Money & Funding
Questions about money and finance are hotly debated among radicals exploring possibilities for transformation. It is in the nature of the Capitalist economic system to render everything quantifiable within its own 'universal' value system, thereby ignoring significance and value that is overlooked or considered irrelevant and, as critics hold, producing a highly destructive and dysfunctional system for taking care of people's needs and enabling exchange.
More to the point however are questions concerning how to evolve away from money as an exchange system and a system for estimating relative values of things like work, effort, resources used, time spent, or appreciation and esteem. While many people eschew money and all it represents in terms of the power inherent in it, the injustice and inequality it causes, and the way it excludes certain types of activity and disempowers us, we are also, undoubtedly, dependent on money to a significant extent.
Highly idealistic communities sometimes succeed to render money a little less important in the organisation of people's lives, but more often than not, money intervenes as external expenses rise, for example when people become older and need medical care and must turn to external sources for help.
There are nonetheless many ways in which communities succeed, and could succeed increasingly, to provide a wide variety of services and resources more or less for free, depending e.g. on the size of the community and the way it is constituted and organised. One reason why is simply that many of the expenses that arise over the course of a lifetime are results of the way we live. By collectivising a number of activities and pooling resources, communities can proactively anticipate certain 'costs' and devise strategies for dealing with them that do not involve outsourcing, or 'loss' at some level. As a consequence, the efforts a community puts into caring for the elderly or ill, or childcare, things that are not 'economically profitable' but that draw on resources, can be used to create 'value' in ways that actually empower the community.
I have visited and am actively involved as a member of a new community and in that capacity I have been aware for a while that many communities struggle with questions of finance, wavering between a certain level of private risk and collective investment. More often than not, issues of trust, ideology, privacy and lack of financial security result in a certain amount of stress and dysfunctionality that prevent communities from achieving more than a complex and insecure compromise where safety and financial solvability are concerned.
It may be possible to solve some if not all of our 'economic' problems if we focus on some primary concerns people have, such as housing and having enough to eat, healthcare and care in old age. All of these are the lowest level in Maslow's hierarchy of needs and are basically about security and survival. Any other economic activity is usually less of a necessity in itself than a consequence of the way we organise our lives and the values we have. A shift of values from thinking in terms of property to thinking in terms of security and the sharing of burdens thus offers possibilities that are simply not available in an economy of privatised risk. In fact, a major part of that private risk is bought at the expense of the quality of our lives, time wasted, lack of connections and love, cost to health, loss of meaning and alienation from work, pverty, injustice and so on, are ultimately a consequence of arranging our lives and organising ourselves economically according to our worst fears rather than in accordance with our deepest values.
Someone, I don't know who, said that Capitalism is a system that is ultimately based on the creation of scarcity. This is particularly true of the way the values of Capitalism are reproduced in people's fears and distrust and their inability to conceive of possible alternatives to the way they are living. The creation of debt and the moral values attached to it are a great way to keep people imprisoned in a conceptual prison of their own making. Capitalist power is exercised through denying people access to things that are abundantly available and cheap and easy to come by, like food, water and care, housing, transport etc. By creating a certain number of visible losers, the system teaches us to fear, to work at jobs that are boring and meaningless, dangerous or deadly, to eat and drink stuff we know is unhealthy, to obey rules we disagree with and that make no sense and so on. In exchange for our power and ability to exercise more control over our conditions, a few of us live in relative luxury, even if their lives are just as meaningless, or even more so, as a consequence.
If a group of us had the time to sit down, review our history, and create a system that provides for all according to their genuine needs without ravaging the resources available to us, would we opt for such a Capitalist system? Of course not! We would recognise that such a system is inherently unstable and incapable of meeting all our demands while preserving equality and allowing each individual some say in how things are run.
Intentional communities could potentially form an avantgarde of a movement away from this type of economy towards one of mutuality, respect for the individual and empowerment of collaboration in ways that could, eventually affect our global society and usher in a radical cultural change. I hope others will join us in an exploration of these ideas. Please contact me if you would like to add an article or link!
—Daniel Waterman, Mar. 2018.