A Translation of:
The Gospel of Wealth
Adapted to modern language
And provided FREE to
BY ANDREW CARNEGIE
A problem in our time in history is the proper use of wealth, in order that a bonding may still exist between the rich and poor and provide a harmonious relationship. The conditions of human economic and social life have not only changed, but have been electronically altered, within the past few decades. In former days there was little difference between the dwelling, dress, food, and environment of the chief and those of his retainers. The Indians are today where civilized man then was. When visiting the Sioux, I was led to the home of the leader. It was just like the others in external appearance, and even inside the difference was insignificant between it and those of the poorest of his tribe. The contrast between the mansion of the millionaire and the tract house of the laborer as compared to the home of the wealthy and the cottage of the worker measures the change which has come with civilization.
This change, however, is not to be deplored, but should be welcomed as highly beneficial. It is well, no, essential for the progress of mankind, that the houses of some should be places for keeping and preserving 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. Much better this difference between the houses of some and the houses of others than universal squalor. Without wealth there can be no patron or contributor to the preservation of arts. The “good old times ” were not good old times. Neither master nor servant was as well situated then as they are to-day. A return to the old way of doing things would be disastrous to both the current wealthy as well as the less wealthy and would sweep away the preservation of civilization with it. But whether the change is for better or worse, it is here, beyond our power to change, and therefore to be embraced and made the best of. It is a waste of time to criticize the inevitable.
It is easy to see how the change has come. One illustration will serve for almost every phase of the change. In the evolution in the way we manufacture products we can demonstrate the whole story. It applies to all combinations of human industry, as stimulated and enlarged by the inventions of this scientific age. Formerly items were manufactured at home or in small shops or possibly in factories with many underpaid employees. Often the owner and his employees worked side by side, shared in the success of the business, and therefore were subject to the same outcome. When these employees moved on to become owners, there was little to no change in their economic quality of life, and they, in turn, educated their employees in the same work methods until those employees too had an opportunity to become owners. There was, to some degree a substantial social equality, and even political equality, since those engaged in industrial pursuits had little or no political voice in the State.
But the inevitable result of such a mode of manufacture was the production of crude articles at high prices. Today the world obtains commodities of excellent quality at prices from all over, which even our parents and grandparents generation would have deemed incredible. In the commercial world similar causes have produced similar results, and mankind has benefited. The poor now enjoy what the rich could not have afforded back then. What were the luxuries then have become the necessities of life now. The employee has now more comforts than the owner had a few generations ago. Even the farmer has more luxuries than his/her parents had, and is more richly clad and better housed. The wealthy have books and pictures rarer, and appointments more artistic, than the King could then obtain.
The price we pay for this inevitable change is, no doubt, great. We assemble thousands of employees in a factory, or a mine, or in the accounting, retail, and business offices, of whom the employer knows little or nothing, and to whom the employer is little better than a myth. All communication between them is stiff and formal. Strong boundaries are formed, and, as usual, mutual ignorance breeds mutual distrust. Each side is without sympathy for the other, and ready to credit anything disparaging in regard to it. Under the universal law of competition, the employer of thousands is forced into the strictest of financial responsibilities, among which the salary paid to labor figures prominently, and often there is friction between the employer and the employed, between capital and labor, between rich and poor. Human society loses blending and bonding.
The price which society pays for the law of competition, like the price it pays for cheap comforts and luxuries, is large; but the advantages of this law are greater still, for it is to this law that we owe our wonderful material development, which brings improved conditions in its wake. But, whether the law be impotent or not, we must say of it, as we say of the change in the conditions of men to which we have referred: It is here; we cannot escape it; no substitutes for it have been found for it; and while the law may be sometimes hard for the individual, it is best for mankind, because it insures the survival of the fittest in every area while providing for the care of the weakest.
We accept and welcome therefore, as circumstances to which we must accommodate ourselves, the concentration of business, industrial and commercial wealth and power, in the hands of a few. We must accept the law of competition between these, the wealthy and the not wealthy, as being not only beneficial, but essential for the future progress of mankind. Having accepted this, it follows that there must be a great opportunity for the exercise of entrepreneurship for the merchant and for the manufacturer who has to conduct business on a large scale.
That this talent for organization and management is rare among men is proved by the fact that it invariably gives to its effective practitioner enormous financial and social rewards, no matter where or under what conditions. Those experienced in affairs always rate the PERSON whose goods or services can be obtained as a partner (Think Joint Venture – JV) as not only the first consideration, but such as to render the question of his finances scarcely worth considering, for such men soon create wealth; while, without the special talent required, wealth never materializes. Such men become interested in firms or corporations using millions; and estimating only simple interest to be made upon the capital invested, it is inevitable that their income must exceed their expenditures, and that they must accumulate wealth.
Nor is there any middle ground which such men can occupy, because the great manufacturing or commercial concern which does not earn at least interest upon its capital soon becomes bankrupt. It, must either go forward or fall behind: to stand still is impossible. It is a condition essential for its successful operation that it should be thus far profitable, and even that, in addition to interest on capital, it should make profit. It is a law, as certain as any of the others named, that men who have this peculiar talent for business, under the free play of economic forces, must, of necessity, soon obtain more revenue than they have expended upon themselves or their business; and this law is as beneficial for any member of mankind as any other law.
Objections to the foundations upon which this society is based are not relevant, because the condition of mankind is better with these foundations than it has been with any other economic business models which have been tried. Of the effect of any new models proposed we cannot be sure. The Socialist or Anarchist who seeks to overturn present conditions is to be regarded as attacking the foundation upon which civilization itself rests, for civilization took its start from the day that the capable, industrious workman said to his incompetent and lazy fellow, “If thou dost net sow, thou shalt net reap,” and thus ended primitive Communism by separating the drones from the bees. One who studies this subject will soon be brought face to face with the conclusion that upon the sacredness of property civilization itself depends–the right of the laborer to his hundred dollars in the savings bank, and equally the legal right of the millionaire to his millions. To these who propose to substitute Communism for this intense Individualism the answer, therefore, is: Mankind has tried that. All progress from that barbarous day to the present time has resulted from its displacement. Not evil, but good, has come to mankind from the accumulation of wealth by those who have the ability and energy that produce it. But even if we admit for a moment that it might be better for mankind to discard its present foundation, Individualism, — that it is a nobler ideal that man should labor, not for himself alone, but in and for a benefit of his fellow man, and share with them all in common, realizing Swedenborg‘s idea of Heaven, where, as he says, the angels derive their happiness, not from laboring for self, but for each other, — even admitting all this, and a sufficient answer is, “This is not evolution, but revolution.” It necessitates the changing of human nature itself a work of centuries, even if it were good to change it, which we cannot know. It is not practicable in our day or in our age. Even if desirable theoretically, it belongs to another and long-succeeding sociological society. Our duty is with what is practicable now; with the next step possible in our day and generation. It is criminal to waste our energies in endeavoring to tear down the old just to replace with new, when all we can profitably or possibly accomplish is to bend the universal tree of humanity a little in the direction most favorable to the production of good fruit under existing circumstances.
We might as well urge the destruction of the highest existing type of man because he failed to reach our ideal as to favor the destruction of Individualism, Private Property, the Law of Accumulation of Wealth, the Law of Competition or the Law of Attraction; for these are the highest results of human experience, the soil in which society so far has produced the best fruit. Unequally or unjustly, perhaps, as these laws sometimes operate, and imperfect as they appear to the Idealist, they are, nevertheless, like the highest type of man, the best and most valuable of all that humanity has yet accomplished. We start, then, with a condition of affairs under which the best interests of mankind are promoted, but which inevitably gives wealth to the few. Thus far, accepting conditions as they exist, our situation can be observed and pronounced good. The question then arises, — and, if the foregoing be correct, it is the only question with which we have to deal, — What is the proper mode of administering wealth after the laws upon which civilization is founded have thrown it into the hands of the few? And it is of this great question that I believe I offer the true solution. It will be understood that the fortunes discussed here are not moderate sums saved by many years of work and sacrifice, of which the invested interest returns are required for the comfortable maintenance and education of families, but are the vast sums accumulated but the very rich. This is not wealth, but only competence which it should be the aim of all to acquire.
There are but three modes in which surplus wealth can be disposed of. It call be left to the families of the decedents; or it can be bequeathed for public purposes; or, finally, it can be administered during the life by its creator.
Under the first and second modes, most of the wealth of the world that has reached the few has already been passed on. Let us in turn consider each of these modes.
The first is the most injudicious. In monarchical countries, the estates and the greatest portion of the wealth are left to the first son, that the vanity of the parent may be gratified by the thought that his name and title are to descend to succeeding generations unimpaired. The condition of this class in Europe today teaches the futility of such hopes or ambitions. The successors have become impoverished through their follies or from the fall in the value of land. Even in Great Britain the strict law of entitlement has been found to be inadequate to maintain the status of an hereditary class. Its soil is rapidly passing into the hands of a stranger. Under republican institutions the division of property among the children is much fairer, but the question which forces itself upon thoughtful men in all lands is: Why should men leave great fortunes to their children? If this is done from affection, is it not misguided affection? Observation teaches that, generally speaking, it is not well for the children that they should be so burdened. Neither is it well for the state. Beyond providing for the wife and daughters moderate sources of income, and very moderate allowances indeed, if any, for the sons, men may well hesitate, for it is no longer questionable that great sums bequeathed often cause more harm than they do good for the recipients. Wise men will soon conclude that, for the best interests of the
members of their families and of the state, such inheritances are an improper use of their wealth.
It is not suggested that men who have not educated their sons to earn a livelihood shall cast them adrift in poverty. For if any man has seen fit to rear his sons to not have a view as to living idle lives, but to do what is highly commendable, then he has instilled in them the sentiment that they are in a position to work for the betterment of the general public without reference to receiving pay, then, of course, the duty of the parent is to see that such are provided for, in moderation. There are instances of millionaires’ sons unspoiled by wealth, who, being rich, still perform great services in the community. Such are the very salt of the earth, as valuable as, unfortunately, they are rare; still it is not the exception, but the rule, that men must regard, and, looking at the usual result of enormous sums conferred upon legatees, the thoughtful man must shortly say, “I would as soon leave to my son a curse as the almighty dollar,” and admit to himself that it is not the welfare of the children, but family pride, which inspires these enormous legacies.
As to the second mode, that of leaving wealth at death for public uses, it may be said that this is only a means for the disposal of wealth, provided a man is content to wait until he is dead before it becomes of much good in the world. Knowledge of the results of legacies bequeathed is not calculated to inspire the brightest hopes of much posthumous good being accomplished. The cases are not few in which the real object sought by the testator is not attained, nor are they few in which his real wishes are thwarted. In many cases the bequests are so used as to become only monuments to his vanity. It is well to remember that it requires as much knowledge and ability to dispose of accumulated wealth so as to be really beneficial to the community as it did to acquire the wealth. Besides this, it may fairly be said that no man is to be extolled for doing what he cannot help doing, nor is he to be thanked by the community to which he only leaves wealth at death. Men who leave vast sums in this way may fairly be thought of as men who would not have left it at all, had they been able to take it with them. The memories of such cannot be held in grateful remembrance, for there is no grace in their gifts. It is not to be wondered at that such bequests seem so generally to lack the blessing.
The growing disposition to tax more and more heavily large estates left at death is a cheering indication of the growth of a salutary change in public opinion. The State of Pennsylvania now takes, (Remember the following was written in 1889 and that there are many modern parallels and examples under current law.), — subject to some exceptions — one-tenth of the property left by its citizens. The budget presented in the British Parliament the other day proposes to increase the death-taxes; and, most significant of all, the new tax is to be a graduated one. Of all forms of taxation, this seems the wisest. Men who continue hoarding great sums all their lives, the proper use of which for – public ends would work good to the community, should be made to feel that the community, in the form of the state, cannot be deprived of its proper share. By taxing estates heavily at death the state marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire’s unworthy life.
It is desirable; that nations should go much further in this direction. Indeed, it is difficult to set bounds to the share of a rich man’s estate which should go at his death to the public through the agency of the state, and by all means such taxes should be graduated, beginning at nothing upon moderate sums to dependents, and increasing rapidly as the amounts swell, until of the millionaire’s hoard, as of Shylock’s, at least “The other half comes to the privy coffer of the state.” This policy would work powerfully to induce the rich man to attend to the administration of wealth during his life, which is the end that society should always have in view, as being that by far most fruitful for the people. Nor need it be feared that this policy would sap the root of enterprise and render men less anxious to accumulate, for to the class whose ambition it is to leave great fortunes and be talked about after their death, it will attract even more attention, and, indeed, be a somewhat nobler ambition to have enormous sums paid over to the state from their fortunes.
There remains, then, only one mode of using great fortunes; but in this we have the true antidote for the temporary unequal distribution of wealth, the reconciliation of the rich and the poor — a reign of harmony — another ideal, differing, indeed, from that of the Communist in that it requires only the further evolution of existing conditions, not the total overthrow of our civilization. It is founded upon the present most intense individualism, and mankind is projected to put it in practice by degree whenever it pleases. Under its sway we shall have an ideal state, in which the surplus wealth of the few will become, in the best sense the property of the many, because administered for the common good, and this wealth, passing through the hands of the few, can be made a much more potent force for the elevation of our mankind than if it had been distributed in small sums to the people themselves. Even the poorest can be made to see this, and to agree that great sums gathered by some of their fellow-citizens and spent for public purposes, from which the masses reap the principal benefit, are more valuable to them than if scattered among them through the course of many years in trifling amounts.
If we consider what results flow from the Cooper Institute, (Again, this was 1889 and we have current examples I.e. the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.), for instance, to the best portion of mankind in New York which do not have the means, and compare these with those which would have arisen for the good of the masses from an equal sum distributed by Mr. Cooper in his lifetime in the form of wages, which is the highest form of distribution, being for work done and not for charity, we can form some estimate of the possibilities for the improvement of mankind which lie embedded in the present law of the accumulation of wealth. Much of this sum 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, that of adding to the comforts of the home, would have yielded results for mankind, as an entity, at all comparable to those which are flowing and are to flow from the Cooper Institute from generation to generation. Let the advocate of violent or radical change ponder well this thought. We might even go so far as to take another instance, that of Mr. Tilden’s bequest of five millions of dollars for a free library in the city of New York, but in referring to this one cannot help saying involuntarily, how much better if Mr. Tilden had devoted the last years of his own life to the proper administration of this immense sum; in which case neither legal issues nor any other reason could have interfered with his desires. But let us assume that Mr. Tilden’s millions finally become the means of giving to this city a noble public library, where the treasures of the world contained in books will be open to all forever, without money and without price. Considering the good of that part of mankind which congregates in and around Manhattan Island, would its permanent benefit have been better promoted had these millions been allowed to circulate in small sums through the hands of the masses? Even the most strenuous advocate of Communism must entertain a doubt upon this subject. Most of those who think will probably entertain no doubt whatever. Poor and restricted are our opportunities in this life; our horizons are narrow; our best work most imperfect; but rich men should be thankful for one permanent boon. They have it in their power during their lives to organizing opportunities from which the general public will derive lasting advantage, and thus dignify their own lives. The highest life is probably to be reached, not by such imitation of the life of Christ as
Count Tolstoi gives us, but, while animated by Christ’s spirit, by recognizing the changed conditions of this age, and adopting modes of expressing this spirit suitable to the changed conditions under which we live; still laboring for the good of our fellowman, which is the essence of Christ’s life and teaching, but laboring in a different manner. This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of Wealth: First, to set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning a display of extravagance; 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 called upon to administer, and 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 thus becoming the mere agent and trustee for the less wealthy, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves.
We are met here with the difficulty of determining what are moderate sums to leave to members of the family?; What is a modest and unostentatious living?; What is the test of extravagance? There must be different standards for different conditions. The answer is that it is as impossible to name exact amounts or actions as it is to define good manners, good taste, or the rules of propriety; but, nevertheless, these are circumstances, well known although indefinable. Public sentiment is quick to know and to feel what offends these. This is also true in the case of wealth. The rule in regard to good taste in the dress and decorum of men or women applies here. Whatever makes one conspicuous offends the normal sensibility. If any family be chiefly known for an outlandish display, for extravagance in home and table, for the accumulation of worldly goods, for enormous sums ostentatiously spent in any form upon just for pleasure, if these are that family’s chief distinctions, we have no difficulty in knowing their culture and desires. So likewise in regard to the use or abuse of their surplus wealth, or to generous, freehanded cooperation in good public uses, or to unabated efforts to accumulate and hoard to the last, whether they administer or bequeath. The verdict rests with the best and most enlightened public sentiment. The community will surely judge and its judgments will not often be wrong.
The best uses to which surplus wealth can be put have already been indicated. Those who would administer wisely must indeed be wise, for one of the serious obstacles to the improvement of mankind is indiscriminate charity. It would be better for mankind for the millions of the rich to be thrown into the sea than to spend it in a manner that would encourage the slothful, the drunken, and the unworthy. Of every thousand dollars spent in so called charity today, it is probable that $950 is unwisely spent; and spent, indeed in a manner that produce or expands the very evils which it proposes to mitigate or cure. A well-known writer of philosophic books admitted the other day that he had given a quarter of a dollar to a man who approached him as he was coming to visit the house of his friend. He knew nothing of the habits of this beggar; knew not the use that would be made of this money, although he had every reason to suspect that it would be spent improperly. This man professed to be a disciple of Herbert Spencer; yet the quarter-dollar given that night will probably do more harm than all the money which its thoughtless donor will ever be able to give in true charity will do good. He only gratified his own feelings, saved himself from annoyance, — and this was probably one of the most selfish and very worst actions of his life, for in all respects he is most worthy. In bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who will help themselves; to provide part of the means by which those who desire to improve may do so; to give those who desire to use the aids by which they may rise; to assist, but rarely or never to do all. Neither the individual nor mankind is improved by alms-giving. Those worthy of assistance, except in rare cases, seldom require assistance. The really valuable men of mankind never do, except in cases of accident or sudden change. Every one has, of course, cases of individuals brought to his own knowledge where temporary assistance can do genuine good, and these he will not overlook. But the amount which can be wisely given by the individual for individuals is necessarily limited by his lack of knowledge of the circumstances connected with each. He is the only true reformer who is as careful and as anxious not to aid the unworthy as he is to aid the worthy,
and, perhaps, even more so, for in alms-giving more injury is probably done by rewarding vice than by relieving virtue.
The rich man is thus almost restricted to following the examples of Peter Cooper, Enoch Pratt of Baltimore, Mr. Pratt of Brooklyn, Senator Stanford, and others, who know that the best means of benefiting the community is to place within its reach the ladders upon which the aspiring can rise — to build and provide parks and other means of recreation by which men are helped in body and mind; to preserve and display works of art, which will be certain to give pleasure and improve the public taste, and to fund and promote public institutions of various kinds, which will improve the general condition of the people; — in this manner they return their surplus wealth to the masses of their fellow mankind in a form best calculated to do them lasting good.Thus is the problem of the divide between the Rich and Poor to be solved. The laws of accumulation will be left free; the laws of distribution free; the laws of attraction in force. Individualism will continue, but the millionaire will be only a trustee for the less wealthy; entrusted for a season with a great part of the increased wealth of the community, administering it for the community far better than the community could or would have done for itself. The best minds will thus have reached a stage in the development of mankind 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 except to use it year by year for the general good. This day already dawns. But a little while, and although, without incurring the pity of their fellows, men may die as partners in the great business enterprises from which their capital cannot be or has not been withdrawn, and it is left chiefly at death for public uses, yet the man who dies leaving behind many millions of available wealth, which was his to administer during life, will pass away ” unwept, un-honored, and unsung,” no matter to what uses he leaves the wealth 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, which if followed, and adhered to is destined to some day to solve the problem of the divide between the Rich and the Poor, and to bring “Peace on earth, among men of Good-Will.”
The accumulation of wealth is not wrong. Nor is the use of that wealth for personal gain wrong. Where mankind deviates is when he not only accumulates, but hordes his accumulation and fails to share his wealth. I am not advocating Communism. This is not a re-distribution to “each according to his need.” It is, rather, an intelligent use of excess wealth that will in turn enrich those that share. Wealth can be more than just money. Wealth can be in the form of knowledge, abilities, or even “lists.”When we share, while keeping some for ourselves, we enrich mankind and this will flow back to us as an increase in our financial well being. This stewardship is kind of a Universal Worldwide Joint Venture.
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