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.
We had two naming parties to find a name for the new commune in DC. They both failed. Unlike naming a car or a rope machine, it actually matters that you get a good name out of a party, if you are naming your home. Naming parties tend to gravitate towards sillier or complex names. For example, the Mighty HaHas of TomorrowLand was the disputed result of the last Compersia party. But even this silly name did not go to waste completely, the Ivy City house which Compersia Community just moved out of is called TomorrowLand.
But the community itself needed a bigger name, and stronger name. I was quite satisfied with what they choose without the help of a naming party – Compersia. Derived from the word compersion, this name is a big ask. It’s about trying to let go of our jealousy and envy and be happy with those we care for being happy, even if our special connection is not exclusive.
The Compersia community has a new house. They moved out of Ivy City and now are in Crestwood (one of the proposed names was Bestwood). It is a much larger house, with a real yard and an ample basement play space. This basement space got named Bonkersville at the naming party, which seemed apt since Sappho, Meren, Zadek and Julian were boxing with oversized gloves for much of the evening.
I was asked to facilitate, which i really should take as a compliment, because both of the previous two meetings that i facilitated failed. We got about 50 suggestions from Bagel and The Situation to Emma’s Tea Room and Whitetop’s Castle.
There is an origin story to that last name. Whitetop was the gambling tzar of DC in the 50s thru 70s. Someone said running the numbers ended not long after this with the advent of the state sponsored lottery. He built this house in Crestwood, a quite suburban enclave beside a park, within the city limits of DC.
Perhaps 50 people participated in the naming party that i facilitated. In the first round they had all 50 choices and 6 yes votes and 3 no votes. Over half the list got eliminated this way. People added names in, but generally these did not make it to the next elimination round. Bougie’s Bugaloo did not make it to the 3rd round, (Bougie Galore is Jenny’s comic commune name), and we also dropped Neverland and the Lucky Heretics. Lucky was for gambling, and heretics because they don’t believe in private income. The last three names on the list were:
The House that Numbers Built
Technically, Asterix won, but only by a single vote after 4 rounds of eliminations. We agreed to call the Bike Shed, “Wheels Up,” and the Basement, “Bonkersville.” There already is a holy site dedicated to “Our Lady of Perpetual Container Shortage” which houses a giant four door refrigerator filled with well organized dumpster treasures.
But the name i think the house is going to go by is “Numbers” which is what folks will call “The House that Numbers Built”. It references Whitetop’s business success. It can quickly be abbreviated by a single #. Googles parent company is Alphabet, the Communes star model is Numbers.
We will see if this one sticks. It is a lovely place.
The 67th annual (previously biannual) Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC) assembly was hosted by East Wind this year. In 1977, the very first FEC Assembly was held on East Wind’s land and forty years later both institutions stand as a testament to the durability of income-sharing and communal living. In mid March FEC delegates and people interested to visit East Wind traveled from Twin Oaks, Acorn, Sandhill, The Midden, and Sapling communities to review the state of the communes and plan for the upcoming year. Communities that wish to become full members of the FEC (known as ‘Communities in Dialogue’) that were in attendance included Stillwater Sanctuary/Possibility Alliance (La Plata, MO), Oran Mor (Wasola, MO), The Mothership (Portland, OR), Rainforest Lab (Forks, WA), Cambia (Louisa County, VA), Le Manoir (Quebec, Canada), and Ionia (Kasilof, Alaska). The Assembly consisted of five days of meetings, land tours, and social gatherings in the evenings. A number of topics were discussed, ranging from financial goals and better ways to support Communities in Dialogue to mediation workshops and how best to communicate the benefits of income-sharing.
The Assembly agenda flowed smoothly and a lot of ground was covered. The budget required a lot less time to finalize than last year and everyone was grateful for it. A new addition to the budget is ‘mini-grants’ which is a program that allows any member of a FEC community or Community in Dialogue to make a requests for small amounts of money ($50-$300) to make travel, education, and outreach opportunities become reality. The existing budget for full member scholarshipswas also approved and Joston of East Wind is receiving the first $500 grant for the budget year for an intensive permaculture training he will be attending next month right here in the Missouri Ozarks.
The FEC’s annual budget is paid for by member dues equal to 1% of net income for each full member community. In addition to access to the FEC funds for promoting the ideals income-sharing community, inclusion in the FEC also allows communities to become members of PEACHwhich is the catastrophic health insurance fund for East Wind and its sister communities.
The Assembly isn’t all meetings, of course. A tour of Oran Mor and a land walk at East Wind were some highlights of this year’s Assembly. Oran Mor is a Community in Dialogue that is about forty minutes from East Wind. They value living a low consumption life style and avoiding the use of fossil fuels. Last year, when East Wind ended its goat program the remaining goats were gifted to Oran Mor and they are healthy and happy. This year, in return, Oran Mor gifted East Wind with some of their ducks. Thanks Oran Mor!
This year the FEC accepted Compersia as a full member community. Compersiais an urban commune based outside of Washington DC. Steve, Compersia’s ever energetic and upbeat delegate, is excited to participate in outreach by getting people interested in income-sharing and communal living. He emphasized the fact that people with careers in an urban setting can mutually benefit from income-sharing and that communes don’t have to manifest in the form of ‘back to the land’ rural arrangements such as East Wind and Twin Oaks. Also during the assembly, Davi of The Mothership finalized a purchase of a neighboring house in Portland. They are interested in expanding and having the infrastructure for population growth. Urban and rural communes unite!
The Assembly was a great time to meet new people and strengthen the bonds between the FEC communities. Everyone can agree that East Wind was a generous host. Thank you to all the East Winders who served up delicious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners each day and made all our visitors feel welcome! As usual, the quality and abundance of food found in East Wind’s meals amazes everyone who visits. And of course, upon departure copious amounts of nut butters were distributed to be enjoyed by all of our sister communities. All in all, hundreds of pounds of almond, cashew, peanut, and sesame seed butter left East Wind’s warehouse to be consumed by our fellow communards across the continent. East Wind is grateful to be able to share such bounty. The next FEC Assembly will be held in Virginia on Acorn‘s land. Looking forward to it!
Last Friday Compersia, the first commune birthed with the help of the Point A Project, turned one year old. It’s been a year filled with joys and difficulties and a few close calls. Recently, responding to our frustration with the gap between our reality and our vision and the stubbornness with which some big important items seem to stay on our to-do list, Courtney, one of our members, gave us some perspective by noting that the commune is a living thing and only a year old. If it was a human we’d be thrilled at this point if it wasn’t pooping on itself and had mastered the art of eating solid food and crawling around. From that perspective, we’re doing pretty well, thank you very much. We’ve got our foundational policies written, we’ve added some new members, we’ve got money in the bank, and we’re building some deep and resilient relationships. And, much like a baby, the commune demands a lot of attention and care and not always at the most opportune times. But as it grows and develops we can see more and more clearly how awesome it will be when it’s fully grown and how all our hard work parenting it will pay off.
Some highlights from our first year:
Started the commune! Set up a legal entity, set up a group bank account, started pooling our income, our labor, and our resources.
Modified one of our member’s houses so it could fit most of us and our vital functions, host events, and host guests. It made a wonderful crib to hold us in our delicate first moments.
Started a video editing and media coop that currently supports one member and will hopefully grow into a multi-member commune business.
Another member started a handyman business.
Took on two new members to add to the four founders.
Had a couple weekend long retreats to work on plans and policy.
Hosted dozens of guests.
Hosted jam nights and game nights.
Started connecting with cooperative lawyers to lay the groundwork for a project to create an easily replicable model for urban communes.
Pursued and started negotiating on several potential buildings to buy.
Now, on the eve of our first birthday, and with a recently expanded membership, we’re moving all six adult members and all four kids into a new house and setting our sights on a new set of goals. But we’re doing it with the knowledge that we’re only a year old and if we don’t accomplish all our lofty dreams we won’t be that hard on ourselves. As long as we’re growing and thriving, learning and maturing we will beam with pride at our bouncing baby commune.