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An Historical Perspective on the Value of Wealth - Essay Example

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An Historical Perspective on the Value of Wealth

Three prominent figures from the late 19th century were Andrew Carnegie, Booker T. Washington, and Ida Tarbell. This small group was made up of a business titan, an ex-slave and a female journalist. They were of vastly diverse backgrounds and yet all shared the common thread of being almost obsessed with the idea of wealth. All for different reasons, yet sharing some common motives.
Washington, born into slavery, had worked his way up through sweat and diligence. He was a college graduate, prominent figure, and believed in the accumulation of wealth as a means to elevate your position in society. He was willing to compromise freedoms to attain modest material wealth in the notion that even modest wealth would bring greater power than social activism. He had understood the difference between rich and poor and had made a conscious plan to narrow the gap.
While Washington respected the gaining of modest wealth as a means to power, Carnegie was the image of the man who collected wealth for what the wealth could do for others. He realized early in life that wealth was not an end to itself. He understood that wealth was not happiness and it was meant to be given away for public good.1 Washington and Carnegie both understood the difference between poor and rich. ...
Ida Tarbell, a female journalist, took a more disparaging view of wealth as well as poverty. Though Tarbell was not a vocal advocate of women's issues, her notoriety in the field of writing and broadcasting would elevate her to prominence and pave the way for future generations of women seeking careers. Yet, she did not work to accumulate wealth. She saw wealth as concentrated in too few hands while poverty flourished. She had no attraction to wealth or money except in the capacity it had to solve hunger or suffering. She viewed a woman's right and ability to attain a factory job as a matter of gaining equal access and being recognized as more than a housewife. The opportunity to make money or prosper was not an influence in her thinking. In an undated essay she states "It is with her a question of self-respect, a question of freedom, a question of opportunity to advance, to take and make a place for herself in the community."3 To Tarbell, the pursuance of wealth was simply a by-product of her quest for equality and liberation. To Washington it was a means to liberation. Carnegie, already liberated through the power of wealth, viewed it as a means to help mankind.
While Carnegie was becoming the richest man in the world, Tarbell was taking journalistic aim at the class that he represented. Tarbell professed that wealth would do more good to solve social ills than in the hands of so few industrialists. Tarbell loathed wealth, considered it excessive greed and wondered how much does one man need. The best description of Tarbell's view of wealth comes from her own words:
"For what then Why this relentless, cruel, insistent accumulation of money when you are already buried in ...Show more


The second half of the 19th century saw the newly emancipated freedmen, business tycoons, and recently liberated progressives enter the politics of the new America. Capitalism was reaching a zenith and the opportunity for wealth abounded. It created a diverse mix of social backgrounds, colors, genders and economic means…
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An Historical Perspective on the Value of Wealth essay example
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