Everything You Never Wanted to Know About the Ferengi

The Ferengi: Arguably Star Trek’s most annoying recurring species, and certainly the greediest, shriekiest of them.

Yet we also seem fascinated with them – and the fascination has only grown after four years of living under the “leadership” of a man who would seem to embody every Ferengi virtue except for the fact that an actual Ferengi would throw him off the top of the Tower of Commerce for having so little lobes for business that he bankrupted his own casino.

Anyway, here are some of my favorite recent queries about the Ferengi, in case there’s anything you didn’t realize you never wanted to know about them.

Image: A blue square featuring the title of this blog post, with bars of gold on the left side.

Why has no one annihilated the Ferengi?

For one thing, they actually have firepower.

More importantly, however, the Ferengi are useful.

Try this: Make a list of every single character and species that approaches Quark wanting something during the 7 seasons of DS9. I haven’t, but I’m estimating there are several dozen.

Also, list what they want. It varies from “fence my illegal goods” to “get me a level 7 security code” to “be Grand Nagus for a few days so I can secretly test whether my son is actually ready to be Grand Nagus” to “store this extra furniture.” The only thing all these people have in common is that they went to Quark with the problem – which means Quark is capable of solving a huge range of weird, difficult, or unusual problems.

Often, he’s capable precisely because he’s Ferengi. Being Ferengi gives him both in-born abilities (like a brain immune to telepathy) and access to people, influence, trade routes and markets that others can’t easily get. If DS9 is the hub of Bajoran space, Quark’s bar is the hub of DS9 – which is precisely why Sisko has no qualms about extorting him to stay.

Quark is just one Ferengi. And he’s not even that impressive a Ferengi. His cousin owns a moon, for commerce’s sake. There are millions, maybe billions, of Ferengi who are better at Ferengi-ing than Quark is, yet even Quark is the only guy in the sector who can solve a dozen different problems before the lunch rush.

You don’t exterminate someone that useful, no matter how annoying they are.

What do the Ferengi do with their riches if they have replication technology that can create almost anything they want?

They create ways to spend it.

We know they spend a lot more on basic services (at least on Ferenginar) than the Federation. In “Body Parts,” Quark says his Ferengi doctor must be great because it costs three slips of latinum just to enter the waiting room. In other episodes set on Ferenginar, we see him paying public officials for information literally by the sentence.

We also know they gamble.

Male Ferengi also have to pay for the entire upkeep of female relatives, who are forbidden by Ferengi law from making a profit. While I imagine one could just install a replicator in one’s wife’s/sister’s/mother’s/maiden aunt’s house and call it good, this would probably be seen as a sign that you don’t respect your own family, or worse, that you haven’t acquired enough to afford to pay for their upkeep.

Remember, there are two competing forces at work in Ferengi society. The first is the desire to enter the Divine Treasury after death, which requires you to have acquired and kept considerable wealth.

The second is to be admired by other Ferengi as an outstanding “acquirer” while you are alive. This is why Ferengi like ostentatious wealth displays: It sends the message that you are so incredibly good at making profits that you can afford to spend on the flashiest clothes/ships/moons without a care in the world for your admittance to the Divine Treasury. Your lobes for business are so formidable that there’s always more profit where that came from.

Finally, the Rules of Acquisition put great pressure on the entire society to keep trying to acquire from one another and especially from any aliens they meet. In order for that game to continue, money has to circulate — which means the Ferengi would require an economy where spending itself was an activity independent of the need for basic survival goods.

My guess is that every Ferengi home has the best replicator its owners could afford, if not a better one. But anything they can buy, they do. The point isn’t to survive; it’s to win the transaction game by extracting the most profit (for sellers) or getting the best bargain (for buyers).

Are the Ferengi the richest and most powerful civilization in the Star Trek world, given that they are the most driven by the pursuit of money?

It’s easiest to address the second point first: They are definitely not the most powerful civilization in the Star Trek universe.

They’re not even the most powerful civilization in the Alpha Quadrant.

In a war between Ferenginar and any one of the Romulan Star Empire, the Klingon Empire, Cardassia or the Federation, Ferenginar will lose. We don’t see a lot of Ferengi diplomats in the series, but I’m guessing a diplomat from any of the four political bodies mentioned here would run circles around a Ferengi diplomat as well.

Ferengi are canny, but they’re canny at only one thing: extracting profit. This makes them easy to understand, which makes them easy to outwit.

Second (first): That depends on your definition of “rich.”

The Ferengi are probably the Star Trek universe’s number-one holders of gold-pressed latinum, which can be classified as “wealth” given that it’s a medium of exchange that (apparently) holds value. By that measure, they might be the wealthiest civilization in the quadrant.

But: Having a lot of money isn’t the only way to be wealthy.

Planets are valuable. (The Ferengi know this; Quark’s brother bought a moon.)

Raw materials are valuable. (Good luck building a warp core out of gold-pressed latinum.)

Basic resources like water and food are valuable. (Cardassia poured 60 years of effort into exploiting Bajor’s basic resources after running through its own.)

Labor-hours are valuable. (Ferenginar prevents half its population from working.)

We see the Ferengi bartering for things like deuterium, implying that they don’t have an endless source of the stuff – which is valuable because it’s scarce and essential to warp travel.

Ferenginar is not a particularly large planet, although it does appear to be amply supplied with rain and tube grubs. Ferenginar is also only one planet, whereas Romulus, Q’onos, Cardassia and Earth are all the seats of multi-planet empires.

Boil down all the resources on all those planets into a dollar amount, including the fact that the Romulans, Klingons, Cardassians and Humans all allow women to work, and any one of those empires could probably buy Ferenginar five times over.

Is there an in-universe explanation as to why the Ferengi acted so erratically when they first appeared in Season One of TNG?

Not explicitly, but if you pay attention to a certain bit of character development given to Quark in DS9, a plausible explanation presents itself.

In “Ferengi Love Songs,” we learn that one of Quark’s favorite childhood toys was his set of Marauder Mo action figures. We also get a fairly good look at a couple of them.

The action figures are dressed much like the Ferengi in TNG’s “The Last Outpost” (in outfits more practical and less flamboyant than those embraced by Ferengi in later episodes). They also carry energy whips like those in “The Last Outpost.”

It’s plausible to assume that the Ferengi that Riker and his team encountered were Marauders. It would also explain why the Ferengi in Enterprises’s “Acquisition” were more like the ones we see in DS9 and Voyager – they were your run of the mill opportunistic Ferengi scavengers, not Marauders.

What were the best Ferengi episodes in any of the Star Trek series?

My favorites are all from DS9. “Little Green Men” is hilarious. So is “Body Parts,” in a darker way (you can see the exact moment Garak decides that not fulfilling Quark’s request to be killed will be more fun, because it’ll leave Quark in a perpetual state of fear). “Bar Association” is among the best-written one-off episodes in all of Trek.

Voyager’s “False Profits” and Enterprise’s “Acquisition” are entertaining too, but they don’t quite reach the standard DS9 set for the Ferengi.

Why is Quark not in prison after all the illegal stuff he has done?

For the same reason Garak did no time for murdering 2/3 of an away team on Empok Nor, but did six months for punching Worf in the face: Federation justice is plot-dependent.

It’s been a long road, getting from there to this nebula. Buy your favorite nerd a raktajino.