December 14

Blog # 28 – Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth”

In Andrew Carnegie’s essay, “Gospel of Wealth” originally published in 1889, discussed the steel king’s attitudes towards the working class, the loss of the cottage industries that doomed his father’s weaving craft, and why the capitalist system back then (and by extension even now) is better than what they had.  He also then goes on to explore three different ways that the wealthy have disposed of their extra income when or before they die, and he explains why he feels which one is the best. 

 Back in the apprentice / master days, Carnegie states that the relationship between the two was more equal.  They shared the same work space, the same hardships, and the same successes.  But, as specialization and factories expanded, the cottage industries with their hand crafted goods could not compete with the factories’ cheaply priced goods and eventually had to adapt or go out of business (which sounds a lot like what happened in Carnegie’s experience).  A third option that occurred was to violently resist the change like some weavers and other workers had done when they destroyed the machines in the early 19th Century (the Luddites).  In the Carnegie’s case, they adapted and headed for America where some of their family had already had some success. 

The problem with working in factories, according to Carnegie, is that the owner no longer works side-by-side with the workers in the factories.  There’s a huge gulf between “the palace of the millionaire and the cottage of the laborer” and this is beneficial to all, he believes.  He uses a visit to a Sioux Indian tribe as an example where the chief’s dwelling wasn’t very different from the rest of his peoples’ “wigwams.”  By this, Carnegie inferred that Americans are advancing in civilization because not only are there cheaper goods for all, but that:

“This change, however, is not to be deplored, but welcomed as highly beneficial. It is well, nay, essential, for the progress of the race that the houses of some should be homes for all that is highest and best in literature and the arts, and for all the refinements of civilization, rather than that none should be so.”

What we basically have here is the survival of the fittest, Carnegie states, in the business world.  Those who are best at managing money, creating products, organizing and conducting business affairs will be rewarded because they are the best at what they do. 

But, Carnegie feels that the gap between rich and poor has to be addressed in some way, and that’s where the disposal of excess wealth comes in.  First, “it can be left to the families of the decedents; or it can be bequeathed for public purposes; or, finally, it can be administered by its possessors during their lives.” 

The problem with the first way (inherited wealth), Carnegie believes, is that it is rare to find children of wealthy individuals who have NOT been spoiled by a life of leisure or indulgence, and by giving the inheritance to them would be a waste of that hard-earned money.  See the 60 Minutes video below on Howard Buffett, son of billionaire Warren Buffett and see what he has done w/ his life so far.  The father has made all of his children work for their lives and given them few extra things in their lives (in fact, none of them have graduated from college). 

The issues with the second way (money is left to the public or gov’t) is that the real wishes of the deceased about how the money should be used might be thwarted (though I wonder what happened to wills and stuff like that in Carnegie’s day).  This particular quote is probably the most damning: “In many cases the bequests are so used as to become only monuments of his folly. It is well to remember that it requires the exercise of not less ability than that which acquires it, to use wealth so as to be really beneficial to the community.”  In essence, it’s easier to spend the money than to make it. 

So, Carnegie feels that the best way to address the gap between the rich and the poor is for the wealthy of his and future time periods to follow the third way and use that wealth however they choose, but to do it wisely.  People have joked that if Bill Gates just divided up his fortune amongst everybody, things would be nice in the short term.  But it literally might amount to $500 a person (my own estimate) and then trigger some staggering inflation across the country as many people use some of that money to go and buy stuff unless they put it away for college or retirement.  Carnegie felt that this kind of gift would be a silly idea: “if distributed in small quantities among the people, would have been wasted in the indulgence of appetite, some of it in excess, and it may be doubted whether even the part put to the best use…”

So, the wealthy shouldn’t be extravagant.  They should be modest, and use that money wisely, in effect, putting it aside like a trust fund for when they retire to be spent on things that they feel are important.  And, as Carnegie writes, the wealthy know how to spend the money better than the poor: ” the man of wealth thus becoming the mere trustee and agent for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience, and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves.


1. Do you agree or disagree with Carnegie’s assessment of how the wealthy should distribute their extra wealth?  Why or why not?

2. In order to address the gaps between the rich and the poor, back then and even today, what should the money have been (and should be) spent on?  Explain why. 

Due Thursday 12/15 by the beginning of class. 

 150 words minimum for each question (so 300 minimum total!). 



 Gospel of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie – Same video below.

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Posted December 14, 2011 by geoffwickersham in category Blogs, Video / podcasts

110 thoughts on “Blog # 28 – Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth”

  1. Kurt M. - 1st Hour

    1. I agree with Carnegie’s assessment on how the wealthy should distribute their extra cash because, if all of these people have all of this money and don’t have anything to do with it then they should either put it to a use, like building a center for the public, or donate your money to those people and families that are poor and need every cent that they can get. A good thing for you is that the public will think that you are a nice person if you where to do this and then you would be able to get gratitude from the citizens and recognition from organizations and other charities. Carnegie stated that it is almost survival of the fittest in that era and very many peopled were not able to sustain life or jobs. Carnegie was the one to recognize that everyone under him and his money and it was the best thing for him to do and say that rich people should donate all of the money that they weren’t using towards charity.
    2. In my opinion, I think that the money should have been spent on needs that essential to sustain life such as food, clothing, heat, etc. Many of the rick people would keep spending money because, they kept making money and over time the things that they spent their money on wasn’t as useful as it would have been by giving it to the needy. The money should have also been spent on the people who weren’t able to get an education so that maybe they could get a start on a company or a job because, if each person was given $500 (estimate) then they could easily get a job at someplace for more cash then what they’ve ever had and maybe even get an education. Even though there might people who completely blow away all of their money, there are those who can use that money for a specific use and make money. Overall, the money should’ve been spent on goods to sustain life or given to the people to try and become someone in the world.

  2. Sam Frederik

    1. I fully agree with Carnegie’s belief that the wealthy should distribute extra wealth. In saying, “In many cases the bequests are so used as to become only monuments of his folly,” he is stating that the sole reason of why people keep their money to themselves is because it will bring their family name great honor later on in life. I believe he is spot on by saying this. There is no point in holding money to yourself if you won’t be using it. There are so many people out there, less fortunate than some of us, who could benefit greatly from a donation.
    Although some people save their wealth for the benefit of later family generations or sudden financial crises, there are great numbers of people who could spare to give a small chunk of their fortunes, which would be tremendous amounts to everyday people, to help enrich various programs devoted to helping others. Carnegie had the right vision by donating his wealth, and I suppose that goes to show that not all the extremely wealthy are blinded by the allure of the dollar bill.

    2. Nowadays, money is withheld by the wealthy in trust funds that are rarely touched, until a generation comes along who greedily takes the money for themselves. I believe that trust funds should be limited, and that the wealthy, both back then and now, should have a cap on how much money they can withhold in trust funds. Although I realize that trust funds are a part of families, the money is usually untouched, when it could be given towards national improvement. I’m sure the families would be financially stable if a small portion of their trust funds were taken from them.
    The extra money would total up to millions upon millions of dollars that could be spent to repay debts, improve the United States, and give some breathing room for the government if a major financial crisis occurred. Unfortunately, today’s wealthy class is blinded by the allure of building for-show fortunes, when doing something as simple as donating towards a charity or foundation could improve the lives of many.

  3. Alex Contis

    I completely agree with Carneige’s assessment of how the rich should spend their money. Andrew Carneige was quite the oil tycoon, but he did not take his multi-billionaire fortune with him to the grave. He thought the rich should spend their money to HELP others and not waste it all on frivolous things for themselves. If I had and extra 10 billion dollars lying around I would definitely contribute some of it to a nobler cause then my own. Carneige really believed in this idea, so strongly that today there are more then 3,000 Carneige libraries nationwide. I believe that if the rich would contribute some of their wealth to the rest of society, that the world could be a better place. There are people out there that don’t even have two pennies to rub together, so why not spare a dime for those in need?

    Today, and in the Gilded Age, there is quite an obvious gap between the upper and lower classes. There are people holding up signs and living in boxes in an urban wasteland while the aristocrats sip their tea on their porch in the Hamptons. In order to make the gap less prevalent, I believe that the Upper class should spend some of their wealth on things that help those kids, familes and people in the lower class. You could donate to a homeless shelter, or a needy, local soup kitchen. Having a place to go can make you feel more at home, even if you cannot afford one. Imagine how much better the world would be if we could attempt to eliminate some of the poverty that has, unfortunately, struck this world. After all, in the wise words of the brilliant Andrew Carneige, it is not good to die a rich man.

  4. Piper Simmons

    I agree with Carnegie’s assessment of how wealthy should distribute their extra wealth because then the extra wealth could be put to good use instead of being of no use. The extra wealth would show modesty in a wealthy business person and give them a better image than being a monopoly. Also, instead of a selective group of people having all this money, they can share money with the world to help other people that need help. Carnegie’s assessment said that wealthy individuals should spread their wealth however they choose but wisely and spend it on something they think is important. This is not a particularly well-stated suggestion because what if someone thinks it is a good idea to spend their good money on something that is detrimental to the success of America or the world. Also, suggesting that someone should spread their wealth on something they think is important could mean keeping the wealth in their family, which is important to them, and that just clashes with everything he had stated before.

    The money that could address the gap between rich and poor should be used to help the general public. It could be used like Carnegie, with all the libraries, or it could be used for shelters, parks, schools and medical centers back then. I believe that the wealth should have been used for those things back then because health was not very well back in the 1800s. Schools should have been built with the extra wealth so the kids of the next generation could get an education. In the 21st century, the gap could be addressed by making more offices, shelters, after-school clubs and charities. It would be great for extra wealth to be put towards making more jobs since so many people are out work and shelters for the people who are getting their lives together. After-school clubs are also a good idea because some younger people, who are not preoccupied with something else, tend to stray in the wrong direction. Charities are another way to spread the wealth because now, you are not only helping the people in your country but other people from the rest of the world, like the Red Cross.

  5. Stephen C Brown

    1. Do you agree or disagree with Carnegie’s assessment of how the wealthy should distribute their extra wealth? Why or why not?
    I agree with Carnegie, it’s a wise idea not to indulge. Though not one I’d likely follow. By at least making your wealth do something is better than it stewing away. Money for the sake of money is silly. Though willing money to government or other establishments may not get accomplish what you wish, it’s much better than the alternative of extravagant indulgence. The other option that Carnegie gave was to leave your money to your children. He is correct about the rarity of unspoiled privileged children. If a man has raised his children well and made them work for their privileges then his children may be responsible. It would seem though that most of these inherited wealthy folks waste the money. I agree most with his final choice; spend the money to impact the community positively. By spending your money in the twilight of your life you control how it’s spent. You must beware though, because as Carnegie stated. It is much easier to spend money than make money,
    2. In order to address the gaps between the rich and the poor, back then and even today, what should the money have been (and should be) spent on? Explain why.
    Public works, money should be spent on things to help the community. People are not smart with money. If you gave me 10 dollars to spend out of the blue I would more than likely buy a soda and pocket the rest for similar indulgences. By investing in schools, libraries and other community areas we can lift up needy neighborhoods and make the country a better place. You cannot make a person successful, for the same reason as the inheritance, people are dumb. If you don’t teach them how to spend their money they will do frivolous things and buy pants. In the present I propose that we show people how to spend money well and not get sucked into buying more than they can afford. By teaching people to only buy things they can afford we could reduce bankruptcies and people money won’t go the way of the disco.

  6. Cory Shanbom

    1. I agree with andrew carnegie’s standpoint on how the rich should distribute their money. He shows how, instead of giving money blindly, that probably will do more harm than good that wealth should be given to institutions for education and community so you get the most help for your dollar. I also agree with his standpoint that wealth should be shared around especially by these money giants who never partake in any charitable acts. One should live humbly and give back if they have the fortunes that they do.
    2. To address money gaps between rich and poor, the wealth shouldn’t live these extravagant lives but more humble charitable lives. Carnegie says that the wealthy know how to spend money better than the poor. The wealthy shouldn’t just throw money at the general public, they should spend it on better things because it’s not the money that really is the problem it’s the people.

  7. Sophie Gamble - 3rd Hpur

    1.I do believe in what Carnegie describes the wealthy should do with their money, to an extent. It is smart to give away your money for the greater good, if you have a lot of it. Some people end up losing entire savings because of a mistake or their own fault. Even if it is extra, who is to say that is extra? It may be extra to others, but maybe not to that person. Giving extra wealth away is what most wealthy do today. In the past, this might not have been that common. Nevertheless, contributing money is a good thing because it can help the economy, improve the lifestyles of many people, and raise the health of people around the country. New medicines have been discovered by the contributions of the wealthy and generous. This helps improve the health of many Americans. Volunteers are able to build houses from scratch for the homeless and less fortunate, improving the housing around the country.

    2.The money should be, and should have been, invested in charities around the world. Back then, people wouldn’t consider donating to undeveloped countries. But nowadays, that is a very popular charity. More knowledge of health also contributes to where people want to spend on. Really, money should go to the less fortunate and ill. People who don’t have a lot of money usually already don’t have good health. Money other people donate can provide them with winter boots or a coat for cold weather. The people who are ill and also less fortunate, cannot pay for the required treatment to help them. Many of the homeless die each year of the cold, and other natural occurrences. Donations to local charities and homeless shelters can help these people live better, and longer, lives.

  8. Jabrielle Johnson

    1. I agree with Carnegie’s assessment of how the wealthy should distribute their extra wealth because allowing them to do whatever they want with it because it will even out the wealth spread throughout the country. If all of the money they have is given to their family members, they won’t use it wisely and won’t work hard to produce their own money. When you give it all away, people won’t know how to wisely spend it on the things they need vs. the things they want. When you give it to the government there is no telling what they will do with it. The best way to handle your money is to either distribute it the way you want to or evenly distribute it amongst the people, your family, and the government so you are giving enough but not too much where people become lazy or unaware of what to do with the money given to them.
    2. The extra wealth that was left back then and even now should have been spent more on the people and the government rather than their family members. I believe the money should have been spent this way because people who didn’t have anything could have benefitted a lot from the few dollars given to them. Doing this could have drastically changed the outcome of the economy now and who was considered for each class. If the money was spent more on the government we would have a better economy altogether. If the government had more money all of the other lower class citizens could become more prosperous and thus a better future for Americans. When people decided to share the majority of their wealth with their families they produced Americans who were lazy and had no work ethic. People who are just handed everything don’t work hard to produce anything for themselves.

  9. Tim Dijkstra

    1. I completely agree with Carnegie’s assessment on how to manage extra wealth. It is a much better idea to invest your wealth in public establishments for the betterment of the people. As opposed to giving the poor lump sums of money, which they might not know how to manage. Also the idea that it is better to spend your money before you die, is one i completely agree with. I would find it pointless to work your entire life to amass such a large quantity of money only to see it sit in a bank account. Carnegie’s assessment of rich children is also correct in my belief. An unspoiled deserving child of wealthy parents is few and far between; however, i do believe it is wise to leave your children some money to cover expenses of education and to help them begin their own business ventures.

    2. In order to decrease the gap between the rich and poor, the excess wealth of the rich should be spent of facilities and institutions that will educate the poor on how to become wealthier, not by distributing evenly in amongst the people. Investing money in institutions such as public schooling and resource centers give the poor an education that would foundate the furtherment of education in money making topics. The money could also be spent on public facilities like parks, rec centers, and shelters. These institutions would not directly effect the wealth of the poor but it would uplift poor communities and give the poor a reason to keep learning. If you were to give every person in a poor community $100 they wouldn’t be able to do much with it. They would most likely buy a nice meal and pocket the rest of that money for a similar self indulgence later on. In closing, Carnegie was right. You need to invest the excess wealth in public institutions of learning.

  10. CalebHunter

    1. Do you agree or disagree with Carnegie’s assessment of how the wealthy should distribute their extra wealth?  Why or why not?

    I agree with Carnegie’s assessment of how the wealthy should distribute their extra wealth. I agree with Carnegie because, well, everything he said made sense to me. He talked about how the wealthy shouldn’t ‘waste’ (essentially) on their children, as this would only spoil them and most likely cause them to not be positive contributors to society (Howard Buffet is a great example). Like Buffet’s children, they might not be as motivated to do things such as go to college (unlike the majority of middle-class/upper middle-class families’ children), because they might think (and I think) there would be no need.

    Carnegie also talked about how the option of distribution would not be practical. I agree with this, because of the it would not really mean anything to the rest of the nation (the poor/middle-class families). It wouldn’t mean anything because it would most likely call for $500-$3000 to each person, which would definitely be benificial, but only for a short period of time. I also agree that such amounts of money would most likely used for stimulus, which would create inflation.

    2. In order to address the gaps between the rich and the poor, back then and even today, what should the money have been (and should be) spent on?  Explain why. 

    In order to address the gaps between the rich and the poor (back then even today), I think the money should be (and should have been) spent on support for the poor/middle class. I think so because (to me) this seems like the most practical form of addressing the gap. Support could include investing in minority scholarship programs, enforcing higher taxes on the rich, government-sponsored healthcare, and (this most likely wont happen for a while) creating a long-range development plan that helps turn illegal immagrants into productive citizens.

    More (perhaps government-sponsored) minority scholarship programs would lessen the gap between the rich and the poor by lessening the (for the severe lack of a better term) ‘generational curse effect’, where kids might grow up to be similar to their parents (in negative aspects, such as being poor again). This would obviously help to seperate the gap between the rich and the poor. Enforcing higher taxes for the rich would help make this become a reality. It would also create much-needed government-sponsored healthcare.

    Creating a a long-range development plan that would turn illegal immigrants into productive citizens would be something that would help diminish the gap between the rich and the poor. It would help diminish the gap by including english language learning classes (at an accelerated pace), simplifying the process of achieving citizenship, and streghtening welfare programs.

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