In his essay “Wealth,” published in the North American Review in 1889, industrialist Andrew Carnegie argued that individual capitalists were duty bound to play a broader cultural and social role and thus improve the world. Carnegie’s essay later became famous under the title “The Gospel of Wealth,” and in 1908, at age seventy-three, Andrew Carnegie recorded a portion of it under that title. (Click here to read the full text of the article.)Listen to Audio:
I quote from the Gospel of Wealth published twenty-five years ago. This then is held to be the duty of the man of wealth. First: to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display; 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 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 must become a trustee and agent for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer. Those who would administer wisely must indeed be wise. For one of the serious obstacles to the improvement of our race is indiscriminate charity. It were better for mankind that the millions of the rich were thrown into the sea than so spent as to encourage the slothful, the drunken, the unworthy.
In bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who help themselves. It provides part of the means by which those who desire to improve may do so; to give to those who desire to rise the aids by which they may rise; to assist but rarely or never to do all.
He is the only true reformer who is careful and as anxious not to lead the unworthy as he is to lead the worthy, and perhaps even more so, for in alms giving, more injury may be done by promoting vice than by relieving virtue. Thus, is the problem of the rich and poor to be solved.
The laws of accumulation should be left free; the laws of distribution free. Individualism will continue. But the millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor; entrusted for a season with a part of the increased wealth of the community, but administering it for the community far better than it did, or would have done, of itself. The best in minds will thus have reached a stage in the development of the race in which it is clearly seen that there is no mode of disposing of surplus wealth creditable to thoughtful and earnest men into whose hands it flows save by using it year-by-year for the general good. This day already dawns.
Men may die without incurring the pity of their fellows, sharers in great business enterprises from which their capital cannot be, or has not been withdrawn, upon which is left entirely a trust for public uses.
Yet the day is not far distant when the man who dies, leaving behind him millions of available wealth, which was free for him to administer during life, will pass away “unwept, unhonored, and unsung,” no matter to what use he leaves the dross which he cannot take with him. Of such as these, the public verdict will then be: the man who dies thus rich, dies disgraced. Such in my opinion is the true gospel concerning wealth, obedience to which is destined someday to solve the problems of the rich and the poor, to hasten the coming brotherhood of man, and at last to make our earth a heaven.
Source: Courtesy of the Michigan State University Voice Library.