Economic co-operation: Thomas Paine, Karl Marx, and the Gospel of Wealth by Andrew Carnegie

Updated: Jul 19

Thomas Paine, an Englishman, became enmeshed in social revolutionary ideals while living both in the United States and in France during the mid 1770s.

Thomas Paine read widely, and during this time of social tumult he would outline the methods for the creation of a governing body which would serve the safety and well-being of all members of the then-colonies of the British Empire, which would thereafter become the burgeoning United States of America. The justification for the development of a democratic republic as opposed to a monarchy rested upon a continued list of abuses committed by the Parliament in London and the leadership of King George III. As the result of these circumstances, the pamphlet named ‘Common Sense,’ was penned by Thomas Paine during this time.

This document was circulated among the colonies and particularly among the liberal intelligentsia of New York City. The collection of short essays provided persuasive discussion material advocating for the shift to a representative government and Thomas Paine resisted the claim that the 'divine right of monarchs' could serve as a Biblically legitimate authority for the organization of a polity more than a representative democracy could. Thomas Paine writes:

“Here then is the origin and rise of government; a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world; here too is the design and end of government, freedom and security.”

- Thomas Paine, “Common Sense”

Thomas Paine leads the reader, in a manner befitting of the eponymous title of the essay, a straightforward and logical demonstration of the best possible use of the efforts of a community toward achieving a common goal of virtue and happiness. It is for this reason that Thomas Paine successfully produced a narrative which speaks through the ages. In markedly vivid prose and in a succinct fashion Thomas Paine challenges the moral justification of the control of a populace by military force.

In contrast, Thomas Paine argues that the general will, as expressed in the codification of law, is created through the debate of a freely elected legislature of representatives. This, he asserts, is a superior mode of social beneficence when compared to the one-way edicts of a monarch.

Therefore, an argument is made that a people governed through their common interests will be much more likely to achieve justice in an equitable fashion than any other mode of lawful governance.

“SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.


In order to gain a clear and just idea of the design and end of government, let us suppose a small number of persons settled in some sequestered part of the earth, unconnected with the rest; they will then represent the first peopling of any country, or of the world. In this state of natural liberty, society will be their first thought. A thousand motives will excite them thereto; the strength of one man is so unequal to his wants, and his mind so unfitted for perpetual solitude, that he is soon obliged to seek assistance and relief of another, who in his turn requires the same.

Four or five united would be able to raise a tolerable dwelling in the midst of a wilderness, but one man might labour out the common period of life without accomplishing any thing; when he had felled his timber he could not remove it, nor erect it after it was removed; hunger in the mean time would urge him to quit his work, and every different want would call him a different way.

But as the Colony increases, the public concerns will encrease likewise, and the distance at which the members may be separated, will render it too inconvenient for all of them to meet on every occasion as at first, when their number was small, their habitations near, and the public concerns few and trifling. This will point out the convenience of their consenting to leave the legislative part to be managed by a select number chosen from the whole body, who are supposed to have the same concerns at stake which those have who appointed them, and who will act in the same manner as the whole body would act were they present. If the colony continue encreasing, it will become necessary to augment the number of representatives, and that the interest of every part of the colony may be attended to, it will be found best to divide the whole into convenient parts, each part sending its proper number : and that the elected might never form to themselves an interest separate from the electors, prudence will point out the propriety of having elections often: because as the elected might by that means return and mix again with the general body of the electors in a few months, their fidelity to the public will be secured by the prudent reflection of not making a rod for themselves. And as this frequent interchange will establish a common interest with every part of the community, they will mutually and naturally support each other, and on this, (not on the unmeaning name of king,) depends the strength of government, and the happiness of the governed.

Here then is the origin and rise of government.”

- Thomas Paine, "Common Sense"

Thomas Paine’s view into the best possible manifestation to achieve happiness in a polity is emotionally effective as he advocates for the benefit of all men working together as one as opposed to the parochial interests of any one part of the country.

Thomas Paine asserts that the best possible ends of the ambitions of all members of the society may be met through cooperation as opposeed to competition, and a similar goal is highlighted by Andrew Carnegie in The Gospel of Wealth.

Written as a tract against socialism and centralized economic control, Andrew Carnegie argues that free and fair economic competition directed toward the common good will serve as the basis upon which the further growth of the Polis may be achieved:

“Under the law of competition, the employer of thousands is forced into the strictest economies, among which the rates paid to labor figure prominently... often there is a friction between the employer and the employed, between capital and labor.


We will [then] have an ideal state, in which the surplus wealth of the few will become, in the best sense, the property of the many, administered for the common good. This wealth, passing through the hands of the few, can be made a much more potent force for the elevation of our race than if distributed in small sums to the people themselves. Even the poorest can be made to see this and to agree that great sums gathered by their fellow-citizens and spent for public purposes, from which the masses reap the principal benefit, are more valuable to them then if scattered among themselves in trifling amounts through the course of many years.”

- Andrew Carnegie, chapter one, The Problem of the Administration of Wealth, page 16 of “The Gospel of Wealth”

The question of the administration of wealth as conceived by Andrew Carnegie is similar in concept to the democratic effectuation political wealth argued for by Thomas Paine over a century earlier.

This circumstance is unfortunate as when a ruling coterie retains decision making authority over the allocation of resources, the politcal leaders of the country have effectively supplanted the capitalist.

A society which exists for the potential material benefit of the rulers, and not for the citizens of the state as a whole, is not a truly democratic regime. The answer that has been put forward in Andrew Carnegie’s Gospel of Wealth is more consistent with the based on the best practices and other schools of art, such as religion, demonstrate another pathway for allowing individuals to achieve their dreams.

This may be termed the plan of Salvation wherein citizens may live in harmony and peace with one another is feasible. The possibility of this goal may be observed when the acquisition of material resources is suitably efficient that other social goals gain importance, such as the establishment and maintainence of relationships.

For example, throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies I held either a part time or a full time job in order to supplement living expenses and/ or to finance my education.

While a full time student at the University of Miami studying aerospace engineering, I committed approximately fifteen hours each week toward mandatory physical training events, athletic competitions, and military leadership courses as a condition of the full tuition scholarship conferred to me by the United States Air Force.

Additionally, on the weekends, I would work eighteen hours teaching the state of Florida mandated motorcycle endorsement course for which I was able to earn $285 per class. Fortunately, I was able to structure my time in order to participate in a community beach clean-up volunteer organization, an intramural basketball team which met each Wednesday at 9pm, and a student activist group which advocated for worker’s rights at the University.

Similarly, while a cadet at the United States Air Force Academy, I served in work-study positions occupying approximately thirty-five hours per week concurrent with an average of six courses per semester in addition to a mandatory athletic class such as swimming or hand-to-hand combat. For example, as the commander of the Cadet Space Operations Squadron, I was responsible for 88 cadet space operators in the fall of 2013. Under the auspices of the Space Systems Research Center we conducted experiments on two multimillion dollar spacecraft in order to harvest data to be analyzed and processed for customers across the Department of Defense, partnering research institutions, and universities.

In this capacity I worked with representatives of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Arizona, Aerospace Corporation, the Space and Missile Systems Center, Alliant Techsystems, Ball Aerospace, Blue Canyon Technologies, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, L3, Millennium Space Systems, Northrup Grumman, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX).

I also worked with Johnson Space Center as a ground based operator of the Canary experiment aboard the International Space Station. In addition, all USAF Academy cadets are required to participate in mandatory intramural sports and military training such as leadership laboratories, obstacle courses, airfield operations, marksman range trials, dormitory inspections, and formal parades comprising anywhere between eight and twenty hours each week.

Following graduation from the Air Force Academy I worked full time at the USAF Academy admissions directorate as an advisor for applicants from the southern and southwestern regions of the United States of America. In this role I was responsible for hosting visiting congressional staff members as well as mentoring cadet candidates who travelled to Colorado in order to visit the campus. Concurrent with this position I began an evening Master of Business Administration program with the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, and the University of Colorado, Boulder. Unfortunately I was unable to complete either graduate business course as the result of departing Colorado for Del Rio, Texas, in order to attend United States Air Force undergraduate pilot training in the summer of 2016.

Throughout this time I was awake at 6am and was continuously engaged in a professional, academic, athletic, or military endeavor until approximately 11pm. I succeeded in this environment by prioritizing the tasks that needed to be accomplished and completing them with no delay. I know that in the event a situation seems to become too difficult to handle, a brief, intense, workout session will clear my mind and refocus my energy on the task at hand.

Due to this experience, I learned how to effectively cope with stress and I have mastered the art of balancing competing commitments. While I would have been well served to retain additional time toward investing in community service endeavors, I am confident now in my ability to manage a schedule and succeed in the professional and academic challenges ahead.

The works of political philosopher Karl Marx, advocates for the lifestyle that I have highlighted above. In his seminal text, The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, Karl Marx offers an insight into the potential of co-operation to be put in place such that efficient practices may be implemented for the betterment of the human condition.

For example, in a communist society which holds true to the values defined by Karl Marx reflects aspects of the macroeconomic policies advocated for by Andrew Carnegie.

While this may seem to be an apparent paradox, the discrepancy may be accounted for by the unfortunate exploitation of communist idealogies in a manner not in keeping with the original intent of the writings of Karl Marx.

As delineated by Karl Marx, the economic objective of a classless society is the creation of efficient labor cooperatives in all sectors of the economy. This cardinal goal has been demonstrated by many communist societies, such as the former Soviet Union.

Regrettably, however, unfortunately, in the administration of the Soviet Union a top-down hierarchical structure was maintained for the development of economic benchmarks both within the commisars and amoung the labor force at large. This is not an outcome that was desired by Karl Marx.

Instead, if all laborers may have an opportunity to offer their input on economic and political objectives through, for example, consistent and automated voting polls, new and more effective policies may be implemented as technology progresses. Additionally, those closest to the effectuation of democratically-approved policy may thereafter provide subsequent 'course corrections' to ensure their efficacy. This 'closed loop' feedback system would create numerous efficiencies.

“There are but three modes in which surplus wealth can be disposed of. It can be left to the families of the decedents; it can be bequeathed for public purposes; or, finally, it can be administered by its possessors during their lives.

The socialist who seeks to overturn present conditions is to be regarded as attacking the foundation upon which civilization itself rests, for civilization took its start from the day when the capable, industrious workman said to his incompetent and lazy fellow, ‘if thou dost not sow thou shalt not reap."

- Andrew Carnegie, Chapter One, The Problem of the Administration of Wealth, page 12 of “The Gospel of Wealth”

In effect, Andrew Carnegie, Karl Marx, and Thomas Paine have each identified the most efficient method of economic and political organization: the worker cooperative.

Many large corporations in the United States have adopted this anti-hierachical form of organization such as the retail outdoor recreation and services corporation Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI).

The common bonds established through the cooperative create a fraternity which provides increased trust and innovation within the firm, which ultimately allows improved efficiency, innovation, and performance for the consumer.

Thank you for your time in considering this post and please have a good day.

Sincerely, Winston

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