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.)


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.)


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.


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?

To Boldly Go… Where Many Have Dreamed Before

By GPaul (also just published on the Point A website)

At this point a cultural icon around the world, Star Trek is known for its futuristic tech, its memorable lines and characters, the adventures of the crew, and its noble and optimistic opinion of humanity. But standing quietly in the background of all the Star Trek TV shows and movies is a very radical set of economic assumptions and propositions more relevant to the humanity of the present than futuristic tech like transparent aluminum or even tricorders. The radical economics of Star Trek were recently given thorough treatment in a new book, Trekonomics, by author and nerd Manu Saadia. In the book, Saadia makes a point and distinction of particular interest to those of us working to organize a deeply egalitarian and democratic economy and society.


Trekonomics from Inkshares on Vimeo.

The United Federation of Planets operates without money and without markets, a point referenced repeatedly by the crew members. The Federation is, in Saadia’s words, “post-economic”, his preferred way of characterizing their post-scarcity society. “Economics is the management of scarcity,” says Saadia. “With Star Trek, at least inside the Federation, you have basically overcome what [John Meynard] Keynes called, ‘The Economic Problem,’ … the allocation of scarce resources.” It’s easy to see how this is possible in a world with replicators capable of synthesizing anything that a Federation citizen might desire. What’s important to note, though, is that replicators were only introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Even in the pre-replicator world of Star Trek (The Original Series) money and the market have been abandoned as barbaric relics from a less civilized and less humanistic era. In Star Trek, the movement beyond economics is presented not as the result of some cornucopia of technological automation but rather as a policy choice… and as a strongly moral policy choice, at that. The fact that the Federation’s movement beyond economics is a choice continues to be made throughout the various shows by the existence of technologically comparable societies (epitomized by the Ferengi) where money, the market, and scarcity still obviously exist.

Some people just really love money. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser via Atlas Obscura)

The flip side of scarcity is abundance, the state of having enough or more than enough of what everyone needs. It is a utopian material condition that many have dreamed of and sought throughout human history and across political traditions. What is described here in Star Trek are the two general methods of approaching abundance. We might call them demand side abundance and supply side abundance. Supply side abundance is the easier one to imagine and is embodied by the post-replicator Star Trek. The means of production have developed to the point that an infinitesimal amount of human labor is transformed into an infinitude of materials goods. It no longer makes sense to talk about prices when your costs are essentially zero. Without the need to manage scarcity the market fades away as product after product is decommodified. It is the communism described by Marx as the near inevitable result of Capitalism’s drive towards mechanization. Our friends, Las Indias, have done a lot of good work exploring the ways in which this form of abundance is beginning to breach into our world, the challenges it poses to the status quo, and the opportunities it presents to egalitarian communalists (see their by donation ebook The Book of Abundance or The Communard Manifesto).

Picard is served a potted plant by a malfunctioning replicator. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser via Atlas Obscura)

However, as exciting as a dawning age of supply side abundance is, what I find even more exciting is demand side abundance. By this I mean the world of abundance that is already available to us and has been, pretty consistently, for a very long time. As the stone soup story suggests and as Bucky Fuller calculated the existence of scarcity in the world is not a problem of production but a problem of distribution. But when we talk about distribution in this way we’re really talking about something bigger. We’re talking about Demand or how decisions are made and priorities are set not just around who gets the stuff that is produced but about what is produced in the first place and how it is distributed and made available. Like how we, as a species, decide how many Ferraris are produced versus how much malaria medicine. Or how we decide where we pile up food and when it gets thrown out. Or how much to spend on lawyers to fight health insurance claims versus how much to spend on health care. Any number of decisions, really. The idea hinted at by pre-replicator Star Trek, and the idea clearly explored by Ursula K. LeGuin in The Dispossessed, is how a society can choose to create abundance even in a situation with limited resources. That is to say, how a society can choose to make sure that everyone has enough of what they need. The path that LeGuin’s moon anarchists take is the same path taken by our very real and present day Federation of Egalitarian Communities. That path is one that both works to make distribution as efficient as possible (by extensive sharing, intensive cooperation and coordination, and the removal of barriers to access) while at the same time thinking critically about what is needed to live a good life and, as much as possible, finding non-materialist paths to satisfaction and enrichment. This is what makes LeGuin’s anarchists a peaceful and rich people despite living on an isolated desert planet with very scarce resources and it is what makes the communes of the Federation able to provide comfortable, secure, and satisfying lives (of an arguable middle class or upper middle class quality) on sub-poverty level incomes. It is an abundance that is available to all of us right now if we can change the way that we relate to each other and to our economy.

We are living science fiction. May our message of peace and abundance one day reach the earth… and finally the stars.

The Federation is on its way. (All screenshots by Eric Grundhauser via Atlas Obscura)

To Boldly Go… Where Many Have Dreamed Before

With Our Powers Combined…

by GPaul  (from the Point A blog December 18, 2015)

One of the most challenging pieces of the commune idea for a lot of people is fully pooling our income. I recently had an exchange that typifies this reaction:

“So when you talk about sharing income… what if Steve is making $50,000 per year and you’re only making $20,000?”

“What you should really be asking about is what happens when Steve is making $50,000 a year and I’m staying home to clean and maintain the house, care for the children, cook the food, do the shopping, and keep on top of the accounting and not bringing in any money a year.”

Sharing income really isn’t that rare or radical an arrangement. It’s actually incredibly common. What’s not common is pooling income with people you’re not related to by blood or marriage. What’s radical about our proposal is to pool income with an open and expandable group of people we are not related to or romantically involved with and to do so in a radically equal way (this money belongs to all of us, no one is “giving” it to anyone). The pooling of income to provide resources that are equally available to all is also something we’re intimately familiar with in the form of government services, like the library, the park, or the roads. What’s radical about our proposal here is the scope of our common economy: nearly everything that can be shared is shared, and shared fully.

But why? Why are we so passionate about taking the idea of a common economy and running with it? There are many reasons:

Just like in a marriage, we’re not really sharing our money with each other we’re sharing our labor and we’re sharing responsibility and pledging to be there for each other in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, in richness and in poorness. When we do this we begin to be able to rely upon each other, call upon each other, and access each other’s abilities and resources in a deep and unfettered way. Things that we do for each other are no longer charity or gifts as our interests are bound together. This lets us all work to our strengths by specializing and really throwing ourselves wholly into opportunities and crises knowing that we’ve got a whole crew backing us up at home. The common economy means doing more of what we love and are good at and it means less times that we have to say “I’d really love to but I just don’t have the time.”

We’ve known since forever that cooperation and sharing is more efficient than isolated action and individual ownership. Even capitalism, famous for promoting competition and individualism, is just a way of using greed and self-interest to get people to cooperate and share. People get together in buying clubs and share housing and cars because it lowers their costs dramatically. We see this taken to an extreme at all the egalitarian communes we know of where members live comfortable modern lives at an arguably upper middle class level: organic healthy meals cooked for you from scratch twice a day, plenty of healthy food, housing, health care, transportation, internet access, computers, home theater, exercise room, sauna, hot tub, pond, personal shopper, professional party planners, as much sick leave as you need, generous vacation and extended leave policies, retirement and hospice care, child care, and a maternity and paternity leave system that puts the Scandinavians to shame. And the kicker: they do it all working fewer hours than national average and on an annual income around or well below the poverty line.


In the status quo individualist economy the expectation is that everyone is responsible for taking care of their needs individually and that they need to go into the market and win money for themselves to do that. If you want to act collaboratively or purchase collectively or own cooperatively then every time you need to go to extra effort and make a special system in order to pool your resources. When you switch to a common economy where all the income is shared as a default then acting collaboratively, purchasing collectively, and owning cooperatively becomes the default and if you want to buy or own anything individually you need to go to extra effort and make a special system in order to shave off some of that collective income for your individual use. Switching to a unified holistic common economy saves a ton of overhead since you no longer need to attend separate meetings to manage your worker co-op, food co-op, car co-op, childcare co-op, housing co-op, buying club, etc. nor do you need to do all the separate accounting for them. Not only can you consolidate management tasks and allow specialization within your group, you can also forgo quite a lot of accounting since you don’t need to keep track of every individual member’s input and output to each particular coop. The difficulty of managing an a la carte cooperative economy is expressed well by Oscar Wilde’s purported quip “the problem with socialism is that there just aren’t enough evenings in the week”.

The savings from cooperation and from lowering the overhead of that cooperation not only allow the members of the commune to live better lives more easily on less, it allows them to more easily reach out into the wider world with a large impact. Collectively we can maintain larger facilities for the benefit of the wider community, donate more resources to causes we believe in, and make the time to organize, agitate, and support if we just put our heads together.

With Our Powers Combined…