Over the weekend the Wall Street Journal editorial page ran a reverential profile of Eli Broad, the California businessman who now gives away money in the art and education sectors. It concludes, "Paraphrasing Andrew Carnegie, he tells me: 'Who dies with wealth, dies in shame.'"
It was Carnegie's money, and it is Mr. Broad's, and they have a right to spend their own money, or give it away, however they wish. They even have a right to encourage others to follow their example. The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is a forum for a diverse variety of perspectives, not all of which are endorsed by the newspaper's editorial board. But even with all those caveats, it is worth pausing for a moment to consider the full implications of the idea that it is shameful to die rich. Does Rupert Murdoch, the 78-year-old who controls the Journal and whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at $4 billion, have a plan to give it all away before he dies, or is he planning to die in shame? Had previous generations of the Journal's prior proprietors, the Bancroft family, preferred to avoid the "shame" of dying with wealth, what would have befallen the Journal?
Some of the world's, and America's, greatest businesses have been built by families over several generations. If dying with wealth is so shameful, why has the Journal invested so much editorial energy over the years calling for the repeal of the estate tax?
What's more, in many cases,wealth gets accumulated by a business that provides a lot of jobs and creates goods of value for many people. In Mr. Broad's case, his for-profit activities as a housing builder supported tens of thousands of construction workers and real estate agents, and provided homes for tens of thousands of families to live in and enjoy. There is nothing shameful about accumulating wealth by such a method -- there's an argument to be made that it even did more good, for more people, than does Mr. Broad's current pastime of giving the money away to art museums and schools. None of this is to criticize Mr. Broad's decisions on how to use his own money. But part of the current attack that capitalism is under is connected to the idea that is somehow shameful to live or die with wealth. It's an idea we'd like to see examined more, rather than simply passed along.