One thing I’ve learned working in software is: if you have a problem, you’re probably not the first one to have it. Someone else has tried to solve this, and it’s efficient to see if you can build off their solution.
Enter having financial problems: debt, cash flow management, compulsory work, credit… The deep research I do on broad financial problems has led me to learn about solutions people have come up with. Part of the reason there are so many takes on the solutions is the width of the problem. Individual, systemic, cultural and social forces are all at play.
Here, we look at some very creative large scale socio-culturally based solutions to some of the most pernicious problems: redlining, denial of bank or loan access, savings motivation, sickness and death.
In modern times we have kickstarter to pass $20 around, and some people can access life insurance to leverage a shared pot of money for needs, but these are market offerings and as such scrape money off the pot (or charge more than otherwise needed) to pay the companies that implement them.
As we’ll see, a lot of these solutions spring from multiple marginalization or counter-norm beliefs, begging the question: can privilege damage one’s creative resilience in capitalism?
Social Aid and Pleasure clubs
These Black southern institutions come out of the creativity and resilience of communities that found themselves redlined out of banking and life insurance in Jim Crow America, and some trace them back to African tribal mutual aid traditions.
The concept is hyperlocal and relatively simple: community members put money into a shared pot regularly, and when someone who’s been contributing dies or is in need, their needs are supported with the money. Out of this ‘social aid’ sprang the ‘pleasure’ part – annual parades, called second lines, that occur throughout the year in New Orleans. (The development of the parade krewes is a separate and fascinating history too.)
Susu / Tanda / Cundina. (Rotating credit association)
A cultural savings plan in immigrant communities – especially Caribbean and some Asian – the idea is about the same as above: each puts in (“throws a hand”) of say $100/week or $500/paycheck to a designated organizer (the banker), and each gets a turn getting the total pot of money each round.
Susu if you’re Carribean, or Tanda/Cundina if you’re Mexican or Latin American, tradition is linked variously to “the West Indies in the 18th century by Nigerian slaves, where the word ”susu” derives from ”esusu,”a Yoruban expression meaning economic cooperative,” or from “the Twi language to mean ‘plan‘.”
This model is especially effective for a few reasons: one, if there’s no bank, this is a great way to save money anyway, especially knowing others are depending on you to do what you said and throw. Put your hand in regularly, and it comes around to you in a pot which can seem like more than its sum. One participant described it “as a way to plan for something… money for the holidays, a family trip, or a down payment on a car.” The Frugal Feminista describes Susu as informing her goal mindset.
Again this model is hyperlocal and depends on (and strengthens) community ties, which sounds solid to me. And collectively working around banks refusing to give loans? BOOM.
Christian healthcare shares
This is a healthcare “assurance” model based in the values of accountability and caring for one’s neighbors from a Christian perspective: the idea is you agree to contribute a certain share each month and when needed you make a claim towards paying a bill.
In the Samaritan Ministries example, their system tells you who to send your share to, and you send those making claims your check. Again: The org doesn’t handle money, you send it to someone who’s trying to pay a medical bill.
There’s pre-exisiting conditions clauses, a limit on the payout ($250k), and certain things like abortion are never covered — but if you’re ‘just’ trying to pay a $30k bill for Timmy’s broken leg or even $100k for Janet’s breast cancer, it works. And it’s less than health insurance. And you’re not lining the pockets of some evil hmo or ppo who’s gonna deny your initial submission of a claim and charge you a giant deductible anyway. You just pay the bills of other people in your faith-based community. Hmmmm.
Shared faith-based community ensures accountability, and while limited, for a lot of instances this is a really interesting model I’d be excited to participate in an abortion-positive version of. Hell I have health insurance rn but I’d throw into a pot like this for folks who don’t (or are about not to).
This is olden (like rabbinical, biblical, and medieval), but it’s still done. Gleaning is a concept from the days of shared agricultural commons (e.g. land we’d all farm) of allowing widows to gather excess food on the assumption they couldn’t raise their kids and grow enough food for them too. But if I grow extra beans and you grow extra squash, we all eat.
This concept might also be known as ‘sharing my extra instead of extracting every once of profit from my labor’ which of course gets ruined when we apply capitalism (and a profiting middleman) to the concept.
Also local and faith-based…I grew up w this one hardcore. Tithe (from Old English: teogoþa “tenth”) is the idea is that you give money to your faith institutions and they locally distribute. A common amount you’re expected to give? 10% of your money, as the etymology indicates.
Again community accountability plays in to support this happening. Hell, in my family we were living on dried milk and reconstituted beef and gave money. But quite often we’d benefit from money distribution too, and I can definitely credit part of my childhood survival to this model.
Critiques & Concerns…
Probably the most glaring is: any mutual aid project is not a replacement for a social safety net. In essence any of these is another net, but there are going to be people who fall thru due to lack of social connections and or pre existing conditions.
Another concern is issues of power. When we’re talking about money as a way to resource share, the person who decides how much and to whom to distribute is a big issue. Susu handles this well since it’s transparent: each of us, in this order, gets the money.
In a wealthy, wealthy country like the US there’s no good reason we need these things. But, regardless of what we’d like or think — people DO need something to support them. Communities have come up with practices like these because they saw struggle in vulnerable members and made a plan to help, since against all logic and resources the US doesn’t systematically give a fuck abt it’s most vulnerable populations, and historically the world has been nasty and brutish to it’s living things.