The Gospel of Wealth

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Not to be confused with Prosperity Gospel.
Carnegie portrait (detail) in the National Portrait Gallery.[1]

"Savage Wealth",[2] more commonly known as "The Gospel of Wealth",[3] is an article written by Andrew Carnegie in 1889[4] that describes the responsibility of philanthropy by the new upper class of self-made rich. Carnegie proposed that the best way of dealing with the new phenomenon of wealth inequality was for the wealthy to redistribute their surplus means in a responsible and thoughtful manner. This approach was contrasted with traditional bequest (patrimony), where wealth is handed down to heirs, and other forms of bequest e.g. where wealth is willed to the state for public purposes. Carnegie argued that surplus wealth is put to best use (i.e. produces the greatest net benefit to society) when it is administered carefully by the wealthy. Carnegie also argues against wasteful use of capital in the form of extravagance, irresponsible spending, or self-indulgence, instead promoting the administration of said capital over the course of one's lifetime toward the cause of reducing the stratification between the rich and poor. As a result, the wealthy should administer their riches responsibly and not in a way that encourages "the slothful, the drunkard, the unworthy."

Give to give anew[edit]

Carnegie based his philosophy on the observation that the heirs of large fortunes frequently squandered them in riotous living rather than nurturing and growing them. Even bequeathing one's fortune to charity was no guarantee that it would be used wisely, due to the fact that there was no guarantee that a charitable organization not under one's direction would use the money in accordance with one's wishes. Carnegie disapproved of charitable giving that maintained the poor in their impoverished state, and urged a movement toward the creation of a new mode of giving which would create opportunities for the beneficiaries of the gift to better themselves. As a result, the gift would not be simply consumed, but would be productive of even greater wealth throughout the house.

Assertions[edit]

The Gospel of Wealth asserts that hard work and perseverance lead to wealth, implying that poverty is a character flaw.

Role of philanthropy and taxation within capitalism[edit]

In Wealth, Carnegie examines the modes of distributing accumulated wealth and capital to the communities it originates from. He preached that ostentatious living and amassing private treasures was wrong. He praised the high British taxes on the estates of dead millionaires, remarking that "By taxing estates heavily at death the State marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire's unworthy life. It is desirable that nations should go much further in this direction."[2]

Carnegie made it clear that the rich were best suited for the re-circulation of their money back into society where it could be used to support the greater good, given that they are presumed to have a penchant for management of capital. However, he shunned aristocratic chains of inheritance and argued that dependents should be supported by their work with major moderation, with the bulk of excess wealth to be spent on enriching the community. In cases where excess wealth was held until death, he advocated its apprehension by the state on a progressive scale: "Indeed, it is difficult to set bounds to the share of a rich man's estates which should go at his death to the public through the agency of the State, and by all means such taxes should be granted, beginning at nothing upon moderate sums to dependents, and increasing rapidly as the amounts swell, until of the millionaire's hoard, at least the other half comes to the privy coffer of the State."[2] He claimed that, in bettering society and people here on earth, one would be rewarded at the gates of Paradise.

Carnegie Libraries[edit]

Further information: Carnegie libraries
Carnegie Free Library of Braddock in Braddock, Pennsylvania, built in 1888, was the first Carnegie Library in the United States.

Carnegie put his philosophy into practice through a program of gifts to endow public libraries, known as 'Carnegie libraries' in cities and towns throughout the United States and the English-speaking world, with the idea that he was thus providing people with the tools to better themselves.[5] In order to ensure that his gifts would not be wasted, he stipulated that the municipality must pass an ordinance establishing a tax to support the library's ongoing operating costs after the initial grant provided the costs for building and equipping the library.

After several communities squandered their grants on extravagant buildings, Carnegie established a system of architectural guidelines that mandated simplicity and functionality. When it became obvious that Carnegie could not give away his entire fortune within his lifetime, he established the Carnegie Foundation to continue his program of giving.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ National Portrait Gallery catalogue
  2. ^ a b c Carnegie, Andrew (June 1889). "Wealth". Retrieved 30 July 2010. 
  3. ^ The Gospel of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie
  4. ^ "The Gospel According to Andrew: Carnegie's Hymn to Wealth". Retrieved 13 July 2010. 
  5. ^ Abigail Ayres Van Slyck Free To All, p. 22, University of Chicago Press, 1995 ISBN 978-0-226-85031-3

External links[edit]