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Social structure is the deciding factor of competition. The poor classes have always tried to compete with the wealthier classes in order to take the wealth and power from them. On the other hand, the wealthy have exploited the poor to raise more wealth. The bigger the economic gap between the two different classes, the more intense the competition between them. Andrew Carnegie and Karl Marx created their own theories to address and resolve tensions between the classes. Carnegie and Marx have similar negative opinions about the inheritance and its effects on the receiving generation. At the same time, they have different opinions about competition and distribution of wealth.
Carnegie argued that competition is something that is welcomed and accepted to develop society. A society without competition does not change. According to an example in The Gospel of Wealth, pre-industrial products were made in small stores (Carnegie, p364). The owners and apprentices worked together under the same conditions, and their lives have little or no change. In other words, there was social and political equality between the owner and the apprentice. However, the result was expensive, but low-quality products. Conversely, products that are made in competition in today have high quality at low prices. When people start competing to make better quality products at cheaper prices, the means and processes of manufacturing products evolve and advances. Competition can also work as unjustly as inequality, creating a gap between rich and poor. Nevertheless, Carnegie argues that the law of competition brings about far greater advantages than disadvantages to society, allowing society to develop and progress into the future.
Unlike the positive opinion about the competition, Carnegie’s thought about inheritance is negative. Carnegie allows to remain a little bit of inheritance for the family, but he cautions the burden and unhappiness stemming from the improper use of inheritance from one generation to another. According to The Gospel of Wealth, Carnegie says men should hesitate to leave behind an excessive inheritance, more than merely to providing a moderate source of income for their wives and daughters, because large amounts of money become a burden to its recipients (Carnegie, p368). This large amount of wealth bequeathed to the next generation that has not learned how to live a proper livelihood can lead a dependent, weak, and uncreative life. Therefore, parents should not pass on to children if they consider their children’s true happiness. Parents may think their fortune will pass to the next generation without damaging the fortune, but in reality, the value of that legacy can be squandered through the foolishness of successors or falling land prices. Carnegie warned that “giving a huge amount of money to my children is like leaving a poison or a curse” (Carnegie, p368). He also negatively viewed legacies for the public interest, because when an inheritance is used for a common public purpose, it may not be used according to the original intention of the deceased person. In many cases, the true purpose of the bequest is not fulfilled, and the true wishes of the bequest are ignored. To be truly beneficial to society, the rich must strive to the best of their ability to properly use their wealth during their lifetime, rather than leaving the wealth when they die to become something of a burden that is not praised or appreciated. After all, in many cases, the legacy is only used as a monument of their folly (Carnegie, p368).
Carnegie argued that the distribution of wealth is accomplished when the rich gives their fortunes to charity for the public, and not for individual purposes. According to him, the rich have a responsibility to properly manage their trust property. Thus, the wealthy should use their capital to create surplus wealth larger than the profits of the poor. And if this surplus wealth is managed for the public good, it can be divided into properties of the many (Carnegie, p369). The wealth spent for public purposes can benefit all the public, from the very poor to the rich. The benefits are then sustained and become permanent. For example, suppose a rich man uses his wealth to create a public library, the library will provide the knowledge of mankind contained in books to the masses for free as a public good forever. However, if he distributes his property divided up equally in a small trivial amount of money to the millions of the public, most of his wealth would be wasted fulfilling their small needs and pleasures, such as appetite and vice. Also, charity should not be given to anyone indiscriminately, but to those who help themselves, or those who are valuable. When a great wealth is passed on to someone who truly needs it and they eventually produce good results, countless people with a difficult lifestyle, including street alcoholics, benefit from the results. Therefore, the rich need a wise eye that can identify and select people who can ultimately benefit and improve society. Only those with a potential for improvement should be partially helped, leaving room for self-improvement from one’s own effort. Helping a person as he or she wishes without confirming anything is giving the strength to unfitted people and ignoring the fitted people.
In contrast to Carnegie, Karl Marx thought competition created an economic crisis that heightens conflicts among social classes. Productivity continues to develop through manufacturing and knowledge. However, the amount of property remains unchanged, and the amount of property available to buy is limited. This hinders the sale or distribution of goods. For example, suppose there are 40 people and 40 goods made by each company. Forty products will be sold out without surplus. In the following year, companies A and B each make 30 products to sell more products and to make more profit. People is 40, but the products are 60, so 20 products inevitably remain. In other words, the companies overproduced. For the profit of the company, the companies will try to sell them at a cheap price. By lowering the prices of goods, companies make less profit than before, and will eventually go bankrupt. A crisis occurs because of overproduction. Competition between bourgeois and the crisis that emerges from the competition makes workers’ wages more fluid, and the mechanisms of machinery that develops continually and improves more rapidly make workers’ living conditions more precarious (Marx, p344). As a result, competition intensifies the conflict between bourgeois and workers by weakening the economy through overproduction and making workers’ lives even poorer.
Unlike Carnegie who allows a small inheritance for the family, Marx argued all rights to inheritance should be abolished. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx called for the abolishment of private property. In his eyes, inheritance is a type of private property that parents ultimately give to their children. Marx claims that the bourgeois private property is the final and most complete expression of output and acquisition based on exploitation (Marx, p348). Workers work but do not make money, and conversely, the bourgeoisie does not work but make money. Bourgeois private property is thus accumulated through the exploitation of the workers. Marx’s answer to abolish or greatly weaken the right of private property owners to decide on the disposition and distribution of property at death in order to attack private property rights. The abolition of the right of inheritance allows the property of the Bourgeois to be owned by the state, which stops the differences between social classes from being passed down, creating an equal environment for the future generation. This results in a society that has achieved an equal distribution of wealth after the eventual death of the previous generation. From this moment on, everyone begins life with the same material advantages, equality of opportunity is realized, and the disparity in wages is no longer acceptable to future generations.
In Marx’s opinion, the distribution of wealth is either by the government or by the struggle of the working class. Unlike Carnegie, Marx’s bourgeoisie is a negative being that oppresses and exploits workers. Contrary to Carnegie’s bourgeoisie who distribute the wealth through charitable giving benefiting the public, Marx’s bourgeoisie concentrates the wealth in their hands in order to make the working class submit to their control. Marx concluded that all capital and property should be distributed equally to the working class. The workers should rise up and become the ruling class through class struggle and revolution. By using political domination as the ruling class, they take all the capital from the bourgeoisie and put all the production instruments in the hands of the state. Therefore, the distribution of wealth can be done fairly by the government, not bourgeoisie. He calls for the state to place limits on the acquisition of private property and work to gradually convert it into social assets. For example, taxes are levied depending on the amount of property. More taxes are imposed on people who own more property and fewer taxes are imposed on the poor. And, the state limits the right of inheritance to the benefit of the state. Ultimately, the state brings the wealth of the bourgeois and distributes it back to the proletariat.
The views of Carnegie and Marx clearly clash in regard to competition and distribution of wealth. While both harbor negative feelings on the institution of inheritance, their ideas ultimately lead to two different conclusions for the distribution of wealth at death. Carnegie argued that competition improves civilization and society, and that inequality in competition is the price for social development. He asserted that leaving a reasonable legacy to support the lives of one’s surviving children is fine, but too much inheritance will make children lazy and dependent. Finally, fortune bequeaths to society for the public good is often used differently. Donations must be made for public purposes, not for individuals, and such donations are an effective distribution of wealth that has a lasting effect on a large number of people. Marx, on the other hand, argued that competition which makes overproduction is a factor that eventually causes a crisis that makes the social conflict between bourgeois and proletariat. Marx opposed private property and he asserts that the abolition of the right of inheritance would bring equality after the death of inheritor. The distribution of wealth should be made by the government, not by the bourgeois, and ultimately, the wealth becomes the property of the working class. Conflicts between classes are a social problem that has not yet been resolved. These problems have been part of history for decades, or centuries, and may not be easily solved. There is no definite answer. But if people continue to think and agonize about solving these problems, people will find ways to reduce social conflict and live happily together.
- Carnegie, Andrew. “The Gospel of Wealth.” A World of Ideas, 10th edition, edited by Lee Jacobus, Bedford, 2013, 364-373.
- Marx, Karl. “The Communist Manifesto.” A World of Ideas, 10th edition, edited by Lee Jacobus, Bedford, 2013, 337-356.
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