Nicolet Area Technical College
Where Ideologies Clash: Galbraith vs. Carnegie
All men are created equal – that is, unless you subscribe to Andrew Carnegies ideas put forth in the 1889 essay “The Gospel of Wealth.” Carnegie (2010) wrote that some people are “unworthy” while others are “the highest type of man, the best and most valuable of all that humanity has yet accomplished” (p. 395). Carnegie’s (2010) belief in social Darwinism and “survival of the fittest” (p. 393) seemed to convince him that because he had achieved wealth, he was the most fit or qualified to determine the best distribution for it. However, Carnegie’s ideas on wealth distribution do not address many societal problems, especially poverty. Poverty was better addressed by John Galbraith (2010), Harvard economics professor and John F. Kennedy advisor, who had differing views on wealth distribution (pp. 405-415). Because Galbraith had a more compassionate view toward all people, he would likely criticize Carnegie’s ideas on distribution of wealth and modify Carnegie’s investments in the public sector. Galbraith’s overall view was also more true to the gospel than Carnegie’s views as expressed in “The Gospel of Wealth.” Galbraith’s (2010) more compassionate view can be seen by the focus of his essay “The Position of Poverty” which expresses his direct concern over poverty in America, his ideas on distribution of wealth, and his fundamental difference from Carnegie’s outlook (pp. 405-415). Galbraith aimed his attention straight at poverty. “It [poverty] cannot be excused,” and “It is not annoying but it is a disgrace” (Galbraith, 2010, p.415). Galbraith (2010) explains “People are poverty-stricken when their income…falls radically behind…the minimum necessary for decency” (p. 409). And it continues, “The provision of…a basic source of income [to maintain decency] must henceforth be the first and the strategic step in the attack on poverty” (Galbraith, 2010, p. 413). Conversely, Carnegie (2010) is shown to be out of touch with the true needs of the people of his time by the way he characterized what he considered to be the major problem: “The problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and the poor in harmonious relationship” (p. 391). He doesn’t mention poverty, healthcare, or even jobs when defining the major problem, nor does he list them as he continues. Carnegie left out these fundamental problems, and while harmony between the rich and the poor may have been high on his personal list, it was probably not the preeminent thought of people living through that time period (Jacobus, 2010, p. 389). Harmony between classes isn’t argued against by Galbraith, but he sees the deeper problem of people struggling with poverty. People who are struggling may not care if they can sit in a free library that Carnegie built when they are unable to live in a home or send their children to school in decent clothes.
Galbraith made statements that these people struggling with poverty should in no way be overlooked. The perceptive Galbraith (2010) stated that the U.S., being a wealthy country, “no longer has a high philosophical justification for callousness” (p. 412). Concerning callousness, Carnegie seems to have adopted “survival of the fittest” as his personal philosophy to justify it. Carnegie (2010) referred to the law of competition and wrote “It is best for the race, because it insures the survival of the fittest in every department” (p. 393). He seemingly gives no attention to those less fit in society who may need help. In fact, he later adds “In bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who will help themselves” (Carnegie, 2010, p. 400). These ideas of Carnegie’s would be considered flawed by Galbraith concerning anyone who might be unable to help themselves. These ideas wouldn’t sit right...