Time-Based Economics

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Contextual Citation

Allen Butcher:

"The idea of an alternative culture or economic system exploiting capitalism, which is to do to capitalism what capitalism has done to everything that it can monetize and commodify, makes time-based economics unique among alternative economic ideologies, like communism, whether Marxist or any other form, which emphasizes class war or any form of violence as a necessary prelude to a just and equitable society.

Contradictory to communist theory, time-based economics asserts that capitalism will never go away because regardless of the severity of the economic crisis, people will always rebuild the monetary system. Therefore, the alternative system of time-based economics simply exploits capitalism in order to build gifting and sharing economies, which in their furthest development essentially pushes the capitalist system out of people’s lives." (http://0350f21.netsolhost.com/WordPress/2013/09/28/exploit-capitalism-to-build-gifting-and-sharing-lifestyles/)


A. Allen Butcher:

" In "egalitarian" communities one hour is worth one credit regardless of who is working or what is done, and involve either a "fair-share" labor system requiring a labor contribution without labor accounting, or "labor credit" systems requiring a "labor quota" and the accounting of a minimum labor contribution for a person to maintain membership in the group.

Communal economics involves forms of time-based, plenty-paradigm economies while barter and monetary systems are forms of exchange economies. Barter systems and local currencies have been used to increase local self-reliance, as well as to help monetary economies out of depression through supplementing official scarcity-paradigm currencies. "Time dollars" and "service credits" are also exchanged hour-for-hour as forms of "labor exchange," while in communal economies no exchange is involved as labor does not earn personal property but access to all of the common wealth." (http://www.culturemagic.org/TimeBasedEconomics.html)


Allen Butcher:

"There are three different forms of time-based economies:

First, labor-gifting time-based economies are used in intentional communities like cohousing, ecovillages, and community land trusts.

Second, labor-sharing time-based economies are used in communal intentional communities having community-owned businesses, similar to worker-owned businesses.

Third, labor-exchanging, time-based economies are different from either labor-gifting or labor-sharing, as they are essentially time-bartering systems, like Time Dollars.

All these forms of time-based economics value all labor equally, unlike debt-based monetary economics which compensates different work with different wages or salaries. Because of this, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has ruled that time-based economies are not commercial exchanges and therefore are exempt from federal taxation." (http://0350f21.netsolhost.com/WordPress/2013/09/28/exploit-capitalism-to-build-gifting-and-sharing-lifestyles/)

Anti-Quota Labor System

A. Allen Butcher:

"The simplest form of time economy may be called an “anti-quota” labor system where there is no minimum labor contribution requirement (i.e., there is no “labor quota”) for a person to maintain their membership in the group. Cohousing communities tend to use such purely voluntary anti-quota labor systems.

A common example of an anti-quota time economy would be where a church encourages its members to perform duties that the congregation has considered to be important to its mission, such as singing in the choir. When a church passes the collection plate, it earns money for the programs that it provides, including vocal music during the Sunday service. The portion of collection-plate income, member pledges, donations and other revenue not used for salaries or other compensation, is then shared by the congregation for things such as building maintenance and choir robes and sheet music. Thus, aside from any paid labor, the non-compensated labor that the congregation provides to the church helps to earn revenue for exchange with the outside monetary economy. Within the church congregation, however, the anti-quota time economy is used to manage the church’s communal economy of sharing. In contrast, for-profit corporations have economies involving only the accumulation and exchange of private property.

An example of a church that formed an intentional community is Shepherdsfield Community in Missouri, originally a Lutheran congregation in southern California. (Janzen 1996) That transition involved a change from an anti-quota labor system to a more specific work requirement that may be called a “fair-share labor system.” (http://www.culturemagic.org/PDF/c3Communal%20Economics.pdf)

Fair-Share Labor System

A. Allen Butcher:

"In many communal intentional communities, especially large communal societies, members make commitments to work in particular areas as their primary work role, often with members rotating among various full-time positions, usually without recording or reporting hours worked. Expectations of the fulfillment of such labor contributions may be called a “fair-share labor system.” Examples of community networks that had or continue to use fair-share labor systems are: Israeli Kibbutzim, Japanese Yamagishi Kai in Japan, and the US and Canadian Hutterite Colonies (Gorni 1987. Fairshare labor systems tend to result in gender-specific work roles, with women in domestic or support services.

Monastic societies usually have specific labor-sharing expectations. For example, the Rule of St. Benedict, written in the sixth century CE, specified work as a requirement of the monastic order." (http://www.culturemagic.org/PDF/c3Communal%20Economics.pdf)

Labor Quota System

A. Allen Butcher:

"More complicated communal economies involve the setting of a “labor quota” or minimal required labor contribution for a person to maintain their membership in the group or community.

Communities with labor quota time economies counting one hour of work as one “labor credit” are usually secular, replacing a cultural, spiritual or religious orientation to sharing with a commitment to a more quantifiable sharing process. Variable-credit labor systems in which different tasks are valued at different credit are rare because of their complexity. Labor quotas may be only a few hours per person per week, as in many small collective households, or they may be full-time workloads and may even include sub-quotas for particular tasks shared by all members, such as cleaning or income-producing. Communities with labor credit systems provide for members to work from one to five or more different “creditable” jobs in a particular day. Such a “radical flex-time” labor system supports members working in cross-gender roles, such as men sharing childcare, food service and other creditable domestic labor, and women sharing business, industrial, maintenance, construction, political, and other roles. “Egalitarian” labor credit systems, affirming the feminist goal of equality of the genders, provide training for all members in multiple skills for greater workforce flexibility, and more freedom of choice in work and one’s personal schedule. Drawbacks of the radical flex-time system are less efficiency as members frequently transition between jobs, and lower productivity as members concentrate less on proficiency in any one skill.

The best examples of communities using labor quotas are those in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. Some, like Acorn Community in Virginia only require a quota of work in particular areas, such as in the least desirable fields of income and cleaning, while the rest of the member’s voluntary labor contribution to the community is entirely up to them in type and quantity. East Wind Community in Missouri requires a full quota of around 40 hours a week, sometimes including income and cleaning quotas.

The community with the most complicated time economy, involving labor budgeting and reporting, is Twin Oaks Community in Virginia. The community’s total labor supply is calculated (number of members times the labor quota), and from this labor budgets are set for particular work areas in the same way that money is budgeted. “Done labor,” or each member’s completed work in the budgeted work areas, is then recorded and reported, and compared against the previously set budgets and the person’s labor quota. A member’s failure to meet their labor quota gives them a “negative labor balance” which must be cleared by working extra hours in the future, in order to avoid placing into jeopardy the person’s membership in the group. “Over-quota” work is used to correct a negative labor balance or to earn vacation time for the member to be applied against a future quota. A member’s labor quota may be reduced for health or other reasons, and a permanently reduced labor quota is equivalent to the “pension” in monetary economies.

Through the system of labor budgets the community as a whole decides its collective priorities by how it divides its labor supply. The entire labor budgeting process, along with the income and expense projections process, is repeated in regular planning cycles, serving to keep the members of the community empowered and invested in the communal society. As a communal economy using a form of participatory governance requires a considerable amount of communication in decision-making, authority is usually delegated to managers, co-managers or committees in each work area, with feedback and appeal processes serving the value of maintaining a community-controlled economy. Delegating collective authority to managers is a means of making participatory governance more efficient by reducing the number of meetings. Also, acknowledging that individuals have the freedom and autonomy to make decisions that they believe to be in the best interest of the community nurtures trust and commitment." (http://www.culturemagic.org/PDF/c3Communal%20Economics.pdf)


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."


  1. Communal Economics, A. Allen Butcher, P.O. Box 1666, Denver, CO 80201-1666 USA [email protected]

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