Updated: Dec 5, 2021
Carnegie makes several references to the power of capitalism and the good it does for the working class in order to convince the reader that though the gap in wealth between the poor and the rich was increasing exponentially during the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was still a beneficial growth. He claims that the “poor enjoy what the rich could not before afford”, and to a certain extent, he is correct. However, it is a broad, widely-generalized statement that is meant to paint a one-sided portrait of the American economy. Toilets that flush were patented in 1885, meaning that by 1889, only the extremely wealthy would most likely have access to this brand new, and arguably revolutionary, technology. Today, it would be difficult to find a home missing a flushable toilet, even those of the working class. However, this disparity in hygiene stems from the availability of the technology, and general growth in technological advances. Another technological advance that the wealthy in 1889 surely did not have access to is the handheld cell phone. Today, even the extremely poor have cell phones of some sort, as it is essential to finding jobs and other economic opportunities. Thus, technological advances are the main cause behind these disparities in today’s working-class versus 1889’s upper class, not primarily the contributions of the wealthy.
To a certain extent, the wealthy have provided an economic means to furthering these economic advances that benefit all. The laws of competition and accumulation directly aid the wealthy to become even wealthier, and separates the wealthy from the poor by virtue of their ability to “win” per se. Without the wealthy class’ input into the economy and occasionally into technological advances, the economy wouldn’t be stimulated and it would be difficult to produce goods that can be bought by the general public. However, this strain of thought is very similar to supply-side (or trickle-down) economic theory, which has been proven to place the tax burden upon the lower classes and allow the rich to become richer, increasing the wealth gap between the classes. With the tax burden upon the lower classes, it becomes much more difficult to enjoy the commodities that have been “provided” by the extremely wealthy through their economic contributions, or even to enjoy the many libraries that Carnegie himself donated.
As the laws of competition and accumulation dictate, according to Carnegie, that the one who is economically successful should be able to increase their wealth exponentially at the expense of those that work for them, I find myself unable to agree with Carnegie. The poor would find it hard to enjoy the commodities provided by the wealthy if they are worrying about making it to their next meal, or paying their next bill.
Andrew Carnegie. The Gospel of Wealth. New York: Carnegie Corporation of New York, 2017 (first published in 1889).