Andrew Carnegie's perspective on the relationship between the rich and the poor is quite simple. He believed that there would always be rich and poor and that was a characteristic of the advancement of civilization. "Much better this great irregularity than universal squalor," he says (Carnegie 225). Without this difference between the classes, he believed that we would not be as well situated as far as universal wealth as we are today. He further stated that the "millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor" (Carnegie 230).
He obviously believed that wealth was a necessity of life. He worked his whole life to be rich, but he was not a miser. He thought that the role of a millionaire was to gather as much money as possible, than redistribute it throughout the community for the betterment of the people. He thought that a millionaire, by being able to make the money in the first place, had proved himself able to better manage the money than the community as a whole. The biblical aspect, in comparison, is very wary in condoning great wealth. It cautions that it is the reason for gathering the great wealth that matters, not the final distribution of it.
If one gathers great wealth merely for the purpose of gathering great wealth, that is greed and it is sinful in the eyes of the bible. However, if one finds in himself the ability to make large amounts of money easily and then decides to do so exclusively for the good of others, than it is right and good and virtuous to do so. It is said in Galatians 6: 7, "A man reaps what he sows." Therefore, if one sows in greed and sin, than one will reap more of the same. He may have great wealth, but he will not be happy and may be reviled and destroyed. However, if one sows in goodness and with philanthropic motives, than one will not only reap in goodness, but "from the Spirit will reap eternal life" (Galatians 6: 8). I think that thes perspectives take very opposing views.
Carnegie never makes conditions on how one should make these large amounts of money - only that if they are made, they should be given to help others. The Bible, on the other hand, goes to the motive for raising the money. In a sense, if the money is not earned with virtuous intentions to begin with, it will be tainted. The Bible directly contradicts Carnegie in that he seems to be giving the money away after it is earned as a sort of redemption for himself. This is wrong according to the Bible. Just giving away the money isn't enough - it must be earned with that intention.
An even greater contrast is between Carnegie and Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau despised materialism in any way, shape, or form. He might even argue with the Bible about the earning of the money in the first place. He believed that people should be oblivious to money because "Those services which the community will most readily pay for it is the most disagreeable to render. You are paid for being something less than a man" (Thoreau 2).
He staunchly believed in doing what you love and that if you got paid for it, that was secondary. His perception was that we should be more concerned with the value of our inner self (our mind), nature, and culture than with the price of gold or cloth. All these perspectives have validity. They clearly explain the value and detriment of having material possessions and large amounts of money. However, I believe that only Carnegie has a realistic perspective.
He understands that very few can overcome the natural instinct to provide physical comfort by whatever means necessary. The Bible asks that we closely examine all motives behind charity and philanthropy, lest we inadvertently accept tainted money. This instead of being grateful for the money that is given, which is so often far less than is needed. If we were to examine every motive and reject money from those with a less than pure basis, hardly anyone in society would be able to give to charity or support philanthropical organizations. Thoreau is even less realistic.
He asks us to not worry about money - to do what makes us happy and that material goods are vastly unimportant. He doesn't look to human nature or needs for his reality. He tries to live in a Utopia of sorts and seems unable to realize that it can never happen that way in real life except for a select few. Again, Carnegie seems to be the most realistic in his views on material goods and wealth and his views correlate most closely with mine. I firmly believe that without material possessions, we cannot achieve any of the mental ideals that both the Bible and Thoreau wish us to possess. As far as Carnegie's view of the millionaire trustee to the poor, it has some merit.
I certainly think that the world would be better off if millionaires were forced to give large amounts of money towards the betterment of society. Many philanthropical organizations rely on wealthy benefactors for their survival. These organizations do huge amounts of work and could always use extra money. If charitable donations were made obligatory of the rich, it could greatly change the face of the world. Although there will always be a gap between rich and poor, these charitable donations could go a long way towards closing the gap between the poor and the destitute and poor and the middle class. Without wealth and material possessions, our civilization would be entirely different than it is today.
I, for one, like the way I live and wouldn't trade it for the world. I can't imagine a world without millionaires and a world without some poor people. I can imagine a world without the destitute, homeless, and starving, though, and a system where the rich become the trustees of the poor and the caretakers of the poor would go long way towards helping to solve those problems.