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The possibilities of financial interdependence

Monday, 10 May 2021  | Alison Sampson

Our oldest daughter is off to university and, because we live regionally, this means she must move away. Many of her friends have been told that, now that they have finished high school, they are no longer their parents’ responsibility. Some are staying home, working and saving until they can afford to leave. Others have already gone to the city and are supporting themselves with borderline jobs; they live in a squalid flat with no hot water. But my daughter is one of the lucky ones. My husband and I come from families that value education and invest in their young people, and we have work ourselves; and so we plan to support her for some time to come.

Our daughter sees the injustice of this and, in the beautiful idealism of a seventeen-year-old who has never lived without hot water, she has wondered whether she should, in fact, refuse our support because it gives her an unfair advantage. She’s right to wonder. The fact that our family can and does support its young people while others can’t or won’t is unfair. It raises all sorts of questions, including whether we and our children should be independent or interdependent.

Capitalism tells us to be independent: to go it alone, to rely on our merits, to avoid being financially enmeshed — except with the banks, of course; and, like my daughter, I have friends whose families embody this. Each household is expected to generate its own funds, and to achieve the same or better economic status as its elders. Yet, where one generation had stable work for a lifetime, the younger generations have unstable work, short-term contracts, fewer worker protections, and regular and expensive retraining. Where one generation bought and paid off a house on one income, the younger generations can barely scrape together a deposit on two. There is little to no recognition that the younger generations live in a different economy to their elders, and there is little to no money being handed down. Families with young children scrimp and save to pay car rego; their debt runs rampant while their elders go on overseas holidays.

But there is another way, and that is interdependence. I know one extended family in which a proportion of every income goes into a central fund. From this fund, the family pays for each child’s education, including university, as well as for each eighteen-year-old’s first car. When young people marry, they are provided with a house, all paid for: as young families they have no debt. Of course, paying no rent, mortgage, interest or HECS debt frees up a huge proportion of their income, which in turn goes into the family fund for the next cousin in line for an education or a home. By trusting one another and sharing what they have, instead of enriching banks and moneylenders they are enriching their own children. It’s one interpretation of being people who, while not ‘selling all their goods and possessions’, nevertheless ‘held all things in common … and distribute[d] the proceeds to all, as any had need’ (Acts 2:44-45).

The possibilities of financial interdependence are not limited to families. I was once part of a church that treated money and assets as tools to bring about God’s kingdom. For example, it bought two homes on one title, split the title, then sold the homes to young families in the church. Neither family could have afforded to do this, but the church as a whole could. Another time, it purchased a house with an attached unit. A refugee family rented the house; a single mother escaping a violent marriage lived out the back, with the family at the front providing presence and protection. Yet another time, the church bought a vacant block, split the title, built five units and sold four to members of the church. The fifth was retained by the church for supported accommodation. In other words, the church leveraged assets and money to provide adequate housing and conditions for community.

I look at the assets of most churches; I estimate the combined household income of even a single small church; I notice how reluctant most Christians are to talk about money — and I am struck by how spiritually impoverished we are. United, we are incredibly wealthy, yet we have been indoctrinated by the myths of independence and scarcity. Rather than use what we have for the common good, we hoard; and we’re so reluctant to talk about money that we cannot even imagine how to pool our resources towards powerful and liberating effect.

Over the next few years, I hope my daughter learns a great deal and not just from the university: for, as she enters into adulthood, she will need to keep thinking about money. I hope she notices that independence is a lie, since it relies on inherited wealth and interlaced economies. I hope she finds companions who will talk about money and question typical economic arrangements; and I hope she chooses to remain part of our family not just in loving relationship, but in creative economic interdependence.


Alison Sampson is the pastor of Sanctuary, a congregation with Baptist connections based in Warrnambool (www.sanctuarybaptist.wordpress.com). She has been a regular columnist for Zadok Perspectives for over a decade.


This article was first published in Zadok Perspectives 150: Financial Follies (Autumn 2021), 3. Republished with permission of the author. You can subscribe to Zadok Perspectives here.

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