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Wealth, Inequality, During Gilded Age

Rapid industrialization and vast wealth accumulation characterized the Gilden Age. In this era, Andrew Carnegie, a philanthropist and wealthy industrialist, expressed his views on the administration of wealth. Carnegie believed in wealth concentration in a few people since he viewed it as a natural outcome of economic forces that benefited society. Contrarily, his reality of life for the average coal miner faced challenges such as low pay, grueling work, constant danger, and limited opportunities for advancement. The paper compares and contrasts Carnegie’s views about wealth and inequality with the life of a coal miner and analyzes his view of ethical implications while considering the laws protecting coal miners that should have been enacted during the Gilden Age.

Comparing Carnegie’s views about fortunes with the reality of coal miners provides a stark contrast between extreme affluence and abject poverty. Carnegie centered his view on wealth on the “Gospel of Wealth.” He believed that the accumulation of great fortunes and economic inequalities resulted from the natural consequence of the free market and the law of competition that ensured the survival of the fittest, leading to progress. He argued that the wealthy are the trustees of the community’s wealth, so they should use their resources to benefit the public through philanthropy and establishing institutions. In contrast, hardship, exploitation, and few opportunities for social mobility characterized the life of the average coal miner. Starting as breaker boys at a young age, these children worked in confined, dusty, and dangerous conditions for meager wages. As they grew older, they advanced to more physically demanding and hazardous roles in the mines. The coal miners faced constant injury, illness, and death risks while deprived of basic workers’ rights and protections.

Carnegie’s background as a thriving industrialist and self-made millionaire shaped his wealth and inequality beliefs. As an individual who had accumulated vast wealth through his business ventures, he justified the concentration of wealth as a natural outcome of economic progress. The impact of Carnegie’s views during the Gilded Age was significant. While he contributed substantially to education and public welfare, his beliefs also reinforced the notion of “robber barons” who amassed immense wealth while many workers struggled in poor conditions. This period of extreme wealth inequality and labor exploitation led to the rise of labor movements and calls for workers’ rights. Today, Carnegie’s views on wealth and inequality continue to be debated. Dabla-Norriset al. argue that the concentration of wealth among the few has led to socioeconomic disparities and decreased social mobility (8-9). Others maintain that the free market system and individual success should be rewarded, but there should also be efforts to address poverty and provide equal opportunities (Peterson).

When considering the life of the average coal miner, it becomes evident that Carnegie’s views on wealth and inequality may not be entirely ethical. While he saw economic inequality as beneficial for society’s progress, the reality of coal miners was exploitation, danger, and limited opportunities for advancement. The stark contrast between the lives of wealthy industrialists like Carnegie and the coal miners highlights the ethical dilemma posed by extreme economic disparities. As a congressperson during this period, the decision to push for laws protecting coal miners would be a moral imperative. The hazardous conditions and high mortality rates in the mines warranted governmental intervention to safeguard the well-being and rights of the workers. Measures such as mine safety regulations, fair wages, and limits on working hours would have been essential to protect the lives and dignity of the miners and provide them with a fair opportunity to improve their conditions.

To sum up, Andrew Carnegie’s views on inequality and wealth contrast sharply with the reality of life for the coal miner during the Gilded Age. While he justified extreme wealth concentration as essential for societal progress, the coal miners endured dangerous and exploitative working conditions with little opportunity for upward mobility. However, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to expand.

Works Cited

Dabla-Norris, Ms. Era, et al. Causes and consequences of income inequality: A global perspective. International Monetary Fund, 2015.

Peterson, E. Wesley F. “Is economic inequality really a problem? A review of the arguments.” Social Sciences 6.4 (2017): 147.


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