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Industrialization and Social Theory

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Progress and Poverty was written by Henry George in 1879. Henry George was a popular reformer, whose work was popular in the nineteenth century, which sparked reform movements. In Progress and Poverty George argued that the wealth created by social and technological advances in the economy was owned by landowners and monopolists through rents, and that this wealth (he thought was not properly earned) is a primary cause of poverty. He thought it wasn’t fair that private profit was gained by limiting the access to natural resources while actual labor was burdened with heavy taxes. George said that “landowners would alone be benefited. Rents would increase, but wages would still tend to the starvation point,” essentially meaning “the effect…[would be] to make the few richer; the many more helpless” (George 4). He believed that all men were created equal and that people are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the truest sense, like stated in the Declaration of Independence. He believed that inequality threatened to destroy American democracy. George also discusses liberty and that it cannot exist only half way, it has to exist wholey for it to be effective, for progress to occur. He believed that liberty and equality were at the center of progress and success. George called for a renewed commitment to the common good; we “are responsible for the vice and misery that fester in amid our civilization” and it is up to the people to fix it; he claims that people should not primmite any injustices and any injustices that exist should be eliminated (George 3).

This piece is where he presented a case for land value tax. A land value tax is a tax in which the government would tax the value of the land, which would prevent land owners and monopolies from profiting from it, but allow the value of all improvements made to the land to remain with investors (Web). Wealth was written by Andrew Carnegie in 1889. Andrew Carnegie was a civic leader with two different sides to him; “from one point of view, he was a factory despot who underpaid his employees and ruthlessly managed their working conditions. But to the patrons of public libraries, art museums, concert halls, colleges, and universities that he funded…[he] appeared to be the single greatest philanthropist of the age” (Faragher 414). If people view him in a positive way they saw him as a “captain of industries” where he was “responsible for bring efficiency, progress, modernity” (Cerri lecture, The Gilded Age). However if one were employed by him they might think of him as a “robber baron,” meaning “immoral, greedy, corrupt capitalist that only cared about the bottom line” (Cerri lecture, The Gilded Age).

Carnegie’s Wealth better known as the Gospel of Wealth argued that wealth is best used when it’s distributed carefully by the wealthy. He discouraged wasteful uses of money in forms of extravagance and irresponsibility. He encouraged the distribution of wealth over time to reduce the gaps between the rich and the poor. He thought the wealthy should distribute their wealth responsibly and not in ways that encourage lack of responsibility or unworthiness. Essentially, Carnegie proposed that instead of passing down money to heirs, that the wealthy utilize their excess means in a responsible and thoughtful way to benefit the public. During this time – and even today – people wanted to make money to provide for themselves and their family, they a wanted good job (pay and conditions), a home, food on the table, and wanted to be financially comfortable. The Gilded Age was a “period where there is tremendous economic growth, industrial growth, the emergence of big business and the concentration of wealth and power” (Cerri lecture, The Gilded Age). This time period also experienced quite a bit of corruption and scandal which we get an impression of in George’s piece and can understand how it is possible after reading Carnegie’s piece. This corruption occurred from companies consolidating into one large company creating a monopoly and when monopolies and the government worked together which we can see with the railroads. During the Gilded Age both Carnegie and George were influential men of the time both with a goal to reducing poverty and ideally eliminating it altogether. Although they both shared a common goal they each had their own unique and individual approaches. I find Henry George’s piece more appealing because, in theory, everyone would be financial secure. George wanted everyone to have equal wealth and treated equally as well. He did not like the idea of rich and poor, he wanted financials to fall in between the two extremes.

This would allow all people to be comfortable and able to take of themselves. George thought it was wrong for employers to profiting off their employees who were doing the actual work. George also advocated for lower taxes. Though George’s way sounds more appealing than wealthy people distributing money to the public to the best of their abilities and wealthy like Carnegie “who … owned the town where his workers lived and their children go to school” (Cerri lecture, The Gilded Age). I do not know exactly how one could put George’s method into effect successfully because a human is always going to be distributing the money which leaves room for error and poor choices. The late-nineteenth century is a period known as the Gilded Age. As in our times, that era experienced a dramatic increase in income inequality. It also experienced a sharp increase in the numbers of Americans living in poverty. The Gilded Age was marked by an increase in the size and political influence of large corporations and banks. There were extream wage gaps. The politics of American society were characterized by extreme bias and instability at the time. The age did indeed inspire political change, however it did not eliminate inequality in the U. S. There have been “several major cycles of inequality in the U. S. since then: the mitigation of inequality during the Progressive era, the return to inequality in the 1920s, the great equalizer that was the Great Depression and the New Deal, and then the rise of inequality once again in the late 20th century” (Rothman). Simply put unemployment is fairly high, we can never seem to make enough money, and inequality still exists today. These are problems of today that were also problems of past eras as well.

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Industrialization and Social Theory. (2019, August 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from
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