Is Andrew Carnegie's article on the gospel of wealth still relevant today?
In his opening remarks about the failures of Communism, Socialism and Anarchism; Carnegie faces the same arguments that fly around the political climate of Western Civilization. He had the advantage of observation, he uses an eyewitness account of how civilization fails to progress without differentiation when he identifies this in the Sioux nation over 100 years ago. Carnegie noted that the worldly wealth of the Sioux chief held little difference from that of his braves.
Carnegie's claim indicates that the reason he pursued wealth was because he was interested in having more of it. Obviously, he does not believe that wealth will be pursued if it does not come with some personal benefit. The so called gospel of wealth that Carnegie espouses is that the wealthy should impart of their wealth for the benefit of their fellow man. This may be the reason Carnegie pursued philanthropy throughout his life after selling his steelworks to JP Morgan.
Those that believe that wealth is to be shared in a social or communal way often seem to indicate that wealth is inherently evil. A careful reading of the Bible that may be the source of this idea states that the evil lies in the "love of money" not in money itself. Carnegie claims that wealthy individuals are best served by giving away their money at the end of their lives.
The arguments for the the proponents of socialism also were addressed by the attitude that Carnegie purported in the article when he said:
There are instances of millionaires' sons unspoiled by wealth, who, being rich, still perform great services in the community. Such are the very salt of the earth, as valuable as, unfortunately, they are rare; still it is not the exception, but the rule, that men must regard, and, looking at the usual result of enormous sums conferred upon legatees, the thoughtful man must shortly say, "I would as soon leave to my son a curse as the almighty dollar," and admit to himself that it is not the welfare of the children, but family pride, which inspires these enormous legacies.
The recognition that wealth spoiled millionaires' children is the frustration that socialist and communist proponents use as their drum. The great philanthropy of Carnegie was partly because he did not want to leave his sons the 'curse' of the almighty dollar. Carnegie believed that governments should graduate the taxes in such a way as to encourage man to deal with the use of the wealth in their lifespans by disposing of it. This is the most brilliant concept that Carnegie espouses: that the wealthy should dispose of their wealth while alive to help those among the world. Perhaps this is why he is known more for his philanthropy than his business acumen.
Carnegie goes on to state that the purpose of the man of wealth is to,
...set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and after doing so to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer, and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community--the man of wealth thus becoming the mere agent and trustee for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves.
Here is where Carnegie may find the real purpose of the wealthy man. That once he has determined to avoid the display of extravagance he can leave the shackles of the pride that can accompany it and give this great wealth to those that could best benefit from it. A modern example of this may be that of the Gates family in their great philanthropic use of the wealth generated from his role in the rise of computer software.
Ending with the idea that as wealthy men give of their wealth freely to the poor they thus solve the problem of the rich and the poor. "The laws of accumulation will be left free ; the laws of distribution free. Individualism will continue, but the millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor; intrusted for a season with a great part of the increased wealth of the community, but administering it for the community far better than it could or would have done for itself." This is the final most powerful thought of the wealthy benefactor: that the use of wealth is best disposed of while you are alive, else the conditions in which that wealth was accumulated will be more restricted by socialist and communist agendas, wealthy benefactors that don't understand the value of work or the poor that fight against the system by sabotaging the opportunities of the would-be wealthy.