Should-Read: Andrew Carnegie (1889): Wealth

Should-Read: Andrew Carnegie (1889): Wealth: “The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth…

…To-day the world obtains commodities of excellent quality at prices which even the generation preceding this would have deemed incredible… and the race is benefited thereby. The poor enjoy what the rich could not before afford. What were the luxuries have become the necessaries of life. The laborer has now more comforts than the landlord had a few generations ago….

The price we pay for this salutary change is, no doubt, great. We assemble thousands of operatives in the factory, in the mine, and in the counting-house, of whom the employer can know little or nothing, and to whom the employer is little better than a myth. All intercourse between them is at an end. Rigid Castes are formed, and, as usual, mutual ignorance breeds mutual distrust. Each Caste is without sympathy for the other, and ready to credit anything disparaging in regard to it. Under the law of competition, the employer of thousands is forced into the strictest economies, among which the rates paid to labor figure prominently, and often there is friction between the employer and the employed, between capital and labor, between rich and poor. Human society loses homogeneity.

The price which society pays for the law of competition… is also great…. It is here; we cannot evade it; no substitutes for it have been found; and while the law may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for the race, because it insures the survival of the fittest in every department.

We accept and welcome therefore, as conditions to which we must accommodate ourselves, great inequality of environment, the concentration of business, industrial and commercial, in the hands of a few, and the law of competition between these, as being not only beneficial, but essential…. The experienced in affairs always rate the MAN whose services can be obtained as a partner as not only the first consideration, but such as to render the question of his capital scarcely worth considering, for such men soon create capital; while, without the special talent required, capital soon takes wings…. It is inevitable that their income must exceed their expenditures, and that they must accumulate wealth. Nor is there any middle ground which such men can occupy, because the great manufacturing or commercial concern which does not earn at least interest upon its capital soon becomes bankrupt. It, must either go forward or fall behind: to stand still is impossible. It is a condition essential for its successful operation that it should be thus far profitable, and even that, in addition to interest on capital, it should make profit…. Objections to the foundations upon which society is based are not in order, because the condition of the race is better with these than it has been with any others which have been tried….

There are but three modes in which surplus wealth can be disposed of: It call be left to the families of the decedents; or it can be bequeathed for public purposes; or, finally, it can be administered during their lives by its possessors….

There are instances of millionaires’ sons unspoiled by wealth…. Unfortunately, they are rare…. 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”….

As to the second mode, that of leaving wealth at death for public uses…. Men who leave vast sums in this way may fairly be thought men who would not have left it at all, had they been able to take it with them….The growing disposition to tax more and more heavily large estates left at death is a cheering indication of the growth of a salutary change in public opinion….

The true antidote for the temporary unequal distribution of wealth, the reconciliation of the rich and the poor–a reign of harmony–another ideal, differing, indeed, from that of the Communist in requiring only the further evolution of existing conditions, not the total overthrow of our civilization….

The surplus wealth of the few will become, in the best sense the property of the many, because administered for the common good, and this wealth, passing through the hands of the few, can be made a much more potent force for the elevation of our race….

This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of Wealth….

  1. to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance;

  2. to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him;

  3. 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…


Brad DeLong


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