Just finished a bio of Andrew Carnegie. Don’t know why but I have been reading about these old titans of industry lately. It’s a strange case. He amassed a fortune of what today would be worth $120 billion and then gave it away. In addition, he wrote a book called the Gospel of Wealth that called on other rich people to give away all their money as well. His efforts probably led to billions of dollars in private philanthropy. And yet, he brutally suppressed the union and drove it out of his manufacturing plant. He went from eight hour to 12 hour work days and he suppressed wages with a heavy hand while making massive profits. He also colluded with other manufacturers to keep prices high, bought politicians to keep tariffs in place and did side deals with his largest clients (the railroads for one) so that they got rich as well. And as far as this biographer is concerned did it all without a tinge of guilt or remorse (with the exception of the brutal Homestead affair where people were killed in a union suppression effort).
I tend to put successful entrepreneurs up on a bit of a pedestal. I think ultimately successful economic development (and ultimately the lifestyle we all want) is based on these guys/gals. But making a fortune by keeping wages down or colluding to keep prices above a fair market value or bribing government officials to keep some arbitrary advantage and all of the other things that people do in the name of making money is to be deplored.
Entrepreneurs have obligations beyond just making money. They have an obligation to their employees to their customers and to the community in which they operate.
I’m going to keep reading about these captains of industry. Maybe I’ll stumble on one that actually brought this broader understanding to their business empire. Maybe I’ll skip forward a hundred years or so and read about Richard Branson. Any other examples?