It is a more economically just way to live in relationship with each other.
It avoids a luxury economy and many of the pitfalls/tragedies of the class system and of economic privilege. (although often not all of them, as income-sharing is complex and as subject to the pressures of the mainstream as anything that is outside of the dominant paradigm)
It frees up energy and resources in the group to pursue other activities, especially ones more closely tied to the values mission of the group. Since the group is collectively taking responsibility for covering the basics of life like rent, food, etc. this is much more efficient than each person in the group spending their life energy to provide those things for themselves. Therefore there is extra time, money, etc leftover for people in the group to spend on other activities that are important to them. For example, Twin Oaks sets aside a certain amount of money and labour hours each year devoted to members to do political activism—in this way, doing activism work counts as part of our weekly work quota. We've also sent people to seed-saving workshops, and given hours for a member to write a book about growing food.
By collectivizing their resources, the group can have access to more resouces than each individual could alone. For example, at Twin Oaks members have access to an outdoor sauna beside a pond, a fully- equipped woodworking workshop, free yoga classes in our home, etc. It is highly unlikely that any one of us would have these in our lives otherwise, but we do here because the group has had the resources and chosen to provide them for ourselves.
People have a higher level of interdependence and engagement in each others' lives—being financially connected results in connections of other types as well. For many people, this vastly improves their quality of life. Of course it brings up challenges as well, but again for many people this is well worth the trade-off, and to the extent that those challenges can be resolved with some level of skill, that can lead to a deepening of relationship and of the strength of the group structure.
Sharing income acts as a general purpose insurance policy. All insurance schemes are simply arrangements for pooling risk so that the individual members of the pool do not have to keep as large a reserve of cash on hand. Income sharing allows members to insulate themselves from financial risk (loss of health, loss of job, loss of property) with a much smaller per capita cash reserve than an independent person.
Sharing income frees up individuals to do less income-generating work than they would need to do if they were living independently as long as the group as a whole is doing enough income generating work. This is one way that utility maximization comes in by allowing more specialization (social efficiency) and personal flexibility. Examples: One member is a talented programmer (easily monetized skill set) but terrible cook another is a talented cook and handy person (less easily monetized skill set). The programmer can spend more time programming without worrying about keeping fed and keeping their domestic machinery functioning, the cook and handy person can spend time cooking and fixing things around the house without worrying about earning money. As far as personal flexibility goes, if your finances are not directly and solely dependent upon you earning money you can more easily take vacations or take time off when you need it as long as the group will carry you (and presumably as long as you are willing to do the same for others later).
Also, sometimes we broaden the definition—it's not just about income- sharing, but resource-sharing in general. We collectively own our vehicles, our houses, and over 500 acres of land—there are benefits to these that go beyond just having one bank account for many people.
Independence is very appealing but it comes with a high price tag.
The following article first appeared in the Communities Directory 4th Edition
published: year 2000, Fellowhip for Intentional Community
by Valerie Renwick
Income-sharing communities have a long and rich history in the communities movement. From tribal life, to the early days of nuns and monks living together and sharing one home in a convent or monastery, to Oneida community in the 1800's (the original makers of today's Oneida silverware), 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. Others 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, health care, etc. (Individual groups may define "basic" needs somewhat differently) There is also collective ownership of community resources, such as land, buildings, vehicles, etc. In many cases, neither money nor particular skills are required to join; simply a willingness to wholeheartedly join the community in it´s 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 day-to-day lives. Our co-workers 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 wood-working shop for member use, or an outdoor hot tub, or free yoga classes by a skilled member.
"Great! Sign me up!" you say. What else does it mean to live in this type of community? Living so interdependently often means members need to posses 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 who 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.