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.