50 Years Ago: Andrew Carnegie, brain sucker
On the 12th of August the death of Andrew Carnegie was reported, and all the capitalist newspapers united to diffuse an odour of sanctity around the man whose fortune—like all other great fortunes—was built up by the sucking of other men’s brains.
It was on the shoulders of others that Carnegie climbed to affluence. Unscrupulous, alike in his dealings with his fellow capitalists and his workmen, he crushed out all who stood in his path, until he came up against a more powerful combination than his own, then he stepped quietly down and out of business, leaving Morgan, Rockefeller & Co. a clear field.
Carnegie came at the first flush of the era of speculation and “high finance” in America, and the tide swept him along with it. The keystone of his success was his ability in appropriating the product of other men’s brains (as well, of course, as the product of their hands), or, as he himself repeatedly expressed it in relation to his managers, finding better men to look after his interests.
The man who is set up as a model of “self-help” was helped by others all his life. The only direction in which he exercised self-help was in helping himself to the the product of the work of others. A quotation from the full-page effusion on Carnegie’s life in the Daily Telegraph (Aug. 12th) gives in a nutshell the story of his life and the cause of his success.
He began the world without a penny. He retired from business sixty years after one of the richest men in the world—to put it no higher—with a fortune of some £90,000,000 . . . It was won by a man who had no training for his life-work. The greatest of iron masters knew nothing of metallurgy.