Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

Mr. Carnegie's Greatest Gift (S635b: 1907)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page 312 of the March 1907 issue of Review of Reviews (London), responding to ideas posed by the industrialist Andrew Carnegie in an earlier number of the magazine. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with:

     Mr. Carnegie's latest exposition of the "Gospel of Wealth" will be welcome to all advanced thinkers. It is, in my opinion, the greatest benefit to humanity yet rendered by himself or by any other multi-millionaire, since he unreservedly admits the right of the people to inherit the bulk of his and their accumulated wealth whenever, by legal enactment, they so will it. He supports this view by excellent reasoning, on the grounds that in every case the accumulation of these great fortunes is very largely and sometimes wholly due to the industry or the talent of the people and the density of population. Pre-eminently, he points out, is this the case in the increase of land values in great cities and towns, the whole of which is the creation of the community itself, as we land nationalisers have long urged. But for great industrial enterprises he claims that the originators and organisers have some personal claim, since they aid in "the development of our country's resources." The Stock Exchange speculators, however, he declares to be wholly evil, doing no service whatever to the community; but he does not suggest how they are to be dealt with except by taking their whole accumulated wealth at their deaths.

     These views he bases on justice as well as on expediency. He objects, however, to taxing incomes, except where these arise from rents, interest, or dividends, for two very good reasons; first, that a general income-tax (as in England) causes the honest man to pay for the dishonest; and, secondly, that its collection is enormously expensive. To collect the taxes on dividends, interest and rents, however, hardly costs anything; while as it taxes realised wealth, leaving earned incomes free, it is in accordance with the soundest principles of taxation. But to make up for this loss he would take the bulk of very large incomes by means of graduated death-duties, leaving of course a moderate share to direct heirs.

     With all this I cordially agree; but while Mr. Carnegie founds his proposals on an enlightened expediency, combined with an effort to determine the just claims of the people to share the millionaire's wealth in individual cases, I have arrived at a similar result by logically applying Herbert Spencer's "law of social justice," which, as I have elsewhere fully explained, is identical with the law of "equality of opportunities," which necessarily implies "equality of inheritance"; and this can only be attained by the State becoming the sole inheritor of accumulated wealth. But without equality of opportunity there can be no real individualism, which, as Mr. Carnegie maintains, has led to "the steady progress of civilisation." He is very careful to declare that he is utterly opposed to Socialism or Communism, which, he thinks, would "sap the springs of enterprise"; and he therefore wants the inventor, the manufacturer, and the monopolist to be left with a free hand.

     But here I think he is illogical, because, under the present system of unequal opportunity are unequally inherited wealth, a large portion of the invention, intellect, and energy of the community is either lost or misapplied. Only by absolute "equality of opportunity" for every child, from birth through childhood to manhood--in nurture, education, and economic training--can individualism be given full play, and all the powers and talents of men and women be fully utilised for the benefit of the nation.

     On such a perfect individualism I would base my hopes for the future of humanity. It would inevitably result in the voluntary organisation of industry and in a widespread co-operation, which might or might not result in a socialistic or communistic state.

     I maintain, therefore, that Mr. Carnegie, as an individualist, should adopt my extreme view of absolute equality of opportunities, without which the advantages of individualism can be only very imperfectly realised. Neither does my friend Mr. J. H. Levy, the chief exponent of individualism in England, ever refer to this very fundamental point. It seems rather curious that it has been left to a Socialist to uphold the standard of complete and thoroughgoing individualism, founded upon the "law of social justice," set forth in one of this latest works by the great philosopher and individualist, Herbert Spencer!

--Yours very truly,
Alfred R. Wallace.

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