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Homeless in America

I heard a homeless man interviewed on the radio this morning. He was asked how he wanted to be treated by strangers. He simply said that he wanted people to say hello. “We’re people,” he said. “Not ghosts.”

Today in America we do not have capitalism; ours is a seriously government-controlled economy and nation, with government-controlled and dictated results and consequences, real and dangerous, with uncertain and volatile implications. These are dark times and, though many homeless are criminally insane and should be avoided for safety reasons, I agree with the wise words I heard on the radio.

So, when I see a homeless person, one we used to call a bum, I will try to remember that America is an unsteady welfare state, that it has been for decades, and that, against harsh and impossible obstacles imposed by the United States government, the bum may be desperately trying not to become a ghost.

Pittsburgh Steelers and the Steelmark

Pittsburgh SteelersThough I no longer follow professional or college sports, which I think is often as thoroughly bankrupt or corrupt as American culture, next week’s Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers conjures the heyday of the National Football League (NFL). I remember reading about admirable players such as Johnny Unitas and the Packers’ Bart Starr, both valued for their intelligence and integrity, during my youth, watching the Packers play in those brutal Wisconsin winters and feeling the Packers fan pride during visits to America’s Dairyland. Of course, being from Pittsburgh, I always cheered for the Steelers (and Panthers, Penguins, and Pirates). I used to wait outside hotel lobbies for a sight of the Steelers when they came to play near my town, and I remember Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, and Lynn Swann as kind athletes who graciously signed autographs and answered my countless questions. Andy Russell, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, John Stallworth, Frenchy Fuqua, Roy Gerela, Jack Ham, Rocky Bleier, I met nearly all of those Steelers of the 1970s. Mean Joe Greene seemed just like he did on the Coke commercial. They were my heroes.

One of my first heroes was the original Pittsburgh Steeler, Andrew Carnegie. He created U.S. Steel, whose diamond-shaped design is emblazoned on the helmets of the Pittsburgh Steelers, America’s only major football team with a capitalist logo, when he sold Carnegie Steel to J.P. Morgan in 1901. The Steelers’ diamond-shaped logo, composed of three hypocycloids, is known as the Steelmark. Cleveland, Ohio-based Republic Steel suggested that the Steelers use the logo, an industrial trademark by then, on their helmets in 1962.

According to the Steelers’ history of the symbol, the logo was intended to convey that steel lightens your work, brightens your leisure and widens your world and that steel is important in our daily lives. During the 1970s, the logo’s meaning was extended to include the three materials used to produce steel: yellow for coal, orange for ore and blue for steel scrap. Appropriate to an American symbol of productiveness that would not be possible without property rights, the Steelers had to seek and gain permission from the American Iron and Steel Institute to change the word “Steel” to “Steelers”. The Steelmark was created by U.S. Steel (now known as USX Corp), the world’s first billion-dollar corporation, in a deal which made Andrew Carnegie the world’s richest man. The Steelmark, a symbol of mankind’s most productive period in history, is one of America’s last iconic images (Ford Motor Company’s signature logo also comes to mind) of capitalism, the nearly bygone era.

Carnegie, an Intellectual Capitalist

220px-andrew_carnegie_three-quarter_length_portrait_seated_facing_slightly_left_1913-cropWealthy capitalist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) was an indefatigable steel tycoon—and he was also intellectual. His parents, Will and Margaret Carnegie, were readers and thinkers and, though he dropped out of formal education early in life, Carnegie—a voracious reader like his father—would study French, Latin, algebra, and bookkeeping on his own. As an adult, Carnegie, known within the steel industry as ‘the Great Egoist’, would dedicate his first book “To my favorite Heroine My Mother” and regard himself as “a trustee for all civilization”.

Such grandiose ideas were encouraged in a family of radicals. As a child in Scotland, he was awakened in the middle of the night by those who came with news that an uncle had been jailed for holding a meeting that had been forbidden by the government, Carnegie recalled in his autobiography. “My uncle, like all our family, was a moral-force man and strong for obedience to law, but radical to the core and an intense admirer of the American Republic.”

The Carnegies—mother and father, Andrew, and his younger brother, Tom—came to America in 1848, settling in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Carnegie recalled his family’s early Pittsburgh years as formative, noting, “There was not a prouder family in the land. A keen sense of honor, independence, [and] self-respect, pervaded the household.”

On his first job as a young teenager, Carnegie worked in a factory, and he made an effort to spend part of every Sunday discussing and debating issues with friends. Eventually, he left that job when he was hired as a telegraph messenger—and he wrote that he felt emancipated from manual labor: “From the dark cellar running a steam-engine at two dollars a week, begrimed with coal dirt, without a trace of the elevating influences of life, I was lifted into paradise, yes, heaven, as it seemed to me, with newspapers, pens, pencils, and sunshine about me.”

Carnegie’s eagerness paid off and he earned raise after raise in job after job, cashing in on his enthusiasm for enterprise. Carnegie was fallible, too, losing a payroll package while working as a messenger on the Pennsylvania Railroad. After the parcel tumbled off the train, he recovered the package, with help from workers on the line—who chose not to report the loss to his superiors. Impressed by the camaraderie, Carnegie vowed never to judge a man too harshly for making a mistake.

As he acquired knowledge and experience, Carnegie continued to read, study and learn. He staked out clear positions, speaking out against slavery, becoming a fierce opponent, and, despite the fact that he was too young to vote, hailing the nation’s new anti-slavery Republican Party, which held its first national meeting in Pittsburgh in 1856.

Carnegie became more intellectual, priding himself on making advancements for what he saw as progress—linking ideas to the practicality of business. Noting that he was among the first to employ women as telegraph operators on railroads in the United States, he wrote: “[W]e placed girls in various offices as pupils, taught and then put them in charge of offices as occasion required….Our experience was that young women operators were more to be relied upon than young men.”

As he accumulated wealth (Carnegie was rich by the time he was 30), his idealism did not wane in the face of new challenges. While still living with his mother—a domineering influence, by most accounts—the woman with whom he fell in love, according to biographer Peter Krass, became enamored with his railroad boss, Thomas Scott, after Carnegie introduced the two in hopes of gaining his mentor’s approval. Carnegie later met and married Louise Whitfield, with whom he would have a daughter, Margaret, named for his mother.

Carnegie met President Abraham Lincoln, who occasionally visited the communications office where Carnegie worked, during the Civil War. Here, too, he was more impressed by the man’s mind than by his status. Carnegie wrote of Lincoln: “[I]ntellect shone through his eyes and illuminated his face to a degree which I have seldom or never seen in any other.”

Andrew Carnegie’s extraordinary post-war success—in investments, iron and steel—culminated in the sale of his steel companies to banker John Pierpont Morgan. At that point in his career, Carnegie became focused on how to methodically dispense with his wealth—he held that charity is an obligation to donate what one has produced—and devote himself to worthy causes.

Carnegie would establish the charitable Carnegie Corporation (the last philanthropic trust he founded) with what was left of his fortune—about $125 million—to help colleges, universities, technical schools, and scientific research. By the end of his life, he had earned enormous wealth (donating 90 percent of it), and he had done so while pursuing serious intellectual goals, writing books on making money, charity and the life of James Watt, who invented the steam engine.

From youth to adulthood, he had been actively engaged in consuming art and ideas, attending musical parties, playing charades, and performing in informal theatrical productions, which Carnegie saw as “another means of self-improvement.” As a member of the Nineteenth Century Club, Carnegie was surrounded by what he described as able men and women discussing leading topics of the day, addressing one audience after another. The gatherings became so popular that meetings were scheduled at larger venues. Carnegie’s first topic as a program speaker: “The Aristocracy of the Dollar”.

Throughout his life, he was an avid reader, author, and journalist and he traveled across the world in search of a philosophy. In China, he read Confucius. In India, he studied Buddha and the Hindus. In Bombay, he read Zoroaster. Afterwards, he wrote that his mind was at rest. “I had a philosophy at last,” he wrote. “The words of Christ “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” had a new meaning for me. Not in the past or in the future, but now and here is Heaven within us. All our duties lie in this world and in the present,” he wrote, adding that seeking an afterlife—which agnostic Carnegie refused to discount—would be fruitless.

The benefits of his tremendous charitable gifts, such as the exceptional Carnegie Hall, would last for generations. Classical masters, such as legendary New York Philharmonic conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957), praised the music hall’s perfection. Toscanini, one of the greatest conductors, insisted throughout his career on playing at Carnegie Hall, where he gave his last New York Philharmonic concert and his last public performance for the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

If Carnegie Hall was a monument to the steel titan’s appreciation for the arts, there are also the numerous libraries—which Carnegie stipulated be made functional and built without ornament—around the world. And Carnegie was not satisfied to merely donate money. He also funded what he regarded as bold ventures, such as former President Theodore Roosevelt’s ambitious safari in Africa. Following the Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th century, when the United States captured the Philippines from Spain, which he denounced as imperialism, Carnegie offered to buy the Philippines, assuring the nation’s independence, for $20 million.

Carnegie actively sought instruction from philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), a friend of Charles Darwin’s who emphasized the importance of the individual over society and of science over religion. After reading Darwin’s and Spencer’s writings, Carnegie wrote that “light came as in a flood and all was clear. Not only had I got rid of theology and the supernatural, but I had found the truth of evolution. “All is well since all grows better” became my motto, my true source of comfort.”

That the ‘Great Egoist’, who attached significance to names and put his name on colleges, halls and steel companies, loved his work and lived his life in comfort is abundantly clear. That he did so by making an effort to think, write, and speak as an intellectual businessman is not as widely known. But, today, we are the secondary beneficiaries—in railroads, bridges, and things made of steel—in Western Union, Madison Square Garden, and Carnegie Mellon University, which he created or helped to build—in places like public libraries, and Carnegie Hall—of all that Andrew Carnegie thought, wrote, and produced.

Carnegie on the Stock Market

Writing in his autobiography, steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) argued: “no sound judgment can remain with the man whose mind is disturbed by the mercurial changes of the Stock Exchange. It places him under an influence akin to intoxication. What is not, he sees, and what he sees, is not. He cannot judge of relative values or get the true perspective of things. The molehill seems to him a mountain and the mountain a molehill, and he jumps at conclusions which he should arrive at by reason. His mind is upon the stock quotations and not upon the points that require calm thought. Speculation is a parasite feeding upon values, creating none.”