Andrew Carnegie was an American industrialist who amassed a great fortune toward the end of the 19th century and then gave most of it away. Many American cities still have a Carnegie library donated by this philanthropist. By the time he died in 1919 he had given away millions of dollars. He had long held that it was a disgrace to die rich.
Carnegie did not start off rich however. He came to America as a small poor immigrant boy from Scotland. His family lived in poverty, first in Scotland, and then in Pittsburg. As a small boy he had to drop out of school and work long hours six days a week to help support his family.
Over time he worked his way out of poverty and became a multi-millionaire. In his later years he wrote a number of essays and books. Among them was his Gospel of Wealth. In this essay he opined that a man had a duty to earn as much money as he reasonably could. He then had a duty to care for his family and dependents. Finally, he had a duty to responsibly give away all his wealth before he died, and that is what he in fact did.
Among these various writings Carnegie penned one called the Advantages of Poverty in 1898. In this essay he repeats much of his Gospel of Wealth but in particular makes clear that in his experience a poor child has the advantage of having to work his way out of poverty. A child born in poverty takes nothing for granted and expects nothing he does not himself earn. He learns discipline and the value of work. He learns how to build wealth for he must do so or be condemned to remain in poverty. For Carnegie poverty was the great teacher.
He wrote that while it was proper to give alms to alleviate the most terrible suffering and deprivation of the most poor, it was a disservice to give them too much. He firmly believed that it was much more helpful and even more morally defensible to help others help themselves than to simply help them.
Carnegie’s philosophy of wealth and poverty was informed by the social Darwinists of the late 19th century. It was common among men of that thinking to believe that men who grew rich had evolved to do so and those who were poor were equally evolved to such a state. However Carnegie had some more compassion and understanding than many of the rich of his time.
In fact, having been both very poor and very rich he may have been uniquely equipped to preach the truth about wealth and poverty. Whether or not you agree with Carnegie’s entire gospel, there is much wisdom in what he said. Poverty can be a good teacher in many instances.
You can find Carnegie’s essay on the Advantages of Poverty in the small book of that title which also includes his writings on How to Die Rich and The Best Gift. The entire small book is a mere 49 pages in length. It can be read in an hour but will instruct for much longer.
Advantages of Poverty
©2004 Executive Books
Rating: Over all this is a good book and very interesting. I recommend it.