Abstract: Holding the Invisible Hand: The Internal Economies of 1970's Utopian Communities

Rahima Schwenkbeck


What is the ideal economy? It is something people often ponder, but few have had the experience of developing. “Holding the Invisible Hand: The Internal Economies of 1970s’ Utopian Communities” explores the development of different business models that emerged during the 1970s in three utopian developments: Stelle, Twin Oaks and Soul City. In their quest to create a model community, they selected equally idealized economic models that offered contrasting views of business management and the relationship between government and corporation. The economic model may not have been central to a community's view of itself, but the model articulated how the community valued its members, labor, material goods and relationship to society. Studying the economic systems of utopian communities illustrates how these communities imagined ways to improve the relationship between labor and resources. Some communities, particularly Soul City and Twin Oaks, hoped that their economic approaches would overcome socioeconomic inequality. Using utopian communities as a lens offers a unique look at business history and analysis because their business forms often allow for community needs, environmental concerns or religious beliefs to take precedence over profit motives.