rise of business and the new age of industrial capitalism forced Americans to think about, criticize, and justify the new order -- especially the vast disparities of wealth and power it created. This assignment asks you to consider the nature and meaning of wealth, poverty and inequality in the Gilded Age making use of the perspectives of four people who occupied very different places in the social and intellectual spectrum of late nineteenth-?century America:, the sociologist William Graham Sumner, the writer Henry
George, a Massachusetts textile worker named Thomas O'Donnell, and the steel tycoon
For Andrew Carnegie, wealth was a good thing. In his "Gospel of Wealth," Carnegies talks about the problem of "our age" which is the proper administration of wealth. He has his own philosophy of how wealth has come to be unequally distributed with the huge gap existing between those who have little and those who are stupendously rich. However, Carnegie believes that if administered and propertied in the right way, this gap is not only right but also good.
People are apt to squander their wealth. They are apt to use it on hedonistic pursuits, and, in this way, Carnegie believes that the wealth is improperly used. In the same way, wealth too is improperly used when bequeathed to Charity, for Charity may waste the wealth and direct it to foolish or irrational results.
The best way, Carnegie, believes that the wealth can be used if the owner directs it to philanthropic directions of his own choosing. Carnegie gives the example of millionaires who directed their wealth towards parks and other sustainable projects for the mass. These donors knew how to use their wealth. They had a lot -- more than many others -- but they used it properly for the public good. When used in this way, the chiasm between plenty and poor is lawful and right since the wealth is used for social ends.
The gap between poor and rich is, Carnegie admits, to be deplored. It creates many social ills aside from also envy and conflict between the classes. The Anarchists / Socialists are correct. But this gap is inevitable; some are always going to be wealthier than others. There are always going to be Masters and Workers. Being that we have this inevitability, we may as well direct it in a right way. There are disadvantages, certainly, to this way of living but Carnegie believes that there are advantages too. Advantages include not only the fact that the wealthy has the opportunity of benefiting the masses but that social development occurs since the wealthy can decide to improve their race and the world if they resolve to use their money philanthropically and wisely. One can, Carnegie admits, also pass it on as inheritance but this would only be harming one's children since it would be making them incapable of earning their own living and will be making them idle which are misguided affection. The tendency to tax large estates is, Carnegie believes, a wise step.
Sociologist William Sumners, however, was more scientific and straightforward in his rationalization of some having more than others. This was the Darwinian way of life. It was normal. It was natural. The wealthy could spend their wealth whichever way they desired for they had earned it and they were the fittest who had survived. Sumners was often accused of cold-heartedness, to which he responded:
"The sociologist is often asked if he wants to kill off certain classes of troublesome and bewildered persons. No such interference follows from any sound sociological doctrine, but it is allowed to infer, as to a great many persons and classes, that it would have been better for society and would have involved no pain to them, if they had never been born." (Thomas O'Donnell, Testimony William Graham Sumner "What the Social Classes Owe to Each Other," p. 45)
In other words, that it is of no fault or problem to the wealthy person that this gap exists. Sumner's own father had been a working man, forced to flee England when he could find no work, but Sumner argued against all forms of business regulation, labor unions, or public welfare.
In What Social Classes Owe to Each Other, Sumner argued that:
There is an old ecclesiastical prejudice in favor of the poor and against the rich… It is not uncommon to hear a clergyman utter from the pulpit all the old prejudice in favor of the poor and against the rich, while asking the rich to do something for the poor; and the rich comply, without apparently having their feelings hurt at all by the invidious comparison. (p.55)
It is the rich however who need to be extolled since they are smart, industrious, and thrifty and self-disciplined. Everything starts with labor. The man who made a great fortune deserved it, and race and 'land' as well as good of nation are only abstract entities where money from one who worked hard for it spills unfairly down to someone who squanders it and is idle. It is only when men are left unencumbered to work for and develop their prosperity that he country, in turn, can be developed. Government should therefore interfere in the business of competent man neither by taxes nor by any other kind of intervention.
The interview with MacDougal puts the lie to Sumner's description of the poor man as idle and slovenly. MacDougal is a cotton worker who despite constant hard work earns no more than $15 a week (and less for the last 13 weeks due to a strike) and this hardly enough to feed his wife and children.
My children get along very well in summer time, on account of not having to buy fuel or shoes or one thing and another. I earn $1.50 a day and can't afford to pay a very big house rent. I pay $1.50 a week for rent, which comes to about $6'00 a month' (p.61)
Even his children, young as they are, are put to work.
Poverty brings its own problems:
Our children, of course, are very often sickly from one cause or another, on account of not having sufficient clothes, or shoes, or food, or something. And also my woman; she never did work in a mill; she was a housekeeper, and for that reason she can't help me do anything at Present, as many women do help their husbands down there, by working, like themselves" (ibid.)
MacDougal works every day all the time. His wife has worn her one dress since she got married. Another dress she made herself. The family is careful with their money. MacDougal, 30 years old and healthy, rates himself a good workman. In all the years of his life, he has never yet been fired over disorderly conduct. He has also never seen currency that exceeds a $20 bill and there have been days when he and his family have had to starve. Calms are their main diet. He has no one to support him. His children remain uneducated since not only do they have to work but MacDougal has no money left over for education. MacDougal feels that but with a little help from the government, his family could do somewhat better with their lives and the debacle over child labor would be relieved:
They are forced, these young boys into the mills that should not be in mills at all; forcing them in because they are throwing the mules out and putting on ring-frames' They are doing everything of that kind that they possibly can to crush down the Poor people- the poor operatives there... (p.62)
Their huge lack of money disables them even from pulling themselves out of the hole and helping them endeavor to remedy their…