According to Mahatma Gandhi, “poverty is the worst form of violence”. Even in the richest nations and societies, there is poverty. As a social issue, poverty has been and continually is the subject of discourse. Since John Kenneth Galbraith’s essay The Position of Poverty was first published in 1958, there have been many efforts made to abolish the rise of poverty issues in America. To this date, there have been a lot of efforts made to battle the issue of poverty, but most were not truly successful. Andrew Carnegie wrote an essay in 1889 entitled The Gospel of Wealth. The main point of his essay is that a man of wealth has the duty or obligation to improve the society. In contrast with Carnegie, Galbraith focused his attention on poverty and its roots as well as its effects on the communities and the individuals within the communities. Galbraith’s approach to poverty is different from that of Carnegie. In Galbraith’s essay, the advice he offers about poverty is one that I find to be more rational than the advice offered by Andrew Carnegie.
Without a doubt, today poverty is one of the biggest issues in the world people face. In the United States alone, poverty is well presented. Recent data shows that about 15.9% or 48.5 million people in the United States had income below the poverty level in 2011 (Bishaw 1). From Carnegie’s time to Galbraith’s time and up to now, poverty still persists. There are two views on poverty and the ways how to deal with it, offered by Andrew Carnegie and John Kenneth Galbraith.
In viewing poverty, Andrew Carnegie was a true believer of upward mobility. In his essay, he preached that The Gospel of Wealth was a sure promise of wealth for hardworking individuals and a promise of poverty for the lazy ones. He said,
For civilization took its start from the day the capable, industrious, workman said to his incompetent lazy fellow, “If thou dost not sow, thou shalt not reap (Carnegie, Gospel 394).
During my reading, I found that many ideas, offered by Carnegie were really good ones while others seemed to be less effective. He stated that if the government forced everyone to have the same possessions, the real people that will benefit are those who do not work. According to him, “the poor enjoy what the rich could not before afford” as he was discussing the history of wealth accumulation (Carnegie, Gospel 393). To battle with poverty, the rich people should administer their surplus wealth “for the best good of the community in which from which it had been acquired” (Carnegie, Best Fields 684).Want an expert to write a paper for you Talk to an operator now
According to Carnegie, individualism, private property, the law of accumulation of wealth and the law of the competition are the best outcome of human experience that should continue (Carnegie, Gospel 395). He also suggested that poor people should earn their living but the rich should help them by providing job and learning opportunities. To dignify their lives, the rich must provide “benefactions from which the masses can derive lasting advantage” (Carnegie, Gospel 399). For Carnegie, the only success we have against poverty is the construction of libraries and cultural institutions that would be available to the working class. His vision to eliminate poverty was to improve foundations. Carnegie saw the giving of money to poor people as a bad decision because they would “waste it in the indulgence of appetite” (Carnegie, Gospel 398). He was a strong believer that nobody should be given anything they have not worked hard for. He said, “In bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who will help themselves” (Carnegie, Gospel 400). What about people who are not able to work? Those who have mental or physical conditions that causes them to be denied employment or even holding one? For him, the decision or the verdict with regards to people who cannot work depends on the public sentiment (Carnegie, Gospel 400).
The ideas and theories of Carnegie are the things which make John Galbraith’s criticisms very rational. Galbraith did not agree with Carnegie’s praise of the laws of competition and accumulation. Instead of arguing about how poverty came about, like what Carnegie did, Galbraith focused on what poverty is and how it can be solved. Galbraith said, “People are poverty stricken when their income, even if adequate for survival, falls radically behind that of the community” (Galbraith 409). For him, poverty is a physical matter which is present in a society, characterized by limited and insufficient food, poor clothing, and crowded, cold, and dirty shelter. He discussed two types of poverty—case poverty and insular poverty. Case poverty could be found everywhere “however prosperous the community or the times” is (Galbraith 409). Case poverty is considered to be the single individual phenomenon. It applies to individuals afflicted because of specific reasons such as their traits and abilities and not on the environment. Some representations of the existence of poverty are enumerated by Galbraith. He said,
But some quality peculiar to the individual or family involved mental deficiency, bad health, inability to the discipline of industrial life, uncontrollable procreation, alcohol, discrimination involving a very limited minority, some educational handicap unrelated to community shortcoming, or perhaps a combination of several of these handicaps (Galbraith 409).
The other type of poverty that Galbraith talks about is insular poverty manifesting itself as an “island of poverty” (Galbraith 409). Insular poverty is more widespread and inseparable from environments. Unlike case poverty, this type of poverty is a condition where everyone is poor.
The most valuable advice given by Galbraith in order to break the cycle of poverty is to start with children. A Calvinist precept he included in his essay is that “the only sound way to solve the problem of poverty is to help people help themselves” (Galbraith 413). He said that to eliminate poverty, we must invest more in children of the poor community, providing them with higher quality of education, nutrition, and health services. Galbraith also acknowledges the effect of one’s childhood to success. If our nation could help children with just the basic needs such as clothing, food, and education, then we would vastly improve their chances of a bright and successful future stricken from poverty. For example, Louis Armstrong was learning music in a children’s home and eventually learned to play the cornet. He later became a successful musician. Without children’s homes who teach children music, he would never be successful (Collier). Aside from him, there are other poor and homeless children who are taught by children’s homes and gospel ministries. If only these services can be more institutionalized, many children will be free from poverty.
John Galbraith definitely would not have approved of Carnegie’s views and actions toward the proper distribution of wealth. He would have suggested to Carnegie that the proper distribution of wealth is not simply the construction of libraries and cultural institutions but the distribution of wealth within the communities where they were needed most and to the hands of people who were unable to make a living for themselves. Galbraith said, “Poverty is perpetuating because the poorest communities have the poorest services” (Galbraith 413). According to Galbraith, poverty can be treated. However, the factor such as the shortage of money or investment in the public sector hinders poverty reduction. Galbraith would approve Carnegie’s view on the proper distribution of wealth only in the following respect: there should be an increase in the public sector investment for better education, nutrition, and health services especially to the children of poor families (Galbraith 413).
Galbraith’s program of philanthropy would assure that healing in the rift between the classes of the rich and poor as Carnegie calls the “rigid castes” by having the society shift its resources from the private sector to the governmental sphere (Carnegie, Gospel 393). While Carnegie believes that philanthropic activities should be for the benefit of many, Galbraith believes that philanthropic activities must be geared towards children of poor communities and families. The investment in social services will then improve schools, recreational resources, infrastructures, mobility, and other social services to provide a better quality of life for the poverty stricken people. With this shift, Galbraith showed to have condemned Carnegie’s ideas. He believed and implied that the affluent society would create balance because the giant corporations would be able to control all the markets and the unions would be able to protect their workers to assure stability in the job force. In hindsight, this will lead to the end of poverty in America.
It is clear that Carnegie and Galbraith held absolutely parallel ideas. Carnegie believed strongly in that earning is necessary for you to accumulate wealth and a lazy person cannot have anything. In contrast, Galbraith believed that there are people in the society who naturally needed support. Galbraith’s line of thinking indicates his consideration of the unpleasant realities that some people face. While others enjoy life as they wish and can live the way they like without doing anything, there are also people who stay poor despite the fact they work hard because of the limited resources and opportunities available for them. Carnegie, unlike Galbraith, limits his ideas and suggestions to hard work and laziness. He assumes that all human beings have equal chances to succeed. This is utterly misleading since some people have limitations that others may never have in their lifetime. Galbraith remained practically realistic in his arguments about poverty. However, Carnegie held onto his theoretical beliefs that only apply in the ideal world. No one leads an ideal life, though everyone wishes to have it.