thesis was that a hardcore mercantilist would've found Cold War economies most perplexing, and we would've laughed at his efforts to declare one or the other mercantilist like his own.

It wasn't too much later that the topic came up some other time and I found technocracy (which I briefly flirted with as a possible Trek model) and, from there, the more general lingo of scarcity economics versus post-scarcity.

TNG is definitely post-scarcity.

Thanks for reading!

Ilithi Dragon said...

Speaking of which, when are you going to update again? You've been 'preparing' for 4 months now...
} ; = 8 P

Also, that still begs the question of why the Ferengi had not made contact with the Federation in its early days, and especially with the UE, Vulcans, Andorians, or any of the other founding members of the Federation, or any other future members, prior to the founding of the Federation (or prior to their entry into the Federation in the latter cases). The political and economic nature and power of the Federation would not have been a concern for them at the time, because it wouldn't have existed yet.

Author said...

Speaking of which, when are you going to update again? You've been 'preparing' for 4 months now...

I'm workin' on it, from time to time. I spent a whole day recently working on the "Overview" page. But there's still a lot to do. You know how thorough I am, and that takes time. I'm also working sporadically on back-end improvements that will result in a total revamp of CanonWars.com and NoLettersHome.Info, so there's a lot in play.

But alas, with no rich patrons willing to sponsor such work around, I can only spend hobby-time on it.

Ilithi Dragon said...

If only I were a rich patron...

Author said...

Well, despite not having free time, I have spent the past several days working on a couple of pages. Hopefully that didn't burn me out. :P