As part of its series on philanthropy, Slate on Friday ran a feature on a nineteenth century critique of philanthropy inspired by Andrew Carnegie’s announcement that he was going to give away his fortune. Surprisingly, it’s not the classical liberal critique we expected it to be. It’s more along the lines of “Will Warren Buffett Go Hell?”
Warren Buffett's announcement in June that he was giving $31 billion in Berkshire Hathaway stock to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was greeted with near universal acclaim. About 120 years ago, when Andrew Carnegie declared in his "Gospel of Wealth" essays that he was going to give away his entire fortune and asserted that it was the duty of other rich men to give away theirs, his announcement provoked as much criticism as praise. Labor leaders condemned Carnegie for giving away money that did not rightfully belong to him. Prominent churchmen, including Methodist Bishop Hugh Price Hughes, characterized him as "an anti-Christian phenomenon, a social monstrosity, and a grave political peril."
Hughes insisted that millionaires, even those who agreed to give away their fortunes, were "the unnatural product of artificial social regulations." He believed that Carnegie's accumulation of millions had come at the expense of his less fortunate countrymen. "Millionaires at one end of the scale involved paupers at the other end, and even so excellent a man as Mr. Carnegie is too dear at that price," he argued. His point was well-taken. One doesn't have to a Socialist—and Bishop Hughes certainly was not —to wonder whether a more equitable distribution of wealth might be better for society than the idiosyncrasies of large-scale philanthropy.
Looking the Carnegie Gift Horse in the Mouth [Slate.com]