Andrew Carnegie devoted much of the latter part of his career to addessing the growing problem of inadequate distribution of wealth. This problem of vastly different standards of living among Americans attended the Industrial Revolution, and was exacerbated by the rise of big businesses in the 19th and early-20th centuries (the so-called “Gilded Age,” of American history, characterized by speculative and extravagant spending by the American upper classes).
Scottish-born Andrew Carnegie was one such businessman. His wealth was amassed in the steel industry, and so was derived from his close attention to business practices, rather than speculative stock investing (like many of his business contemporaries). Adjusted for modern inflation, he would be considered a billionaire today, and was the richest man in America after selling Carnegie Steel.
Just before selling Carnegie Steel, Andrew Carnegie published a seminal text for modern philanthropy and economics. Titled, “The Gospel of Wealth,” it proposed that wealth not be re-distributed in a Communistic fashion (as this, according to Carnegie, is at odds with individualism). Nor, said Carnegie, should the wealthy hoard their money until the end of their lives (at which point it would be taxed excessively). The best course of action for an individual and for society, plagued as it was by the inequality of wealth, was for the wealthy to spend money liberally throughout the course of their lives on public goods and services (i.e. libraries, theaters, etc.). Carnegie suggested that this would solve the problem of a disenfranchised and disillusioned working class, as they would in turn profit from such benefactions, and enjoy a higher standard of living.