“My Other Car Isn’t Mine Either:” Bumper Sticker for an Income-Sharing Community
Income-sharing communities have one of the longest and richest histories that we know of in the communities movement. From tribal life, to the early days of convents and monasteries, to Oneida community in the 1800s, our roots are deep. Current income-sharing groups may vary widely in their lifestyles and values, but all share a central economic practice. Some groups live a spiritual life focusing on the word of God, such as the Twelve Tribes communities, the Bruderhof, and many religious fellowships. Others, like those in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC), define themselves as secular and focus on aspects of shared decision making and ecological sustainability. An income-sharing community is an economic unit unto itself. Income produced by members, either in a community-owned business or outside work, goes directly to the community. In exchange, the community provides for all the basic needs of its members, including housing, food, and health care. Individual groups may define ‘basic’ needs somewhat differently. There is also collective ownership of community resources, such as land, buildings, and vehicles. In many cases, neither money nor particular skills are required to become a member; simply a willingness to wholeheartedly join the community in its purpose is sufficient. This opens membership to a wide range of people. One of the most attractive features of this type of living is the interdependence and the level of engagement we share with each other. There is a high level of involvement in each other’s daily lives. Our work opportunities tend to be concentrated in home businesses, so we often don’t need to leave our home to earn money. Our coworkers are our extended family, and we come to know each other holistically. Members also have access to a variety of resources they might not otherwise have. For example, the community may provide a professional-quality woodworking shop for member use, or an outdoor hot tub, musical instruments, or free classes by a skilled member. What else does it mean to live in this type of community? Living so interdependently often means members need to possess fairly well-developed social skills. The ability to cooperate with others, to keep agreements, and to resolve difficult interpersonal situations can go a long way in dealing with the conflicts that naturally arise out of such close living. A flexible attitude can help members respond to living with less personal financial autonomy than they may be used to. Most people who live with their own income are used to making decisions themselves about what quality of housing to live in, what style of car to drive, what type of food to buy, and how much to spend on favorite leisure activities. It can be challenging to make the same decisions with a group of people whose tastes, values, and class backgrounds may be radically different from one’s own. Income-sharing is definitely on one end of the spectrum of what it means to live communally. This type of community has never been a majority in the communities movement, and yet we have always been a strong presence. Much of this is due to our ability to focus resources, which in turn makes more time available to members to do networking and organizing. Income-sharing is not for everyone, but those who choose to live this life find it a source of endless riches. It is a life full of unity and diversity, struggle and growth, and ultimately, deep community.
Valerie Renwick-Porter has lived at Twin Oaks for over nine years. She serves on the Executive Committee of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC) and coordinates the Twin Oaks Communities Conference. She works in her community’s forestry program, and her passions include feminist utopias, chocolate, and soaking in hot tubs.