Why Income Sharing?

by Raven MoonRaven

Income sharing is one of the key things that differentiates communes from other intentional communities.  (In this blog we also advocate egalitarianism, supporting communities that don’t have permanent leaders making most of the decisions.)

Income sharing is what it sounds like.  All income is shared with every member of the community.  This is different from asset sharing where all the financial resources that you own are shared.  In many egalitarian, income sharing communities in the US, your assets are off limits–meaning that neither you or the community can use them while you are a member, but if and when you leave, you have access to them again.  (Of course, you could loan them or give them to the commune, but that’s purely voluntary.)

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In my initial post on this blog I gave several reasons why I thought income sharing was so important:  “In a society that demonstrates its valuing of one person over another by massive pay differences, income sharing says that your work and my work and everyone in the community’s work is equally valued.  As we share more, we need less, and we often have more time to do important things, like building personal connections with each other and exploring our spirituality and connecting with nature–things that don’t have a price tag and don’t add to the gross national product, but make our lives richer and better.”  I would also add that sharing income also moves us out of the money economy and away from personal financial worries.  Yes, the commune may be going through a hard time, but that’s shared by everyone so we all get to think together about what we will do about it rather than each of us agonizing alone about whether we will make it.  We will all make it together or we won’t make it at all.

The communes are often so outside the money world that there’s a joke at Twin Oaks that you can leave a twenty dollar bill lying around and no one will bother it.  (But don’t leave a candy bar around!  For many people there that has more worth.)

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There is a myth about income sharing that there’s a correct way to do it.  For example, Acorn, East Wind, and Sandhill all have major community businesses that support them (in these cases they are seeds, nut butters, and sorghum, respectively) and Twin Oaks has several (including tofu and hammocks among them).  But having community businesses is only one way to do income sharing.

There are many different models of income sharing.  I was part of creating a community in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where three of us went out and worked at different jobs and came home and pooled our earnings.  Compersia, a new income sharing community in Washington, DC, does something similar.  One difference I saw right away is that anyone can spend up to a $100 without consulting with the community at Compersia, where in our community we were required to consult about purchases above $20.  (Then again, our community flourished twenty years ago.  Maybe some of the difference can be chalked up to inflation.)   GPaul, who visited several European income sharing communities, came back to report several significant differences in the way they did income sharing.

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There’s also a myth that it’s scary.  In many ways it isn’t that much different from couples who share their income.  For the community in Cambridge, when we were approaching income sharing, we had a discussion ahead of time about our fears about income sharing.  One person was afraid that she would have to account for every pair of socks she bought.  (Our $20 rule was partially made to deal with that.) My fear was that we would never actually get to income sharing.  But we did and it went well and when the community broke up, that wasn’t one of the problems involved.

When the community broke up, we also worked to make sure that everyone would be okay financially.  And this highlights a final reason for income sharing–in many ways, it is one more way of taking care of each other.

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Why Income Sharing?

4 thoughts on “Why Income Sharing?

  1. Dear Raven,

    I guess there is a subtle but really important difference between income sharing is generated by working together and, as many urban communes everywhere, is the result of sharing a wage in the non-communitarian world.

    I mean: to me the most valuable experience is working together what means to discuss together how to produce, what, its goals, etc. Working together produces spontaneously to share the income generated, but the focus is not in the money shared, and the consumption it makes possible, but in all what production means: how to organize, how to transform, which should be the goals of Human activity in a new, communitarian, selfmanaged world…

    When you share your wage, the conversation divorces from the means to get the money and the discussion focuses on consumption. Money could be even more, but practical conversation is incomplete, consumption focused. Discussing «new consumption» is less than the half of discussing and experiencing new society. Consumption is about individual necessities, production about communal abilities… I dont know if is understood very well what I want to say… sorry because of my English.

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    1. Thanks, David,

      I think I understand your comment, and I mostly agree that it’s better to do income sharing by working together rather than simply pooling income that is earned outside the community. But I think it’s often difficult to start community businesses, and I don’t want that to get in the way of people doing income sharing, that is, while working together is desirable, it isn’t the only way to do income sharing.

      I think that understanding that there are several ways of doing income sharing may result in more people believing it’s possible they could do income sharing, and eventual lead to more people (and communities) doing income sharing.

      Raven

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      1. I use to loose the point when speaking English, sorry. The idea was to offer our experience developping coops to any community who would like to study to create communal business, they can write us, videoconference with us, etc. 🙂

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