Do We Need a New Andrew Carnegie?

Andrew_Carnegie,_three-quarter_length_portrait,_seated,_facing_slightly_left,_1913

By Theodore Christopher Marceau – Library of Congress, Public Domain, via Wikimedia

Andrew Carnegie was a steel and rail baron of the nineteenth century who made a fortune, and then spent the last two decades of his life giving much of it away. All told, he gave away approximately $350 million (the equivalent of $65 billion) in today’s dollars. Some say he was atoning for the ruthless practices involved in acquiring his fortune. He was a pioneer in developing the vertically integrated industry in which rail, coal, steel, and steamship lines controlled every aspect of production.

After selling his industries to what became U.S. Steel in 1901, he turned his focus to giving away his fortune. One of his major investments was libraries. His idea was to give his resources so that the poor could help themselves, and libraries were a key component of his philanthropic strategy. His first library was built in Dumferline, Scotland in 1883. He built libraries in Great Britain, Canada, other English speaking countries and in the United States. The first in the U.S. was in nearby Braddock, Pennsylvania, opened in 1888.

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Source unknown, widely attributed to Andrew Carnegie

According to Wikipedia, by 1923, 1419 grants totaling $45,865,440.10 resulted in the building of 1647 libraries. An NPR story puts the total at $60 million building 1689 libraries. Worldwide, his grants funded construction of over 3,000 libraries. In addition, he invested in educational institutions, including Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University) and Tuskegee Institute (a historically Black college). He also invested in pension funds for his workers and in the arts.

Many of the library buildings constructed with his grants are still standing, often among the distinguished architectural structures in their towns, whether still in use as libraries or not.

So what is the situation today? Libraries offer a tremendous array to Carnegie’s working man or women and their children. In addition to books, a variety of digital resources are available for lending, children’s programs, tutoring programs and a variety of adult education programs are offered in many communities that assist with job skills and job hunting. Computer resources provide online access for those who cannot afford these or have only limited access. Most libraries are providing ever-growing numbers of people with greater numbers of services, often at fairly static funding levels, making them among the most efficient organizations.

The funding picture of libraries is primarily through state funding and local property tax levies. Ohio, where I live recently raised the percentage of its state budget going to libraries from 1.68 to 1.7 percent. This money provides roughly half of library funding overall. The reality though is that while some municipalities invest heavily in their libraries, others, often in cash-strapped rural settings, live almost entirely on state funding. The good news is that there is a great return on investment in library funding. A recent study found that $1 invested in Ohio libraries returned nearly $5 in economic value and Ohio has the highest per capita library use in the country. Federal funding for the Museum and Libraries Services was recently renewed and increased by $11 million, despite Trump administration opposition.

So while there is some good news on the U.S. funding front, many small libraries are struggling, and I hear of some that have closed, leaving “library deserts” in some areas of the country. The situation is worse in the United Kingdom, where nearly 130 libraries closed this past year and many are being run by volunteer staff. Certainly, the situation is more dire yet in other parts of the world.

Could philanthropists play a bigger part? For twenty years, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation did that, but announced in 2018 that they are winding down their program after funding free internet access in U.S. libraries, and greater technology access throughout the world. While some places like Harvard have huge endowments of $36 billion. A Washington Post article reports that by contrast there are only several billion dollars nationally in library endowments. The case has been made for a National Library Endowment with a goal of $20 billion. How could it happen? The Post article notes that the top 400 wealthiest in this country are worth $2.4 trillion. In other words, less than one percent of this wealth could fully endow this fund at $20 billion, and continue to build it in succeeding years. This could mean hiring librarians in cash strapped urban systems, expanding digital access, developing school libraries, and enhanced technology for research libraries. Mackenzie Bezos has committed a portion of her Amazon fortune to The Giving Pledge, organized by Warren Buffett to encourage just this kind of philanthropy.  Wouldn’t it be a bit ironic if she gave this toward a library endowment? Stranger things have happened.

Libraries continue to provide huge benefits to their communities and serve as “springs in the desert.” Who will take up the mantle of Andrew Carnegie in this generation? One hopes the day may come where alongside Carnegie’s name, we see those of Zuckerberg, Buffett, Bezos, Brin, Ellison, Bloomberg, Winfrey, and Cuban. All it would take is for these folks to put their heads–and their money–together and decide to make it happen. The whole country would be richer for it.

Review: A Disruptive Generosity

A Disruptive Generosity

A Disruptive GenerosityMac Pier. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017.

Summary: Thirty-one stories of entrepreneurial business leaders whose strategic stewardship of their lives and their money have resulted in transformed lives and cities across the globe.

Mac Pier is a catalyst and a storyteller and he leverages these skills to host gatherings of Christian leaders in the business world to consider how they might impact their cities and their world. Then he tells the stories of these leaders to encourage others with these aspirations about the difference they can make with their skills and their resources. He serves as founder and CEO of the New York City Leadership Center and has launched the Movement Day conferences. The Movement Day website claims, “Since Movement Day’s inception, over 18,000 ministry, church, business, seminary, university and foundation leaders have come to be challenged, inspired, and catalyzed in the advancement of gospel movement.”

I reviewed an earlier collection of stories of fifteen leaders by Pier under the title Consequential Leadership back in 2014. He outlines four premises that form the basis of his work in that book:

1. Cities shape culture.
2. Gospel movements change cities.
3. Catalytic leaders launch movements.
4. Mentors and catalytic events shape leaders.

This new book is about catalytic leaders with financial resources who use those resources strategically to launch movements. I think an alternate title of this book could have been The Joy of Generosity because one of the undercurrents running through all the stories in this book is the deep sense of excitement and satisfaction experienced by people as they discovered strategic ways to invest the resources that came from business success to bring healing and renewal to their cities and in other needy situations around the world.

The book consists of thirty-one stories of generous people. It is suggested in the Introduction that you read one of these each day. Each story is connected to a verse in Isaiah focusing on God’s vision for the world. The stories are not simply about generous people but about movements in which such people come together, captured by a vision of the opportunity they have for kingdom influence. The stories also underscore relational networks. Pier talks about the book as a kind of relational tree connected by Lausanne Conferences and Movement Days. Each story concludes with succinct “Points for Reflection” and a prayer related to the person or persons he has just profiled (some chapters profile a couple people who come together in a joint venture).

In his chapter titled “Fruitful” Pier tells the stories of two men who served as part of the initial core group that launched the New York City Leadership Center, Lew Bakes and Tony Lembke:

“Lew suggested we follow Christ’s disciple model and find twelve investors who would each commit one hundred thousand dollars a year for three years to launch the NYCLC. He was the first one in.

Lew’s model inspired other leaders to join the team. Within our first year, we had raised nearly $1 million.

.  .  .

Tony Lembke was another member of the initial core group that launched the NYC Leadership Center in 2008. He attends The Presbyterian Church at New Providence in New Jersey, led by Jeff Ebert. Jeff invited Tony to a luncheon we had at the Hilton Hotel at 53rd and 6th Avenue, and within a few weeks Tony followed up with me. He wanted to join the core group of investors to launch the NYCLC. Tony felt a strong call to get involved when he heard that the goal was to create a ‘tipping point’ of Christian grace to the world’s most influential city and to bring leadership resources to pastors and Christian leaders in the NYC metro area.”

The book is a bracing journey that takes us from New York to Cape Town, to India, South Korea, Singapore, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, and the great cities of America–Dallas, Charlotte, Palm Beach, Phoenix and many others including Columbus, Ohio where I live. From Lydia in the book in Acts, the Clapham Sect that surrounded William Wilberforce to the present day, “gospel patrons” have played a decisive role in accelerating the ministry of the gospel throughout the world. Through generous giving, these gospel patrons disrupt both the status quo of our society’s consumption ethic, and the status quo of an alienated, suffering world.

With the recently passed massive tax deductions that benefit the wealthy and corporate world the most, it seems that for believing people who believe wealth is entrusted to us for the glory of God and the good of the world, we’ve been given a disruptive opportunity. We can take money once given to government, and instead of spending it on ourselves, use it shrewdly and well to advance the only kingdom that endures for eternity. That, it seems to me, is a good kind of disruptiveness!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

 

Review: The Search for God and Guinness

god and guinness

The Search for God and GuinnessStephen Mansfield. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014.

Summary: A history of beer, of the Guinness family and the history of Guinness from its beginnings, and the faith that that motivated the social goods pursued by many of the family members who led the company, and others in the family line.

Unlike the author, who came from a family of teetotalers, I came from a family that enjoyed a good beer in moderation. Most of the beers I grew up with were American beers and often my response to them was “meh.” It wasn’t until recent years that I discovered Guinness, and concluded, that this is what I’ve always thought beer should taste like.

So my curiosity was piqued when I came across this book in a second-hand store. I happen to love God and like Guinness and so I wanted to see how these two went together. Along the way, Stephen Mansfield took me on a delightful journey on the history of beer, including the long line of saints who enjoyed a good brew including the Pilgrims, Saints Patrick, Bartholomew, Brigid, and Columbanus, Charlemagne, Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Wesley. He traces the origins of beer, the science of brewing, and the different types of beer. A fascinating side note of this history is how beer provided a much more temperate alternative to the gin palaces and other forms of hard liquor that spelled the ruin of many.

Mansfield traces the beginning of the Guinness brewery with Arthur Guinness’s purchase in 1759 of a derelict brewery at St. James Gate, Dublin, including his bold move to increase the size of pipes carrying water from the River Liffey to his brewery and “defend it by force of arms.” Guinness had learned the art of brewing from his father, brewing small amounts for an inn, and starting a small brewing operation before taking over the derelict brewery in Dublin. Influenced by George Whitfield, he used profits from his growing brewery to fund the growing Sunday School movement.

From these promising beginnings, Mansfield traces the growth of the Guinness brewery through the generations, and the good family leadership it enjoyed in each generation. There was the key decision to focus on stout and improvements in the scientific brewing of that stout, the transport and storage of the product that provided consistent high quality wherever it was served in the world, and in the twentieth century, the advertising campaigns that made the brand ever-more popular. Among those working on these campaigns was Dorothy L. Sayers.

Most striking in this narrative is the care the company showed toward its workers, providing medical care for employees, families and even widows, housing, and superior wages (as well as a couple free pints a day of stout). During wars they guaranteed the jobs of servicemen, and paid families half salaries while their men were in service. In many respects, including employee education programs, their policies exceeded today’s most progressive companies.

The other intriguing aspect of this book is that while many of the leaders of the brewery were Christians who employed their wealth and position not only to benefit their workers but wider Dublin society, there was also a branch of the family, the Grattan Guinnesses marked for their pursuit of ministry and world missions activity. Mansfield gives us a thumbnail biography of Henry Grattan Guinness, an evangelist who was easily the equal of D. L. Moody. Mansfield notes that the definitive biography of this man remains to be written.

In more recent years, the company diversified and passed from Guinness family leadership and experienced some scandals. Mansfield doesn’t focus much attention on this and handles lightly any problems in the history of the family. He does imply that the long focus on brewing stout was a strength of the company that was lost as they diversified. The emphasis throughout is on the growth of the company, and the positive contributions made by this family, and the influence their faith played in the good works accomplished through their wealth and influence. So I would treat this account as entertaining and informative but not definitive history.

The book concludes with an epilogue that summarizes “the Guinness Way” in five principles:

  1. Discern the ways of God for life and business.
  2. Think in terms of generations yet to come.
  3. Whatever else you do, do at least one thing very well.
  4. Master the facts before you act.
  5. Invest in those you would have invest in you.

This suggests another value of this book, as an example of a business that does well by doing good along several key dimensions from its spiritual compass, to thinking beyond the next quarter, to having a laser focus, quality strategic planning, and respecting the dignity of workers, investors, and customers. While technologies and markets change, it might well be argued that these basics do not, but may be more crucial than ever.

Thomas Piketty Got This Right!

CapitalLast summer, Thomas Piketty published Capital in the Twenty-First Century (reviewed here), a best-seller that probably few people waded through. One of the things Piketty explores is how capital wealth accumulates far more rapidly than wealth from wages, and tends to be concentrated in an increasingly small percentage of the global population.

This week, we got a startling glimpse of this in a new Oxfam Study that predicts that by 2016 (that is next year, folks) one percent of the world’s population will control more of the world’s wealth than the remaining ninety-nine percent of the world’s population. A mere 80 of the world’s richest individuals control more wealth than the bottom 3.5 billion people in the world.

All but the most ardent capitalists will see these figures and conclude something is wrong. When over 1 billion people live on less that $1.25 a day while 80 people have billions, something is wrong. One of the things this study noted is that not all of this capital came from sheer entrepreneurship. Those invested in health care and pharmaceuticals saw their net worth jump by 47 percent due to lobby efforts for these industries.

By DFID - UK Department for International Development (https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfid/14590135480/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By DFID – UK Department for International Development (https://www.flickr.com/photos/dfid/14590135480/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The immediate cry of many will be for more taxes on this incredible wealth. Bill Gates himself thinks that this wealth should be taxed unless the wealthy invested their fortunes in philanthropy, as Gates himself is doing. It seems that what may also be needed are greater protections against exorbitant profits subsidized by higher costs that the less fortunate must bear. I do not want to fault wealth gained by honest effort and entrepreneurship, but when wealth benefits from special privilege and is further enlarged by access to power, this seems to be a form of welfare for the rich. At very least, there might be additional taxes levied on lavish consumption.

But far better for the rich to do themselves what may be done less efficiently with taxes, through using the influence and entrepreneurial intelligence they have in philanthropic efforts. There is an old story of the rich man who died and someone asking how much he left behind, and the answer given was “all of it.” I’m reminded of the biblical parable (Luke 16:19-31) of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man walks by Lazarus every day but doesn’t give him even table scraps. Lazarus dies and rests in the bosom of Abraham. The rich man burns in Hades. Even here, he assumes the privilege of demanding that Lazarus alleviate his thirst. Even here, he assumes he is entitled. And yet in the end he perishes and his name is not known while poor Lazarus at last finds comfort.

I’m not a part of that richest one percent. But I also think of that large group living on $1.25 a day. I don’t think twice about spending more than that on a cup of coffee. Yet like the Gates folks, I’ve discovered that some of the greatest joys of life come around giving–thoughtfully, as well as generously. John Wesley once said, “Earn all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” Wesley even acknowledges that creating wealth and accumulating capital is not bad if the end for which this is done is generosity. It may be this last part that is the hardest, and yet which makes more sense, to gain joy in the giving while you are living? Or to let someone else, or the tax man dispose of what you’ve left behind?

Wouldn’t it be crazy if a whole generation joined Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and defied Thomas Piketty and the Oxfam folk as well as the folk crying for higher taxes, and invested their wealth with intelligence and generosity–to provide clean water, and economic development, and educational opportunity? What if we did this with our more modest means? This would not by a long shot solve all the world’s problems… but then neither will a bunch of taxes. And it sure could be a lot more fun…