“The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced.” So said Andrew Carnegie, in his provocative essay titled “Wealth” or more commonly known as the “Gospel of Wealth.” At the time of its publication, industrialization was in its heyday, driving rapid economic growth. While such growth was “essential for the progress of the race,” it unequivocally widened the wealth gap between the rich and the poor. Through the Gospel of Wealth, Carnegie entreated the wealthy “Robber Barons” of his time to address this imbalance through philanthropy.
Today, a new wave of industrialization sweeps across the globe. Once again, there is a renewal of significance of the Gospel of Wealth. With the rising wealth inequality and growing social ills, a question resonates: How are the billionaires and the ultra-rich entrepreneurs of the modern-day Gilded Age responding to the call of giving while living?
Contemporaries Who Heeded the Call: The Philanthropist of the Gilded Age
The Gospel of Wealth postulates that the biggest problem of the time is the proper management of wealth. Carnegie abhorred indiscriminate charity and believed that handouts would do more harm than good, both for the people and society. In the essay, Carnegie proposed for the men of wealth to become overseers in the distribution of surplus wealth. He further implored the “possessors of wealth” to be administrators by supporting worthy social causes.
Oil titan John D. Rockefeller was one of the first to heed the call. Inspired by Carnegie’s example, Rockefeller gave away a total of $500 million in support of various educational, religious, as well as scientific causes. Later on, industrialist Henry Ford followed with philanthropic works towards health care and historic preservation. He also built foundations meant to assist farmers and support peacekeeping. On the other hand, Russell Sage’s widow, Margaret Olivia, used her inheritance to champion women’s rights and promote female higher education.
The Gospel of Wealth and Philanthropy in the Era of Digital Revolution
The Gospel of Wealth has undoubtedly paved the way for a tradition of philanthropy. Entrepreneurs in the generations to come will follow this path. From Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, and Margaret Olivia Sage – the list of benefactors continues to grow.
- Bill and Melinda Gates were named as the most generous givers in the U.S. The couple has donated a total of $36 Billion through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Focusing on global health, access to education, and alleviating poverty, the couple has been actively partnering with various foundations.
- Warren Buffet, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, has donated a total of $46 billion since the year 2000. Recently, he announced to donate $3.6 Billion in Berkshire Hathaway shares to five foundations. The prudent billionaire has been supportive of causes that promote education, children, health and economic development, and community services.
- Michael Bloomberg has already given away $8.2 Billion, including his most recent donation to Johns Hopkins for $1.8 Billion. Bloomberg is the sixth richest person in the United States and ninth richest person in the whole world with a net worth of $62.1 Billion. Bloomberg made a vow through The Giving Pledge to “nearly all of my net worth will be given away in the years ahead or left to my foundation.”
- Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan built the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, which focuses on personalized learning, curing diseases, connecting people, and building strong communities. The couple also pledged to give 99% of their Facebook shares in their lifetime to advance these causes.
- Marc Benioff is one of the most generous entrepreneurs in the US. He founded Salesforce.com Foundation, which integrates philanthropy with corporate strategy. The billionaire’s most recent donation of $30 million will be used to help end San Francisco’s homelessness problems.
- George Soros is the founder and chairman of Open Society Foundations – an organization that dedicates itself to promoting tolerance, transparency, and open debate. OSF has a presence in 120 countries and supports various causes. Some of these causes include upholding democratic rights, children’s education, equality, and human rights. To date, Soros has already donated over $32 Billion to the OSF.
- The Walton Family, who owns about 51% of the retail chain Walmart, are generous givers. Through the Walton Family Foundation, the descendants of the founders have been creating opportunities to various communities. The family-led foundation also invests heavily in education and preserving the environment.
- Pierre Omidyar, while keeping it low-key with his philanthropic efforts, has spawned several non-profit organizations. One of them is The Omidyar Network, a foundation working on issues around digital identity, education, responsible technology, and worker empowerment. On top of this foundation, Omidyar has spawned other organizations such as Democracy Fund, HopeLab, and Humanity United.
- Charles Koch, founder and, chairman of Koch Industries, has given more than $1 Billion to various philanthropic causes. With a focus on education and alleviating poverty, the billionaire funded the Charles Koch Foundation. The main goal of the foundation is to create opportunities through education and also help individuals to transform their lives and improve society.
- Chuck Feeney is the “billionaire who gave it all away”. And all of the $8 Billion – he gave all away through his foundation The Atlantic Philanthropies. Growing up in a modest background, Feeney admits that Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth inspired him. The philanthropist once stated, “It’s a lot more fun to give while you’re alive than to give while you’re dead.”
The Inspiration of Generations
Carnegie was a wealthy man at the age of 33. But the pull from the realization that there is more to life than material triumph was also strong. The wave of awareness moved Carnegie to devote his time as well as resources to causes that benefit the community. His example inspired others to also make a difference. Clearly, the Gospel of Wealth significance rests on the fact that Carnegie inspired generations of men and women to follow the same path boldly.