The Economy of Interdependence

“It will become increasingly important, then, that we find ways to deconstruct the dominance of individualism in our society and to replace individualism with broader ideas of community. This shift will necessarily challenge notions of the centrality of competition for goods and the accumulation of individual wealth as we create persistent images of community well-being in our neighborhoods and reservations, in our cities, in our continental whole.” — Tink Tinker in American Indian Liberation: A Theology of Sovereignty

Lately I’ve been mourning our exit from intentional community’s economy of interdependence. I turn weepy when I realize that I have personally bought every item in our refrigerator. It’s not stuffed with the donated food from Lucky’s Market or ham bones that Anne Jones dropped by. Extra produce no longer appears randomly on our kitchen table. Instead of living off the waste of the food system (and bulk lentils and rice), I join the rest of America and go to the store to buy my food.

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My refrigerator contents, folks. I bought all that food! Come eat with us sometime!

One of the reasons I’m passionate about intentional community is because it decreases our dependency on money and the capitalist economy. It is a clustering of human and physical resources that are exchanged through personal relationship. At the Bloomington Catholic Worker, I didn’t need to own a second vehicle. I could borrow Chris and Emily’s van for carpooling needs, and they could take our car when they needed a more fuel-efficient vehicle. The four families in the community shared one truck (and lent it out to others) to haul manure for the gardens. We watched each other’s children for date-nights, doctor appointments, and other last minute emergencies. And together we were able to share our homes with people who had nowhere to live.

Our monthly contribution to the community (around $850), covered all our living expenses, the majority of our food expenses, and property maintenance. The community fund that paid for it all was composed of monthly contributions from members as well as some regular donations from people who supported our work. Our low living expenses were also greatly facilitated by an initial $100,000 donation that allowed for the purchase of the first two homes and no-interest loans that bought the second two homes.

What this decreased dependency on money meant is that we owned more of our time. With this time we lived out our values – volunteering in the jail, housing the homeless, welcoming visitors, planting trees and flowers, planning neighborhood block parties, taking care of our children, our neighbors and one another.

In our world, it seems that only the wealthy own their time, with no need to exchange labor for money. But the other way to own your time is to pool your resources and live simply together.

Out here in the capitalist economy of independence, I have to do more for myself by myself, which generally means I have to buy things or hire people to help solve my problems. When we moved, our living expenses increased so I took on a new job. But the new job required access to a vehicle, so we bought a second car, which also increased our living expenses. We are still trying to live out our communitarian values (carpool anyone?), even as it becomes more difficult to do so.

When we look ahead to buying land, we know we’ll have to do it in the economy of interdependence. We spent nine years at the Bloomington Catholic Worker on a path of downward mobility, intentionally avoiding the accrual of wealth. The house we lived in was a community house, and so we have no major assets. No bank will give us a mortgage because we earn below the poverty line. But that’s okay. We don’t want a large debt that would require us to find full-time paid work because that would take us away from the work at Common Home Farm.

We will need your help and your generosity. The financial stability and viability of Common Home Farm depends upon donations and no-interest loans for the purchase of the land. After that initial investment, our part-time paid work will be enough to fund the day-to-day operations. We’re hopeful that friends and family with financial resources will make an investment in the economy of interdependence we will create. Please think about what you can offer, and know that we will offer abundance back to you and the rest of the world.

 

 

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