“Every man is a consumer, and ought to be a producer. He fails to make his place good in the world, unless he not only pays his debt, but also adds something to the common wealth” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
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In this quote, Ralph Waldo Emerson seems to be conveying two key ideas:
- That every individual should aim to both consume resources through their living as well as produce and contribute value through their work or skills.
- That an individual has not truly fulfilled their role or “made their place good in the world” unless they not only cover their own costs of living (“pays his debt”) but also generate surplus that enriches society overall (“adds something to the common wealth”).
Overall, Emerson appears to be arguing that taking from the system through consumption alone is insufficient – people ought to also give back through applying their talents and efforts to productive ends that grow overall prosperity, not just their own.
The quote conveys Emerson’s view that achieving one’s potential involves both utilizing resources provided by others as well as enhancing the lot of others through one’s own unique contributions.