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“THE GOSPEL OF WEALTH.” 1 In June and December of 1889 Mr. Andrew Carnegie published two articles in the “ North American Review” under the titles, “ Wealth,” and “ The Best Fields of Philanthropy," which, at the instance of Mr. Gladstone, were taken up by the “ Pall Mall Gazette,” and republished under the more striking title of “ The Gospel of Wealth.” The term, however, originated with Mr. Carnegie, though he had not put it to so conspicuous a use. At the close of his first article he had said : “Such, in my opinion, is the true gospel concerning wealth, obedience to which is destined some day to solve the problem of the rich and the poor, and to bring peace on earth, among men goodwill.'”
The course of discussion which has followed until now the republication of these articles is quite as significant as the original articles. It is especially significant for what has not been discussed. With a single exception, the discussion has been confined to the question of the charitable disposition of private wealth, without entering at all, except in the way of illustration, upon the much more serious question of the vast concentration of wealth in private hands. And yet the argument of Mr. Carnegie had challenged attention at this very point. His “gospel” rested upon the clear and bold assumption that wealth was best placed in the hands of the few; the gospel part of his message being the duty of the few to redistribute their wealth in the interest of the many. It would, of course, be unfair to the eminent men like
1 The Gospel of Wealth. By Andrew Carnegie. Reprinted from the June and December (1889) numbers of the North American Review. (Slightly revised.)
Mr. Carnegie's Gospel of Wealth : a Review and a Recommendation. By the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone, M. P. The Nineteenth Century, November, 1890.
Irresponsible Wealth. (1) By His Eminence Cardinal Manning ; (2) By the Rev. Dr. Herman Adler, Chief Rabbi ; (3) By the Rev. Hugh Price Hughes. The Nineteenth Century, December, 1890.
The Advantages of Poverty. By Andrew Carnegie. The Nineteenth Century, March, 1891.
Wealth and its Obligations. By His Eminence Cardinal Gibbons. The North American Review, April, 1891.
Wealth. (1) The Gospel for Wealth ; by Bishop Henry C. Potter; (2) Irresponsible Wealth ; by the Hon. Edward J. Phelps ; (3) Favorable Aspects of State Socialism ; by the Rt. Hon. Joseph Chamberlain. The North American Review, May, 1891.
Mr. Gladstone and Cardinal Manning, who have in the main indorsed so heartily Mr. Carnegie's scheme, to affirm that they accept the theory upon which it rests. Still they have not thought it necessary to express their dissent from it. The only dissent 1 is from the Rev. Hugh Price Hughes, whose pungent but generous criticism of this fundamental theory is made in part the occasion of a pleasant rejoinder by Mr. Carnegie, setting forth “ The Advantages of Poverty.”
It is because of the very general acceptance of Mr. Carnegie's gospel without questioning or apparently examining the premises upon which it rests, or the consequences which it may involve if completely accepted, that I am led to offer the following criticism. I honor the personal qualities of the author which are displayed in this essay, — independence, business sagacity, breadth of view, and generous motive. I acknowledge the great benefit to society from the gifts of the rich, from those which have been received and from those which are likely to be received. But I believe that the charity which this gospel enjoivs is too costly, if taken at the price which the author puts upon it; namely, the acceptance of his doctrine of the relation of private wealth to society.
That I may not misrepresent Mr. Carnegie's position, I will quote his words (the italics are mine):
“We start,” he says, “ with a condition of affairs ” — referring to the present competitive system — “under which the best interests of the race are promoted, but which inevitably gives wealth to the few. Thus, accepting conditions as they are, the situation can be surveyed 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 fortunes are here spoken of, not moderate sums saved by many years of effort, the returns from which are required for the comfortable maintenance and education of families. This is not wealth, but only competence, which it should be the aim of all to acquire, and which it is for the best interests of society should be acquired.
“ There are but three modes in which surplus wealth can be disposed of. 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.”
1 In the very recent article by the Hon. Edward J. Phelps, on “Irresponsible Wealth,” The North American Review, May, 1891, attention is called to the injustice and demoralization attending the accumulation of many fortunes.
Then follow the reasons for discarding the first two modes, and for accepting the third, and then he concludes :
“ Thus is the problem of rich and poor to be solved: the laws of accumulation will be left free; the laws of distribution free. Individualism will continue, but the millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor ; intrusted for a season with a great part of the increased wealth of the community, but administering it for the community far better than it could or would have done for itself.”
Summing up Mr. Carnegie's theory, it may, I think, be fairly stated in the following terms:
The present economic system, which is established in individualism and worked through competition, is on the whole the best attainable system. The millionaire is the necessary product of that system ; wealth inevitably falls under it into the hands of the few. This, too, is best, for the millionaire is the natural trustee of the poor; and he can in various ways administer wealth for the community better than the community can administer it for itself. The sole question then is, How shall the rich man fulfill his trusteeship? Not by returning his fortune, beyond a competence to his family. Not by devising his money by will. But by distributing his fortune, during his lifetime, according to his judgment of the public need.
It is of no little value, in estimating the factors which go to make up the present economic and social situation, to have so clear, so frank, so unconscious a personal statement of the doctrine of private wealth. We are not to regard it as an altogether authorized and representative statement. Some rich men would accept Mr. Carnegie's premises who would scoff at his conclusion. While others, be it said to their honor, are carrying out his conclusion in a very conscientious and self-denying way, who are by no means able to take the full comfort of his premises, and regard themselves as the providential trustees of society. Still, for Mr. Carnegie's uses, the two parts of the argument go together. If he is to preach this gospel of wealth to the rich, he must above all things make them feel the inevitableness of their lot. They must be made to realize that they are the necessary product of the system to which they belong. There must needs be the very rich ; if not these, then others. Some persons cannot escape the responsibility of riches, however great at times may seem to them “the advantages of poverty.” The inevitable factor in society is not so certainly the poor as the rich. The rich ye have with you
But this necessarian view of extreme riches is not so obvious to all as to Mr. Carnegie. For while he is asking, and answering with so much courage and assurance, this question about the disposal of the vast surplus of private wealth, society is taking hold in very serious fashion of the other end of the problem, and asking why there should be such a vast surplus of private wealth. Mr. Carnegie's scheme of redistribution is a most interesting one, as will be seen by examining it more in detail, and, within the limits in which it is likely to be carried out, not without direct practical benefit, but it is in no sense a solution of the great social question which is stirring the mind and heart of this generation. And my present concern is that it should not be accepted as such by ethical and religious teachers. For I can conceive of no greater mistake, more disastrous in the end to religion if not to society, than that of trying to make charity do the work of justice.
Mr. Carnegie's first answer to the question of the disposal of the surplus of private wealth is, that nothing above a competence should remain to a rich man's family. The chief motive urged in the assertion of this principle is the protection of the family life of the rich. “I would as soon leave to my son a curse," says Mr. Carnegie, “ as the almighty dollar.” Family pride calls for the retention of fortune ; the family welfare demands that the children should at any cost be guarded from idleness, and from the enervating and demoralizing effect of inherited wealth. One cannot refuse his sympathy with the sentiment which prompts this advice, though much loss of social momentum would be incurred by carrying it out, and though it would involve a very careful training of children born and reared in wealth if, at the death of the head of the family, they are to be reduced to a com
1 At a reading of this paper the criticism was passed at this point, that justice is becoming a much over-used term, the “cant" of the disaffected, and, moreover, that it is too indefinite a term to use by itself ; that practically the justice or injustice of any method depends entirely upon the way in which it is found to work.
I accept both these statements, and recognize their value, without, however, admitting their pertinence in this connection. For my single contention here is, that the redistribution of a great fortune by its possessor, and according to his choice and judgment, is altogether an accepted matter of charity ; while the original distribution of the money which was involved in the making of the fortune, giving such a proportion to one man and such a proportion to another, was altogether a matter of economic justice. The whole working of the business transaction may have been just ; it may have been unjust : it did not in either event come within the sphere of charity or benevolence.
petence. It should be said that the essay inculcates “modesty in private expenditure” as a part of the doctrine of public benefaction.
Mr. Carnegie's second answer is, that fortunes should not be devised by will, partly because of the uncertainty, attending all bequests, of actually reaching and accomplishing their ends, and partly because the act of bequeathing property is in itself destitute of any moral quality. Mr. Gladstone, in commenting on this last objection to giving by bequest, goes so far as to speak of its positively immoral effect, as leading to a kind of image worship, ascribing to the dead, who have given away what they could not take with them, a reputation for virtues which they may never have exercised or possessed while living. And then he adds a further and more serious objection, that the power of bequest gives to the rich man the opportunity of counteracting the free and healthy action of public opinion after his death ; it amounts to the imposition of his private views upon society after public opinion may have rightfully gone out in other directions, - an objection which becomes very practical when one remembers how difficult it is to find a body of trustees who will refuse a bequest because of any conditions whatever which it may impose upon opinion or belief. Exception to this sweeping objection to giving by bequest ought fairly to be taken in behalf of two classes of rich men, — those who shun the publicity of giving, who are nervously sensitive to the notoriety which attends benevolent action ; and those who, like the late Mr. Fayerweather, acquire their fortunes near the close of life, when the disposal of them is more fitly left to others.
In Mr. Carnegie's third answer he states his positive principle that all private wealth above a competence should be distributed back into society during the lifetime of the owner and maker of the fortune, and according to his direction; and then proceeds to show how this can be wisely done, specifying, as the proper objects of benevolence, universities, libraries, hospitals, parks, churches of the more costly type, and in the general those intermediate objects which enrich a community without pauperizing individuals. Mr. Carnegie is stoutly opposed to technical charity or almsgiving, believing that, of every thousand dollars thus spent, nine hundred and fifty are unwisely spent.
This is the gospel of wealth ; of which it may be said, in a word, that it is an heroic remedy for the preservation of families of wealth from the corrupting power of inherited riches ; that, as respects the rich man, it is a call to self-denial, not only against
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