There are not very many places that do secular income sharing. But those that do come in two broad flavors. For those of us who spend a lot of time talking about income sharing, these two different approaches are sometimes given the shorthand “Box of Money” and “Allowance”.
All full income sharing systems are in agreement about communalizing the vast majority of expenses: Medical expenses, food, housing, clothing, education, transportation, costs connected with children, pets, various emergencies – these are all covered. Everything that falls solidly onto the “needs” side of the sometimes vague needs vs wants divide is covered. It is the small things and the things at the needs/wants margin where we struggle.
Should i be paying for your beer (especially when i don’t drink)? Should i be paying for your vacation to the beach? At Twin Oaks we have “solved” this problem by giving our members an allowance which is typically around $100 per month. You want to smoke cigarettes, you can have up to a $100 habit. You have to be at the premier of the latest Marvel superhero movie, that is your discretionary call. By giving people allowances, the commune avoids having to agree on a whole bunch of small, and oft divisive issues.
The more radical solution is the infamous “box of money”. In a number of European communes, including some of the larger ones, there is a physical box of money and when you need some, you go take it. Sometimes you need to write down what you took it for, in other places there is less concern about this. But if you are using this approach, you are agreeing to have whatever conversations and consensus is necessary for everyone to trust each other enough to let them spend the money they need to spend to live the life they want to lead.
In the US, the existing “box of money” communes are smaller. Compersia in DC, Sandhill in Missouri. Allowance based communes include Twin Oaks, East Wind and Acorn, the largest three members of the FEC. Although Acorn, with its anarchist orientation, straddles the boundary by empowering any member to spend up to $50 on anything for the community that they think is a good deal. In the three years i lived there i did not hear anyone complain at a meeting that someone had misused this privilege.
Some of the trade offs between the “allowance” and “box of money” systems are obvious, but many we are still exploring. We know that using an “allowance” system makes room for differences of opinion to exist without being resolved or even seriously addressed. Is that a good thing because it saves time and preserves privacy or a bad thing because it doesn’t drive us towards mutual understanding and critical reflection? We know that using “box of money” system allows for a greater diversity of spending patterns and priorities among members. Is that a good thing because it more easily makes room for people from diverse backgrounds and in diverse situations or a bad thing because it doesn’t drive us always back into the communal economy, looking for ways to meet our needs with each other rather than with money? As more examples are created here in the States and as we build better bridges of communication across the Atlantic our understanding of the dynamics of egalitarian, cooperative economies can only flourish.