Today in Hypocrisy…
I’m taking an accounting course on estate and gift taxation (because I know how to have a good time). This fantastic chestnut is in chapter one of my textbook:
Men who continue hoarding great sums all their lives, the proper use of which for public ends would work good to the community from which it chiefly came, should be made to feel that the community, in the form of the State, cannot thus be deprived of its proper share. By taxing estates heavily at death the State marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire’s unworthy life.
– Andrew Carnegie, The Gospel of Wealth, June 1889
What’s absurd about the above quote is how Carnegie, he of the incredible steel manufacturing empire, of the copious philanthropy, the university endowments, the museums, artistic patronage, the poor-relief, the private charity, even he can somehow say that the State is the same thing as the community. I’m no expert on Carnegie, but I’d be willing to bet that he did all this without the aid of
the community the State bayonet at his ribs. Of course, though, like the cliche Hollywood limousine liberal, it’s all the other millionaires who are selfish and bad. I know I give money to the poor, but without the State, nobody else would.
Edit on the above point: I had one more thought about this idea. It’s not just hypocrisy, but condescending hypocrisy that we see here from Carnegie. Like the other famous captains of industry in the Gilded Age, Andrew Carnegie represents the fabled rags-to-riches, hard-headed entrepreneurial spirit that made the American Dream a beacon of hope for immigrants throughout the world at the end of the 19th century. Born to poor immigrants from Scotland in 1848, he eventually became the richest man in the world, despite little, if any, public assistance. Reading his words in The Gospel of Wealth, I can’t help but get the feeling that he sees himself as unique – that while he was able to make it without State assistance, the poor hoi polloi simply cannot.
Also, I understand that Carnegie was a steel man, not an economist, so I can forgive him for not totally grasping the concept of capital accumulation, but it’s precisely the “hoarding of great sums” (read: not consuming every resource that he gets his grubby hands on, unlike the State) that allows the community to benefit most from the productivity of great men. When the highly productive amass a fortune, it isn’t as though they just let it sit there, or swim around in it like Scrooge McDuck. They find uses for it, whether that be through lending, expanding their business, or, yes, philanthropy. And anyway, even Scrooge McDuck was benefitting the community in his hoarding. By turning his money into a (really awkward) swimming pool, he was effectively shrinking the money supply, which therefore increased purchasing power for the other holders of money.
Finally, I’m confused about that last part. Does the state condemn millionaires as unworthy because they’re selfish millionaires, or is it their millionaireness per se? Because what does that say about Carnegie?
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