Allen Butcher on Allocation Mechanisms for Community Economics

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Allen Butcher studies the economics of intentional communities, where the fruit of labor is shared in common, and not individually.

Biographical Material

Bibliographic Material

  • Communal Economics.” Encyclopedia of Community: From the Village to the Virtual World. Christensen, Karen and David Levinson (editors). Sage Publications, 2003. [1]
  • Communitarian Theory. A. Allen Butcher, 1989 [2] : A theory for intentional communities and sharing economies.

"This paper focuses upon the importance of intentional community to the individual community member, its value to the people of the larger, outside world, and the greater ecological value of the cooperative lifestyle relative to the competitive, consumerist culture. The last sections present a review of how intentional community has influenced Western civilization in historical periods of change, and the potential value of intentional community through the future."

  • The Ownership Control Matrix: a two-dimensional model of political-economic structures, with common to private ownership on the horizontal axis and participatory to authoritarian political structures on the vertical axis, and a mid-range for each, resulting in nine different political/economic systems
  • The Political Spiritual Matrix: a two-dimensional model combining forms of spiritual beliefs (see the spiritual/economic matrix) on the horizontal axes with forms of governance from participatory to authoritarian on the vertical axis
  • The Spiritual Economic Matrix: a two-dimensional model combining forms of spirituality with forms of the ownership of wealth; common to private ownership on the horizontal axis and belief structures from "minimal spiritual emphasis and no spiritual leader, secular community" to "strong spiritual emphasis, spiritual leaders and spiritual uniformity" on the vertical axis, and a mid-range for each, resulting in nine different spiritual/economic systems


Communal Economics vs. Exchange Economics

1. A. Allen Butcher:

"All of the various types of intentional communities use some form of sharing system, or some degree of communal economics. Any organization having a labor contribution for which there is no monetary or other compensation given in exchange for their labor could be said to use a “time economy.” (Butcher 1997) Note that labor exchange systems such as time dollars are a form of time economy, yet they are not communal economies or sharing economies, they are exchange economies. A communal economy exists when members share the fruit of their labor as common property, rather than distribute that fruit to the members as personal property." [3]


"Production Sharing "in communal economies is only half of the economic process; the other half being distribution and consumption without an exchange system. Regular planning cycles setting labor and money budgets (the latter from exchange with the dominant culture outside of the community) is the primary method of sharing communal assets. Budgeting is essentially a form of rationing, since there are always more ideas on things to do than there are resources. One budgeted item is usually small personal discretionary funds or allowances, which results in communal assets becoming private property. This is for exchange outside of the community for commodities or services that the community does not provide, often for vacations.

Other forms of communal distribution include: first-come-first-served (e.g., food serving and other items “up-for-grabs”), to each as needed (e.g., health services), seniority (e.g., Twin Oaks’ sabbatical program), resources given to individuals for personal needs and wants upon request (e.g., East Wind’s “Weeds and Knots”), drawing lots rolling dice or other systems of chance, and the “double-blind preferences matrix.” This latter distribution system is used in situations where two or more people want the same item, most often a room or residence, or when there are any limited numbers of items to be distributed among interested people. All of the items to be distributed are given a similar name such as a type of flower, then all of the people desiring those items are given a similar name such as a type of animal. Each person in the matrix rates the items according to their first through third preferences and a two-dimensional matrix is made, with flowers on one axis, animals on the other. A member is found who does not know who or what the animals or flowers represent, and is asked to arrange the matrix so that each animal gets its highest preference possible in flowers, resulting in most people getting their first or second preference." [4]

Communal Theory

Allen Butcher:

"Communal distribution is managed in egalitarian communities to provide the greatest good for the greatest number, or to each according to need, with the highest degree of fairness possible given the limits of the community’s resources. Developing fair and equitable methods of producing and distributing communal assets is essential in those communities affirming that creating community does not require the deprivation of privacy, whether in relationships, goods, or space. By contrast, in monasticism an ascetic lifestyle and a vow of poverty are defining features of the community. To explain how entrusting communal resources to individual members can be consistent with the communal value of sharing, two theories are available. First, the “communal privacy theory” states that increasing levels of privacy, afforded by entrusting additional resources or powers to members does not reduce the community’s level of communalism as long as the equity or ultimate responsibility and power remains shared under communal ownership and control. Second, the “communal sharing theory” states that the greater the experience people have of sharing among themselves, the greater will be their commitment to the community thus formed. (Butcher 1991)

Increasing computerization of communal economies using various forms of time economies for production and various processes for distribution will aid the growth of communal economies as long as those processes serve the values and needs of the members. Sharing in communal society can include beliefs, ideals, thoughts, feelings and emotions as well as goods and services, power and leadership in communal governance." [5]