Carnegie/Sumner Distribution of Wealth

With regard to the writings on wealth by Andrew Carnegie and William Sumner, I found myself very much agreeing with the concerns of both regarding  how wealth should be distributed to society. However, in Carnegie’s first section on the Administration of Wealth, I found myself having concern in Carnegie’s insistence over the matter of  the amount of wealth redistribution.

A common point harped upon by both authors is their concern with the proper and responsible distribution of wealth to the poor and those who need it. Carnegie himself acknowledges several times the fact that nine hundred and fifty of every thousand dollars spent on charity is unwisely spent several times, calling many recipients of charity the “the slothful, the drunken, the unworthy” (pg 26). Sumner essentially addresses these people as the “weak” ones of society; they are those that “neutralize and destroy the finest efforts of the wise and industrious” (pg 19). Given these shared concerns in the wealth distribution philosophy, which I completely agree with, I enjoyed reading through Carnegie’s seven ways to provide for the less-well off while being productive in doing so and not encouraging bad behavior. Simply put, the temptation of cash in the hands of the poor is too great to use it poorly, but give them things great sums of money can provide like libraries and parks, and they all will benefit.

My greatest concern with Carnegie’s thoughts comes with his insistence that excess wealth be redistributed. Anyone who does not purge their wealth from their name by the end of their life, through philanthropy, is a lesser person and “cannot held in graceful remembrance” (pg 21). Granted, Carnegie does not say how much wealth is proper for a wealthy individual to return to society, but it could be argued he believes all of a man’s accumulated wealth should be returned. One of many, sometimes conflicting, definitions of success is of what you leave behind for family and loved ones, and if they are left with no wealth because it has all been donated away, would they hold their philanthropist ancestor with spite? I agree that philanthropy while a wealthy man is living is a boon for society, but a balance of wealth distribution and maintaining personal wealth for those who will be carrying on the family name is quite necessary.

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