This Icon of Capitalism Had the Answers

October 2001
PERSONAL SNAPSHOTS
Forecasts & Strategies

by Mark Skousen

“The business career is a stern school of all the virtues. The business man pursues fortune.”— Andrew Carnegie

After moving to New York last month to become the president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), I took the opportunity to pay my respects to an icon of capitalism, Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919). His body is buried only a few miles up from FEE headquarters in Sleepy Hollow cemetery. In three ways, Carnegie reflects the spirit of FEE — was a fierce defender of free-enterprise capitalism, he gave generously to good causes, and he worked hard for the cause of world peace and democracy.

“CAPITALISM IS MORE NOBLE THAN COMMUNISM “

As a joint creator (along with J.P. Morgan) of U.S. Steel, the first billion-dollar corporation in the world, Carnegie was a successful entrepreneur who benefited humanity by offering cheaper and better steel with which to build a modern world. He rejected the “robber baron “title. Capitalism was not a device to enrich the rich at the expense of the poor, as the Marxists contend; “Capitalism,” he said, “is about turning luxuries into necessities.” He started out as a poor Scotch immigrant, a classic Horatio Alger. He liked to be different; his favorite advice to young men was, “Attract attention.”

For him, there were other values in the world than just those of the business culture: He loved books and became friends with intellectuals, writers and statesmen such as Herbert Spencer, Mark Twain and William Gladstone. He was intensely competitive, even glorying in beating his friends in golf. In business, he drove down the cost of steel, even as he improved the quality. “Cheaper and better ” became the American way. “Watch the costs, and the profits will take care of themselves,” he explained in his book, The Gospel of Wealth, first published in 1900. He made no apologies for his ruthless competitive spirit, which he justified as a Darwinian form of “survival of the fittest “and as a fulfillment of Jesus ’s parable of the talents. Like an old-fashioned Hank Reardon in Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, Carnegie wasn’t merely an apologist for anarchic individualism; he was its celebrant. Carnegie objected strenuously to the “progressives “who favored socialism and communism over individualism. He said communism had been tried, and failed.

“The Man Who Dies Rich Dies Disgraced.”

Following his retirement in 1901,the Man of Steel did not live it up with ostentatious mansions, limousines and hundred-dollar cigars, which Thorstein Velben labeled “conspicuous consumption “of the idle rich. Like The Millionaire Next Door, Carnegie spoke of the millionaire’s duty to live a “modest” lifestyle, shunning extravagant living and administering his wealth for the benefit of the community. To do otherwise, he warned, would encourage an age of envy and invite socialistic legislation attacking the rich through progressive taxation and other onerous anti-business regulations.

Carnegie practiced what he preached, giving away over $350 million in his lifetime. One of his first acts after U.S. Steel went public was to put $5 million into a pension and benefit plan for his workers. He was careful in his philanthropy, avoiding at all costs “indiscriminate charity.” He disdained the conventional practice of accumulating wealth solely to be bequeathed to heirs, which he regarded as “sterile” and even “perverse” if it resulted in profligate living. Instead, he spent millions building 2,811 public libraries, donating 7,689 organs to churches, and establishing Carnegie Hall in New York and the Carnegie Institution in Washington. He financed technical training at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and established a pension fund for teachers through the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. I cannot help but think that were he alive today, he would be a major donor to FEE!

“Democracy Means That Privilege Shall Cease.”

Finally, Carnegie devoted the rest of his life to promoting world peace and democracy. He was convinced that the United States surpassed Europe economically in part because Europe was constantly embroiled in wars with its neighbors while the United States largely avoided such conflicts.(If the U.S. must maintain a high defense budget to eradicate terrorism, it could severely retard economic growth.) He was a passionate believer in democracy, universal suffrage and equality of opportunity through free public education. But he opposed equality of property or ability, and argued that all citizens had the right to choose their own occupation and had the right to earn income in any amount and spend it as they wished. He expressed distaste for royalty, aristocracy and any form of state religion.

The Spirit of Andrew Carnegie Lives at FEE

Today I am happy to report that the world has a goodly share of modern-day Andrew Carnegies. As the new president of FEE,I have had the pleasure of becoming aware of these unique men and women of the business world who have not only added value to the global economy through their entrepreneurial efforts, but have sacrificed time and money to promote FEE and its mission. For example, last week Larry Reed, president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and a FEE trustee, told me about a FEE donor who spent half his life sponsoring FEE seminars on free-market economics in his hometown, often a considerable personal sacrifice of time and financial resources. Another individual, upon hearing that a FEE student seminar might need to be canceled due to a lack of attendees, stepped up and arranged for several dozen students to attend. The seminar turned out to be a great success. Hundreds of other FEE supporters have arranged conferences, raised funds and distributed copies of our flagship publication, Ideas on Liberty, to their friends and acquaintances. And with your help we are planning many new programs to spread of the gospel of FEE and to “attract attention,” as Andrew Carnegie would advise.

How to Help FEE

I am developing some new ways to help FEE teach Americans and the rest of the world the simple but powerful principles of economics. One goal is to dramatically increase the circulation of Ideas on Liberty. If you haven ’t subscribed yet, you should —$30 for a 12 subscription to: Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington on Hudson, New York 10533, telephone 914/591-7230. We are also spending money to create a top-notch interactive website at www.fee.org. We are planning special seminars on “Fast Track Executive Economics Courses “at various investment conferences (Money Shows, New Orleans, Atlanta, etc) to explain the basics of the roller-coaster global economy. Plus we’re expanding our student and business seminars to teach future generations the benefits of the free market. If you give $100, you become a “Friend of FEE “and will receive many benefits. I look forward to hearing from you.

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