“He is the rich man who can avail himself of all men’s faculties. He is the richest man who knows how to draw a benefit from the labors of the greatest number of men, of men in distant countries, and in past times” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
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In this quote, Ralph Waldo Emerson seems to be characterizing wealth or riches not merely in financial terms but rather based on one’s ability to utilize and benefit from the talents, efforts and knowledge of others.
By stating the rich man can “avail himself of all men’s faculties” and the richest man knows how to “draw a benefit from the labors of the greatest number of men, of men in distant countries, and in past times”, Emerson appears to be arguing that true prosperity involves effectively tapping into and applying the contributions of all people across time and space.
The quote conveys Emerson’s view that an individual is richest not by what they possess alone but rather by how well they integrate and make use of the diverse skills, innovations and works of past generations on a global scale. Overall, Emerson portrays wealth as a measure of one’s capacity to synthesize humanity’s collective progress and output, not merely their own isolated resources or accumulations in isolation.