“Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.”
Wise people are thoughtful and hard-working. They act with integrity, and they are productive. As a result of their work ethic, wise people enjoy the fruit of “precious treasure and oil.” By contrast, foolish people are not productive. Instead, they consume. They “devour” the good things that are produced by others.
There tend to be two kinds of people in society: makers and takers. For example, in the United States, the top 10% of earners pay 70% of federal income taxes. Unfortunately, there are those who take benefits but don't pay taxes: About half of Americans live in households that receive direct government benefits, like Medicare, Social Security, or food stamps. A similar share of the country doesn't pay federal income taxes.
In other words, there are many Americans who receive government handouts, but don’t pay taxes. That is a problem.
I don’t want to get overly technical, but I do want to be specific. It’s important to make a distinction. Just because someone doesn’t pay income taxes doesn’t mean they are a taker who is lazy and dependent on the government. For example, a man with a stay-at-home wife and three kids owes no taxes on his first $59,000 thanks to standard deduction, personal and dependent exemptions, child tax credits, etc.. If he has commuting costs and a student loan, he's easily over $60,000 before he owes federal income taxes. This is a hard-working man who pays sales tax, excise tax, and other taxes, but owes no federal income tax. He’s a maker.
However, there are also many who are unproductive takers. These are people who are able to work, but instead depend on government assistance. They are not productive; they are foolish takers. A great deal of taxpayer money is wasted on takers in our society.
Having said that, read the proverb carefully, and you will see that being a foolish taker is not simply a matter of a failure to work. There are people in society who work and make money, but because they are foolish and selfish, they consume and devour the good things they produce. These people waste their hard-earned money on foolish things.
The point is that foolishness and selfishness are not determined by social status. A person can operate from poverty or privilege, and be foolish.
Here are the key questions that follow from this proverb.
1) What is your work ethic? Do you work hard and are you productive in your personal and professional life?
2) What do you do with what you produce? How do you spend your money? Do you invest wisely, or waste your money on foolish things? Do you produce simply to indulge yourself, or do you produce in order to support your family and serve others in need?
Wisdom + work ethic is a powerful combination.
Unfortunately, so is foolishness + selfishness.