Week 2 response

Carnegie’s “The Gospel of Wealth” offers an interesting insight into his philanthropic philosophy that defines his legacy. Known for his contributions such as Carnegie Hall, he devotes his earnings to making America a better place for all to live. He is, however, particular in how he believes these contribution ought to be made. He discusses how contributions made after a wealthy man’s death often are unable to benefit society as much as contributions made while living, but is even more wary of unhelpful contributions. “The miser millionaire who hoards his wealth does less injury to society than the careless millionaire who squanders his unwisely, even if he does so under cover of the mantle of sacred charity,” (p. 32) he says. This distinction of good and bad charity sets Carnegie and his contemporaries apart as millionaires who care much more about the results of their charity compared to those who donate to make themselves feel better.

When wealthy individuals do use their excess profits as he recommends later in his paper, the wealthy become the “trustee and agent for his poorer bretheren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves” (p. 25). This is important to Carnegie as someone who does come from a modest background; he doesn’t want to see the inequalities that are created as a result of the industrial revolution to mean a lower quality of life for the poor. He wants to see the whole of society to progress and become better for all, and this really shapes his actions and his recommendations in this paper.

This debate is one that is still carried out among today’s million- and billionaires, and can be seen in the difference between figures such as Bill Gates, who seems to have a similar philosophy to Carnegie’s, and many others who either hoard their profits or “squander” them with contributions to causes such as political campaigns and others which Carnegie would abhor. The fact that this debate is still ongoing makes me question whether Carnegie’s view of the wealthy as “trustees… for his poorer bretheren” (ibid.) will ever hold true or whether wealth inequalities necessarily lead to worse conditions for the poor than is necessary.

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