Primary Source Review: The Gospel of Wealth
Andrew Carnegie was an immigrant from Scotland who used his talents and skills as an entrepreneur to become one of the wealthiest people in the United States of America during his time. He dominated the steel industry, which helped him to amass wealth (History.com, 3). He wrote “The Gospel of Wealth,” which illustrated his belief on how wealthy people should use their possessions. He argued that wealthy individuals have a responsibility to use their wealth for the common good. Therefore, his argument has contributed to the development and establishment of philanthropy.
Carnegie wrote his book to encourage people to accept capitalism. He believed that capitalism was an essential tool that was used for economic growth and development. He also believed that capitalism was a system that improved people’s lives compared to communism. He says, “The condition of the race is better with these than it has been with any other which has been tried” (Carnegie, 5). He wrote other books, such as the Empire Business, where he continued with his capitalist ideology.
The Gospel of Wealth was written in June 1889 when Carnegie discussed the rich people’s role in society. The North America Review took the article and published it in its opinion column. Besides, Carnegie considered the way the rich people used their wealth and decided to write this book. There was a widening gap between the rich and the poor because of industrialization. As a result, the issues that led to the widening gap made Carnegie come up with an article that could admonish his colleagues in the rich class to use their wealth judiciously while they were alive.
Additionally, 1889 was a year that saw many innovations come to completion and a few people became more affluent than the previous years. For example, the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed in 1889, and the Cable Cars began services in Los Angeles. However, the community members were suffering from natural disasters such as floods and tornadoes. Therefore, these events helped shape Carnegie’s ideas because he realized that the wealthy people were trustees who had the power to help others in the community obtain the best in their lives.
Carnegie arrived at his conclusion after considering critical aspects that surrounded his generation. He believed that the value of wealth was based on proper distribution because that affected people directly. Besides, he believed that competition was good for community members because it promoted capitalism (Bannister, 4). As a result, people could achieve many things, such as an improved dress code, which they could not obtain when using the communist system. Additionally, Carnegie accepted that capitalism contributed to the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Still, when he compared the new system with communism, he found it profitable to the people in his generation. It created a positive image in the society since the rich people were using their talents and skills to invent many things that improved many people’s lives. Carnegie devised a method to help the community overcome the weaknesses spotted by implementing capitalism. He insisted that wealthy people should use their wealth well while they are alive because they understand how they obtained it and how it should be used to benefit many people. His famous quote, “The man who thus dies rich, dies disgraced,” illustrates what Carnegie believed. He also encouraged high tax rates for the dead people’s wealth because that could instill discipline while they are alive.
Carnegie’s bias is outright in his writing because he advocates for the rich to embrace a philanthropist’s spirit. His poor and religious background could have inspired him while he was writing about the book. He was also biased against the wealthy, leaving their passions as an inheritance or giving it to the community members. He believed that the inheritors and the community could not use the wealth properly. Therefore, he insisted that the rich people should use their wealth by distributing it to the institutions they believe could add value to people.
The author is reliable because he was a rich person who understood the effects of capitalism. He also realized that capitalism was a double-edged system because it had positive and negative effects. Carnegie’s bias made him remain realistic when he wrote his book. Additionally, his bias is similar to many of his contemporaries because capitalism was inevitable, and the issues were about the distribution of the wealth to other community members. Besides, his bias made him reject ideologists, who supported communism and wanted people to go back to it.
Carnegie’s main critics could comprise of the poor and the rich people who were not willing to give their wealth to the poor. The poor could criticize Carnegie because he advocated for capitalism, which was negatively affected because it widened the rich-poor gap. The wealthy people, such as Rockefellers, could have criticized him because he advocated for allocating much wealth into the community than in their families.
Bannister, Robert. Wealth by Andrew Carnegie. 1995. Accessed from https://www.swarthmore.edu/SocSci/rbannis1/AIH19th/Carnegie.html
Carnegie, Andrew. The Gospel of Wealth and Other Timely Essays. The North American Review Publishing Company. 1901
History.com. Andrew Carnegie. 2019. Accessed from https://www.history.com/topics/19th-century/andrew-carnegie