Before the 99% occupied Wall Street…
Before the concept of social justice had impinged on the social conscience…
Before the social safety net had even been conceived…
By the turn of the 20th Century, the era of the robber barons, Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) had already accumulated a staggeringly large fortune; he was one of the wealthiest people on the globe. He guaranteed his position as one of the wealthiest men ever when he sold his steel business to create the United States Steel Corporation. Following that sale, he spent his last 18 years, he gave away nearly 90% of his fortune to charities, foundations, and universities.
His charitable efforts actually started far earlier. At the age of 33, he wrote a memo to himself, noting "…The amassing of wealth is one of the worse species of idolatry. No idol more debasing than the worship of money." In 1881, he gave a library to his hometown of Dunfermline, Scotland. In 1889, he spelled out his belief that the rich should use their wealth to help enrich society, in an article called "The Gospel of Wealth": this book.
Carnegie writes that the best way of dealing with wealth inequality is for the wealthy to redistribute their surplus means in a responsible and thoughtful manner, arguing that surplus wealth produces the greatest net benefit to society when it is administered carefully by the wealthy. He also argues against extravagance, irresponsible spending, or self-indulgence, instead promoting the administration of capital during one's lifetime toward the cause of reducing the stratification between the rich and poor.
Though written more than a century ago, Carnegie's words still ring true today, urging a better, more equitable world through greater social consciousness.