Gospel Of Wealth Summary

Andrew Carnegie

Gospel Of Wealth

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Gospel Of Wealth Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Gospel of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie.

Andrew Carnegie’s “Gospel of Wealth,” an article originally published with the shorter title, “Wealth,” was written in June 1889. In his article, Carnegie discusses how the new upper class has a responsibility to be philanthropic in order to mitigate surplus wealth to address issues of wealth inequality. In a world where money was passed down from father to son, or given to the state to determine how it could best serve the public, Carnegie’s ideas were, for his day, new.

He proposes that society can put the wealth of wealthy class to better use than the state. In addition to asserting that the wealthy should engage in philanthropy, Carnegie uses this space to express his disdain for the idea of spending capital irresponsibly—that is, on opulence and self-gratification. He stipulates that when the wealthy does distribute wealth, it should be in a way that doesn’t promote sloth or drunkenness—or anyone considered unworthy.

Carnegie also argues that there are two types of wealthy person. There is the person who gains wealth through hard work and perseverance. This, he says, is the best type of wealth because the person develops an appreciation for the money. In contrast, those who inherit wealth are more likely to waste their money, spending frivolously. He states that willing one’s entire fortune to charity is likewise no guarantee that it will be properly used, unless that charity is under the direction of the one donating the wealth.

The reason for this, according to Carnegie, is that charitable giving has the potential of keeping the poor poor, thus emphasizing the wealth gap. Instead, he proposes that wealth should be given in a way that creates opportunities for those receiving the financial aid. Then, according to Carnegie, that wealth is not only spent, but produces more wealth, ideally enabling the once poor individual to then encourage someone else to develop wealth.

Another point Carnegie makes in “The Gospel of Wealth” is the benefit of high taxes on estates. He considers a wealthy estate to be a mark of someone who has failed in his responsibility to spread his wealth, and therefore, thinks the State is right to condemn the estate by taxing it heavily. If the wealthy distribute their wealth as Carnegie says they should, then there is no concern over there being enough of an estate to tax. To help this along, he proposes that the wealthy ought to live modestly and that dependents of the wealthy receive only moderate monetary support. Finally, Carnegie states that this is the path to reward at the gates of Paradise.

Andrew Carnegie was born in 1835 in Scotland. By 1890, he was a multi-millionaire. The main reason for this was the way in which Carnegie chose to build his business empire. Rather than try to form a monopoly, Carnegie focused on a particular industry—steel—and concentrated on becoming a powerhouse in the industry. Largely self-educated, Carnegie’s ideas about philanthropy solidified by the time he was thirty-five years old. He began donating his money to help those he felt could benefit the most from the wealth. For example, he donated a public bath to his hometown in Scotland. He didn’t want to be remembered for his wealth after he died—he wanted to be remembered for his actions and his philanthropy. Known as a radical philanthropist, Carnegie is remembered today for both his wealth and his philanthropy.

“Wealth” was first published in 1880 in the North American Review magazine. Due to its success and popularity, it was reprinted with the title “Gospel of Wealth” later in the Pall Mall Gazette. Perhaps some of his popularity from this article came from the notion that Carnegie practiced what he preached. Some of the beneficiaries of his philanthropic mission include several local libraries, Carnegie Hall, the Peace Palace, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Carnegie Institution for Science, Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Hero Fund, and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. That’s just a sampling of the many organizations and institutions that benefited from his belief in the need to spread his wealth for the betterment of the rest of the rest of the world.

Even though “Gospel of Wealth” was published more than one hundred years ago, the debate over the gap between those in poverty and those holding wealth continues to dominate global economic discussions. Many countries have laws on the books covering monopolies and estate taxes, the same topics Carnegie wrote about in the late nineteenth century. If money breeds power, then Carnegie is an exception to the rule that power corrupts.